“So when you, a mere human being, pass judgment on them and yet do the same things, do you think you will escape God’s judgment? Or do you show contempt for the riches of his kindness, forbearance and patience, not realizing that God’s kindness is intended to lead you to repentance” (Romans 2:3-4)? God’s kindness is rich. God’s forbearance is rich. God’s patience is rich. Do we embrace this richness or treat it with contempt? Passing judgment on others while doing the same thing means showing contempt for these riches. Allowing God’s kindness to lead us to a change in heart and behavior is embracing these riches. In those moments when I seem to be stuck in sin, perhaps what I really need to do is spend time considering the riches of God’s kindness, forbearance, and patience. Same goes for the times when I am railing about sin in someone else’s life. A large dose of the riches of God can go a long way toward leading me out of my own hypocrisy.
“One night the Lord said to Paul in a vision, ‘Do not be afraid, but speak and do not be silent; for I am with you, and no one will lay a hand on you to harm you, for there are many in this city who are my people.’ He stayed there a year and six months, teaching the word of God among them” (Acts 18:9-11). As I read this I consider how much more patient God is with people than I am. How many times have we given up too soon? How many times have we moved on before the time needed for people to hear? And as I read this I wonder how many people there are in our neighborhoods, schools, and offices there are of whom God would say, they “are my people?”
One of the great joys of the ministry life is having a front row seat to watch God in action, changing the hearts and lives of people.
I recently enjoyed a second pastoral conversation with a woman, a couple of months after the first. Clearly God had been at work, bringing peace and clarity to her heart and life.
Thanks be to God.
Some days it’s, “Be still and know that I am God.”
Other days it’s, “Know that I am God and be still.”
Every day the key components are being still and knowing God.
“I have much more to say to you, but you can’t handle it now.” John 16:12 CEB
In his “farewell discourse” with his disciples, Jesus lets them know there is more, much more, that he would like to say to them, but they can’t handle it at the moment.
How awesome is it that Jesus knew his friends well enough to know their limits and respected them enough to hold off on saying some things to them?
How many times have I unloaded words on people when they were already up-to-here and unable to handle more?
How many times has Jesus wanted to tell me something, but knew I couldn’t handle it?
The discourse continues with some assurances about the role “the Companion” (CEB) plays in communicating. While you can’t handle it “now,” God is already preparing for the moment when you can handle it.
Thanks be to God.
“What can I give back to the Lord for all the good things he has done for me?” Psalm 116:12 CEB
Finding this question in the middle of my Psalm of the day made it impossible for me to quickly read and move on with my day.
While I realize I can never repay God for all God has done; at the same time, I hope I never stop asking this question.
It seems the natural reaction to an awareness of all the goodness God has done is to ponder how to give back.
So if I stop asking this question, perhaps I need to seriously consider whether I have lost my awareness of how good God has been.
God has been so good. What can I give back?
In his writings, Henri Nouwen warns against these three lies we believe: I am what I do. I am what I have. I am what others think and say. Nouwen says the way to overcome these three lies is to remember this truth: I am God’s beloved. It is my hope and prayer that at Christmas we will be reminded yet again that we are God’s beloved. The message of that baby, the Word become flesh, is unmistakable. God loves me. God loves the world.
“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16).
As Lafayette Christian Preschool wrapped up another year, I had opportunity to participate in the closing ceremonies by praying a blessing over the children and the parents. Before praying for the children, I had opportunity to watch them sing a song they had been practicing for several days.
The teachers were sweet and encouraging as they positioned the children for the big performance. As I watched I knew the teachers were wondering if all of their hard work in teaching the song and preparing for the performance was going to be evident or if it would come off as if they had never rehearsed at all. When you work with children, especially young children, you never know quite what to expect.
- Would they remember the words?
- Would they stand still?
- Would someone start sobbing?
- Would a little girl lift up her dress?
- Would a little boy pull down his pants?
One of the best things about these programs is the audience. These children were not onstage to perform for me. They were not performing for their teachers. They were certainly not performing for Simon Cowell. The children were on that stage singing for an audience packed with their number one fans, their parents, grandparents, and other family members.
As I sat in the front waiting for my cue to step onstage and bless the children, I think I had the best seat in the house. I could see everybody — the children, the teachers, and the audience of family members. I am not sure what was sweeter – seeing and hearing the children singing the songs or watching their parents and grandparents support their precious children.
Some of the children seemed confident. Some seemed a bit uneasy. One or two decided to just stand there without singing or even moving, seemingly overwhelmed by their moment in the spotlight. And then there were the Moms who were waving to their sons. Dads who were videotaping their daughters. Parents and grandparents mouthing, “I love you!” to their children. And, of course, once or twice I saw parents and grandparents reacting to what they were seeing with a “D’oh!”
As I watched the preschool production with all the family dynamics taking place, I thought of how family presents a picture of God’s love. I imagined Jesus watching us perform for Him. I envisioned God being focused on us, waving to get our attention. I pictured the Holy Spirit doing everything possible to assure us of God’s love. As I watched the parents and grandparents I was reminded — that’s the way God is.
Where would we be but for the love of God?
Have you ever heard God referred to as “the big guy upstairs” or “the old man in the sky?” These statements may reveal something about people’s perception of God. Throughout my ministry I have been surprised (shocked may not be too strong a word) at the times when people have told me they think God is actually “male.”
I mistakenly had thought everyone understood God is not a human and so not male or female. God is a spirit. God is, well, God. Jesus was a male, but the great mystery of the incarnation is not just that God has taken on a male body, but that God has taken on any human body at all (Philippians 2:1-11). God…in a human body? Wow!
Without question, scripture uses male metaphors to present God to us in language we can understand. The best known example of a male metaphor being used to reveal God would probably be God as our “father”. While there are few references to God as father in the Old Testament, this imagery is frequently used by Jesus and elsewhere in the New Testament. While we are familiar with male metaphors and imagery used to reveal God to humans, for some reason we are not as familiar with female metaphors and imagery used in scripture to reveal God. For that reason, I ask you to consider these few examples:
- Numbers 11:12 Moses asks, “Did I conceive all these people? Did I give them birth? Why do you tell me to carry them in my arms as a nurse carries an infant…?” The obvious answer is, “no.” Moses did not, but he is making the point that God did. God conceived them. God gave them birth. God carried them.
- Deuteronomy 32:18 In this passage God is pictured as both father and mother; and, I suppose it is worth noting, God also is pictured as a “rock.”
- Job 38:8, 29 The Lord uses feminine birth imagery to describe God’s creating the universe.
- Psalm 131:2 David describes putting his hope in the Lord as being like a weaned child cuddling with its mother. A weaned child does not seek its mother to demand food. A weaned child wants its mother for comfort and assurance.
- Luke 15:8-10 In Luke 15 Jesus tells three stories to teach about the nature of God. While two of the stories use male imagery, the second of the stories uses female imagery to reveal God.
- Matthew 23:37 Jesus describes God’s desire to protect Israel being like that of a hen wanting to protect her chicks.
- John 1:13; John 3:5; 1 John 4:7; 1 John 5:1, 4, 18 John uses feminine “born of God” images several times.
- Isaiah 42:14, Isaiah 46:3-4, Isaiah 49:14-15, Isaiah 66:13 These are but a few of many more examples which could be listed.
Don’t miss the point here, I am not trying to pitch that God is female. Far from it. I am saying while God is God and not human (male or female), scripture uses numerous images and metaphors — both male and female — to reveal the nature of God.
My wife recently shared this prayer with me.
“Lord, you’re the most unpredictable person I know. Just when I think I’ve finally begun to figure you out, you do something so fantastic, so completely, wildly unexpected that I’m knocked for a loop.
I think I know where to find you and then I suddenly find you in the most unlikely places; at the oddest moments; in the strangest people.
I think I know your voice; and then I hear you in a child’s crooning lullaby; in an old man’s chuckles; in a lover’s sigh.
I think I know your face; and then I see you in a psychiatric ward; in a jam-packed tenement; in the streets, wandering aimlessly.
I think I know you well; and then I discover I know you not at all.
I think I know your love; and then I discover I haven’t begun to know it.
Thank you, Lord, for being unpredictable. Thank you for startling me out of my comfortable rut. Continue teaching me that you’re a God of infinite surprises.”