The Lord of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our refuge. Psalm 46:7

The Lord is faithful; he will strengthen you and guard you from the evil one. 2 Thessalonians 3:3

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“Out of the Depths” | Fort Point, WA | January 2019

When Hurricane Katrina ripped through the Gulf Coast people fled Louisiana to neighboring states and places more safe and secure. One such couple with their newborn child reached out to us at St. John for a place to stay. Diane and I ended up offering them a place to stay in our home. We were happy to provide a place for them, and they even helped us secure our house from potential storm damage. They were appreciative and able to be on their way the next day.

God offers himself as a place of safety and refuge for his people. The question for us is how do we take advantage of this place of refuge and safety. It’s not like we can go to a church building and expect that we will be protected just because we’re in a church building. A quick look at the flooding we experienced at St. John in 2016 and again in 2018 will lay that idea to rest. Rising water does not automatically avoid church buildings, nor will church buildings be exempt from damage by winds, fire, or even vandalism.

There are also those who have prayed earnestly for rescue, safe passage, or avoidance of plague, famine, or other calamity, who were not exempted from these difficulties. Surely we must recognize a deeper danger from which God is our refuge and place of security! This is not a cop-out. It is, however, a reminder of the wholly-otherness of God, and of his Grand Story of redemption, salvation, and grace that plays out in the every-day life and times of his people.

The rescue is actually The Rescue from sin, death, the devil, and hell. It is a redemption from the mundane worries of merely a better life under the guise of outward success and painless days. The refuge God provides is the confident hope that all enemies of our bodies and souls will one day be destroyed, and we who hope in God will be vindicated.

God’s place of refuge is a place of the heart, a resting spot for our souls, a bold faith in God’s delivering power. That was shown in Jesus Christ, through his perfect life, sacrificial death, and victorious resurrection. The safety and security that God offers us is enjoyed by faith. It transcends every evil turn we face in this life and will be fully enjoyed in the life of the world to come.

You search out my path and my lying down, and are acquainted with all my ways. Psalm 139:3

Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. Matthew 10:29

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Holly | Fort Point, WA | January 2019

When I was a young boy, growing up in my parents’ motel, my sister would occasionally ask, “Do you want to sneak a soda?” I would quickly agree, and we would go down to the storage room where the cases of Coke, Pepsi, Dr. Petter, and Grape sodas were kept. It was there that Dad also hid the crank that opened the door of the soda machine. With crank in hand, we would open the soda machine and get two sodas – one for each of us. I’m not sure whether my parents ever knew it or not.

Perhaps you’ve done your own soda-sneeking of sorts. Maybe you’re thinking that God doesn’t notice your little pranks and peccadillos. You’ve side-stepped expense account details, and thought you’d gone unnoticed. You’ve overlooked certain requirements for your promotion, and managed to get away with it.

On the other hand, you might despair of being noticed by God when you are in trouble or distress. You can wonder whether you have God’s attention – especially if you’ve seemed to go unnoticed in your wayward ways.

We don’t go unnoticed, however, in either case. God takes note. There is an edge to this truth.

God looks down from heaven
    on the children of man
to see if there are any who understand,
    who seek after God.
They have all fallen away;

    together they have become corrupt;
there is none who does good,
    not even one. – Psalm 53:2-3

 

But to those who acknowledge their sin and look to God for mercy and grace, there is a better hope, and a greater comfort. God notices us, and has his eye on us. We may wonder whether we’re worth it to God. Some have even said, “God has more important things to do than worry about me and my needs.” That’s simply not true. God doesn’t get overloaded lie a clogged internet connection.

We are precious to God. We matter to him. Even when he sees us in our sin, he yearns for our good and blessing.

Joshua fell on his face to the earth and worshiped, and he said to him, “What do you command your servant, my Lord?” Joshua 5:14

Blessed are your eyes, for they see, and your ears, for they hear. Matthew 13:16

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The waters of Puget Sound near Deception Pass | Whidbey Island, WA | December 2018

I’ve seen the Grand Canyon. Stunning. I’ve seen the Eiffel Tower. Elegant. I’ve seen the Great Rift Valley. Expansive. I’ve seen the Great Wall of China. Impressive. Each of these have been extraordinary experiences, and I’m grateful for having experienced them all. To some extent they’ve left an impression on me. But I’m not certain any of them are life-changing.

Perhaps the more life-changing sight was the starry skies in the middle of nowhere one crisp, cold, and clear night. Somehow that put many things into perspective for me. The sight of our children right after birth would rank high on the list of life-changing sights. So, too, the smile of my wife when I’ve come out of surgery. These things nourish my soul and have a lasting impact.

Highest of all, however, is the impact of experience of seeing God. Joshua fell on his face when he saw God. Isaiah encountered God and said, “Woe is me!” (Isaiah 6:5). Job said, My ears had heard of you but now my eyes have seen you. Therefore I despise myself and repent in dust and ashes” (Job 42:5-6). The Bible says, “No one has ever seen God; the only God, who is at the Father’s side, he has made him known (John 1:18). So the encounters of Isaiah, Joshua, and Job must only brush up against the full experience of seeing God.

Each of these were propelled into God’s redemptive work all of which culminated in Jesus’ birth, life, suffering, death and resurrection, and will be consummated on the Great Last Day. Their encounter was part of a saga that continues to this day. 

Perhaps we gain a glimpse of God in the splendor of creation, the smile of a loved-one, or the elegant beauty of an unfolding flower. If we do, we should somehow be changed. It should make a difference. We have been blessed to see God’s work in creation and in our lives. That being so it ought to make a difference not only in that moment, but throughout our lives, and even through all eternity.

If anyone secretly entices you—even if it is your brother, your father’s son or your mother’s son, or your own son or daughter, or the wife you embrace, or your most intimate friend—saying, “Let us go worship other gods,” you must not yield to or heed any such persons. Deuteronomy 13:6,8

For freedom Christ has set us free. Galatians 5:1

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Puget Sound from Fort Point, WA | January 2019

Peer pressure is a powerful force. If you have teenagers they’ll use it to their advantage. “Everyone else has an iPhone,” they’ll say. Or, “Tommy got to take the car to the party, why can’t I?” On the one hand that seems like children pressuring their parents for something they want. On the other hand, the reasoning might well be their fear of not fitting in unless they have the phone or access to the car.

We adults may resist the temptation to keep up with the Jones. We know better than to try. It’s a race we’ll never win. Certainly we won’t follow others in idolatry! What of wholesale sell-out to soccer or swim clubs? What of our willingness to sacrifice our family for our own selfish pursuit of success or pleasure? Idols are no longer made only of silver or gold. Some are chrome-trimmed, or designer-labeled. Some we powder or shave daily.

If we are to recognize the siren call of the false gods all around us, we must first of all recognize how they enslave us. If we get on the treadmill of worldly success, we’ll never fully arrive. And if we do, we’re likely to consume ourselves with pride for the accomplishment If we manage to gain the attention of others through fame or success, we’ll end up propping ourselves up in an endless pursuit of image and influence. Financial success – or even financial independence – can enslave us if it becomes the most important thing in our lives.

Martin Luther is to have asid, “A god is that to which we look for the highest good in life.” If anyone – subtly or overtly – entices us away from God’s paths, be sure it is an invitation to anything but freedom and life. That is found in Jesus Christ alone. Faith in him will sustain us when we are tempted to follow other gods.

I will tell of your name to my brothers and sisters. Psalm 22:22

The women left the tomb quickly with fear and great joy, and ran to tell his disciples. Matthew 28:8

Winter Berries | Fort Point, Washington | December 2018

I recently had my car serviced, and following that got an email request to fill out a customer satisfaction survey. I declined. We regularly get carry-out pizza at a local store. In every pizza there is a survey that allows us to earn $2, $3, or $4 off on our next visit. I’ll do that one! Same for our Friday breakfast restaurant. If you go online and fill out a survey you get a code for a future discount. The one question I always have trouble with is, “Based on your experience today, how likely are you to recommend our restaurant to your friends and family?” Ugh.

I don’t make many recommendations. And when I do, it’s voluntary, not coerced. I’ll recommend Peli Peli any day. It’s expensive (which I always share) but the food is truly wonderful and Chef Paul has an amazing story of God’s grace; and there are 12 Bibles in the walls of his Vintage Park restaurant. But don’t ask me to recommend anything by having me fill out a survey!

How about you? How about you and God? Do you recommend him? Do you tell of his name? Do you witness to his goodness? Do you share the Good News of his redeeming love?

There is no survey to fill out. There is no discount coupon to claim if you do. There is no customer loyalty program in which to enroll. But the free gift of salvation for the sake of Jesus Christ is priceless. His call to repentance and faith is for all people. He is true through and through, faithful without fault, gracious to the core of his being, and just in all his ways.

Give me a chance and I’ll tell you about him. Gladly. Winsomely (I hope). Thankful for the opportunity. Rejoicing in his triumph over every evil and sin. Let me tell you. Please!

I will give them a heart to know that I am the Lord, and they shall be my people and I will be their God, for they shall return to me with their whole heart. Jeremiah 24:7

You know the message God sent to the people of Israel, announcing the good news of peace through Jesus Christ, who is Lord of all. Acts 10:36 NIV

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A halo appears over the top of Mount Ranier | Washington state | December 2018

Imagine yourself on the flying trapeze. Trust me, for the sake of this illustration it’s better if you really don’t want to be there! But you’re up there, swinging back and forth, and you have been coaxed sufficiently enough to jump and grab the other swinging bar. And you miss.

You’re falling through the air and there are two scenarios which will play out in the next 3 seconds or less. You’ll hit the net – and for the sake of this illustration you don’t break an arm or suffer other injury when you hit the net. There are yet two outcomes. One outcome is that you hit the net and it holds you safely, catches you properly, and you are safe and well. The other, however, is not so good. In this second case you hit the net, but it is defective and you crash through it all the way to the ground. The ground is not nearly as fall-friendly as a trapeze artist’s net.

What makes the difference? Not your faith. You could have grave doubts all the way down yet if you fall on a good net, it will hold you. You can also have the greatest faith in the world that the net will catch you and keep you safe. But if the net is faulty, no matter how strong your faith is, you’re going to fall right through it to the ground. Ugh.

Notice that faith is a gift from God. He is the one who gives us new hearts. He is the one who emboldens our faith. He is the one who makes the way back to him. He is the one who is the author of our faith.

Faith’s object makes it strong. Who you believe in, what you believe, the trustworthiness and strength of that which you trust makes your faith strong. Your faith does not make the trusted one strong.

Combine that with God’s power over all things and you have an object of faith that is supremely worthy. We have a Redeemer who is absolutely reliable. He is Lord of all. He has all authority. He holds the world in his hand. Our Redeemer, moreover, not only died to redeem us, but also rose from the dead to conquer the works of the devil.

Our faith, given by God, centered in Jesus Christ our living Redeemer will never be disappointed. What a blessing such faith truly is!

 

In overflowing wrath for a moment I hid my face from you, but with everlasting love I will have compassion on you, says the Lord, your Redeemer. Isaiah 54:8

Do you not realize that God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance? Romans 2:4

Bridge over Deception Pass on Whidbey Island, WA | December 2018

 

I learned something the hard way when I took a 400 level class in college. I was in the beginning of my junior year, and was blithely unaware of the more rigorous demands of 400-level courses. When I received my returned assigned term paper, the grade was barely passing. The professor had provided many red-pencil markings, one of which said, “You didn’t even have any primary sources.” Oh, I thought, I didn’t realize I needed to provide something more than a paragraph or two from an encyclopedia article. In other words, I needed to go to the source. I needed to quote Kierkegaard himself, not an encyclopedia article about him. Lesson learned.

I wonder about that in light of these verses about God’s compassion and kindness. As I consider these verses personally, I must confess that too-easily I can take a somewhat superficial approach to God’s compassion and kindness. This becomes a matter of cheap grace. It’s in the I know I’ve done wrong, and I’m sorry; but I’m not sure I need to go much further than that category of superficial faith. That’s faith that doesn’t really get to the core of my heart.

The trouble is two-fold. First of all, we have domesticated God. God is in his heaven, we think, a kind and grandfatherly sort who smiles in doting amusement at our wayward ways. Certainly that is not the God which the Bible reveals. Nor would this passage from Isaiah lead us to think of him that way if we take seriously the first part of that verse. God’s wrath boils in a toxic cauldron of death and condemnation. It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God. I don’t often think of God that way.

I’ve been on the brink of the chasm of God’s judgement and deeply aware of my sin. I’ve looked down into that fissure. The thought of facing that crevasse apart from God’s mercy, grace, and forgiveness is beyond terrifying. But it is precisely there that the kindness and compassion of God becomes evermore sweet and blessed. That is the second part of a deeper repentance and truer faith. The kindness and compassion of God shown in Jesus Christ, our Redeemer, takes deep root in the fertile soil of sincere humility and contrition.

The primary source of true repentance and faith is Jesus. We look to him on the cross and see the wrath and grace of God combined. We see him confronting the religious elitists, calling them whitewashed tombs, while eating with sinners and forgiving prostitutes. There is grace and truth combined. If Jesus Christ is not the primary source of our repentance, we have a dangerously-shallow faith. It will not long sustain us.

Jesus is precious not only to those like me who need to go deeper with their repentance. He is precious also to those whose faith is not as deep as they wish it was. The faintest and most tenuous faith that looks to Jesus will find him a true friend and gracious Savior. The dismissive and going-through-the-motions religious man or woman will find Jesus a challenging truth-teller, which they need more than they know.