Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Not random (but it might seem it)

Today was summer as it should be: upper 80's to lower 90's, light clouds scattered across a blue sky, a pleasant but light breeze blowing gently all day. It missed only mountains for perfection.

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In less than 24 hours I shall see my Jaimie. This brings unspeakable joy to my heart.

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I had another thought I wished to place in this space, but it has fled, left me here; I know not why.

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Nehemiah is an incredible book. He was an incredible man - a man who burned with passion for the things of God, a man who dared to be violent against sin, to take great and bold stands against disobedience. So may we all be. (Though I may choose other ways to correct than beating, cursing, and tearing out hair; this is not my style. But I love the passion for God it reveals!)

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Proverbs 28:9 says, "If one turns away his ear from hearing the law, even his prayers are an abomination." That is a fearful warning indeed, and a great caution to us to ever be studying Scripture and seeking the heart of God. If we turn away from His word, even our prayer is abominable: and that is a terrible place to be!

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The Lord your God is God of Gods and Lord of Lords, the great, the mighty, and the awesome God, who is not partial and takes no bribes! He executes justice for the fatherless and the widow, and loves the sojourner, giving him food and clothing. Love the sojourner, therefore, for you were sojourners in the land of Egypt. You shall fear the Lord your God. You shall serve Him and hold fast to Him, and by His name you shall swear. He is your praise. He is your God, who has done these great and terrifying things before your eyes. (Deuteronomy 10:17-21)

God is great and mighty and awesome and above all others: and it is both a terrifying thing and a wonderful thing that He executes justice as He does. Terrifying, because we must then ourselves be just or be judged. Wonderful, because He is just and we may have sure hope that we will be justified in and by Him!

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I rejoice the more in knowing God every day. This summer is thus far an incredible season of growing in faith and walking with God. Praise Him for such times as these!

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Light dawns in the darkness for the upright; He is gracious, merciful, and righteous. (Psalm 112:4)

How great a promise this: that even in the darkness, we will have Light, for He is gracious, He is merciful, and He is righteous! Here, as often elsewhere in Scripture, we see both the righteousness of God, with its promise of swift judgment on sin and disobedience, in the same place as His mercy and grace, and it is this that gives us hope, that is our light in the darkness. He is merciful and gracious: and so His righteousness is a source of hope as well as of trembling, as it could not be otherwise. (Of course, He could not be righteous and not be merciful and gracious, for mercy and grace and righteousness are all one together, not separable.)

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God is good. That is the sure testimony of all of Scripture, and I see His goodness writ large across my life, especially evident to me in these college years by dint of closeness, but sure and true for all of my days.

Praise Him!

- Chris

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Truths from Nehemiah

I have been reading through the Old Testament in chronological order for about a year and a half now. I am consistently and constantly amazed at what God shows me - not because it's particularly surprising, but because I am always amazed by the fact that He has chosen to reveal Himself to us so fully, so deeply, so intimately.

This past week, I have been working my way through Nehemiah, and I am in awe of some of the things that pop up in the book. A few examples:
  • The commonly referenced phrase, "The joy of the Lord is your strength" (Nehemiah 8:10) originates in this book and occurs nowhere else in all of Scripture. What's really interesting about this is that it's an exhortation not to be grieved any longer over the past or to let conviction weigh down their hearts too heavily. The people were weeping after hearing the Law read, with its commands they had forsaken and its prophecies of judgment on Israel fulfilled in these people's immediate history - and Nehemiah encouraged them by saying, "Go your way. Eat the fat, and drink sweet wine, and give portions to anyone who has nothing pnepared, for this is a holy day before our God. And do not be grieved, for the joy of the Lord is your strength!"

    That's an incredible thing: that when we are crushed (and rightly so) under conviction from Him, it is His gift of joy that gives us strength - and joy comes with the morning, a fruit (a gift!) of the Spirit.

  • Nehemiah is one of the ten or so places in Scripture to quote the first thing God said to Moses on Sinai when giving him the law: "The Lord, the Lord, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness..." (Exodus 64:6, Nehemiah 9:17).

  • In Nehemiah 9 we have one of the briefest but most thorough summaries of pre-exilic Jewish history anywhere in Scripture - and almost every single verb referring to an active action rather than a response has as its subject God and its object His people: God accomplished the great things in Israel's history, and that is rarely made more clear than in this chapter.

  • Prayer is fundamental to the life of the one who would follow God. Over and over again in this book, something negative happens, and - whether it be bad news or outright threats against Jerusalem - Nehemiah's first response is always to pray. He takes what we might call "practical" steps - but only after he takes the most practical step and prays. Moreover, his prayers reflect a deep knowledge of God: he knows what God is capable of and calls on Him to do a great deal. When Nehemiah does take those "practical" steps, he is always aware that their success or failure depends entirely on God, and not on his own wisdom - and he makes sure the people know it, too.

  • The people have an incredibly high regard for the word. When, in Nehemiah 8, Ezra stands and reads the law for the first time, the people stand for the entire morning while it is being read and explained to them. And they stood and listened to the Scriptures being read in Hebrew - a language they neither spoke nor understood - and then translated into Aramaic, paragraph by paragraph. Then their leaders came back the next day and asked for detailed explanation - and then immediately put into practice what they heard.

    Later, the people set aside another day in which they spent a quarter of the day listening to the Scripture, and a quarter of the day confessing their sins and worshiping God. These people knew the importance of what they were hearing - not least because they heard prophesy of Moses predicting exactly what had ultimately happened to them in their exile.

  • There is a very pressing awareness of the goodness and faithfulness of God throughout the entire book. It is summed up in many ways by that reference back to Exodus: He is merciful and gracious; He is not quick to anger, but He is overflowing with love and with faithfulness. And the awareness of all of this permeates the text because it permeated the lives of those who fill the book: they saw God's faithfulness, because it was that alone that had returned them to Jerusalem and Judea, and kept them alive and their efforts progressing despite all the opposition of men. They knew without any question that God was faithful, loving, merciful, and just - and the more so when they realized that His salvation was in spite of and not because of them.


If you've never taken the time to really study through the Old Testament, I cannot encourage it enough. Even if it's just been a while since you've gone through the historical books, go back and do it! There are riches of the character of God here that you will never find anywhere else in Scripture; that's why these books are here - and God longs, as He always has, to reveal Himself to you.

Grace and peace be with you.

- Chris

Monday, May 26, 2008

Memorial Day

Today is Memorial Day: a day set aside for the remembrance of those who have died in the service of the United States of America.

This country has its flaws, and they are many and great. It is far from without blemish, including in the way it has conducted itself in foreign affairs. We have at times been very right; but we have at times been very wrong.

Yet none of that diminishes the nobility of those who fought and died to give succor this nation: from the Seven Years' War of the 1760's, before we were even a nation, through those who have died in the sands of Afghanistan and Iraq, noble patriots have given all that they had to give to protect and guarantee the safety of their families and progeny - us and our forebears.

I look to God with gratitude for the establishment of this nation: a land of freedom where I am not persecuted by the government for my pursuit of Him, even as I recall those of my brothers and sisters in Christ who are oppressed for their pursuit. I rejoice that all of us are nonetheless free in Christ. (As the psalmist wrote, we shall trust in the Lord and fear not: what can man do to us?)

I am grateful as well to those that God has used in the preservation of this country for His purposes. Though this land is far from perfect - though we are a land of great idolatry and horrible sins - I stand humbled by their example of sacrifice and bravery. Most of them died not seeking to be heroes but simply to do their duty.

I salute them; I honor their memory; I thank God for them. For those whose families are living, I pray that the peace of God be with them, that His joy be spoken into their lives and His salvation come upon them. I know that I would not even be here but for their sacrifice, and for that I am immensely grateful.

Pray for those who serve. And pray for those who send them: not to send them needlessly into battle, nor ever to waste their lives. And understand that thought as exhortation without political commentary.

Grace and peace be with you this Memorial Day. Let their sacrifice be not in vain. Honor the freedoms they purchased with blood by cherishing those freedoms, and thanking God daily for the blessing they are.

- Chris