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And of Zion it shall be said,
    “This one and that one were born in her”;
    for the Most High himself will establish her.
The Lord records as he registers the peoples,
    “This one was born there.”  Psalm 87:5-6.

I was born in Del Rio, Texas, delivered by the same doctor as my father.  My friends would say I don’t sound like I am from Del Rio.  For that matter, neither does my father.  I never actually lived in Del Rio and my father spent most of his life in China.  We both sound like where we’ve lived.  I suspect you do as well.

In our text for today, the Psalmist exalts the stature of Jerusalem as the City of God.  As God’s chosen city, those who are born there receive special recognition.  But is the Bible really trying to encourage us to head to Jerusalem the next time we are expecting a baby?  That may or may not be a good idea but I have to think there is more to this scripture than that.

If the Kingdom of God is already inaugurated among us, can’t I live there now?  We can all become residents of the City of God.  We start by submitting to its ruler, the Lord, almighty.  We pledge obedience to Him and work daily on knowing Him better and becoming more like Him.  We take up residence in His presence.

Then, as we live alongside the Spirit of God and His people, we begin to sound like them and look like them.  We stop getting angry when people disappoint us and become compassionate.  We become patient with those who seem to always need our attention.  We seek out the ones that everyone else ignores to care for them and invest in them.  We give more, love more, pray more, grieve more, and become more wise.

Maybe we weren’t born there, but there is plenty of room in that City for us.  May we all be known as residents of Zion.

God so loved the world… John 3:16a.

I have a lot of prerogatives in my life.  I call the shots on the route I take to work every day.  I alone determine what I will have for lunch, if anything.  Even in the classroom I am in charge of how I approach the day’s lessons.

There are, however, things I don’t get to decide.  The weather is a pretty big one.  What all those other cars on the road will do sometimes becomes important.  But the biggest thing I don’t get to decide, that none of us gets to decide, is how God is going to love us.

Take a look at our text for today.  If you could write the rest of the verse, what would you say?  Would it be that God always made you rich and successful?  Would it be that God always protected you and yours?

I met a new friend a few months ago who had spent a lifetime angry with God.  His father died when he was a boy and that loss had driven him to enmity with God.  He had determined that God did not, in fact, love him.  And if not him, how could he know whether God loved anyone?  And if God is not love, then maybe He is not God at all.

My new friend’s loss was real.  It still is.  But one thing none of us gets to decide is how God will love us.  The guaranty of His affection for us is in the remainder of the verse – “He gave His only son.”  That may not have been what any of us would have supplied to close that verse, but it is the truth the Lord wrote on the world.

And it should comfort us.  Whatever the Lord allows in your life, whatever struggles you face, know that God loves you with an “only son sacrificing kind of love”.  You may not always understand it, or like it, but the love of God is bigger than what any of us understand or appreciate.

A Tribute to My Fallen Heroes

Only take care, and keep your soul diligently, lest you forget the things that your eyes have seen, and lest they depart from your heart all the days of your life. Make them known to your children and your children’s children.  Deuteronomy 4:9

For reasons known only to God, it has been a season of loss in my life.  Some brothers and sisters whom I have known for years, and some only met recently, have gone on to be with the Lord this week.  The keenest part of the loss was that these were some of my heroes.

None of them leaped tall buildings or rid the city of crime.  None of them were ever part of the armed services, as far as I know.  Their heroism happened on a front where it is least celebrated but most desperately needed.  These heroes were parents.

Scripture reveals that since the days of Moses, parents have held the key to the future of society.  Those who raise their children in the Lord put the future of the world in strong, godly hands.  Those who fail in that fail all of us.  My dearly departed heroes succeeded.  I see it in the stories of their passing.  I see it in the spouses they left behind.  Most of all, I see it in their children.

I am a father and a grandfather but I would never say I was particularly good at either.  (Mercifully I have a spouse whose excellence more than covered my deficiency.)  But at this passing of my brothers and sisters, I speak as one who admires those who have succeeded where I never could.  In a world where parenting is harder than it may ever have been, and subject to new levels of underinvestment, may the Lord grant us grace to succeed in that calling.

For those of us still on this side of the veil with children, including children not our own, let’s take up the mantle of the most important job in history.  We are trying to make human beings.  Please, please, for the sake of us all, let us make good ones.  Let us pour all that the Lord has shown us into them as the Lord requires of us.  Perhaps we too can be heroes.

Our Lives as Children

Out of the mouth of babies and infants,
you have established strength because of your foes,
to still the enemy and the avenger.  Psalm 8:2

It is easy to think you need to do something important for God.  If you focus on how much He has done for you, you can start to feel indebted.  If you think about His greatness, you can focus on trying to do something that will reflect that greatness.  If you wonder at how much He loves you, you can set your sights on returning it in kind.

The problem, of course, is that God does not demand, nor can we provide, a like return for anything He is or does.  That is what makes Him God, the Holy One, not like us.

He has a calling for us, something for us to become and work for us to do.  But it is not the same as His calling and His work.  Our calling is found in humility and our work in the activity of children.

Our text for today is from a psalm of David in which he wonders at the glory of God.  Our verse follows the more famous text, “Oh Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth.”  Our text is also the text cited by Jesus in the story of the triumphal entry (see Matthew 21:16), when He refuses the demands of the leaders to silence the announcement of His messianic arrival.

On that day, children waved palm branches and shouted for joy.  That sounds like about our speed.  We can do that, yes?  Remember, God never asks you to be great.  He calls you to live with childlike faith, childlike joy, and childlike obedience.  Let’s lift our branches and voices today, and become what we were always called to be, children of God.

May God be gracious to us and bless us
    and make his face to shine upon us, Selah
that your way may be known on earth,
    your saving power among all nations.  Psalm 67:1-2

If you spend long enough in a company, you will begin to notice that the people there all have varying levels of commitment to it.  Some absolutely love the company’s product.  They believe in it.  They talk about it all the time and think everyone would be better off if they became a customer of the company.  Those people give of themselves, above and beyond, to the company.  Sometimes they will tell you, “I would do this for free.”  In business, we call those people “missionaries”.

At the other extreme, there will be those who think the company is useless or even harmful.  They think the company’s customers are fools.  When they walk out the door at 5:00 PM (or earlier if possible) they leave everything about the company behind them.  They don’t care whether the company succeeds or fails, as long as they get paid, and the minute a better opportunity opens up, they are gone.  Those people are called “mercenaries”.

It turns out that the community of Christians breaks down along the exact some continuum.  We have missionaries, and mercenaries, and all of us are somewhere on a spectrum between.  Bear in mind, even Christians who work for a “mission” can have a mercenary mindset about Christ, and, though I have never met one, it would certainly be possible for a military “mercenary” to be a missionary for the Lord.

So how do you know where you lie on that spectrum?  Our text for today has an important indicator, the word, “that”.  We all pray to be blessed.  But why do we seek God’s blessing?  The mercenary wants to be blessed for his own comfort. “Dear God, make me rich, comfortable and happy, so I can worry less, play more, and be the envy of all my friends.”

Missionaries pray to be blessed for a completely different reason.  They want the Lord’s blessing to draw others to Christ.  “Lord, please heal me of my hurts, to encourage all the other hurting ones to trust in You.”

If mercenaries don’t get what they want from God, they try something else.  There are, after all, lots of other “gods”.  Missionaries find the most joy in submitting to God’s response to their prayers, knowing that He is good and His plan is best.

It’s time to test your heart.  Why do you follow the Lord, for His glory, or your own?