Old, But Always New

IMG_2451

Do you ever have one of those times that you are reading a biblical passage that you have read many times and suddenly see something new? I am guessing you have! I have experienced that many times and it never fails to delight me.

The incredible thing about scripture is that it is not new and yet always new at the same time.

I am currently reading the book of Judges and as I was reading the opening of the third chapter, I had one of those moments that caused me to pause and reflect.

In those first two verses, the writer states that the Lord had left nations after Joshua “to test Israel by them”. Even with Joshua leading, the children of Israel had often faltered in their faithfulness. Now they would be absent that leadership and a series of judges appear to guide and lead.

The verses go on to say the testing was for those in Israel who “had not experienced all the wars in Canaan”. Because they had not experienced those things, they hadn’t seen the hand of the Lord over and over again at the parting of the Red Sea, the collapse of the walls of Jericho, and so much more.

The second verse adds this; “It was only in order that the generations of the people of Israel might know war, to teach war to those who had not known it before.”

We so often talk about peace and our desire for it. If we have read much of the Bible, we know what it says about it and where it comes from and still, we wish for the idyllic peace of Eden.

a-sign

When I consider what that might have been like before the fall, I wonder if we forget to remember that Adam and Eve were untested prior to the serpent. Was the serpent allowed in the garden to test them to develop their character?

Over and over again I see that testing produces character and that tends to come from two primary things. First, we learn more of the truth about our own condition and ourselves at that time. Secondly, we invariably learn more about the Lord and who He is.

Each testing time in my life has never failed to do both. Each time has also taught me more about warring against those things within me that are not like Him as well as how to be more effective at warring against the enemy who still seeks to defeat and destroy each one of us who are called by His name.

In the Judges passage the Lord used physical enemies and battles and wars that allowed testing. I think that sometimes occurs today as individuals are involved on physical battlefields and countries are forced to determine what actions they will take when evil seeks to overtake them. We also see that many who are not serving as soldiers armed with physical weapons are caught up in the battle, but for many of us the battles are not as graphic. Even so Paul reminds us of the armor we are to wear in Ephesians 6.

The truth about armor is that it will never be effective if you try to put it on when you are under attack in the midst of the battle. It must be put on before you go into battle.

Too often we do not remember that and are trying to put it on in the midst of a battle that needs our focus. Not a very beneficial strategy at all and yet it is too often our default position. Paul reminds us in I Thessalonians 5 how true that will be at the end time when the Lord returns. It suggests clearly as do other passages that we are to be watchful, ready, and already dressed for battle.

Peter reminds us as well about our need for preparedness:

“Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you.”

1 Peter 4:12 (ESV)

I am not eager for testing, never am I eager for that. I also do not believe the Lord is sadistically planning for pop quizzes and crushing exams to trip me up. I believe He is wanting each of us to be aware that we live far from Eden in a world that is far from perfect, often evil, and even more so as His return approaches.

It is His great love and care for us that cause Him to use any and all things to prepare us so we can stand and fight as His army alongside Him. He does not want us to be unprepared. Before David ever met Goliath, he knew well how to use a sling in other dangerous experiences. He was tested and so were his weapons. Should it not also be true of us?

We may not embrace the trial or test, but may our hearts echo these words:

“But he knows the way that I take; when he has tried me, I shall come out as gold.”

Job 23:10 (ESV)
78949d5d5d4d6b9c60f4392a7f5bc4ec

Loving Out in the Open

baby-boys-childhood-160946 (1)

I heard a sad story recently of a man who was dissuaded from accepting Christ because he had heard many words spoken or written about the Lord but had not seen those same persons demonstrating those words in their lives.

It caused me to pause. Is that ever true of me? What would my neighbors say and what about the person who last served me in a restaurant?

Jesus made clear there are two things we are called to be and do: Love God and love others.

I love how this description:

“The secret sauce of life with God – the secret of doing the right thing 100 percent of the time – came down to making a commitment to God and a commitment to other people.”

Kenny Luck

What does that look like? 

We can say this, but what does it look like?

Most of us could come up with a list of things we believe answer the question. Things you would find on the list would include praying, reading the Bible, going to church, giving, and more. But it really all boils down to one basic thing: Do what pleases God.

That sounds pretty straightforward, doesn’t it?

I think it clearly means being obedient to Him. But to really become skilled at loving God and pleasing Him, I need to ask Him (more often than I sometimes do) what He thinks about something I am planning to do. It means conversing with Him on a broad array of things to learn what He says about that in His Word. It means when we ask Him during times of prayer that we also take time to listen to how His Spirit speaks to us. The more time I spend in my relationship with Him, the better I will know Him and learn what most pleases Him.

How well I do any of that will depend in large part on my conviction to discover what loving God looks like and how to do it well.

The second thing that Jesus taught is to love others.

It’s the best relational advice He could ever give.

Most of us are more challenged in that part than we wish or would like to admit. It can be so much easier to say it than to live that out (assuming we might know what that looks like).

Why is that very often true?

We all have a bent toward some degree of selfishness that can get in the way of loving well. We also have preferences for certain types of people and things we enjoy doing. If those preferences rule us, are we really loving well or does that stem from that sticky selfish part of us?

Most of us would need to agree we prefer to be with and do things for people whom we like. Doing things for those we may not like as well, may not be like us, may not think like us or look like us can be a different story.

If we love others out in the open, we will be attuned to those God leads us to as well as those whom He wants to discover His light and love shining through us.

Jesus modeled all this so well. He loved people first no matter what their status or heart condition. If we follow His lead He can show us the way and He will be glorified.

To love others well requires us to set aside our selfish natures and our preferences and think about how we would like to be loved. Kenny Luck calls that “the principle of reciprocity.”  The truth is that none of us can do that very well unless we are focused first on loving God. Both things Jesus requires of us are connected.

Loving out in the open and being/doing these two things is just that simple.  It is also impossible unless He is at work within us and we are relying on Him.

What are our convictions?

That will make all the difference.

“Convictions will be the kindling. Belief will be the spark. Faith and trust in the moment will be the wildfire that turns the horizon reddish orange in a worldwide movement of God’s Spirit.” 

Kenny Luck
bridge-child-children-191034

You Were Made to Shine

astronomy-comet-constellation-631477
Photo by Neale LaSalle from Pexels



The darkness that appears to be gathering on and hovering over the earth can tempt us to fear or lament, but if we are God’s children and He resides in us that is not what He is calling us to right now. The darkness is not to be our focus because we were made to shine.

If Jesus resides within us, then light resides in us. The gathering darkness should cause our light to be that much brighter as the dimmer manmade lights are overcome by shadow. We were called to be light, and life and He would desire to call that forth in us in ways only He can.

Sometimes we forget that despite how important our words are, who we are because of Him and how He shines through us should eclipse anything else.

astronomy-cosmos-crater-lake-national-park-262669

Jesus said we are to be salt and light. If we are that, then we will not be pulled off into tangents of the day, cultural dustups, popular arguments, and causes. Those will only distract us from the culture that matters – His! It will also cause others to focus more on our words and views than the light that resides in us and the world has never needed that light more.

Scripture makes clear that as the day of His return comes closer, the world will become darker and things we would not have imagined will become the norm. Polarization will tear apart families, churches, neighborhoods, and nations, but that is when He most needs us, you, and I, to be set apart and to shine.

brilliant-carat-crystal-68740

Imagine yourself in a jewelry store. How often are the jewels and diamonds there displayed on black or dark blue velvet when the jeweler wants to encourage you to buy some of his most beautiful pieces? That is especially true if you are looking at loose diamonds to select for a special ring or necklace. That dark background makes the beauty and light in the diamonds shine more brightly

Brilliance requires darkness.”

Kenny Luck

I think the apostle Paul knew that as well. Consider his words:

“Do everything without grumbling or arguing, so that you may become blameless and pure, children of God without fault in a warped and crooked generation. Then you will shine among them like stars in the sky as you hold firmly to the word of life. And then I will be able to boast on the day of Christ that I did not run or labor in vain.”

Philippians 2:14-16 (NIV)

The stars in the sky twinkle and gleam even though they are thousands and thousands of miles away because they are scattered across the dark night sky.

We are His workmanship. If the Lord has not yet returned, then we are to shine ever more brightly in the darkening world so that others might yet see and discover His grace, truth, and love before it is too late.

Cutting away the parts that detract from the beauty of His light within us so we can shine more beautifully is His work of sanctification. Diamonds are cut and shaped so the many facets of the gem can better reflect the light and fire from within the gem. And so, it is with us…or should be.

“In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.”   

Matthew 5:16 (NIV)

“And we have the prophetic word more fully confirmed, to which you will do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts,”   

2 Peter 1:19 (ESV)

We have been given His light so much as Tolkien says in The Lord of the Rings:

“May it be a light to you in dark places, when all other lights go out.”

J.R.R. Tolkien

I wonder if when God looks upon the earth, He hopes to see lights in each of us scattered around the globe much as we see the stars scattered across the sky.

You were made to shine.

arches-national-park-dark-dusk-33688 (1)
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels

Dead or Alive

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels

Late spring or early summer walks give me a chance to see things coming alive again after the long winter months. Little by little trees begin to show green on the dead looking branches and spring flowers take turns surprising me with their colors if I am observant. By the beginning of June, I can tell which shrubs, bushes, and perennials have weathered the winter months well but some of our rose bushes are still a bit slow to show us. It’s not always clear if something is alive or dead.

Whether a relationship is thriving, or dead can also be hard to determine many times. Too often we are good at feigning the state of a relationship to avoid the truth of its condition or avoid hard questions from others who observe us. We can get so used to doing it that we barely notice. But there is something amiss if that is true.

If any relationship is alive there will be “life” in it. It will show the evidence of that in more than one or two ways. You know a relationship is current by the actions, energy, body language, tone of voice, and more. It will not be perfect, and it will also not be static.

Photo by Elle Hughes from Pexels



Grape vines in our area look like they are alive at the present time, but it will be hard to tell for many weeks whether there will be grapes showing up. They are not “in season” until very late summer and the size or quality of the fruit will still be in question for some weeks and months except to the knowledgeable vinedresser and vintner. It always reminds me to be careful when I am looking for fruit in a relationship or the life of another person pursuing Christ. Perhaps there has been significant pruning and the vines will rest longer before they show the benefits of this cutting away of both dead and living vines so they will produce more fruit.

I began to consider this a bit more as I was reading about what the book of Revelation says about the church at Sardis – having a reputation of being alive but dead. What did that mean or look like? Could it be true of us today?

“It was dead because it excluded the everyday world. It gave an impression of vigor … but the sharp line it drew between everyday life and holy-day life…”

Eugene Peterson in This Hallelujah Banquet

They appear to have restricted holiness or the holy life to their times together in church versus seeing how He moves throughout the everyday life and situations we face. If we look at the life of Christ it seems evident that He did not intend that our relationship with Him be confined to a worship service (no matter how energetic it might appear).

Photo by Pam Ecrement

I think the challenge for us is what does our faith and belief look like Monday through Saturday, not because we are carrying around a Bible and sharing scripture verses with any and all we meet but rather because our convictions and commitment is a lived truth. No matter we are picking up coffee at our favorite coffee shop, working at our job, grocery shopping, or participating in a committee meeting, do we look like we bear Christ’s image in how we respond, how we love, and how we make decisions? Is his Holy Spirit active and alive within us then? Do we nurture intimacy with Him when we are not in worship services or formalized ministry activities?

“If God has spirit, then God is not simply an idea or an abstraction. It is popular to say that God is an idea of beauty or of love or of truth. Whatever is beautiful or lovely or truthful is God. That is a nice sentiment but poor theology. God is personal and deeply alive.”

Eugene Peterson in This Hallelujah Banquet

Have we forgotten that God, Jesus, is a person?

“If God has spirit, he cannot be dealt with as an object. He must be confronted as a person. A living, personal being demands relationship. I can arrange books, rooms, clothing, and even work, but I must live with persons. They resist being put in their place. They refuse to be arranged and manipulated. They must be talked to. There must be an exchange of feelings with them. I have heard the phrase “We must leave a place for God in our lives.” This is a nice idea if it would work, but it won’t, because God has spirit. He will not be confined to a place. He is a living being with whom we must live. This is part of what it means to say that God has spirit. It means fundamentally that we have the perfection of a living God in our midst.”

Eugene Peterson in This Hallelujah Banquet

If we have accepted Christ, his spirit is alive and active in us and if we try to confine his involvement to our worship services we will be more like the church at Sardis. They considered themselves to be church members because they continued to come to worship but ceased being actively full of life in every aspect of daily life.

God wants a vibrant relationship with us whether we are seated in a pew or at a ballgame, attending a concert or sitting at the bedside of someone who is ill. If that happens our lives will be fruitful.

“The world is one single whole. It’s holy. We divide it into areas marked out for God and areas marked out for ourselves. We call churches sacred and playgrounds secular. We have places where we pray and others where we play. But our compartments desecrate the way things are supposed to be; the earth is the Lord’s.”

Eugene Peterson in This Hallelujah Banquet
Grapes , Yellowstone
Photo by Pam Ecrement in Napa Valley, CA