Monthly Archives: July 2014

Strange, Isn’t It?

The tree is dead.

It was a pine tree that grew more than twelve feet before it succumbed.

It was planted in Los Angeles to honor the late Beatle George Harrison.

What killed the tree?

A bark beetle infestation, actually.

That’s ironic.

Irony. Life is filled with it. The dictionary defines irony as “a state of affairs or an event that seems deliberately contrary to what one expects and is often amusing as a result”.

Irony is the most surprising outcome. It’s the unlikeliest choice or circumstance and the least expected result.

The Bible is saturated with irony. It’s almost as if this is God’s modus operandi. He delights in it. The Creator revels in the surprise ending.

If not for its amazing, come-from-behind irony, the Bible might be a rather dull book.

God chooses the tiniest, most inconspicuous nation to be his own and preserves it for centuries through suffering and exile, bringing it back to its ancient homeland where today it triumphs against all odds.

Through deeply flawed yet courageous men – and some noble and brave women – God delivers and leads his people. Who on earth would have chosen the likes of Abraham, Jacob, Moses or Gideon?

How colorless the biblical account would be without them.

How did a young Jewish boy named Joseph, sold into slavery by jealous brothers, rise to become the prince of Egypt who rescued that land from starvation? Who would have picked a lad tending sheep to be the mightiest king Israel ever had? And how could this ruler later lie and commit adultery and murder and still be a man after God’s own heart?

How ironic. How strange.

A mighty general is told to wash in the dirty Jordan River to find his cure for leprosy.

Five smooth stones and a slingshot slay a heavily-armored giant. Actually it only took one – and a brave lad who had come in from the fields with a lunch for his fear-struck older siblings. Now we see why none of them got the royal nod.

In human form God visits the world he made. He comes through a young virgin and her poor carpenter husband and is born in a stable in a little town called Bethlehem.

The Ruler of the universe is surrounded by animal dung. The hotels were all filled up. There was no room anywhere else.

Ordinary working stiffs – unknown and uneducated fishermen – become the disciples of Jesus and the first leaders of his church.

Five loaves of bread and two fish – a boy’s lunch – feed more than five thousand.

The fiercest persecutor of the church – a proud and stubborn Hebrew intent on strangling Christianity in its crib – becomes its most gifted and eloquent defender and spreads its message throughout much of the known world. He plants vibrant churches, writes nearly one third of the New Testament and becomes Christendom’s greatest theologian. He dies a martyr to the cause he once despised.

How ironic. How strange.

Over and over again God performs not only the miraculous – he does the improbable, the incredible, the stunningly surprising.

If humans did it, they’d be called foolish. But God has done it – and does it still – in the Bible, in the history of nations and in the history of the world.

He does it in our own lives. You know he does – you’ve seen him at work.

God is ironic for a reason.

Paul tells the Corinthians to remember that “few of you were wise in the world’s eyes, or powerful or wealthy when God called you” (I Corinthians 1: 26, NLT).

God makes unlikely choices.

“But God hath chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise; and God hath chosen the weak things of the world to confound the things that are mighty; and base things of the world, and things which are despised, hath God chosen, yea, and things which are not, to bring to nought things that are.” (I Corinthians 1: 27-28, KJV, emphasis added).

Foolish, weak, base and despised things – “things counted as nothing at all” (NLT).

These are so often the instruments – the ways and the means – God chooses and uses.

Why? To what end; to what purpose?

“That no flesh should glory in his presence” (I Corinthians 1:29, KJV).

He does it to keep us humble.

God’s irony is wrapped up in his sovereignty, reflects his majesty and displays his grace and glory.

If it were any other way, we’d be tempted to take the credit instead of praising him for his miracle.

William Cowper said it well in 1773:

“God moves in a mysterious way, his wonders to perform. He plants His footsteps in the sea and rides upon the storm”.

Paul – who must have marveled at his own improbable spiritual journey – exults in joyful wonder at the inscrutability of God:

“O the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments, and his ways past finding out!” (Romans 11:33, KJV).

Yes, God often chooses “nothings” and uses them “to bring to nothing what the world considers important” (NLT).

Strange, isn’t it?

And so very comforting.

May God bless you and your family.

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Set Free



James Bain was smiling.

It was a weary but broad smile. It was a smile of relief. He was going home. James Bain was a free man. And the national media was present in Florida to record the event.

In 1974, when he was 19 years old, Bain was convicted for the kidnapping and rape of a nine-year old boy. He was sentenced to life in prison. After serving 35 years behind bars, Bain, now gray-haired and balding, was cleared by DNA evidence. He was 54. Tests showed that he could not possibly have committed the crime.

A judge set him free.

Criminal records revealed that Mr. Bain had served longer in prison than any of the 246 prison inmates previously cleared by DNA evidence. In 1974, DNA testing didn’t exist. Neither did cell phones. So Bain made his first-ever cell phone call upon his release. He called his 77- year old mother to let her know that he was free and that he would see her soon.

One might wonder what went through James Bain’s mind when he first learned that he would go free — or through his heart. Thirty-five years is a long time to sit in prison for a crime you didn’t commit. It’s a big chunk of life. James Bain went to prison as a teenager the year that Richard Nixon resigned as president. Elvis Pressley was still alive. Bain left prison, seven presidents later, as a middle-aged man eligible for membership in the AARP.

James Bain spent three and a half decades of his life in prison as an innocent man.

The American justice system said he had done it. James Bain knew he hadn’t. A court said he was wrong. He knew he was right.

Bain had plenty of time to think –and to feel. He had plenty of time to become bitter and angry and resentful. He had plenty of time to wallow deeply in despair and self-pity. If anyone could claim to be an authentic victim of injustice, it was James Bain. If anyone had the right to be filled with anger it was this man.

As the reporters gathered around him as he walked through the doors of the dark prison into the bright sunshine of freedom, they asked Bain how he felt, what he thought. He smiled and shook his head. “I’m not angry”, he said quietly, “Because I’ve got God.”

Faith makes a difference in every person’s life. For James Bain, faith in God made all the difference.

I don’t know if Bain ever read a Bible during those 35 long years. But if he did, perhaps he came across Psalm 31:7:

“I will be glad in your unfailing love, for you have seen my troubles, and you care about the anguish of my soul.” [NLT, emphasis added].

God knew James Bain was innocent. And God cared.

Maybe Bain read what Peter wrote about Jesus and his suffering:

“He never sinned, nor ever deceived anyone. He did not retaliate when he was insulted, nor threaten revenge when he suffered. He left his case in the hands of God, who always judges fairly.” [I Peter 2:22-23, NLT].

Jesus, who has been touched fully by the feelings of our own infirmities – who knows our hurts and disappointments; our grief and our sorrows, has left us his example. There is nothing theoretical about anything Our Lord tells us to do.

He has been through it all himself.

When James Bain sat in that prison cell – day after day, week after week and month after month – Jesus was there with him, knowing, understanding and comforting. And when the months turned into long years, Jesus never left James; Jesus never got bored or tired or distracted.

When James cried Jesus wept with him.

One of the most difficult things in the whole world is to suffer injustice quietly. It’s in our nature to lash out, to retaliate, to jump to our own defense and to want to even the score.

We struggle mightily sometimes with our vengeful spirits, fueled by pride and a demand for our own justice.

Jesus would have none of it. The Maker and Ruler of the universe stood in silence before his puny and strutting accusers. The Spirit he displayed is the One he has given us; the Spirit who fills and animates us and wants to control us.

He who had done no wrong “left his case in the hands of God”

That’s where we must leave ours.

It’s likely that no one reading this will ever spend 35 years in prison for something he didn’t do. But perhaps you sometimes feel mistreated, misunderstood or all alone. Maybe you figure there’s no one who sees or appreciates the anguish you’re going through. Maybe you’re living in a private prison that is unknown to anyone but you.

God cares about the anguish of your soul. He knows your heartache and discouragement. He loves you and will go with you through your anguish. He will comfort you. In Jesus, God experienced the suffering of injustice. Leave your case in his hands. God always judges fairly.

He will set you free.

May God bless you and your family.

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The Apple of His Eye

“We do not want to see more killing and destruction”.

Aya Ridwa is 25 years old and a student. She lives in Gaza.

The nation of Israel has been bombing Gaza for over a week. Nearly two hundred Palestinians have died in these Israeli airstrikes. Israel has repeatedly warned civilians in the region to evacuate. Unlike the army in Iraq, Israel has no doubt about what it is doing or why. Nor is there any question in anyone’s mind about Israel’s superb military capability or the country’s willingness to use it to defend itself.

This has always been true of the brave little nation that sits in the crosshairs of the Middle East surrounded by its enemies.

One critic described Israel’s assault upon the militant group Hamas as “shooting fish in a barrel”.

But Hamas, which governs Gaza, has been bombing Israel, hiding its weapons among civilian populations, even in mosques, and has rejected an Egyptian-sponsored cease-fire that Israel accepted. If the kid on the playground who is pummeling you bloody offers to stop, why in the world would you say no? And if you picked the fight in the first place, what in the world would you expect?

Israel has never lost a war since it became a state in 1948.

It is a peace-loving nation but it is no pacifist. It has no hair trigger but it does have a steady aim. Israel has always understood its constant danger, living as a sheep among ravenous wolves. It’s been well-armed and ready throughout its history – a history that teaches that religious-based differences among nations are the most threatening.

Nowhere on earth has this been truer for thousands of years than in the Mideast. Once again the region is boiling. And with each conflict – whether in Syria, Libya, Iraq or Israel – the world edges closer to Armageddon.

The Middle East is the geopolitical storm center of the twenty-first century. Israel is its eye. That’s because Israel remains in someone else’s eye.

“For the people of Israel belong to the Lord,” Moses sang.“Jacob is his special possession” (Deuteronomy 32: 9, New Living Translation).

God found the Jewish people “in a desert land, in an empty, howling wasteland. He surrounded them and watched over them; he guarded them …” (vs. 10, NLT).

God “surrounded” Israel. He still does.

God “watched over” Israel. He still does.

God “guarded” Israel. Today he still does.

God keeps Israel – even now – “as the apple of his eye” (vs. 10, King James Version, emphasis added).

There are those, including many evangelical theologians and leaders, who argue otherwise. They subscribe to what is called Replacement Theology (or Supersessionism) – the belief that since Christ came to inaugurate a New Covenant, Israel has ceased to be God’s chosen people, replaced – and superseded – instead by the Church. Christian believers are indeed the beneficiaries of God’s promises to Abraham, “blessed with faithful Abraham” through faith in Jesus Christ (Galatians 3:9, KJV). Abraham, because of his faith in God, “is the father of us all” (Romans 4:16, KJV).

As followers of Jesus, you and I are “heirs according to the promise” made to the patriarch (Galatians 3:29, KJV). We too are God’s children and his chosen people. We too enter into covenant relationship with him by faith. Nothing that God has done through Christ in his church has changed God’s special relationship with the people he chose for his very own so long ago.

God still has a plan for Israel. God still loves Israel. God still protects Israel. This is as crystal clear and as relevant as tomorrow’s headlines. Watch and see if it is not so. While we must pray for peace and love all people everywhere, including those in Arab lands, God’s prophetic purpose continues to unfold. God will never abandon Israel and woe to those who would assail her, for “he that toucheth you toucheth the apple of his eye” (Zechariah 2:8, KJV, emphasis added).


What made Israel so special as to be chosen by the almighty Creator of the universe to enter into particular covenant relationship with him? Moses explained it to the people:

“The Lord did not set his heart upon you and choose you because you were more numerous than other nations, for you were the smallest of all nations! Rather, it was simply that the Lord loves you …” (Deuteronomy 7:7-8, NLT).

This is God’s sovereign and gracious choice.

“For you are a holy people, who belong to the Lord your God. Of all the people on earth, the Lord your God has chosen you to be his special treasure” (vs. 6, NLT, emphasis added).

What was – and continues to be – true of Israel is also true of you and of me and of all those who have placed their faith in Jesus Christ. We are, writes Peter, “a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people …” (I Peter 2:9, KJV).

You too are the apple of his eye.

Why? It’s “simply that the Lord loves you”.

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Unforced Rhythms

Remember Bobby McFerrin?

 Well some of you might.

In 1988, he released a song called “Don’t Worry, Be Happy”. It became the first a cappella song to reach number one on the Billboard Hot 100 chart. It stayed there for two weeks. At the 1989 Grammy Awards, McFerrin’s simple, upbeat song won Song of the Year. It was one of the greatest “one-hit wonders” of the 1980s.

“There is this little song I wrote
I hope you learn it note for note
Like good little children
Don’t worry, be happy
Listen to what I say
In your life expect some trouble
But when you worry
You make it double
Don’t worry, be happy.”

The title words actually came from an Indian mystic named Meher Baba, who used to tell his followers: “Do your best. Then don’t worry; be happy in my love. I will help you.”

“Don’t Worry, Be Happy.” It’s a great summer song — music for our hammock.

Three cheers for the good old summertime! In Texas, it’s actually been here a while. I thought Maine was the only place that closed down for the summer. Texas does too. So does just about every place else. There’s something very refreshing about that. It’s a psychological shift that is signaled when school lets out and June arrives.

We all need it. More than any of us know.

We need it emotionally, mentally, physically and spiritually. We need to rest. We need to relax. We need to re-charge.

You and I need our souls restored.

This is not easy.

Communications tools have kept us fully engaged 24 -7 – every frantic second of every bunched up day. Technology has enhanced our productivity. The more we do, the more we still need to do and then the more we think we need to do. Just to stay caught up. Expectations rise. It’s a never-ending maze.

God took a day off. We just can’t seem to manage that.

How do we achieve balance in our lives?

Most of us are too darn busy. We need to rest. We need to relax. We know we need to. We just don’t know how.

We don’t need an Indian mystic to help us. Jesus has already extended a special invitation. It reads simply:

“Chill with Me.”

“Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens,” Jesus says to us, “and I will give you rest.” [Matt. 11:28, New Living Translation].

Jesus offers to teach us how to pace ourselves.

He says we can this learn from him. He promises to show us how to “find rest for your souls.” [11:29, NLT]. The Amplified Bible says that Jesus wants to give us “relief, ease, and refreshment.” Because our souls need spiritual rest, like our minds and bodies need physical rest.

They make head phones that can shut out all outside noise – entirely. It creates a perfect and relaxing stillness. We need spiritual headphones. That the world may be shut out and all we hear is God’s voice – his still, soft whisper to our hearts; his music for our souls.

In prayer, meditation, and quietness we draw near to the One Who is able to take our burdens and our cares and make them his own.

God’s command is simple and direct. It’s a perquisite to intimacy with him:

“Be still and know that I am God” (Psalm 46:10, KJV).

“Attention, all! See the marvels of God! He plants flowers and trees all over the earth … Step out of the traffic! Take a long, loving look at me, your High God, above politics, above everything.” (Psalm 46:8 -10, The Message).

This is as relevant and needed for you and me today as when God spoke those words to the sons of Korah.

“Step out of the traffic”.

“Be still.”

“Calm down”.

“Know and trust”.

Our sovereign God reigns above the confusion, anxiety, pressure, strife and the turbulent anger of our times. Don’t worry – be happy. Your heavenly Father’s on top of the things you can’t be.

He’s in control.

God wants to lead us to rest in his green pastures. He wants to take us on a walk beside peaceful streams. He wants us to hear the singing of the birds. God wants us to look up into his beautiful sky and see the clouds gently passing by. He wants us to take the time to do these things. He wants us to know how very much he loves us.

God wants to renew your strength. He wants to restore your soul – if you will just let him.

Put down your gadgets for a few moments. You do it in a movie theater – do it for God. Look up!

I love the way Eugene Peterson has translated Jesus’ invitation found in Matthew 11:

“Are you tired? Worn out? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me -watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace…keep company with me and you’ll learn how to live freely and lightly.” [Matt. 11:28-29, The Message, emphasis added].

Jesus tells us: “Don’t Worry, Be Happy.”

This summer find some time to chill with Jesus. Your soul needs it.

Relax and enjoy “the unforced rhythms of grace”.

May God bless you and your family.


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