Thursday, February 28, 2008

What's on your playlist?

Admittedly, I am not a cool person. I do have a cool brother, and occasionally, he rubs off on me. His recent contribution to my hipness level came via a birthday gift - an ipod nano. My first thought, obvious evidence of my uncoolness, was that I wouldn’t use this. I just don’t listen to that much music. But then I made a discovery, the great thing about the ipod is that it doesn’t care whether I’m cool or not. In fact, it doesn’t care if I fill it up with the top 25 of the music charts or with Spanish conversation lessons and audio books on theology (my current playlist).

Now, if a person looks at me with my white earbuds in and silver nano in hand, they might think to themselves, “That guy’s pretty cool.” By all outward appearances I would fit in with the ipod wearing, music listening crowd. If they only knew what was on the inside of my nano, on my playlist, they’d realize I’m still the same old nerd (I couldn’t even tell you one song on the Billboard top 25 list). It’s amazing, though, how outward appearances can shape our impressions. Even though I know what I’m listening to, I still feel a little bit cooler just for having the latest gadget out for everyone to see.

The Bible constantly reminds us, though, it’s not what’s on the outside that matters most. In this week’s sermon text, the prophet Samuel reminds us, “The LORD does not look at the things man looks at. Man looks at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart" (1 Samuel 16:7). In many ways, we are God’s ipods. What matters most is not the fancy duds we put on the outside of our lives, but literally the songs that are written upon our hearts. What’s on the playlist of your heart today? Is it a song the Lord will enjoy?

“Sing and make music in your heart to the Lord, always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ” Ephesians 5:19-20.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Enough for Today

For the first time ever, I write this weekly devotional as a thirty year old. Actually, I write this devotional as a thirty year, two day old. You see, that’s the thing about our age, we might say we are a certain age for a whole year, but that’s an oversimplification. I am always older than I was just a few seconds ago. Such truth is a constant reminder that we must live every day in the present. We cannot pause, fast forward, or rewind our lives no matter how hard we try. This is true, even when it comes to receiving God’s provision in our lives. We can only receive in our own hands that for which we have need, today. We must trust that tomorrow resides safely in God’s hands.

Back in Exodus 16, God made this point explicit for the Hebrew people. With the memory of the crossing of the Red Sea beginning to fade with each rumbling of their empty stomachs, God explained how he would provide for his people as they traveled through the desert. “I’ll provide manna, bread from heaven, for you each morning. Gather enough for that day.” At first, a few of the Israelites did not trust God’s plan and attempted to gather more than they needed for that day. What happened? They awoke to stinky, maggot filled manna, unfit for consumption. God was making a point – his people would need to learn to trust God provision on a daily basis.

Something amazing begins to happen when we learn to trust God to meet our needs for today, such faithfulness becomes enough for tomorrow. Today’s provision becomes a foretaste of tomorrow’s abundance. Manna, which in itself was nothing special, nevertheless tasted as honey holding forth the promise that one day God would, indeed, bring them into the land of milk and honey. For us, God’s daily provisions of food, of family, of love become in the words of C.S. Lewis, “drippings of grace.” That is, they become present glimpses into the abundance of God’s kingdom come: the great abundance of the Lord’s banqueting table, the sense of belonging that comes from being a part of God’s family, the eternal love we will experience in his presence.

While the manna itself could not be stored up, the memories of God’s provision could be stockpiled, tallied, and reported. Later, as the Israelites prepared to enter the promise land, God commanded that a jar of manna be placed in the sanctuary. Why? So that every time the Hebrews went to worship, they would have a visual expression of God’s faithfulness. The Israelites could face uncertain days ahead because they had seen God alive in their lives today, and yesterday, and the day before that. By the time they entered the promise land, they’d had forty years of waking up every morning to God’s provision. Now they could enter this new and daunting land trusting that though the manna had ceased God’s provision would not.

No matter your age today, thank God that he capable and willing to provide all you need for this present moment. Thank him that those provisions give you a glimpse of his coming kingdom. And take time to record those blessing as a testimony to the faithfulness of God, which will continue to be there for all our tomorrows.

“The Lord is faithful to all his promises and loving towards all he has made” Psalm 145:13.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

A Masterpiece from our Mess

Have you ever had something you were working on become messed up? It’s a horrible feeling. I can remember a time as a child I was working on a painting. I had been taking art classes, and whether or not my talent warranted it, I took the whole endeavor rather seriously. Just weeks before the county fair (where I hoped to enter my painting and maybe win a prize) I was putting the finishing touches upon a dramatic landscape filled with billowing clouds and mighty evergreens. I was cleaning some brushes when I turned in time to see a classmate bump up against my painting creating an ugly streak right across the face of the clouds. “AHHHH! It’s ruined,” I exclaimed. My third grade heart with its oversized ambitions was devastated. My teacher came over to see what the commotion was about. She tried to calm me and assured me, that sometimes, what are initially mistakes, can become the workings of a masterpiece. And with skill and grace, she took brush in hand and worked magic on that canvas, redeeming the scar and making it an integral part of a glorious sky.

When I think about the grand story of the Bible, I see God at much the same work. Again and again, through our sins, we mar the work of God. Last Sunday, we looked at that first sin in the garden. We talked about the sad fact that in Adam and Eve we became takers instead of receivers. The pattern plays itself out in the next few chapters. Cain took Abel’s life. Lamech took revenge on a young man who had injured him by killing him and then took delight in having done so. Evil became so great that God attempted a new start with Noah after the flood, but even then, our fallen humanity failed to receive the new start with open hands. With the ground still moist, Canaan took some potshots at his drunk, naked father. Noah then took Canaan’s folly as a chance to curse his own flesh and blood. And then in chapter 11, the whole world, it says, took on heaven, building a tower to the skies that they might make a name for themselves.

The first eleven chapters of the Bible are enough of a mess that it’s a wonder God allowed there to be a twelfth. But as is his nature, we find God giving once more. His gift in chapter 12 is a simple but lasting promise. God gives Abram a promise that serves as the initial brush strokes in his great work of salvation history. For the rest of the Bible, the painting unfolds, stroke by stroke, color by color until God redeems our errors for his glory by painting the picture that culminates in Jesus Christ and the redemption of our souls – God’s masterpiece from our mess. Whatever messes existed in your past or exist in your life today, take time to thank God that he makes, as Isaiah puts it, beauty of our ashes (see Isaiah 61:1-4).

Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.” Ephesians 3:20-21