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  • WHY YOU NEED TO BE BRUTALLY HONEST WITH GOD

    AUTHOR: // CATEGORY: Story

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    Have you ever taken a corner too quickly and feel the center of gravity inch you ever so closer to tipping over your car?  Have you ever went too fast over a hill with a steep grade and you catch a little bit of air off the hill?  How about when you hit an unexpected speed bump and the coffee cup flies out of the drink holder and the bag flips over in the frontseat of the car?  Hopefully I’m not the only one here.

    How about when your life hits something unexpected like a pothole or a deer?  Sometimes we don’t know if a good week will turn into a mediocre week or if an OK week will descend into the pit of hell.  That knowledge is simply outside of our range of vision.  Regardless, life is relentless and things happen.

    I am reminded of the psalmist who wrote,

    By the rivers of Babylon— there we sat down and there we wept when we remembers Zion.  On the willows there we hung up our harps.  For there our captors asked us for songs, and our tormentors asked for mirth, saying, ‘Sing us one of the songs of Zion!’” (Ps 137:1-2)

    Can you imagine yourself in captivity and being mocked by people?  Can you imagine yourself crying over the destruction of your home and feeling deep anger over the violence done to you and your loved ones?

    The psalmist ends the writing with incredible anger and a shocking amount of raw emotion.

    Perhaps you have been there, in the pit of despair and anger, cursing both God and others (it really is an easy place to end up).  Perhaps you’ve been in a personal nightmare, and it leaves you in near hopelessness.

    When injustice happens, plans fail, and sharp elbows are tossed at your nose, I want you to know that it’s OK to lash out at God and tell him everything that’s on your mind. Tell him off, because through this courage you can encounter intimacy with the One who formed you in your mother’s womb.  God meets you in your emotional wrestling match (dive into the Psalms and see for yourself).  Through this brutal honesty, God will meet you in the valley of despair.  Through your honesty, healing can finally begin.

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  • HOW I’M LEARNING TO FOLLOW JESUS

    AUTHOR: // CATEGORY: Theology

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    Have you ever found yourself wandering in the desert?

    Maybe you haven’t found yourself in a literal desert, but at least in a desert-y period of life.  Perhaps it’s in between relationships, jobs, or some other major life event.  Quite honestly, I’m not a big fan of those times.

    I find myself entering into a major transition of life and I quite honestly have so many thoughts swirling around in my head.  Fortunately, the raw nature of the Psalms are helpful to pray through.  And as a former pastor suggested, weekly therapy sessions in the batting cage helps on a different level.

    I have found that following Jesus is difficult under the best of circumstances, so when the bad times hit, it is made even more tough.

    In this season, I’m learning to follow Jesus by preaching to myself.  I’m learning to follow Jesus by writing verses down on a whiteboard, reminding myself of God’s promises to not only preserve, but also to establish me.  While I honestly cannot wait for this season to end, I will come out on the other end clinging to the only certain hope I have– that Jesus is Lord of all.

  • THE PSALM OF SORROW

    AUTHOR: // CATEGORY: Bible Talk, Story

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    One of the reasons I love the Psalms is that they capture raw emotions.  Everything from the exuberance of a wedding to the desolate feelings when the proverbial excrement hits the fan.  For me, Psalm 77 is currently my Psalm, as if Asaph penned it just for me.  (Thanks to Tremper Longman III for unpacking this in “Getting Brutally Honest With God” at Christianity Today)

    Psalm 77

    I cry out to God; yes, I shout.

    Oh, that God would listen to me!

    When I was in deep trouble,

    I searched for the Lord.

    All night long I prayed, with hands lifted toward heaven,

    but my soul was not comforted.

    I think of God, and I moan,

    overwhelmed with longing for his help.

    You don’t let me sleep.

    I am too distressed even to pray!

    I think of the good old days,

    long since ended,

    when my nights were filled with joyful songs.

    I search my soul and ponder the difference now.

    Has the Lord rejected me forever?

    Will he never again be kind to me?

    Is his unfailing love gone forever?

    Have his promises permanently failed?

    Has God forgotten to be gracious?

    Has he slammed the door on his compassion?

    And I said, “This is my fate;

    the Most High has turned his hand against me.”

    But then I recall all you have done, O Lord;

    I remember your wonderful deeds of long ago.

    They are constantly in my thoughts.

    I cannot stop thinking about your mighty works.

    O God, your ways are holy.

    Is there any god as mighty as you?

    You are the God of great wonders!

    You demonstrate your awesome power among the nations.

    By your strong arm, you redeemed your people,

    the descendants of Jacob and Joseph.

    When the Red Sea saw you, O God,

    its waters looked and trembled!

    The sea quaked to its very depths.

    The clouds poured down rain;

    the thunder rumbled in the sky.

    Your arrows of lightning flashed.

    Your thunder roared from the whirlwind;

    the lightning lit up the world!

    The earth trembled and shook.

    Your road led through the sea,

    your pathway through the mighty waters—

    a pathway no one knew was there!

    You led your people along that road like a flock of sheep,

    with Moses and Aaron as their shepherds.

    What is your Psalm?

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  • PRAYER OF LEADERSHIP

    AUTHOR: // CATEGORY: Bible Talk, Story

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    Fan the flames 

    I have found that stepping into new terrain and stepping into a position of leadership has been quite the transition (to say the least).  But fortunately, I am neither the first and nor the last when it comes to taking on leadership positions.  Here is a prayer of Solomon’s from Psalm 72:

    Give the king your justice, O God,
    and your righteousness to the royal son!

    May he judge your people with righteousness,
    and your poor with justice!

    Let the mountains bear prosperity for the people,
    and the hills, in righteousness!

    May he defend the cause of the poor of the people,
    give deliverance to the children of the needy,
    and crush the oppressor!

    May they fear you while the sun endures,
    and as long as the moon, throughout all generations!

    May he be like rain that falls on the mown grass,
    like showers that water the earth!

    In his days may the righteous flourish,
    and peace abound, till the moon be no more!

    May he have dominion from sea to sea,
    and from the River to the ends of the earth!

    May desert tribes bow down before him,
    and his enemies lick the dust!

    May the kings of Tarshish and of the coastlands
    render him tribute;
    may the kings of Sheba and Seba
    bring gifts!

    May all kings fall down before him,
    all nations serve him!

    For he delivers the needy when he calls,
    the poor and him who has no helper.

    He has pity on the weak and the needy,
    and saves the lives of the needy.

    From oppression and violence he redeems their life,
    and precious is their blood in his sight.

    Long may he live;
    may gold of Sheba be given to him!
    May prayer be made for him continually,
    and blessings invoked for him all the day!

    May there be abundance of grain in the land;
    on the tops of the mountains may it wave;
    may its fruit be like Lebanon;
    and may people blossom in the cities
    like the grass of the field!

    May his name endure forever,
    his fame continue as long as the sun!
    May people be blessed in him,
    all nations call him blessed!

    Blessed be the Lord, the God of Israel,
    who alone does wondrous things.

    Blessed be his glorious name forever;
    may the whole earth be filled with his glory!
    Amen and Amen!

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  • ON HIATUS

    AUTHOR: // CATEGORY: Story

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    A Path, St. Mark's Coptic Cathedral in Abbassiyah, Cairo

    Dear readers and perusers-

    This blog will be paused this coming week for a time of mourning.  My grandmother, Dorothy Bremerthon, went to be with Christ and my grandpa in glory.   It has been a tough few days, but I know that she has passed through the valley of the shadow of death, and now is beside the still waters and green pastures (as Psalm 23 comfortingly describes).  But it still sucks.  Prayers are appreciated for my family.

    The Psalms helped all in the room centered on the covenant keeping faithfulness of the LORD,  and Psalm 121 especially helped me.

    I lift up my eyes to the hills.
    From where does my help come?
    My help comes from the Lord,
    who made heaven and earth.
     
    He will not let your foot be moved;
    he who keeps you will not slumber.
    Behold, he who keeps Israel
    will neither slumber nor sleep.
     
    The Lord is your keeper;
    the Lord is your shade on your right hand.
    The sun shall not strike you by day,
    nor the moon by night.
     
    The Lord will keep you from all evil;
    he will keep your life.
    The Lord will keep
    your going out and your coming in
    from this time forth and forevermore.
    Psalm 121
     

    Grandma, rest in the peace of Christ our Savior.

    Photo: Andrew A. Shenouda via Compfight

     
  • PREACHING TO MYSELF

    AUTHOR: // CATEGORY: Bible Talk, Growth, Story

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    I have found that in the times where things seem desperate and my heart is a bit downcast, it is in those moments that I am drawn to listen to myself.  Listen to fear.  Listen to doubts.  I sit and listen to the chorus of voices that compete for my attention.  It is in these times though that I need to listen to something else.  I need to listen to a good word.  Instead of listening to myself, I need to talk to myself.  Stay with me on this.

    SiftingPoint highlighted an excellent piece on this theme from Chris Poblete at Servants of Grace.  When things get rough and life gets a bit weary, it is in these times that we need to hear from someone other than ourselves.  It is in the moments of despair that I need to tell myself what I need to hear.  

    Let me ask you a question.  If and when you sit idly by, what voice do you often hear inside of you?  It’s usually the emo one, right?  It’s the fear voice that tells you to get your life in order all at once or not at all.  It doesn’t tell you to take one thing at a time and get your act together (fear is schizo like that, as Jon Acuff points out in START).  It doesn’t tell you to start praying early in the morning, and then build in an exercise routine, and then add in healthier friendships.  No, the voices are often crippling and destructive.  That’s why we need purposeful words spoken into our own hearts.

    whispering / mimi-uchi rahen z via Compfight

    Something that I use when I am down is to quote passages from the Psalms to myself.  My Psalms class at Fuller Seminary convinced me that the Psalms are meant to be used as a prayer book for the people of God.  The emotions, raw and real, are there and frequently touch on everything from joy to sorrow.  It is in these personal times of preaching to myself that I am reminded who God is, what God has done, and what he has pledged to do.

    Dear reader, when you get knocked down, look to the hills.  For that is where your help will come from.  It will come from the Delivering God himself.  

    Bless the Lord, O my soul,
       and all that is within me,
       bless his holy name!
    Bless the Lord, O my soul,
       and forget not all his benefits,
    who forgives all your iniquity,
       who heals all your diseases,
    who redeems your life from the pit,
       who crowns you with steadfast love and mercy,
    who satisfies you with good
       so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s.
    Psalm 103:1-5
     
     

     

  • GANDALF IN THE SKY

    AUTHOR: // CATEGORY: Bible Talk

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    (Below is a version of an Advent piece I wrote for my church)

    Growing up, we often come to the table of faith with preconceived notions of God in our heads. I pictured him resembling Gandalf from Lord of the Rings, complete with a long flowing beard and walking staff. Other people pictured him as a kindly father, graciously delighting in his children. Others might have looked upon God with a more negative image, as a grumpy old man or someone far worse.

    The psalmist in Psalm 54 (and elsewhere)  saw the wickedness in the world and could not look anywhere else but to God. Even though he was surrounded by his enemies and had fallen into despair, he knew that his only hope was in God. Though he was poor and needy, he found solace in God because it was the only place he could have turned. the-return-of-the-prodigal-son-rembrandt-van-rijn

    We in Christ must also cling to our faithful Father with the same tenacity as the psalmist. And it is in this reliance on God that we have the grace and room to give to our community. In Matthew 25:14-30, we find the two diligent workers and the one not so diligent worker. While the first two were congratulated and praised for their faithfulness in a “few things,” the last worker was rejected. Did you catch the worker’s excuse? It was his belief that the Master was a harsh man and thus did not trade it for more.

    I wonder how our view of God might affect our ability to live out the transformation that came about through the Gospel. Even the view of a Gandalf in the sky can cause a different view of our lives here and now. Instead of looking to the Lamb who was slain and clinging onto the hope that is tied to Him, we might choose to live in fear. Instead of giving generously in light of the Lamb, we hold onto our lives with a clenched fist, believing the lie that God is harsh.

    God is love, and He cared for us so much that He walked on this Earth. Let us also walk in the steps of the Messiah this season and beyond.

    What was your picture of God as a child? 

  • PSALM 1 AND TORAH (PT 2)

    AUTHOR: // CATEGORY: Bible Talk

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    (Part 2/2 of Psalm 1 and Torah)

    Psalms 1 is a fantastic psalm, filled with many treasures.  One other thing that I wanted to emphasis is about the characteristics of a person.  As mentioned previously, J. Clinton McCann, Jr. also talks about the righteous person in A Theological Introduction to the Books of Psalms.  The blessed person is not happy according to riches, prestige or power.  Indeed, many people who rejected God will live in prosperity.  The prosperity and peace that is talked about is not according to worldly standards, for the peace of the righteous is not as the world gives (see: John 14:27).  The happiness that is hinted at in Psalms 1 is that the individual’s life is wholly oriented towards the instruction of God.  It is a constant yielding to Him.

    Peace is neither a naive optimism of wealth or self-righteous legalism, as written about last week.  No, it is far greater than that.  It is about an abandonment of our convictions of living fine by ourselves and clinging to torah.  Righteousness is not about purity of heart or a maintenance of puritanical-standards.  Instead, righteousness is being open to God’s instruction and being willing to grow towards the full measure of the stature of Christ.  As John Calvin would say that it is a “teachable spirit”, someone who is open to instruction from God.  And this spirit brings honor and praise to God, for that is where humanity finds life.

  • PSALM 1 AND TORAH

    AUTHOR: // CATEGORY: Bible Talk

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    I am currently enrolled in a course on the Psalms at a seminary.  Psalms has been a very interesting book to read but honestly I have not delved into it with the same passion as other books.  One book that I am reading gives a very interesting perspective on the first psalm.  J. Clinton McCann, Jr. argues in the first chapter of A Theological Introduction to the Books of Psalms that Psalm 1 lays the foundation for the entire psalter.  It paints a picture of what a righteous person looks like and describes what a wicked person acts like.  A righteous person delights in the law of the Lord day and night.

    “Wait!”, you might say.  “We are supposed to delight in the law?  I thought that grace was the big operating word of Christianity, especially the Protestant wing of it.  Besides we are not under the law anymore, isn’t that what Paul said in Galatians?”

    McCann would reply that the psalm is not discussing the characteristics of the self-righteous individual.  This is not a “holier-than-thou” person who parade their prayers in the street and drives around with Christian bumper stickers.  We can translate the Hebrew word torah and say that it means instruction in this context, not law.  The righteous person delights in the instruction of the Lord.  To be blameless in the eyes of God is not to be sinless, but instead to open up to the torah of the Lord, clinging to it daily.  The psalmists words will only be acceptable by God if they opened up to the “all-encompassing, life-giving instruction of the Lord.”  There is no other option from the psalmist, for the torah is it.  There is nothing worthy to be called life apart from God’s instruction.

    Peter would echo these words when he was asked by Jesus if they (the disciples) would abandon them.  Peter replied, “where else would we go, for you alone offer life?”  There is no other place that life can be found, except in God’s instruction.

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    (Part 1/2 of Psalm 1 and Torah)