God sets the spark

“So the Lord sparked the enthusiasm of Zerubbabel son of Shealtiel, governor of Judah, and the enthusiasm of Jeshua son of Jehozadak, the high priest, and the enthusiasm of the whole remnant of God’s people. They began to work on the house of their God, the Lord of Heaven’s Armies” (Haggai 1:14, NLT).

Burnout is a real problem these days. A study just came out showing doctors suffer from this more than any profession. Four in ten experience depression and emotional distance from their patients, seeing them as objects rather than human beings. Disconnecting from people can happen in any profession and leads to mistakes, relationship problems and even suicide.

It’s impossible to maintain a high level of passion for any endeavor, simply because we are human. We get tired, frustrated and discouraged by problems and obstacles. We can turn cynical, selfish and angry. When our love and enthusiasm start to wane, it’s good to remember God has enough of both for everyone. He can set a little spark and fan it into a flame. God in us and God’s love in us—the only “formula” for avoiding burnout.

God’s grace

“Sin is no longer your master, for you no longer live under the requirements of the law. Instead, you live under the freedom of God’s grace” (Romans 6:14, NLT).

On one hand grace is a tricky thing. It’s really hard for those who all their lives have been taught to obey the rules or else, to understand just how grace works. Some think it means we can do whatever we want with no consequences. Some think we still have to be just as careful with every command—just in case. Some seem to believe nothing has changed from the Old Testament.

On the other hand, grace is quite simple. God gave the laws to teach us the mechanics of loving him and others but he knew we wouldn’t be able to do it without his help. At the right time, he sent his son to live a perfect life and give that life for us to show his great love. The Old became the New and rather than the laws being imposed on us from outside ourselves, God the Holy Spirit came to teach us how to live from the inside out. With God living inside us, his love fills us and we learn to love him and others in the freedom of grace. God’s royal law of love, a law permeated with his loving kindness and grace, is the only one we need to obey.

 

God provides the lights

“It is the LORD who provides the sun to light the day and the moon and stars to light the night” (Jeremiah 31:35a, NLT).

English: Pleiades Star Cluster
English: Pleiades Star Cluster (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

If you live anywhere near a city, ambient light makes it difficult to see any stars except the brightest ones. Several years ago, I had the opportunity to travel to South Africa and spend a few days at a wildlife preserve. One night we sat outside on the edge of a plateau overlooking a huge valley, listening to the night sounds, including elephants roaring as they foraged for food. We couldn’t see the elephants but we could see more stars than I’ve ever seen in my life. The blackness of the night sky was almost lost against their brightness.

The sun, moon, stars and everything beyond our atmosphere have always been a source of fascination to us. We want to know what’s out there, spending vast resources to study, gather data and even travel as far as we can. Science fiction stories of space exploration are still popular (I love Star Trek). But only God knows the secrets of the universe and only he can go where no one has gone before. He placed those wonderful stars, planets and galaxies beyond our reach and the mysteries of the heavenly bodies are his to keep. It’s exciting to think one day he may share those secrets with us.

God and water

“‘Does the rain have a father? Who gives birth to the dew? Who is the mother of the ice? Who gives birth to the frost from the heavens? For the water turns to ice as hard as rock, and the surface of the water freezes’” (Job 38:28-30, NLT).

In elementary school, I was given an assignment to write my first research paper. I don’t remember if  I chose the topic or not, but it was on water. I’ve never forgotten it, partly because it was my first paper but mostly because of all I learned about water. I was impressed with the properties of this amazing element and how its characteristics are the perfect life support for this planet.

Water cycle http://ga.water.usgs.gov/edu/water...
Water cycle http://ga.water.usgs.gov/edu/watercycle (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Even though we drink it, bathe with it and use water in many ways every day, we pretty much take it for granted. But life couldn’t exist without it. Each one of its properties is unique and essential, but taken together, they make up the brilliant foundation for life.

At the time I wrote that paper, I didn’t know much about God and didn’t realize he’s the one who made water and gave it to us. Now I know all the praise for water goes to God for his ingenious “invention,” the lavish and wonderful gift to life on earth. Just as God reminded Job, may we all be reminded of his love and generosity and never take water for granted again.

God commends us

“When people commend themselves, it doesn’t count for much. The important thing is for the Lord to commend them” (2 Corinthians 10:18, NLT).

Many people have the idea all God does is find fault. Anyone who has watched TV or seen movies depicting judgmental religious folks or has been given “the look” might have the impression God is the same way. After all, if someone’s followers are sour, fault-finding and negative, the one being followed must be the same, right? But the problem isn’t with God, it’s with those who don’t understand who he is. It’s sad but many Christians’ lives reflect poorly on Christ.

When we think of praise, we usually think of praising God, but this verse tells us God praises us too! Commend can mean to applaud, approve, boost, build up, compliment, endorse, extol, pat on the back, speak highly of or support (thesaurus.com). He does all of this for us in Christ, who is our advocate, the one on our side. He is not always looking down his nose at us, but rather building us up and approving us in Christ. Perhaps if his followers were more like him in this regard, the world would see him in a new light. Our words and actions would commend or recommend him to others, rather than push them away.

God calls us righteous

“Yet God, with undeserved kindness, declares that we are righteous. He did this through Christ Jesus when he freed us from the penalty for our sins” (Romans 3:24, NLT).

Ever since Moses brought the Ten Commandments down from Mt. Sinai, people have been trying to out-obey one another. It seems part of our psyche to believe the better we obey and the more we do for God, the more righteous we’ll become and the happier he’ll be with us. God does value obedience but not for the reasons many think. And no amount of law keeping will get anyone to heaven.

God is pretty smart and he knows us. He knew we would worship obedience more than him, and he knew it would be impossible for us obey all the laws. Being saved by faith in Jesus alone was not something he cooked up in response to humans messing up. The law was never meant to save us, rather the undeserved kindness of God, through the grace of Jesus, has freed us from trying to be obedient, from competing and comparing, from worrying about measuring up, and wonderfully, from the penalties and consequences of our sins. How can we help but love him more in response?

God abandons us?

“So God abandoned them to do whatever shameful things their hearts desired” (Romans 1:24a, NLT).

Reading the Bible is easy, right? Except when we read things into it that it doesn’t really say. We have to be careful to remember the context, audience, culture, language, which is constantly changing, and other factors we may not even be aware of. We also have to remember our own culture, context, upbringing, experiences and prejudices, all of which color how we perceive what’s being said. It’s good to keep in mind the famous words of Inigo Montoya (Princess Bride): “You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.”

When we read this verse, we think it means God writes off anyone who commits a sin. That’s it, I’ve had it with you, out of my sight, you filthy rotten scoundrel. Or words to that effect. But God is not like us and verses like this are not an excuse to judge, belittle or arrogantly feel superior to anyone. We have all sinned. Christ died for everyone. No one is better than anyone else, because at the foot of the cross we are equal. God doesn’t automatically abandon sinners—if he did, we’ll all be out on the street. He does give us a lot of room to exercise our freedom to do what we want, but he still loves us, still works in our lives and I believe, never gives up on anyone. We don’t know all the answers, but if you believe God is love and believe in his grace and mercy, you must believe he won’t abandon any of his children, but will do anything in his power (and that’s a lot of power!) to bring them home.

God delights in righteousness

“But those who wish to boast should boast in this alone: that they truly know me and understand that I am the LORD who demonstrates unfailing love and who brings justice and righteousness to the earth, and that I delight in these things. I, the LORD, have spoken!” (Jeremiah 9:24, NLT).

We all want to be seen as valued for who we are and what we’ve accomplished but often feel unappreciated. So we sometimes brag about ourselves, whether or not we can take the credit. Even worse is acting inappropriately to get attention. But boasting about knowing God is the only good boasting and should always be done in humility and with the understanding that we can only know him through the proverbial dark glass.

The second part of the verse might be a problem, because as usual, when we read that God delights in justice and righteousness, we either think of our own righteousness or what he will do to others. But the justice and righteousness he delights in are his own, which are given to us in Jesus, who is the personification of both. Through his death and resurrection and our acceptance of his forgiveness, to which he leads us through his kindness and grace, he imputes (attributes or ascribes) his righteousness to us. Now that’s something to brag about!

God delights in mercy

“Where is another God like you, who pardons the guilt of the remnant, overlooking the sins of his special people? You will not stay angry with your people forever, because you delight in showing unfailing love” (Micah 7:18, NLT).

Movies often portray scenes of torture, which is difficult to watch. I always wonder how the torturer would feel if the tables were turned. Sometimes they are and the audience expresses pleasure that the one inflicting the pain gets some back. Torturing people for one reason or another is a practice as old as time and it seems in a twisted way, delights the one responsible. Humans are good at inflicting all kinds of pain, without thinking of how it affects others.

Some think God enjoys punishing us when we take wrong turns in life and make bad choices. Stories of hell-fire and eternal torture used to be popular and those ideas have stuck with us in our modern day. This verse tells us God takes no delight in our pain, rather the opposite is true. Any anger he feels is because of the horrible consequences of sin and how much it hurts us. He is actually slow to anger and doesn’t hold a sword over our heads or fire under our feet. He takes great delight in showing love and mercy and is eager to forgive. His love and mercy are unfailing and eternal.

God delights in us

“For the LORD delights in his people; he crowns the humble with victory” (Psalm 149:4, NLT).

The world seems to have a problem viewing God from the right perspective. Perhaps because of stories in the Old Testament of God’s anger toward the Israelites and their subsequent punishment, or of the seemingly callous destruction of many pagan tribes, many people see him as mean and judgmental. On the other side are the images of a meek and mild Jesus, holding children and lambs, and figures such as Santa Claus, jolly, laughing and handing out presents. In true human fashion, we can’t seem to find the balanced middle ground.

Everything God is and does comes out of who he is: love. We can’t equate his wrath and judgments to ours because ours aren’t based in love. His blessings and gifts are more extravagant and wonderful than any we might give. And here is what most people don’t understand at all: even with all our problems, our sin and mistreatment of others, he still loves us. He loved us enough to become a human and die at our hands so we can live forever with him. He even delights in us, the same way a mother and father delight in their children, which gives us a whole new perspective on who he is—our delighted, loving father.