Grief and loss are never routine or easy. We can learn the sympathetic words to speak, repeat the correct doctrines, but in the darkness of loss we all struggle. I was charged with my first funeral in a small country church in southeast Oklahoma on a bitter cold November day. I had only attended one funeral in my young lifetime and that was to observe how a pastor should handle such an occasion.
John witnessed the birth of the church at Pentecost, the spread of the gospel across the Roman world and confronted the early heiresses that threatened the amazing gospel of grace. John knew a lot about words, from the Jewish Scriptures to the brilliant teachings of Jesus as they played out in the lives of real people. John has the gift of using words to challenge, encourage and thrill our hungry hearts with God's promises.
You can count on James to tell the truth. This is not a contrast between “absolute truth” and “alternate truth.” This is a truth that shapes our daily living and clashes with all the twisted methods and self-serving phrases we so often use to win an argument or put others in their place. This short epistle focuses on the practical side of faith in Christ, how we are to live in this world of conflicts.
The season called Lent is much more than a somber focus on the death of Jesus. This is a time to probe your faith, to remember the Jesus “who was tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin” (Hebrews 4:15). This is a time of serious self-examination as we understand Jesus' love for us is experienced in the challenges of our everyday world.
There are times so overwhelmed by loss and injustice that we call out to God, “Where are you?” So it was with Israel and Judah as the armies of Babylon arrived to defeat God's chosen people, decimate the land and turn the best and brightest of Israel into servants of the pagan enemy king.
King David's story contains all the elements of mankind's varied encounters with God. From shepherd boy to warrior king, from faith to rebellion, from power to dissipation – the one constant of his epic story is the purpose and faithfulness of God through everything.
If God did not seek us we would not find him. The initiative of grace is God's. In Eden it was God who came to visit our original ancestors and taught them the way of life, which they quickly abandoned. After years of mankind's selfish immoral living God came to Noah with a plan to cleanse the earth and begin again. God sought out Abram at Haran, calling him and his descendants to a more intimate relationship with God and a future when all the earth could know God. Through the curious twists of this world, now God approaches Moses and a people called Israel.
Growing up in the military was a life of constant moves, across the US and overseas. I learned to adapt, experiencing different cultures and finding my way to God. Looking back I can identify people and experiences through which God drew me to salvation.
Among my favorite art objects is a hand-carved Noah's ark and a delightful collection of animals parading two-by-two, including penguins and elephants. Noah's story presents a sobering picture of humanity's spiritual foolishness and God's overcoming grace.