Hewn Rocks

Isaiah 51:1
“Listen to me, you who pursue righteousness,
you who seek the LORD:
look to the rock from which you were hewn,
and to the quarry from which you were dug.

1 Peter 2:4-5
As you come to him, a living stone rejected by men but in the sight of God chosen and precious, 5 you yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.

Training a Divine Pet

Job 41
1 “Can you draw out Leviathan with a fishhook
or press down his tongue with a cord?
2 Can you put a rope in his nose
or pierce his jaw with a hook?

5 Will you play with him as with a bird,
or will you put him on a leash for your girls?

I can’t imagine not having pets. I have had at least one pet most of my life (with a short gap in the first few years of marriage). Why is it that we love our pets? What is about them that give us so much joy?

To answer that, we also have to answer what it is about our pets that drive us nuts and make us want to take them to the humane society (or maybe literally take them).

To understand my love of pets from this backdoor angle, let me introduce you to Queso.

My goodness this was a great dog. We got her when our kids were little and showered her with loads of love and affection. But my goodness, she was a rebellious pup. Any of you that have experience in raising a lab puppy already know where this is going. Digested baby blankets; furniture being treated as chew toys; cats and squirrels being chased; Halloween candy stolen; water faucets being ripped off the side of the house.

Wait, what was that last one? Did I catch you off guard? That’s a true story.

Us Lands were out of town and on the way back. I had a youth group kid house/dog sitting to keep things somewhat under control. Then I got a call when we were about an hour away.

“Queso just pulled the watcher faucet off the side of the house! There is water going everywhere! What do I do?”

Apparently she was, in typical lab fashion, playing tug-o-war with the hose (which was screwed into the faucet). And apparently she won! The faucet bent; water was shooting out of the side of our house.”

We loved that dog, but she also drove us crazy. Sometimes it was cute and funny, sometimes it made me seriously angry and made me debate the wisdom in having a dog.

We love pets because God has made us to live with, among and in community with animals, and some animals (like dogs) really reflect our origins in the Garden. Running, playing and cuddling with these cuties (like the lion and the lamb one day will do). But there’s also a prickly side to these beasts because they aren’t always tame. We love them when they act like they are part of the holistic order, but not so much when they try to rise up above their “proper order” (i.e. underneath us as their “bosses”).

This is where we find God and Job in a conversation. Job, in the midst of being horribly plagued by death, disease and destruction, understandably contests God’s rule of the world, claiming that it isn’t “just”. After many chapters of complaints, God finally speaks us with a barrage of “get in your place, little man” comments. He perpetually asks things like, in Job 38:4, “Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth?” — God then goes into the specifics of listing the animals of the world that he not only designed but continually cares for. Then he gets into a while beast named Leviathan. We don’t know if this is a) a mythical creature in Job’s time that would have brought about terror; b) a commonly known animal that instilled fear, like an alligator; or c) a unknown-to-us beast like a dinosaur (or dragon? go read the description in Job 41, it is wild!). What we do know is how ludicrous it would be for Job to think that he could subdue such a monstrous creature and make it a pet for his daughters.

Yet this is exactly what we try to do with God

Job 41:10
No one is so fierce that he dares to stir him up.
Who then is he who can stand before me?

We try to “tame and declaw the Lion of Judah” as some have said. We don’t like it when God gets “out of line” and goes against what we perceive as the “proper order”. Namely, we are in charge and it’s better for God, like children, to be seen and not heard. We want the cuddles of God, but not the quills; the smile but not the growl. We want a divine pet that we can control and put in a cage when He gets aggressive.

But this isn’t who God is, or who we are. He isn’t a tame beast that we, in our little and limited lives, can put a bridle in his mouth (Job 41:13) to tell him where to go and how quickly.

And though this is super uncomfortable and frustrating to our pride, this is exactly the God that we need. We need an all-powerful, all-knowing and all-loving God that is so far above us that He will do things that are best which we don’t understand or agree with, like we when take our children to the doctor. We have an untamed, powerful and passionately jealous God who will go, and has gone, to the edges of the Earth, and even to the Cross, to redeem and renew his Beloved.

So my proper response, like Job’s at the end of his book, is to be humbly wide-eyed and mystified by the Glory, Beauty and Love of our True Lion of Judah.

Stop Hibernating

2 Chronicles 33
10 The LORD spoke to Manasseh and to his people, but they paid no attention. 11 Therefore the LORD brought upon them the commanders of the army of the king of Assyria, who captured Manasseh with hooks and bound him with chains of bronze and brought him to Babylon. 12 And when he was in distress, he entreated the favor of the LORD his God and humbled himself greatly before the God of his fathers. 13 He prayed to him, and God was moved by his entreaty and heard his plea and brought him again to Jerusalem into his kingdom. Then Manasseh knew that the LORD was God.

I continually find myself focusing my mind, heart, energies and resources toward what is next rather than what is now, here. And this pandemic season has dramatically increased this in my life. It makes me want to curl up and hibernate until it’s all over. Wake me up when we this is history, when social distancing is over and toilet paper is plentiful. I’m tired of swimming in this sewage: the news, the blaming and shaming, the fear and anxiety, the what-ifs and potential apocalypse.

Even though I’m not literally going catatonic in my cryogenic chamber, I find my heart drifting off into slumber-ville in an effort to keep from engaging the darkness.

What a waste.

So let me preach to myself for a second. You can listen in if you’d like.

This hard time is not something to merely get through, but to grow within. This is an extremely valuable time to teach me what is essential, what I’ve been resting on, where my hope rests. What causes me excessive frustration? That’s something that I can repent of, grow in.

Starting with the littler things – the conveniences of life that make me comfortable. Having to wear a mask in public; not being able to hang out with my friends; delaying my vacation plans. These comforts and conveniences are being revealed as being far too important to my joy, my hope, my life.

But also going into the bigger, serious things – these are very real, very hard, very frightening…and very revealing. These are things like friends and family who are vulnerable to the point of death; jobs and finances hanging by a thread…so many of these issues. Real issues. Real fear. Real pain. Real loss. But no matter how big and important, they aren’t my savior, my hope. This doesn’t diminish their value, it just puts their value in proper perspective, in their proper role. I desperately love and value my family, but I can’t build my life on top of their safety and happiness. Oh, believe me, I’ve tried over and over. And what’s happened every time? My hope gets dashed because everything in this world is tenuous and temporary. Except for Jesus.

This swirling storm has given us a tremendous opportunity as it is perpetually shining a spotlight on the idols of our lives. What an opportunity to rearrange these loves as we put The Love into His proper place.

Look at how Habakkuk put it. God revealed to him that He was going to do the unimaginable: take his chosen nation into exile because their priorities were totally out of whack. BUT that he would also bring them back home and restore to them all that was lost, renewing their families and faith. This terrified Habakkuk, so he said this:

Habakkuk 3:2
O LORD, I have heard the report of you, and your work, O LORD, do I fear. In the midst of the years revive it; in the midst of the years make it known; in wrath remember mercy.

He was saying in more literal Hebrew….”do what you have to do, over and over again, until your refining work is done.” Habakkuk realized that the beauty, goodness and glory of God is more valuable than his comfort, even he didn’t understand or like the plans that lay ahead of him.

Now, I am NOT saying that this pandemic is God’s wrath and justice for us being naughty. None of us have any idea WHY it is happening, but we can know FOR WHAT it is happening. We have an opportunity to join Jesus in the Garden when things are painful and not going the way we want to say “Not my will but yours be done.”

So, right now, what would it look like to lean into the struggle? To ask the Holy Spirit what we can learn and how we can find True Rest in Jesus, even now. And YES, ask for God to heal creation, destroy the virus and bring us back to “normal.” But also ask him to create a new normal, one where our hope is based on Him, which will help us to actually enjoy the gifts He gives us even more because we enjoy the Giver more than what He gives.

Impossible Hero

  • When Liam Neeson rescues his kidnapped daughter in Taken
  • When Luke Skywalker miraculously destroys the Death Star
  • When Prince Phillip wakes Sleeping Beauty
  • When Harry Potters is revived and defeats Voldemort
  • When Neo got up and defeated Agent Smith
  • When the USA won the Miracle on Ice
  • When Aslan rose up
  • When Chuck Norris does anything

These great stories, real and imagined, knit together our lives. The hero, against all odds, beaten and bruised, breaking forth to victory and sharing it with the world.

All of these stories touch our very souls because they are the tiniest pointers toward the Greatest Hero breaking the Greatest odds to win the Greatest victory to make us into the Greatest Bride.

This is Jesus. Even his closest friends and family gave him no chance whatsoever. He was the ultimate underdog because he faces and was apparently defeated by the one opponent that was undefeated. No chance. It was over. He lost and the buzzer sounded.

Until it wasn’t.

Somehow dawn broke forth. Somehow the sun came up. Somehow the absolutely impossible happened. Jesus Rose.

In their culture you had to wait three days before a person was “dead dead”. Theoretically they could “wake up” in the first two days. He could be in a coma or just almost dead (like when Miracle Max said that Westley was “mostly dead” in The Princess Bride). But on day three, all hope was lost.

Until it wasn’t.

Submitting to being DeadDead, Jesus paid the insurmountable payment we owed in order to give us the inconceivable and irrevocable gift of Himself, and life everlasting.

Jesus rising from the dead means that we will also be raised.

1 Corinthians 6:14
And God raised the Lord and will also raise us up by his power.

AND…it’s not just for the afterlife, but for today! We HAVE been raised (in addition to the fact that we WILL be raised). Our hope and love is secure, which utterly changes our lives in the here and now. This world has no more power over us. We are empowered by the Holy Spirit to live and love supernaturally TODAY! For HIS glory.

Romans 6:4
We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.

And all of this because JESUS IS RISEN!

If you want to read more on this, John Piper has beautifully listed HERE 10 Results of the Resurrection.

Seven Sayings of Jesus on the Cross – #7

Luke 23:46
Then Jesus, calling out with a loud voice, said, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit!” And having said this he breathed his last.

From noon until 3pm there was “darkness over the whole land”. The Light of the world was being snuffed out. Creation itself was holding it’s collective breath, looking into the precipice as Jesus spent his final breath uttering his final words ”Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.”

It is in these deathly words where we find life. With these words Jesus gives us one final act of faithfulness and reliance upon his Father. With these words Jesus finally and fully lets go of the ownership and kingship of himself. He submits himself to the Father and fully gives himself to us. It is the completion of what he said in the Garden of Gethsemane the night before: “Thy will be done.”

In the most glorious way, Jesus gave up. And is inviting us to do the same.

Giving up on insisting on our own way, being our own kings and ruling our own lives. Giving up on building and flaunting our own personal righteousness. Giving up on controlling the universe around us. Giving up on fighting our Father. Giving up on trying to breath life into our old dead and decaying life. When Christ gave himself up to death, the barrier that kept us from the Father was torn in two, recreating us back into His Image:

Mark 15:37
And Jesus uttered a loud cry and breathed his last.
38 And the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom.

In this death we find new life, new creation (2 Cor 5:17). And this new life comes with it a glorious hope, promise and future:

1 Peter 1:3-4
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, 4 to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you,

In this death we find new life, new creation (2 Cor 5:17). And this new life comes with it a glorious hope, promise and future:

1 Peter 1:3-4
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, 4 to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you,

And so as we stand beneath this old rugged cross, let us hold in tension the agony and the beauty as we join with the centurion’s confession:

Mark 15:39
And when the centurion, who stood facing him, saw that in this way he breathed his last, he said, “Truly this man was the Son of God!”

Seven Sayings of Jesus on the Cross – #6

John 19:30
When Jesus had received the sour wine, he said, “It is finished,” and he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.

There is nothing like finishing a job. To build or fix something and be able to walk away with a sigh of relief and sense of accomplishment. But lots of our “jobs” don’t have a true ending. If you are an artist, many of your pieces may never be (in your own mind) truly done. As parents, we are never “finished” with our kids (or our kids finished with raising us).

On the cross, one of the very last things Jesus said was: It is Finished. His work on this earth, his perfection, his teaching, his steadfastness, his resistance to temptation, his miracle…ultimately his final sacrifice. And this “Finished” doesn’t just mean he’s done working. It means his work is utterly complete, perfect, unchangeable. There will never be any need for repair or additions or subtractions. It was so glorious that he would soon send the Holy Spirit to sink Jesus’ perfection deeper and deeper into our hearts and further and further out into the world.

This has extraordinary applications for us today:

1) There is nothing you can do to add to Christ’s gift of righteousness. It Is Finished. All of our behavior now is given because of the righteousness of Christ, not to get it or add to it. Christ has taken your burden of self-salvation off our shoulders and onto his back.

2) There is nothing you can do to reduce Christ’s gift of righteousness. It Is Finished. All of our sins of selfishness, betrayal and faithlessness have been fully, utterly and finally paid for. Nothing I ever to can reduce God’s love for me and the gift he’s given me.

Given this, the rest of my life is entails:

1) God perpetually finishing me into the man he’s made me to be:

Hebrews 10: 14
For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified.

2) Me learning how much greater Jesus’ sacrifice was than I thought possible, and how this sacrifice frees me to ENJOY him and EXPRESS it to others:

Philippians 3:16
Only let us hold true to what we have attained.

Seven Saying of Jesus on the Cross — #5

John 19:28
After this, Jesus, knowing that all was now finished, said (to fulfill the Scripture), “I thirst.”

Dehydration is excruciating. We likely only know the out edges of this torment, when our mouths feel like we’ve swallowed a handful of cotton. This was a perpetual complaint of Israel while wandering in the desert, wishing they could be back “home” in Egypt. It was the need of the woman in John 4 that went to the well in the middle of the day. And while Jesus hung on the cross literally dying of asphyxiation, one of his final earthly pains was desperate thirst. But I don’t think Jesus was being exclusively literal. Go deeper. Jesus was certainly physically thirsty, it was that, even though he was the very wellspring of living water, he had poured himself completely out. Throughout Jesus’ life, he realized that our greatest earthly need was for water while our True Greatest Need was for Him, the Living Water:

John 4:13-14
Jesus said to her, “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, 14 but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again. The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”

And now he had “run dry,” having given us his entire self, from birth to death. It brings new life to Psalm 22 and 69 that speak of this moment before his death:

Psalm 22:14-18; 69;21
I am poured out like water, and all my bones are out of joint; my heart is like wax; it is melted within my breast; 15 my strength is dried up like a potsherd, and my tongue sticks to my jaws; you lay me in the dust of death. 16 For dogs encompass me; a company of evildoers encircles me; they have pierced my hands and feet— 17 I can count all my bones—they stare and gloat over me; 18 they divide my garments among them, and for my clothing they cast lots. 69:21 They gave me poison for food, and for my thirst they gave me sour wine to drink.

Now with the indwelling Holy Spirit, there is a perpetual spring of living water welling up inside of us, pouring outward from us that will never run dry because of the fount of every blessing that is alive and active inside of us. Paul discovered this, and was empowered by God to “pour” himself out for the blessing of others, empowering us to do the same:

Philippians 2:17
Even if I am to be poured out as a drink offering upon the sacrificial offering of your faith, I am glad and rejoice with you all.

Seven Saying of Jesus on the Cross — #4

Saying #4
Mark 15:34
And at the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice, “Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?” which means, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

Not only do believers have a broader and tighter circle of brothers and sisters (think about yesterday’s devotional where Jesus knit together his mother with his disciples), but we have a higher and more glorious Father. This doesn’t diminish our earthly families but completes them because now we don’t have to burden others with the impossible task of “completing us” because our Father has already done that.

This was made possible because of the Father forsaking Jesus on the cross. We read over and over and over (etc etc) throughout scripture that all of us have perpetually forsaken God.

Jeremiah 2:13
For my people have committed two evils:
they have forsaken me,
the fountain of living waters,
and hewed out cisterns for themselves,
broken cisterns that can hold no water.

Because God is perfectly just, he couldn’t just turn a blind eye to our rebellion. But because God is also perfectly loving, he was able to put our justice onto Jesus on the cross. And how horrifyingly painful that was because “forsaken” doesn’t mean to simply ignore or passively forget, but an active rejection of his only Son. So pain that that it led Jesus to quote Psalm 22:1 “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me, from the words of my groaning?”

Because of this dark rejection, the penalty for us forsaking the Lord has been fully paid, AND we have been “Un-Forsaken” by our Father. He has brought us back into his family and assured us that, since our payment has been full paid, we will never been separated from him again. So much so that, even when this world forsakes us, our true Father gives us hope, love and strength.

2 Corinthians 4:8-10
We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; 9 persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; 10 always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies.

Seven Saying of Jesus on the Cross — #3

John 19:26
When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple whom he loved standing nearby, he said to his mother, “Woman, behold, your son!”

In time, when we look back on this virus and the damage it has caused, as frustrating and even sorrowful as it may be, it ultimately will be a bind that ties us together. We’ll be able to tell stories and remember together what it was like.

In an infinitely more profound and empowering way, Jesus death did this for his mother and John, one of his best friends. We can’t even imagine the desperation they were both in when Jesus, in horrendous pain as he hung moments away from his death, offered hope and love to them. This is one of the many gifts of the cross; it has formed a new community, a new family. His death has knit us together as a “band of brothers” – not in sorrow and death but, because of the resurrection, in joy and life.

Think about it like this. We surround ourselves with different forms of community knit together by certain threads. Our families, knit together by our DNA; our adopted children, knit together by sacrificial promises; our spouse, knit together by humble commitment; our friends, knit together by different forms of mutual interests; our neighbors, knit together by geography. The list goes on and on.

So how much stronger is the knitting of the people of God who are knit together by the sacrifice of Jesus and the empowering indwelling of the Spirit, making all of God’s children a unified family for His glory and our mutual growth and satisfaction. Reality is that we are a spiritually dysfunctional family where we don’t act like we are adopted. But we are learning and growing. Here’s two ways to do that:

1) Lean on each other. We are not alone. Allow yourself to be loved.
Don’t be afraid or ashamed. We all need each other.

2) Love on each other. Love the way we’ve been loved.
What does your Gospel-sibling need today?

The even better news is on the way, and is already here. As we’ll see tomorrow in Mark 15:34, we not only have a broader and tighter circle of brothers and sisters, we have a higher and more glorious Father.

Seven Saying of Jesus on the Cross — #2

Luke 23:34
“Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”

fTo add insult to injury Jesus hung on a cross between two thieves, one cold-hearted and insolent, the other soft-hearted and repentant.

1) Counted Among Criminals
Despite being infinitely higher and wholly other, he submitted to death, even death on a criminals cross (Philippians 2). This is how far he was willing to stoop down in order to bring us up.

2) Sneering
One of the criminals next to Jesus fits the stereotype by being unapologetic and abusive to the very end.

3) Repenting
The other criminal next to Jesus has a hear-breaking and life-giving revelation: that he was getting exactly what he deserved while the blameless Messiah-King was unjustly hanging next to him. All he could do was plead for mercy: “remember me when you come into your kingdom.”

We often find ourselves in each of these two criminals. There are certainly times in our arrogance that we don’t take seriously our crimes against a Holy God, while other times we fall on our faces in desperation, only to be met with mercy.

4) Freedom Promised
There was nothing this repentant criminal could do to earn God’s favor. He could make no promises and prove in any way the level of his repentance. All he could do was bring exactly what we are all called to bring: the confession of our need and confession of Jesus’ greatness. And to this confession Jesus, speaking out of his authoritative Kingship, declares that this man who was about to die was actually being born again; that his eternal home, Paradise itself, has been set and prepared, ready for this beaten and broken man. Even more, that Jesus himself was in the final process of conquoring sin and the grave so that, because of his victory, he would personally welcome and dwell with all of us broken criminals for eternity.