What does it Matter?

timetransgenderThis is a time of rapid change in our world. The speed of the change is overwhelming, even for the well-equipped. There is a solace, however, to be found in the One who sees it all and for whom nothing is new.

Yesterday I spoke to the topic of gender identity. I read in entirety this very fine article written by Dale Kuehne (click the hyperlinks to access).

Cited here and originated here.

After the morning message, I received the following question written on a gum wrapper:

So if you were once a male but now female [due to a sex change?] and you are interested in women are you straight or a lesbian?

The question misses the ‘identity’ point entirely. In a world where even the categories of ‘male’ and ‘female’ are soon to fall into disuse, labels like ‘straight’ and ‘lesbian’ also become meaningless. I contend they are already commonly meaningless and only used to promote ends of social and political deconstruction.

Our identity can only be found in God through Christ Jesus. Only when we have, to quote from Dr. Kuehne’s article again, a reference point outside ourselves will we be able to know the ‘what and who’ of what makes ‘me.’

 In short, if the ultimate source of reference is the self, and if no other self than the individual is a reference point, how can you know who or what you are?

Discovering ‘what’ we are can only be attained by discovering ‘whose’ we are and from ‘where’ we came. Finding true identity requires an authority outside of ourselves, to whom we must respond, yes even yield.

And that is the problem, has been the problem, and will be the problem. We lust after being our own gods and assert ourselves as such as often as possible. Many who acknowledge the existence of God find it quite easy to inform God as to what is right or wrong, marred or unmarred, as if God were somehow unaware or unable to grapple with the complexity of our day.

This is God’s claim on us and to us:

 I will be your God throughout your lifetime–until your hair is white with age. I made you, and I will care for you. I will carry you along and save you. To whom will you compare me? Who is my equal? (Isaiah 46:4,5 NLT)

Lay aside the ever-changing categories of the moment. Take up the gift Paul, by the Holy Spirit, instructs to wear:

But you did not learn Christ in this way, if indeed you have heard Him and have been taught in Him, just as truth is in Jesus, that, in reference to your former manner of life, you lay aside the old self, which is being corrupted in accordance with the lusts of deceit, and that you be renewed in the spirit of your mind and put on the new self, which in the likeness of God has been created in righteousness and holiness of the truth. (Ephesians 4:20-24, NASB)

 

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Reserving time (for God)

fistFrom eternity to eternity I am God. No one can snatch anyone out of my hand. No one can undo what I have done. Isaiah 43.13, NLT

I remember fiercely working the game of ‘get it out of dad’s fist.’ Coins, small toys, the ‘surprise’ all served as enticements to make the attempt. My father’s hands were strong, however,  and try as I may, both of my hands and feet employed in the task, I couldn’t get even a finger to release. What was in dad’s fist, remained in dad’s fist.

I believe Christians often think the imagery used in the Bible is somehow disconnected from our common experiences. We treat the content of Scripture as either academic material or philosophical, and partially esoteric, hints for living a better life which must be uncovered and unpacked by ‘the skilled.’ What a bunch of nonsense. I think a child trying to play this common game is exactly the picture God had in mind when He inspired these words.

I am reading through Isaiah with dear friend of mine. We agree on a section of Scripture, read it repeatedly throughout the week and then get together over coffee to discuss what the Holy Spirit has taught us. Pretty simple really. This passage was part of the reading from a few weeks ago.

I can’t get it out of my mind.

God claims in Isaiah 43.11 to be the exclusive Savior. He immediately follows his assertion with a claim of ‘predicting’ rescue of His people and then ‘proclaiming’ that same rescue to the world. These proceeding claims form the foundation for the further promise that the ‘I AM’ cannot have His work undone.

What confidence that inspires. I know I have seen projects I have worked professionally, diligently, and carefully through have, in the end, fallen apart. To be frank, there is nothing I do that is immune from being ‘undone.’ To be the recipient of that which is firmly held in the grip of God’s hand is truly awesome; to actually be ‘held’ as He promises, what words are adequate?

How does the promise of being in the Father’s fist change your life?

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Reserving time (for God)

overflowO Israel, hope in the LORD; for with the LORD there is unfailing love. His redemption overflows. He himself will redeem Israel from every kind of sin. Psalm 130:7-8, NLT

Even though I know better, I fall into the trap of thinking ‘sin’ is the ‘bad stuff’ I do. It is just as ‘sinful’ to not do things I should, like ‘hope in the I AM.’ Over the years I have hoped in my retirement fund, my relationships with close friends, my place of employment, my ability to effect my environment. These are hopes that disappoint. The Word does not move, or change, or switch out promises, or even bend to my whims regarding what should be done on this earth. I still sin by hoping in things at hand, things that fail.

I desperately cling to the promise of love that does not fail. I try to hold tightly because I know my hands are slippery from the sweat of circumstance. My grip is frail because my exercise routine is so infrequent. I guess this is why this promise always reminds me of the story of the storm recorded in Matthew 8. Jesus and his closest followers were in the same boat, subject to the same dangerous gale. Jesus slept soundly. His friends cried out in terror. What was the difference? Jesus rested fully in His Father’s unfailing love. Because of the relationship between Father and Son, Jesus knew his time was not complete. The other would be sailors trusted in the boat. They knew the boat was going to fail, and fail soon. I am convinced, to my shame, placed in the same boat I would respond from fear, scurrying in panic, screaming like a child.

The challenge, then, is to submit to the Spirit’s rule in my heart by following Jesus’ example of unbounded trust. Since I am a sinner, my submission is dependent on the ‘overflow of redemption.’  This song states that God’s redemption covers ‘every kind of sin.’ What a gift! I receive not just what I need to mend my brokenness, but God, by his own hand, gives me more than enough redemption to restore my ‘sinking boat.’ This is why Paul could write, ‘We are his workmanship created in Christ Jesus for good works that he has prepared beforehand that we should walk in them.’ (Ephesians 2.10) The good news is I can respond to God’s restoration work within me, knowing full well that nothing there is ‘too much.’ Wow.

In studying God’s word there are some key questions we should ask. Not every portion of Scripture will answer every question, but Rick Warren did a fine job of providing one of his infamous acronyms.

  • S-Is there a sin to confess?
  • P-Is there a promise to claim?
  • A-Is there an attitude to change?
  • C-Is there a command to obey?
  • E-Is there an example to follow?
  • P-Is there a prayer to pray?
  • E-Is there an error to avoid?
  • T-Is there a truth to believe?
  • S-Is there something to praise God for?

Which of these questions could you answer from this portion of Psalm 130?

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Reserving time (for God)

underweightLord, if you kept a count of my sins I would be crushed under the weight of my own rebellion. The number would be like the national debt, running up and up. You offer not to keep track instead. You do this so that I may stand, mouth agape, heart trembling, eyes not able to comprehend the magnificence of your character. You want me to be so overcome by your grace that I shudder at the thought of violating your forgiveness by how I live my life. Because of who you are, I can depend on you. The only ‘counting’ done in our relationship is my counting on you. You are free from any kind of deceit, so I trust everything you say. My hope is not the wisp of a dream but the assurance of a ‘done deal.’

Today I took the liberty of paraphrasing Psalm 130:3-5 and sharing it here. One of the ways to engage God’s word is to put it in ‘my words.’ There is a certain amount of danger in doing this, I have a heart that will mess me up if I don’t keep it submitted to my Lord’s direction. Sometimes paraphrasing robs the Word of all its transformative power. We do this when we cause it to say something it does not because it suits us or makes us feel better. Yet this tool can also add an immense depth into our reserved time with God. When I speak back to God my understanding of what He says, in my own words, often the Word becomes the ‘sharp, two-edged sword’ it promises to be.

Such was the case with this portion of the song. I was struck by the pun (in English only, not the original Hebrew) of not having my sin ‘counted’ but being about to ‘count’ on God. I was also challenged by my lack of awe. I take God’s grace for granted. It does not cause jaw-dropping awe in me as it should. For this I must repent, daily.

Rick Warren, in 40 Days in the Word, suggests the following when paraphrasing a passage:

  • read the verse or passage over and over
  • think about what God is saying to you
  • put it into your own words
  • search your heart to see how this verse applies to you
  • talk to God about it.

Which passage of God’s Word have you written down as you understand it? How has it changed how you live?

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Reserving time (for God)

working outHear my cry, O Lord. Pay attention to my prayer. Psalm 130:2 (NLT)

I wonder at the brute honesty of this portion of the song. The climb from the ‘depths of despair’ is commenced and the first thing we hear from the traveler is the cry, ‘listen to me.’

I try to keep fit as best I can. Currently I am ‘working out’ by myself. Sometimes, during a particularly strenuous part of an exercise, I will vocalize the difficulty with a groan or, if I am in significant pain, a cry. I am glad nobody is around to hear. The psalmist counts on the opposite. He depends on the Sovereign of the Universe to not only ‘be around’ but to ‘pay attention.’ The idea of God ‘hearing’ and ‘paying attention’ is too big for me to comprehend. What right do I have to demand God’s focus?

Lord, if you kept a record of our [Robert's] sins, who [could Robert], O Lord, could survive? Psalm 130:3 (NLT)

The lack of my ‘right to be heard’ is furthered by the confession of inability to survive in the face of the record of sins. For my part, the answer to the question is simple: I cannot survive based upon my own merit. There is no just way to cancel out the enormity of my sin debt, even if every good I could own were placed on the balance sheet.

There is a highway of hope in the word ‘if.’ The song does not say ‘since you keep a record…’ or even ‘when you keep a record…’ It is simply ‘if…then.’ The ability of the singer to cry out, ‘listen to me’ is a nod to the understanding that God chooses not to keep the record of sin without remedy.

Today I chose one powerful but simple way to study God’s Word. I “personalized it” by inserting personal pronouns or my own name where appropriate. Another way I applied this portion of the song was to “pray it” by taking ownership of the content of the text. Both methods are explained well in Rick Warren’s 40 Days in the Word  resource.

What did God show you today in your time with Him? What portion of His word will you commit to memory this week?

 

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Reserving Time (for God)

sentryYesterday my family at Main Street “pictured” Psalm 130:6 together. A Vietnam veteran came to me after the worship gathering and described standing guard at night. He and three other men faced out into the darkness, each one stationed at a corner of the camp. His description of the jungle, water buffalo, heat, rice paddy, the 500 men sleeping under his watch trusting him with their lives, cast even a deeper vision in my mind of what it means to long for the Lord.

I long for the Lord, more than sentries long for the dawn, more than sentries long for the dawn. (NLT)

This morning I suggest using Rick Warren’s “Pronounce It” method to engage Psalm 130:1 as we reserve daily time to meet with God.

Don’t forget to be quiet for at least a minute.

Ask God to give you wisdom to understand His Word.

From the depths of despair, O LORD, I call for your help. 

“From the depths” serves a double meaning. The heading to Psalm 130 says it is a song for the pilgrim to sing as he or she walks up from the valleys surrounding Jerusalem to the city itself. The ‘valley’ referred to in this song isn’t just any geographical depression, it is a hole, a well, a pit.

From the depths of despair, O LORD, I call for your help.

The ‘low’ state of the pilgrim cannot be described merely as the ‘depths.’ Here the songwriter employs what we may call a bit of a ‘blues lyric.’ In the blues we can be ‘down’ or we can be ‘low’ but if we want to convey how much we really hurt, we sing about being ‘down low.’ The writer of this lyric doesn’t simply want to complain about the difficulty of the ascent. The song isn’t about climbing a hill. This song is about facing the mountainous challenge of life in all of its ugly reality and difficulty. The ‘climb’ is neither ‘from the depths,’ nor ‘from despair,’ it is from the ‘depths of despair.’

From the depths of despair, O LORD, I call for your help.

The reason ‘Lord’ is in all capital letters is to signify to the reader that God’s proper name is being used in the song. This lyric is not directed simply to the Authority of the Universe, or to the personage ensconced in the heavens. This song will only work if the ‘I AM’ is addressed. No lesser god could possibly be of help from the depths of despair. This song is for the ears of  ‘the One and Only, who was, and is, and is to come.’

From the depths of despair, O LORD, I call for your help.

There are different kinds of songs we sing. Some are just tunes we hum. Others are soft melodies. If we are in a car or shower, we may sing out from ‘the top of our lungs.’ This song is none of the above. It is the song of the slave, working in the heat and oppression of the field, calling out for rest, calling out for relief, calling out for release from the burden of being.

From the depths of despair, O LORD, I call for your help.

The most experienced and well-resourced climbers in the world rely on local guides called ‘sherpas’ when attempting the peak of Mt. Everest. The song writer calls upon the One who made the mountain peak in the first place. This is a confession that God did not create mountains in our lives in order for us to prove we could best them alone. He walks with us, in us, as we take the difficult road.

I do not know if it was the author’s intent but this first line of the song creates an image in my mind of a young boy faced with an impossible task requiring strength and skill he is yet to find. As the boy examines what is required of him, he bursts into unmanly tears of frustration over his own inability. He does well, however, to find his voice and call out to the only one truly able to come to his aid.

And so the song may continue…

What do you see in these words? How is God speaking to you as you stop and consider each phrase in the opening line of this song? What does God want you to remember for this day, and for tomorrow? Write it down.

If you would like post your insights below or post on my Facebook page.

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