Friday, June 12, 2020

Yet you know me, Lord;
    you see me and test my thoughts about you.
Jeremiah 12:3

Physics and Economics. Those were the two classes in high school that I have no clue how I passed. The day-to-day memories are fuzzy now, but what I recall about each of these classes is how embarrassingly in-the-dark I felt most of the time. I always felt steps behind, like I’d missed an essential memo or something, but had to forge ahead anyway. I somehow got by, but always with fingers crossed. 

If I could give my 17-year-old self one piece of academic advice, it would be this: ask the teacher to help you understand. Come in before or after school and ask questions! It seems so obvious now, but at the time, that option never even occurred to me. Something within me felt embarrassed that I didn’t understand. And I simply didn’t see the student-teacher relationship in those terms. But asking for help would have made all the difference for me. 

When it comes to talking with God, do you ever forget you can ask questions? Like…real questions? Do you ever feel like you shouldn’t have questions in the first place? 

The prophet Jeremiah faced massive confusion. The world around him was falling apart. He was uncertain of his purpose. He felt betrayed by the people closest to him. Tough times were ahead. In Chapter 12, Jeremiah  brings his confusion, his questions, even his complaints, directly to God. Take a look at the first three verses of this chapter. Jeremiah says…

You are always righteous, Lord,
    when I bring a case before you.
Yet I would speak with you about your justice:
    Why does the way of the wicked prosper?
    Why do all the faithless live at ease?
You have planted them, and they have taken root;
    they grow and bear fruit.
You are always on their lips
    but far from their hearts.
Yet you know me, Lord;
    you see me and test my thoughts about you.

I appreciate the earnesty with which Jeremiah addresses God. He’s saying, “Lord, I know you’re good, and that’s why I’m so bewildered at what’s going on.  What I know about you and what I see around me don’t add up. Why do things work this way? Make sense of it for me. You know my thoughts. Make me understand.”

Sometimes I forget that my interaction with God is a dialogue. But Jeremiah shows us what it means to really, truly talk with God. He lays it all out there. He asks why. He says, I understand some things about you, but other things go right over my head. 

A life of obeying God is not free of confusion. But Jeremiah reminds us that we can bring our confusion—even our confusion about God—directly to God. When we feel confused, we ask the Teacher to help us understand.

Wednesday, June 10, 2020

Taking the five loaves and the two fish and looking up to heaven, he gave thanks and broke the loaves. Then he gave them to his disciples to distribute to the people. He also divided the two fish among them all. They all ate and were satisfied. – Mark 6:41-42

This story shows up in each of the gospels and it’s definitely in my list of the top 5 greatest moments of Jesus’ ministry (also on that list is Jesus calling Nathaniel by saying he saw him under a fig tree and Jesus rising from the dead). 

This huge crowd had gathered and Jesus was teaching them late into the day. Seeing the time passing by, the disciples realize these people are going to be hungry and they don’t have enough food to feed them. So the disciples come to Jesus with their plan: Jesus needs to dismiss the crowd so they can head off to nearby villages and buy something to eat. 

But instead of doing what the disciples suggest, Jesus enlists them to be part of the solution. He tells them to collect what food they have and bring it to him. Then he blesses what they put before him and turns it into more than enough. Each person is able to eat until they are satisfied.

What I appreciate about this passage is that it really is a window into what a life in relationship with God looks like. We take our meager resources, or what may seem like our small and seemingly insignificant abilities, and trust that God will do something with them. God is deeply interested in using what we bring. 

This quote from theologian NT Wright sums it up well…

“This is how it works whenever someone is close enough to Jesus to catch a glimpse of what he’s doing and how they could help. We blunder in with our ideas. We offer, uncomprehending, what little we have. Jesus takes ideas, loaves and fishes, money, a sense of humor, time, energy, talents, love, artistic gifts, skill with words, quickness of eye or fingers, whatever we have to offer. He holds them before his father with prayer and blessing. Then, breaking them so they are ready for use, he gives them back to us to give to those who need them.” 

God values each one of us so much that God wants to use us to help set things right, so much that God will take whatever we have to offer and use it for his good. As we go into this day, may we be attentive to and respond to the people around us in need of the satisfaction that only comes from knowing God. 

Monday, June 8, 2020

“The creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and will obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God.” —Romans 8:21

We humans are part of creation. We are part of God’s creation. We are God’s image bearers in creation.

We are just a part of God’s massive creation. Anyone who has contemplated the scale of the universe is familiar with the humbling awareness of how small our little speck of a planet is. Within our little planet, we are just one species. And each one of us is just one organism of this one species on this one planet in this one solar system in this one galaxy.

And yet, in some mysterious and ennobling sense, we humans are distinctly important in this creation. In his letter to Christians in Rome, the apostle Paul wrote that our own liberation from sin has creation-wide implications. All of creation suffers when we fail to be the image bearers of God we were made to be. And all of creation rejoices at our liberation.

A lot of this is cloaked in mystery. How exactly is human sin implicated in seemingly random suffering like a child’s cancer diagnosis or a fatal freak accident or a (pre-human) mass extinction event? I don’t really know how to talk about those connections (to the extent that they exist) in any intelligible and loving and truthful way.

But there are also elements that we can see pretty clearly. The current mass extinction event has a lot to do with our arrogant destruction of creation. The spread of a novel coronavirus and the suffering that’s gone along with it have in some cases been made worse by pre-existing sinful neglect of poor and under-resourced communities and by leadership around the world more focused on self-preservation than on servanthood. The frequency and severity of extreme weather events have been increased by our sinful and short-sighted delay in adopting renewable energy sources.

Thankfully, the remedy stands before us, not as an abstract idea or principle, but as a person. On the cross, Jesus liberated us from bondage to sin and death. He liberated all of us. Creation longs for us to realize that we’re free and to start living like the redeemed. Creation longs for us to give up our addictions to pride and myopia and become addicted to compassion and wisdom. Creation longs for us to remember that we bear the very image of our Creator, that we are claimed as children of the one true King of creation, that we have been set free for freedom. Creation is looking to us to be who we are.