Your righteousness is like the mighty mountains,
    your judgments are like the great deep. Psalm 36:6a.

Yesterday I was walking along the beach with my bride and this verse came to mind.  The water was calm with small waves lapping at the sand.  When you looked out from the shore, however, the ocean stretched out past the horizon.  It was a vast expanse of water that we couldn’t even see across, much less down into the depths.

Mountains are different.  They can be grand, intimidating, unscalable, but not beyond examination.  God’s righteousness, in the same way, is observable.  Just like the ancients, we can see it in His creation as it works harmoniously all around us.  We can see it in how He moves through our lives, teaching us and growing us.  We see it in the crucifixion of Christ, making that righteousness available to us through His atonement.

But God’s judgments are not the same.  They are mysterious, like the deep.  The ancients saw the ocean as an alien world of mysterious monsters.  We aren’t that different.  The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration says that over 90% of the ocean floor is unexplored.  It seems every year we discover some new species there.

Just like the ocean floor, God’s judgments are mostly unknown and unknowable.  They are beyond our ability to see or understand.  The next time you are tempted to judge someone else’s motives or actions, remember how unqualified you might be.  You know less about real justice than you do about what is at the bottom of the sea.  Leave that work to God, whose judgments are like the deep.

In the pride of his countenance the wicked does not seek him;
    all his thoughts are, “There is no God.”  Psalm 10:4

Years ago I heard a story about two young boys, Bobby and Jimmy, who broke a church window.  Jimmy escaped the scene but the pastor was able to collar Bobby and led him by the ear into the church office.  Seeking to teach the rascal a lesson about the Lord’s omnipresence, the pastor asked the boy, “Bobby, where is God?”  The boy looked at the floor nervously but said nothing.  The pastor, already out of patience, shouted at the boy, “Come on Bobby, where is God?”  Young Bobby jumped up and ran out of the church.  He found his confederate at their usual hiding place and told him. “Jimmy, we’re in serious trouble.”  “It was just a window” his friend complained.  “Oh no”, said Bobby, “God is missing and they think we had something to do with it.”

It is comical to think that Jimmy and Bobby somehow disposed of God.  But equally amusing is the idea that learned scholars have somehow rendered God non-existent by declaration.  God is no more dependent on Friedrich Nietzsche than He is on Bobby and Jimmy.

We, on the other hand, can feel intimidated by atheistic writers who marshal well-crafted arguments that God is irrelevant, mythological, or dead.  We often fall silent in the face of such critics.  We “know” their arguments are flawed but can feel completely ill-equipped to counter them.

Unfortunately for us, that is not our true failing.  When we face those who would deny the Lord through arguments, our inability to respond to those arguments can make us begin to doubt God’s existence, rather than our own competence.  Our response to those who would deny the Lord says absolutely nothing about Him but everything about us.

The Lord is indomitable.  It is only our faith that is weak.

I tell you, my friends, do not be afraid of those who kill the body and after that can do no more.  Luke 12:4

There is an old adage in business – no risk, no return.  Business people put a lot of effort into understanding, evaluating, and minimizing risk.  As a business person, I am used to taking calculated risks.  Every new hire, every investment, every strategic decision comes with risk.

In my personal life though, there are risks that frighten me.  Perhaps you can relate.  Sometimes I am scared to talk to my spouse about something going on in our family.  My relationship with her is the most precious thing I have on this earth and I do not want to risk harming it.  Sometimes I am afraid to challenge the individuals who repair my car, mow my yard, or the like.  I don’t know how they will react and I don’t want to risk an emotional response.

I confess, I don’t really know where those fears come from.  They are probably buried deep in my past – the same as your particular fears.  But one thing I know is that none of us were made to walk in fear of the world.

That doesn’t mean we aren’t vulnerable.  In our text for today, Jesus implies there are indeed people in the world who can harm, or even kill, us.  Jesus issues this command in the context of having faith in God.  After He notes God’s provision for the sparrows and their relatively cheap market price, He further commands, “Don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows” (Luke 12:7b).

Jesus Christ faced terrible horrors during His earthly ministry.  Imagine as you end each day exhausted from healing the sick, avoiding attack, and teaching the insubordinate, that you fall asleep knowing when you are finished with it all you will be tortured to death.  Jesus was not courageous in the face of these fears because He was born with a courage gene that we didn’t get.  Jesus had faith that His heavenly Father would work all things for His glory.

That is the courage we want, my friends.  Faith in God.  When you see fear coming for you, admit your vulnerability, and know that the Lord is God over sparrows and over you.

Precious to God

Precious in the sight of the Lord
    is the death of his saints.  Psalm 116:15

It has been a difficult season in my family this year.  A dog whom we treasured for over 15 years met an untimely end.  We have lost some precious friends and have concerns about some of our own family.

The losses we experienced happened at different speeds.  Some losses were quite sudden and unexpected, like our poor dog.  Others manifested slowly over years, as when my own elderly mother has declined in health.  It seems every time I visit her she is less “herself”.

I am sure many of you can relate.  Most of us have lost something we valued at one time or another.  Many of us have lost jobs, lost money, or lost relationships.  We had a flood in our basement years ago in which my wife lost a ring that had been her grandmother’s.  It was not a particularly valuable piece of jewelry but was very precious to her.

It is interesting in this context that our text today describes what is precious to God – the death of His saints.  God does not fear death as we do.  He sees both sides of the mortal veil with complete clarity.  He does not suffer loss as we do when a dear one “departs”.  His eternal nature separates Him from the losses you and I face over time.  The preciousness of the passing of the Lord’s saints is not a reflection of His vulnerability but of ours.

It is comforting to know that the Lord is with us in our times of loss.  He not only sees our situation, He cares deeply about it.  It is precious to Him, not because of what He will lose but because of what we will experience.  We can rely on that care my friends.  May you know the grace of God as you face those times.  May you share it with others when they face them.

The Greatness of the Grind

Great are the works of the Lord,
    studied by all who delight in them.

Full of splendor and majesty is his work,
    and his righteousness endures forever.  Psalm 111:2-3

Clay doesn’t look like much when it is lying on a wheel in a big, shapeless lump.  It has to be carefully turned and shaped.  A combination of centrifugal force and skillful handling can turn it into a well-formed piece of art.  But even then, it is cold, colorless, and soft.  It is just a better looking lump of clay.  It has to be fired at extremely high temperatures to make it strong.  It has to be colored and glazed to make it beautiful.

I have wondered at times how clay feels about being transformed into beautiful pottery.  Does it exult in the process of being changed from a useless, ugly lump into a work of art?  Maybe it is more like me.  Maybe it cringes and cries under the pressure and the fire.

We have all experienced hard things in our lives.  Sometimes in my life it seems like they come in waves.  Bad circumstances and failures, combined with a lack of resources, hit me where I am naturally weak.  They seem to gang up on me all at once, producing intense times of stress.  It can be a real grind.

God’s role in the authorship of those things is a hard question.  But my friend Sam once told me something profound, “Our Father does not waste anything.”  Regardless of our views on how the hard things come, it is entirely scriptural that the Lord uses them for our good.  (See, e.g., Romans 8:28-29.)

Our text for today is grounded in the wonders the Lord displayed to the Hebrew nation.  But the work of the Lord surely did not end there.  You and I are also His handiwork.  We are being shaped by His care and His power – transformed from the ugly and mundane into the beautiful and useful.

And that is no ordinary work happening within you.  It is the work of that same God who delivered Israel through miraculous signs and wonders.  You, my friends, are being filled with splendor and majesty.  When the pressure and the heat get tough, remember what is happening to you – the very wonders of God.