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Part of the FBCS 2010 Read Through the Bible Project: Enter the Story. Join the Song.

Archive for September, 2010

Keeping Faith.

Jude    Ezra 9-10    Psalm 95

“How do we keep faith with God?” This is the question at the center of today’s readings, as Ezra, Jude, and the psalmist each wrestle with the challenge of living a life pleasing to God in the midst of “worldly people” (Jude 19). For Ezra, it is a matter of separation; of drawing lines between “us” and “them.” In this approach, contact with “foreign” folk leads God’s people to break faith with God, so the key is to stay separate: “send away all these wives and their children” (Ezra 10:3). It is a familiar pattern of thought, is it not? “They” are the problem. Get rid of “them,” and all shall be well . . . Jude sees it quite differently.

“But you, beloved, build yourselves up on your most holy faith” (Jude 20). Like Ezra, Jude recognizes the challenge of keeping faith while living alongside those who do not. And he takes it very seriously, even indicating that the situation will only grow more challenging as time progresses (v.18). But his answer to the question has an entirely different focus: Strengthen, build, develop your faith! Yes, worldly, divisive people are all around, but your faithfulness is your responsibility! Well.

“Pray . . . Love . . . Have Mercy” (Jude 20-23). How do we keep faith? Jude says pray, “keep yourselves in the love of God,” and focus on mercy — received and given.  Notice: Rather than separation from “them,” Jude’s instruction is to be strong in faith and have mercy on those who are wavering, fearful, and in error. And the psalmist supports this focus, calling us to worship God, listen to God’s voice, and keep our hearts soft to God’s instruction (Psalm 95). In other words, focus on giving to God the one thing that you alone can give: your personal and faithful love. In this way, we keep faith. And we take personal responsibility for doing so. May it be so.

“O come let us sing to the Lord;
let us make a joyful noise to the
rock of our salvation!
Let us come into his presence
with thanksgiving.”

— Psalm 95:1,2

It Is Well . . .

3 John    Ezra 7-8    Psalm 94

“I pray that all may go well with you” (3 John 2). There is a theme of wellness running through today’s texts. Or, more to the point, a deep desire and seeking for all to be well in the face of challenges and “ambushes along the way” (Ezra 8:31). For this the elder prays on behalf of Gaius, whom he loves “in truth.” And it is for the purpose of seeking “a safe journey” that Ezra calls a fast (8:21). And it is “when the cares of my heart are many” that the psalmist seeks the help and consolation of the Lord (Psalm 94:19). We would do well to pay close attention to the examples of these who have gone before us as we journey through life . . .

“If the Lord had not been my help . . . (Psalm 94:17), my soul would soon have lived in the land of silence.” The psalmist, Ezra, and the Elder are one in voice: God, and God alone, is the true and trustworthy source of wellness. Thus the elder prays to God “that all will go well” with Gaius (3 John 2). And Ezra? He goes so far as to forgo the protection of “soldiers and cavalry” in order to witness clearly to the truth that it was only by “the hand of our God” that  they came safely to Jerusalem (Ezra 8:21-23, 31)! I wonder . . . Who, or what, do you rely upon for wellness? Where do we go when facing challenges and ambushes along the way? And how do we define being well?

“It is well with your soul” (3 John 2). The elder prays that all will go well for his beloved friend. He also prays that he “may be in good health.” But notice the baseline: “as it is well with your soul.”  The implication? Wellness of soul is the core value to be sought and nurtured. Hear the psalmist: “your consolations cheer my soul” (v.19). And note well Ezra’s purpose in journeying to Jerusalem as stated in Ezra 7:10. As important as physical health and safety are, it is wellness of soul that endures. With this in mind, receive the blessing: May all go well with you this day. May you be in good health. And, most importantly, may it be well with your soul. Amen.

“When the cares of my heart are many,
your consolations cheer my soul.”

— Psalm 94:19

The Lord Rules!

2 John    Ezra 5-6    Psalm 93

“The floods have lifted up their voice” (Psalm 93:3). All of the scripture passages for this day unfold against a backdrop of chaos and opposition. In Ezra, we see the Jews continuing to rebuild the temple even as the governor and his cohorts attempt to stop the work. In 2 John, a local church is encouraged to focus on walking in truth, love, and obedience even as some who have gone out from them attempt to distract and deceive them. And in Psalm 93, God’s rule is compared to the powers of chaos, as symbolized by mighty waters . . . Together, these texts tell us what we already know: Those who enter the story of God and seek to live life God’s way are not immune to chaos, opposition, deception, and distraction. This does not, however, imply that all is the same.

“But the eye of God was upon the elders” (Ezra 5:5) and the work did not stop. The temple was completed in the face of opposition, because God was with them. In fact, the end result was that the governor was instructed to “let the work on this house of God alone” (Ezra 6:7) and use tax monies to support the project! (v.8-10). And the church is told that “grace, mercy, and peace will be with” them (2 John 3), as gifts from God who is with them in Jesus Christ. Why and how? Because God, whose authority is “everlasting” and whose word is “very sure,” is greater than any storm or flood that may rise against us (Psalm 96:4). This, then, is the rest of the story: Chaos happens, but it does not rule. Only God rules! Over and through and with. The eye of God is upon you; always and forever.

“Let us love one another” (2 John 5). That is, give yourselves to walking “according to his commandments” (v.6). And this is the consistent message we receive from God’s word: Keep loving and trusting and believing and obeying no matter how deep the water or how loud the roar of the opposition. God, who is “more majestic than the waves of the sea” (Psalm 93:4) is with you. May we keep walking according to God’s word — and never stop — knowing that the eye of God is upon us; the Lord, who rules over all, is with us. Amen.

“Grace, mercy, and peace will be with us from God the Father and from Jesus Christ, the Father’s Son, in truth and love.”
— 2 John 3

It is Good to Join the Song!

1 John 5    Ezra 3-4    Psalm 92

“It is good to give thanks to the Lord” (Psalm 92:1). Jeshua and Zerubbabel certainly knew and believed this, as is witnessed by their choice to first “set up the altar on its foundation” and begin offering “morning and evening” sacrifices to God (Ezra 3:3). Morning and evening. In the presence of their enemies. And the psalm writer informs us as to the purpose of these times: “to declare your steadfast love in the morning, and your faithfulness by night” (v.2). I wonder . . . how do our daily routines compare? We who to whom God has given so much . . . Do we know and believe that it is good to give thanks to the Lord?

“God gave us eternal life, and this life is in his Son” (1 John 5:11). Steadfast love and faithfulness, indeed. In Jesus Christ we are so completely and amazingly blessed! Life and love . . . faith and victory . . . the promise that “if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us” (1 John 5:14). And it is all true and real and at work. Even in the presence of opposition, challenge, and frustrated plans (see Ezra). But see this in the readings of the day: it requires — we require — intentionality and focus to remember and give thanks. It takes building the altar first. And daily attention. And the discipline of beginning and ending each day, morning and evening, declaring God’s steadfast love and faithfulness. It is good to give thanks to the Lord . . .

“To sing praise to your name, O Most High” (Psalm 92:1).  Singing is a good way to give thanks to God. Hear it in the song we know as Psalm 92; see it as the people of God celebrate the laying of the temple’s foundation with trumpets and song (Ezra 3:10-11). We know, of course, the power of the song. Just consider how a song heard or sung can linger in our hearts and minds through the day . . . And consider, also, how wise it is to choose the song. Intentionally. As we enter each day and, again, as it comes to a close . . . The testimony is clear: Morning and evening, it is good to join the song of thanksgiving!

“And they sang responsively,
praising and giving thanks to the Lord,
‘For he is good,
for his steadfast love endures forever. . .'”
— Ezra 3:11

Beloved, Let Us Love.

1 John 4    Ezra 1-2    Psalm 91

“God is love” (1 John 4:8,16). Pure and profound. And we — you, me, all people — are loved by God first (v.10,19), fully (v.9-11), faithfully (Psalm 91), and intimately forever (1 John 4:15-17). So we learn in today’s readings, as exiles return (Ezra), the psalmist sings of God’s protection (Psalm 91), and 1 John teaches. But what of this love? How does it influence our lives? And what difference does it make in who we are and how we relate to God and others? Consider the word of God . . .

“You who live in the shelter of the Most High . . .” (Psalm 91:1) To be loved by God and know it is to enter into an entirely new reality; it is to be sheltered in God, who is love . . . to live in God and know the truth of God living in us (1 John 4:12-16). To trust this all-encompassing love of God is to know complete protection and presence (Psalm 91). And deliverance from fear (1 John 4:18); be it fear of peril or foe or fear of love itself. And those thus sheltered have but one response:

“We love because he first loved us” (1 John 4:19). Those who know God is love and trust God’s profound love for them are compelled and propelled to love one another. It is impossible to do otherwise (1 John 4:7,8). Said another way, when we fail to respond in love toward God and others, we reveal that we do not know God and do not yet comprehend just how much we are loved by God . . .  May you know that you are God’s beloved child. May you embrace and live into God’s love for you. And may you love others as you are being loved. Amen.

“Beloved, since God loved us so much,
we also ought to love one another.”

— 1 John 4:11

Counting the days . . .

1 John 3    2 Chronicles 36    Psalm 90

“He reigned three months and ten days…” (2 Chronicles 36:9). And what is striking about that brief reign is that Jehoiachin spent that time doing “what was evil in the sight of the Lord.” One hundred days . . . seventy years . . . perhaps eighty . . . no matter the final tally, the days of our lives are brief. This is the observation of  the psalm writer (Psalm 90), who concludes that there is wisdom to be gained in the counting of our days (v.12). It is a point worth our best consideration . . . What, for instance, might you do if you knew you had 100 days to make your mark? And what will the story of our days reveal about us? Well.

“The children of God and the children of the devil are revealed in this way:” (1 John 3:10) In whether we spend our days doing what is right in God’s sight, or not. And, most specifically, whether we love one another. Or not. This is “the message you have heard from the beginning” (v.11): the children of God are known in the primary familial characteristic of love. Fully understood, the good news message is that believing in Jesus makes us children of God (see the Gospel according to John 3:16,17) and loving one another gives evidence that this is, indeed, what we are (1 John 1,17,23,24). And here the psalmist would remind us that the days we have for living as God’s children this side of the grave “are soon gone” (Psalm 90:10). So . . .

“Let us love, not in word or speech, but in truth and action” (1 John 3:18). For the children of God, the wisdom in being taught to “count our days” lies in giving our hearts and hands and goods to making our days count for God (v.17). “In this is love . . .” that we “lay down our lives for one another” (1 John 3:16). And this, beloved children of God, is a day by day endeavor. May God teach us to count our days. And may we, in wisdom and active love, give our all to making our days count. Amen.

“We know love by this, that he laid down his life for us — and we ought to lay down our lives for one another.”
— 1 John 3:16

Linked.

1 John 2    2 Chronicles 35    Psalm 89:38-52

“All Judah and Jerusalem mourned for Josiah” (2 Chronicles 35:24). We are reminded in today’s readings that our lives are intimately linked with the lives of others, making our choices, attitudes, and behaviors anything but personal and private. Further, what is true for all humanity is particularly true for the people of God. Observe: When leaders make choices, the community they lead is affected (2 Chronicles 34 and Psalm 89). And 1 John extends this truth to any member of the community, explaining that how we interact with others — especially other believers — has a direct impact on our relationship with God and, thus, our individual and corporate well-being (1 John 2:9-11). Linked we are . . .

“I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin” (1 John 2:1). And this word of the preacher to his listeners summarizes one of the goals of the story whole. The narratives and teachings of the scriptures are written so that we might learn from the successes, stumblings, wisdom, and foolishness of those who have gone before us, making use of those lessons in our lives together with God. And, when we fail to do so, we can reboot by the grace of Jesus, our advocate. Thank God for that!

“Whoever loves a brother or sister lives in the light” (1 John 2:10). We are linked. And we must never take this lightly. Notice the context of these words: “if they had belonged to us, they would have remained with us” (v.19). “Remaining with” one another — staying in community — is at the core of loving one another. Why? Because it is precisely in this remaining that we learn how to “obey his commandments,” thus proving that we “know” him and live “in the light.” Linked, indeed. There is much to ponder here . . . and even more to put into practice. May we live as those who know and believe that we are forever linked in love. And may we remember that such love proves we are Jesus’ disciples. Amen.

“Whoever says ‘I abide in him,’
ought to walk just as he walked.”

— 1 John 2:6

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