What God Has Joined…Is A Beautiful Mystery

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Ah, young love!

Sandy and I know some couples contemplating marriage and it’s always a kick watching the young stirrings of love. Or, as it’s painted for us in the Songs, when love has found its right time to be “awakened.”

I always ask in interviews, “Why exactly are you getting married?” and pay judicial attention to the response. Anything less than,

“Because God has brought us to each other and we’ve both gladly said ‘yes’ to His will”

Or –

“Because we want our lives to portray the Gospel through laying our lives down for the other, pursuing them always in deeper intimacy, jealously guarding our garden, and living to make sure the other – and myself – is coming into the fullness of their/our calling in Christ”

…And I’m not fully satisfied. “We’re just so in love” or “We’re meant for each other” may be acceptable replies but still fall short of the mark. “It just feels right” or “It’s the next logical step for us” are further afield and send up some yellow flags.

Take a look at Larissa and Ian’s story and see if you can’t find the portrait of love awakened and the gospel more beautifully put on display. I thought our story was something (and still do!) but theirs is also a match truly made in heaven.

For further reading

The question everyone is asking after seeing this – Why? – is satisfyingly answered here, in Larissa’s own words, “Why We Got Married”.

This speaks to the heart and soul of a God-joined marriage.

Be Encouraged!
PS

A Note To My Readers

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As I’m sure you’re well aware, gracious reader, I haven’t posted for better than a week. All is well; I’m merely engaged in hostilities against physical afflictions both familiar and unfamiliar. Neither has me destined for worse days I assure you; they do tend to take the wind out of one’s sails, however.

Thanks for your prayers. That, and you’ll never know how your simply reading the things I need to say touch me in ways that get past all my paralysis to a place of real feeling. I hope to be back in writing mode again soon. I think I still owe you a follow-up from last time.

Until then,

God remains good.

The best is still yet to come.

We have every reason to smile.

PS

And Jesus Said Unto Them


This is a follow-up to yesterday’s post

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Taking my life decade by decade, I’d confess these would be the relatable refrains of the Almighty to my heart in each scale of my journey:

  • As a child I was drawn to a Sunday School God with stories of braveries and miracles on flannel graph and innately knew my own story was being fitted to join in somehow.
  • In my teens and twenties it was the sternness and forgiveness, the judgments and mercies, of God in the prophets that shaped me.
  • In my thirties and into my forties, I was positively rabbinical in my poring over the Old Testament and discovering the Father’s heart as broken and pleading for His wayward children and making for them a way out of their wilderness.
  • Later in my forties, I uncovered Jesus from the Pentateuch – bridging it to the Gospel in the New – and seeing how everything points to Him, how He connects the dots, learning how one can preach the Gospel from there and not perverting it with works-salvation.
  • And so far in my fifties, I’m rediscovering the stand-alone story of ‘chesed‘ throughout all of Scripture and the intimacy of God-come-near in Jesus – the Good News that is only good and really all that God has left with us to preach – and that it’s amazingly enough.

These were the overtures of God in each stage of my faith journey. It would also seem that God has ‘themed’ His communications to the Church throughout her history. Each ‘generation’ of followers of the Lord Jesus has been faced with its own challenge – a direct question taken from the Gospels in various settings.

The Cry and Call of God to His people has been ‘generation-specific’ in the changing eras of Church history. Each version has had to answer to a divinely inspired challenge and respond in their crisis of belief to the stewardship of the Kingdom set before them. Allow me to show you what I mean*:

  • The ‘First-Generation’ Church:

  • This was the age of martyrdom and following Jesus at great cost. It seems their testimony was asked to stand up to the query of Jesus:

    Will you lay down your life for My sake?”
    (John 13:38)

  • The 4th Century Issue:

  • A concerted effort to de-deify Jesus had been in the mix for (then) hundreds of years, and the matter was settled by the Church at the Council of Nicea, where church leaders drove the stake in the ground once and for all declaring Jesus to be One and the Same with the Father. It seems, then, they had to answer to:

    What do you think of the Christ? Whose Son is He?”
    (Matthew 22:42)

  • The Dark Ages:

  • The merciful end to this prolonged spiritual black hole of Church corruption gave rise to ‘reformers’ whose identities suffice with easily recognizable last names: Hus, Luther, Knox, Wycliffe, and Calvin. These – and a host of others – stood unapologetically on salvation by grace through faith and not man’s work nor payment of indulgences. It’s plain to see their kind answered to:

    Did I not say if you believe you would see the glory of God?”
    (John 11:40)

  • The Age of ‘Open Doors’:

  • Carey, Taylor, Livingstone, Judson, Goforth, Moon, Studd, Brainerd, Aldersey – to name a few – each left the comforts and conveniences of home and security to take the living Gospel to the ends of the known earth, causing the Church to explode onto the global stage. God’s challenge to stay man’s notion of enlightenment and secularism was accepted by these selfless men and women who answered “yes” to:

    When the Son of Man comes, will He find faith(fulness) on the earth?”
    (Luke 18:8)

  • 20th Century Prosperity:

  • Industry and the rise of technology made the West the most affluent society on earth – and with it, materialism, individualism, greed and selfishness. To His people living under the difficult yoke of Western prosperity, God issued an invitation to lay up treasures in Heaven by surrendering their bank accounts on earth to His glory. Many, but not most, and certainly not all answered in the affirmative to:

    Do you love Me more than these?”
    (John 21:5)

  • The Beginning of the ‘Great Falling Away’:

  • Paul told his disciple Timothy it would happen in the ‘last days’ and we’re here, folks. Religious pluralism, rampant hedonism, pervasive secularism, radical inclusivism and forced tolerance are a swelling tide coming down on the landscape of the world, and the Church is a weakened bulwark against it. Many are being drawn away and perishing. Who will stand? Who will remain firmly in faith? Jesus asked His own –

    Will you also go away?”
    (John 6:67)

    And they said:

    Where else would we go? You alone have the words of Life.”
    (John 6:68)

Is this our generation’s question?

Or is there another?

I have an idea there’s another one for us – and, Lord willing, I’ll share it in the next podcast. Bless you, friends, for giving me your time in these posts. Until next time…

In His joy!
Pasture

• • • •

Note: I must give credit where it’s due, so these ‘generation-specific’ questions from the Lord Jesus were taken from an article by O. S. Hawkins I’ve kept on file for the last decade.

Life’s Biggie

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While existentialists have been pondering the answer to life’s Ultimate Question for generations, I don’t think they’ve ever understood the (right) question in the first place. To question the existence of God and the accountability of man is the sure path to never finding true bliss and meaning and puts them on a circuitous treadmill of, well, never arriving.

[Relax. This is not a multi-layered philosophical post that is designed to raise more questions.]

The Bible doesn’t spend a whole lot of time trying to prove the existence of God. It’s intrinsically and automatically assumed. From the outset…He is. First book, first chapter, very first phrase of the very first verse…

In short, the only written record in mankind’s possession that can boast to contain only truth from heaven, and has remained unilaterally unchallenged and supernaturally preserved, assumes we are here by Intelligent Design, and so asks, “What will you do, then, with such information?”

Those who challenge such a claim reveal only one thing about themselves: they don’t want any such God to tell them what to do.

• • • •

Aldous Huxley, grandson of Thomas Huxley who was Darwin’s colleague, stated in his article, “Confessions of a Professed Atheist“:

“I had motives for not wanting the world to have meaning…For myself, as no doubt for most of my contemporaries, the philosophy of meaninglessness was essentially an instrument of liberation. The liberation we desired was simultaneously liberation from a certain political and economic system and liberation from a certain system of morality. We objected to the morality because it interfered with our sexual freedom.”

• • • •

One’s matrix of understanding must begin with “In the beginning God…” before meaning and fulfillment can even be hinted at. If there’s any other subject that replaces God in that sentence (i.e., chance, evolution, myself) life becomes an unsolvable riddle and cruel mystery.

For the ones with eyes to see, however, our quest is not finished. It’s not enough to acknowledge we are here by the agenda of Another. There is now, for us, a comma, followed by a “therefore” and brought to a clearly defined response.


“He is God, therefore I…”

In Bible times there were these poignant questions asked by God (or on behalf of God) to some of the more familiar people of both testaments. Questions that changed their course dramatically:

  • Where are you, Adam?
  • Who is on the Lord’s side?
  • What is the meaning of the bleating of these sheep, Saul?
  • Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth, Job?
  • Whom shall I send? Who will go for us? (A two-fer for Isaiah!)
  • Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?

Looking back on my own life, the most life-changing question I was ever asked, I was asked in front of 2,000 people. In my mid-teens, I’d just knelt at a church altar, laying my life down for God…for only God knew what. I was still puzzled by what it all meant as my feet slogged back to a pew in the rear of the cavernous auditorium.

What did I sign up for, Lord?

Can You confirm something? Anything?

My youth pastor must’ve known something I didn’t, for he asked for some testimonies by show of hands:

Who came to receive Christ tonight?
(Hands held aloft)

Who confessed sin and rededicated your lives back to God tonight?
(Many hands everywhere)

Who came to dedicate your life to a specific mission for God?
(A dozen or so hands, maybe?)

Did I? I didn’t know. Nothing so much…specific…as generally offered…

But still, my hand went up slowly.

I must’ve caught his eye way back there in the back with hundreds and hundreds of people between myself and Pastor John. Yeah, right.

I see you back there, Scott,” he smiled from the podium.

You have GOT to be kidding me. He. Saw. Me. And singled me out. My heart was swallowed up by my stomach.

Did you come to this altar tonight to surrender for preaching ministry?” he asked, somewhat slyly.

And there it was.

Boom.

Clear as crystal.

In a micro-second, I then knew why I was on the earth. I was fourteen years young and I already had the answer to my own why.

Yes sir,” I responded, my voice cracking from the back.

And here was my humblest yes – not to Pastor John, but to God Himself. And 2,000 witnesses.

I thought so,” he said into the microphone, his amplified voice cracking too.

• • • •

So I ask you, in closing. Why are YOU here? What big answer is YOUR life to give?

• • • •

Thanks for reading today, beloved. Sorry I’ve not posted all week, but, you know, life…but anyway, in tomorrow’s post I want to follow up this piece with another that offers some of Christ’s most important questions for His followers – taken directly from the Gospels. I think you’ll find them to be just as pertinent for us now as they were then.

Selah,
The Pasture

Weekly Podcast: A Challenging Word for 2015

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This week’s episode outlines a scenario for the followers of Jesus in coming days. What will 2015 hold for the Church?

I have a challenging word for us. You’ll need to read Acts 27 and 28 which provides background and scriptural support for where God is taking us.

Today’s broadcast will cover:

  • A Challenge for What’s Coming, and
  • The Objective to Where God Is Taking Us

Let’s talk about A Coming Storm….And An Appointment With Rome

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Running Time: 26m, 04s

God Is Not Finished

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If you’ve managed to string together some years of living, you can’t deny the times you’ve stood at a crucial crossroad and asked, “How will I get through this?

And yet, here you are.

There’ve been some Goliaths here and there, some Waterloos, a Gethsemane or two, and perhaps even a dark night of the soul to spice things up. But you made it. You’re here and in one piece. Yes, you’ve accumulated your share of scars, a wine cellar of bottled tears, and there might even be a hint of PTSD, but the fact remains, you came through. It wasn’t bootstraps or fine breeding that got you through, either. It was God.

I’ll tie a bow on this four-part “God Is Not…” series with this final faith-building installment. In preparation for whatever Everests or Hades that loom before us in 2015, whatever crises of belief to assay our faith, God has already won the day and we are citizens of His unshakable Kingdom.

So what have we learned about God-in-crisis? What is the climate in the throne room when the fury of hell is unleashed? What can we expect from Him as the days grow more uncertain, as frightening darkness encroaches, as alarms are sounding, when even the experts are turning to gloom-and-doom forecasts?

We’ve learned that:

  • God Is not nervous in the least

  • The Psalmist says He even “laughs” in the face of the would-be oppressors – but smiles on His own, because

  • God is not aloof and uncaring

  • He looks intimately upon us as we toil and strive against the onslaught of waves – and He’s not at a loss…for words. He will stand and shout at the storm “Enough!” and carry us through.

  • And, God is not handicapped

  • All the resources of glory are at His disposal and in full operation to countermand the wickedness of evil’s hate against His own. He is not self-absorbed but “will fight for you.” (Exodus 14:14)

And the word that feeds our soul today is,

  • God Is Not Finished

Paul, the apostle of suffering, said he’d been shipwrecked three times, was once set adrift at sea and, at other times, experienced “dangers at sea” – all in one paragraph (2 Cor 11:25,26). He and the sea didn’t get along too well, it would seem.

Acts 27 gives a harrowing account of one such shipwreck. Luke accurately recounts that Paul was a carefully-guarded prisoner and was loaded onto a cargo ship for an appointment with Caesar in Rome. His case as an insurrectionist against Rome was going to be reviewed by a Roman court with Caesar himself presiding.

It wasn’t the best time to be sailing on the contrary Mediterranean and Paul suggested to the captain they might find a harbor to winter in. The captain considered it but sought other counsel and was told the ship was sturdy to face whatever the sea could throw at it and, besides, weren’t they under some time constraints to deliver their charge? You guessed it. They pushed on – straight into the teeth of a nor’easter.

For two whole weeks they battled and toiled and despaired. They didn’t see the sun for fourteen straight days but fought through night-like conditions 24 hours a day, without food as the all-hands-on-deck situation kept them active and occupied. This was a once-in-a-lifetime storm that terrorized even the most hardened veteran sailors. And there was Paul.

Nearly two weeks of this and Paul was in his quarters one night when he was visited by an Angel who told him,

Don’t fear this storm, Paul. You will not die and none of the other 276 men will die, either. You are destined to speak to Caesar and to Caesar you will go!”

Paul believed God and shared this news with the crew later that night.

Men,” he said, “God has told me we will not die. Look, you haven’t eaten in two weeks, so eat!

It was a strange thing to say. The boat was still being lashed by rains and wind and the waves remained mountains of fury against them, but in the midst of it all, as Paul surely had to shout to be heard, there was the promise of deliverance – and the respite of food.

I think we’re in a calm before the storm hits. Indeed it’s coming and it’ll be unlike any past storm we’ve come through before. I believe we’ve foolishly pushed out from Crete instead of listening to the warnings of God, trusting rather in the size and seaworthiness of our vessels. Consequently, there are frightening days ahead – days of peril and dashed hopes. But even in this, God is not absent. His hands are not tied. He will come and save us because we have islands to save and Caesars to stand before and Romes to invade and snakes to shake off our hands – because Acts doesn’t finish with chapter 27 but moves seamlessly into chapter 28.

But the cost will be high.

Remember, it is not the storm – or the size of it – that dictates the outcome. That’s the Lord’s call. Some of us will have to swim for our lives, some will cling to planks and others will have to fight for mere scraps (Acts 27:44) – but God has spoken, He is not finished, and we will make it to shore.

Amen.

• • • •

O God, our help in ages past,
our hope for years to come,
our shelter from the stormy blast,
and our eternal home:

Under the shadow of thy throne,
thy saints have dwelt secure;
sufficient is thine arm alone,
and our defense is sure.

Before the hills in order stood,
or earth received her frame,
from everlasting thou art God,
to endless years the same.

A thousand ages in thy sight
are like an evening gone;
short as the watch that ends the night
before the rising sun.

Time, like an ever-rolling stream,
bears all its sons away;
they fly, forgotten, as a dream
dies at the opening day.

O God, our help in ages past,
our hope for years to come,
be thou our guide while troubles last,
and our eternal home!

- Isaac Watts

God Is Not Handicapped

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Once upon a time Jesus healed a guy with a withered arm. I think I remember studying about that boy and getting the idea it was some kind of farming mishap that rendered his arm useless. The word used in that account means shriveled or twisted up bad.

If you go further back in the Bible you encounter a time when God Himself poses the question, “Does My arm look withered to you?” It was the prophet Isaiah who spoke for God in that instance, I believe. Correct me if I’m wrong; I won’t even google it.

Which brings me to the third (of four) attributions in this “God Is Not…” series of posts. If you’re new to me and are jumping in midstream, I’m taking a few breaths as I prepare to offer a vision statement for this new year. It’s not that I’m doing a drum roll before the ta-da! It’s nothing so dramatic, I assure you. In fact (I’ll go ahead and let you in on it), the ‘word’ I’ve got marinating in my spirit won’t catch you off-guard, yea, it might even be borderline anticlimactic. You might even demand your money back. Wait

These posts are not a build-up to a crescendo but more of the framing around the message itself. Flying buttresses, if you will. If I’m truly seeing something that presents a new set of challenges for the church in the coming year, then, well, we’re going to need to know some things about God in the midst of the fallout.

  1. GOD IS NOT NERVOUS
  2. GOD IS NOT SILENT
  3. GOD IS NOT HANDICAPPED

Well, now I understand something about this. It’s right in my wheelhouse. In nearly nine years of blogging and thirty-three years of speaking out of my life of disability I’ve shared and shared ad nauseum on what my life’s been like as a paralyzed man. There’s not a lot more I can say, but, then again, there’s always a testimony waiting to happen. So…let me testify.

Disability has its privileges. Primo parking spaces, roomier hotel accommodations, cool equipment, wheelchairs that go vroom, and the enviable privilege of being ushered to the front of the line at Disney World. Persons with disability are also fairly patient people; indeed, we have to be. I can also testify that a handicap can strengthen a marriage as you tend to overemphasize communication to compensate for lack in other departments. Have I told you how much I love being married to Sandy?

Moving on.

There are also some drawbacks to this life. My particular infirmity can be a b-word an awful lot of the time. I’ll just invite you to read more about my situation here and here and let that suffice.

There’s another strike against persons with disability, an issue I’m loathe to mention but must. By and large we are pretty self-absorbed people. We are often known to make it about us.

I’m going to segue here by making a bold assessment. The church is entirely too self-absorbed. There’s a lot of good – yes – and I love being a part of her. She’s doing enviable work, has many strengths, and is making strong inroads with regard to gospel penetration.

"But I have somewhat against thee," Jesus says.

She’s self-absorbed because she’s handicapped. She needs to make it about her because she’s weak and needy and not fully living out of the joy and strength of her Lord. Mind you, I’m not bashing. I love her. I’m part of her. I’m also weak and needy and self-absorbed, and I think our only hope to overcome is severe testing and refining.

Isaiah was God’s man to a people paralyzed by current events. The Jews living in the 8th century B.C. seemed surprised when they were being raided and carted off by Assyria. God, where are You? Why aren’t You doing something? Have You forgotten about us? They couldn’t believe what hit them – and when it did, they set to blaming God. It was His fault. He let it happen.

Let me tell you about Assyria. It’s capital was Ninevah – yeah, that Ninevah. Never had a world power devised such forms of brutality and torture as the Assyrians. They loved putting out eyes, severing body parts and skinning their prisoners alive. Conquests were staked to the ground and died of starvation and dehydration while exposed to the Middle Eastern sun. Women and children were not immune. Suddenly, Israel finds itself being handed over to these savages and they cried bitterly against their God.

Let me pick up this part of the story straight out of Isaiah’s record:

Isaiah 40:26-28 (NLT)
Look up into the heavens.
Who created all the stars?
He brings them out like an army, one after another,
calling each by its name.
Because of his great power and incomparable strength,
not a single one is missing.
O Jacob, how can you say the Lord does not see your troubles?
O Israel, how can you say God ignores your rights?
Have you never heard?
Have you never understood?
The Lord is the everlasting God,
the Creator of all the earth.
He never grows weak or weary.
No one can measure the depths of his understanding
.

Did you see that? My predicament. My rights. Me, my, mine. When the focus is leveled at myself and my surroundings I begin to lose hope and look for someone to blame for my situation. Guess who gets the brunt?

God, don’t You love me?

Am I nothing to You?

Don’t You care?

On the heels of this despairing conversation is a promise: YOU WILL MOUNT UP ON EAGLE’S WINGS. But – wait – the promise is for those who “wait” on God. The word in the original gives the picture of twine being twisted into a sturdy rope; the more strings you add the greater the rope’s unbreakable strength. He’s showing us if we wrap our hearts – our hope, our faith – with His purposes, we will soar while the rest are earth-bound. We will have His limitless energy to overcome!

Is He handicapped by the enemy? Are His purposes thwarted?

Is His arm withered?


Behold, the Lord God comes with might,
AND HIS ARM RULES FOR HIM!
Isaiah 40:10

He’s not handicapped, we are. We need healing. But, praise God, He’s coming with wings, with legs and with zeal to overcome against our Assyria. Isaiah 40:31 isn’t ‘sweet bye and bye’ stuff. It’s for today, tomorrow and whatever’s coming.

Amen.

Next Up: “God Is Not…Finished”

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Photo Cred: Michelangelo’s anatomical study of the human arm.