From Generation to Generation!

So even to old age and gray hairs,

O God, do not forsake me,

until I proclaim your might to another generation,

your power to all those to come.’

Psalm 71:18

Perhaps it’s a sign of my own age, but I am increasingly drawn to David’s psalms written nearer the end of his life. Take Psalm 71, the psalm set for this morning’s Office, for example:

David is in trouble, again! BIG Trouble, YET again!

This is not some minor crisis but one that has emboldened his enemies, leading them to say, ‘God has forsaken him; pursue and seize him, for there is none to deliver him.’

So, what does David do in such circumstances? Exactly what he has done in every previous crisis; he cries out for God’s protection (‘In you, O LORD, do I take refuge….Be to me a rock of refuge….. O God, be not far from me…) and for God’s intervention (‘In your righteousness deliver and rescue me….Rescue me, O my God, from the hand of the wicked…. O my God, make haste to help me!).

And why is David confident that God will provide him such protection and such intervention? Because he remembers how God has been so present and so powerful in his life during all the other times of crises.

He reminds himself that ‘upon you I have leaned from before my birth; you are he who took me from my mother’s womb’ (v6); and then resolves to do what he has always done: ‘But I will hope continually and will praise you yet more and more. My mouth will tell of your righteous acts, of your deeds of salvation all the day…. I will remind them of your righteousness, yours alone’ (v14-16).

This remembrance of God’s gracious interventions in his own past leads David to boldly ask, ‘So even to old age and gray hairs, O God, do not forsake me, UNTIL I proclaim your might to another generation, your power to all those to come’ (v18).

David has a message to proclaim to those who are younger than he; and what is that message? ‘You who have made me see many troubles and calamities will revive me again; from the depths of the earth you will bring me up again’ (v20).

David yearns to tell those who have yet to go through their own ‘troubles and calamities’, how God has been faithful and gracious and powerful to bring him through his!

What a wonderful longing this is!

If you are like me, racing ‘even to old age and gray hairs’, I would encourage you to take some time to remember the faithfulness of God in your life. Take some time and recall God’s ‘mighty deeds’ on your behalf. And then pray for the chance to encourage someone from a younger generation.

If you are among that ‘other generation’ (and perhaps going through a crisis of your own!), why not ask God to raise up for you a trusted mentor, one who can encourage you by sharing with you what they have learned of the faithfulness of God in the midst of ‘troubles and calamities’.

It seems to me, that this is the way God has designed his Body to work!

The Formational Side of Lent!

‘But the LORD was with Joseph and showed him steadfast love and gave him favor in the sight of the keeper of the prison.’
Genesis 39:21

We began this week in the Daily Office lections the story of Joseph and will read sequentially through it for the next four weeks of Lent.  It is a grand and glorious story which centers on one man (Joseph), who is intimately, strategically, yet awkwardly connected to one people (the family of Jacob; the People of Israel), through whom the Creator seeks to save his Creation. It is a type of the story of Christ and well worth our reflective and prayerful attention this Lenten season.

Joseph, it seems to me, goes through some major phases of life as God works out his purposes in him and through him. It begins with the ‘Promise Phase’ (ch. 37) where God promises Joseph that he will be exalted above all!  It is obvious from the text that Joseph, at that moment in time, did not have the kind of character required to be able to handle the promise; thus, the need for the ‘Re-Formation Phase’ of his life.

This phase is complex and glorious; filled with twists and turns and emotional  ups and downs.  Consider how the chapter flows; it begins with ‘tragedy’:

Tragedy is met with Blessing (39:1-6):

Joseph was sold into slavery by his brothers, but is blessed by God even in this tragedy. ‘The Lord was with Joseph (v2)…. So Joseph found favor in (his master’s) sight (v4)…. The LORD blessed the Egyptian’s house for Joseph’s sake (v5)’ .  Ah, Joseph must think, the restoration has already begun! But, not so fast….

Great Blessing is met with Great Temptation (39: 6b-18):

Potiphar’s wife – the one thing forbidden him- attempts to seduce him! And when HE does the RIGHT thing; she falsely accuses him!  More than that, unjustly punishes him. Ouch!

Successful Resistance leads to False Accusation and Greater Tragedy! (39: 19- 20)

‘And Joseph’s master took him and put him into the prison’- and not just ANY prison,- ‘the place where the KING’s prisoners were confined’ – the maximum security kind of prison with the maximum security kind of penalties attached.

But even here, Joseph  was not abandoned!

Greater Tragedy met with Greater Blessing! (39:21-23)

‘But the LORD was with Joseph and showed him steadfast love and gave him favor in the sight of                               the keeper of the prison’ (v39:21).  Wow!

It is a great story with many unanswered questions. The one I found myself asking today was this: ‘How did Joseph deal with the situation? How did he deal so well with the emotional up’s and down’s of his tragic, unjust situation? How might I do the same?’

We are not told the answer to those questions in the Genesis narrative. But I ‘found’ a possible answer in the Psalm set for today: Psalm 50: 14-15:

‘Offer to God a sacrifice of thanksgiving,
and perform your vows to the Most High,
and call upon me in the day of trouble;
and I will deliver you,
and you shall glorify me.’

I found it helpful today to meditate on that statement in the light of Joseph’s story; and to ask God for wisdom to apply it to mine.

I encourage you to do the same.

March 6

The Graced-Effort of Lent!

‘Not that I have already obtained this
or am already perfect,
but I press on to make it my own,
because Christ Jesus has made me his own.’
Philippians 3:12

Dallas Willard was fond of saying that ‘GRACE was opposed to EARNING but NOT to EFFORT!’

I cannot help but think of that every time I read Paul’s third chapter of his letter to the Church in Philippi as we did this morning in the Daily Office. Paul’s third chapter is full of ‘effort’!

‘I press on to make it my own..’ (3; 12); ‘Forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on….’ (3:13).

The image he presents is of an athlete preparing for an important event, or a soldier preparing for a major battle, and it is a challenging one for us as we begin our Lenten journey. Lent is not a passive time, nor, dare we say it, an ‘easy-going’ time. Are we really up for the effort?

Can I remind us of two things that frame Paul’s understanding?

First, Willard is right, Paul’s teaching on ‘effort’ has nothing to do with ‘earning’!  It is a response to grace and not a precondition for it!  If you don’t believe that go back and read the opening verses of chapter 3! Paul’s effort flows from grace and is not a veiled attempt to prove himself worthy of it. And so it is with us; no matter what we ‘do’ this Lenten season, nor how well we do it, will ‘gain’ us anything in the eyes of God.

Furthermore, if our ‘effort’ does not flow from an experience of grace, it will not produce within us what God desires for us.

That is why it was good to begin our Journey last night with the ‘Imposition of Ashes’ (the symbol of the futility of our efforts) within the context of the Eucharist (the celebration of God’s gift of grace). That is also why it is vital to our Journey to commit to returning to the Eucharist Sunday by Sunday on the way to Easter itself. Our effort, like Paul’s, must flow from grace.

But there is a second thing that Paul adds to the equation: IF our ‘effort’ must flow from ‘grace’, it also must be oriented to ‘glory’!

Take note of Paul’s words quoted above: ‘I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own.’  This ‘making’ for Paul is not just a present reality but a future hope! He goes on to say ‘I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Jesus Christ.’  Paul’s ‘efforts’ have a beginning (the experience of ‘grace’) and they have an ‘end’ (the prize of the upward call of God’).  And what is that ‘prize’?  Simply this: that one day ‘the Lord Jesus Christ …will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself’ (3:21).

Our destiny is to share in the very glory of Christ, the very glory of God.

This destiny is assured by the grace of God – a grace that we can know even in this present moment.

This beginning (grace) and this ending (glory) are designed by God to both shape and energize our efforts.

And when they do…..’Glory’!‘

A Vision of Hope: The Essence of the Gospel

Then he showed me Joshua the high priest standing before the angel of the LORD,
and Satan standing at his right hand to accuse him. And the LORD said to Satan,
“The LORD rebuke you, O Satan!
The LORD who has chosen Jerusalem
rebuke you!
Is not this a brand plucked from the fire?”’
Zechariah 3:1-2

This third vision given to Zechariah the prophet captures the hope of the gospel, the fulfillment of the Covenant the Creator made with Abraham.

Zechariah lived and prophesied five centuries before the birth of Jesus, at the beginning of the return of the people of Judah from exile in Babylon. Joshua (‘Yeshua’ in Hebrew) had been appointed High Priest of the remnant and overseer of the hastily rebuilt – and unimpressive – Temple in Jerusalem.

Zechariah receives this vision of Joshua standing in the courts of heaven with Satan the Accuser standing beside him railing against him; and rightfully so. For Joshua is standing before the LORD himself dressed in filthy rags (v. 4). Here is a vision of the human dilemma. Joshua the High Priest of Israel – the one who represented God to his people, and his people to God; the one who represents the people into whom the Creator himself had poured his life, stands before God in filthy rags. The best that humanity could produce – aided and abetted by the Creator himself- is still not good enough.

Satan is rebuked by the LORD not because he is wrong in his accusation of Joshua- he is correct in his accusation!

Satan is rebuked by the LORD for failing to understand the LORD’s choice of ‘Jerusalem’ – the LORD’s choice of THIS people with THIS history symbolized by THIS filthy High Priest.

It is true that ‘This-people-with-this-history-embodied-in-this-filthy-High-Priest’ is at best a ‘brand plucked from the fire’ – is at best a people among all other peoples who have been snatched out of the fire of God’s judgment upon fallen humanity. In and of himself, even with all that God had done from him, Joshua is one who shares the fate of all others.

But what Satan does not understand, and Joshua cannot begin to comprehend, is that the LORD desires through this ‘burning brand’ to bring forth the true ‘Branch’ – another Joshua (‘Yeshua’)- through whom the LORD ‘will remove the iniquity of this land in a single day.’’ (v. 9)

The Gospel is all about this gracious choice of the Creator to not abandon his Creation, but rather to reclaim, redeem, and renew it at great cost to himself. This gracious choice began with the ‘snatching of a brand from the fire’ –   the call and the covenant made with Abraham, and climaxes in the birth, life, and death of the ‘Branch’, Israel’s Messiah and Great High Priest, and thus the creation’s true LORD.

That is what we celebrate this Christmas season: the coming of the One who allows the Creator to fulfill his vision for his Creation, and enables us to participate in it!