Psalm 11:1-4

The last line of each stanza comes from Psalm 11:1-4.

My strength has failed, my courage weak,
My resolve has faltered, the path looks bleak,
But when clouds obscure the mountain peak,
In the Lord I take refuge.

There is a fortress that stands above all,
There is a hand that will catch when I fall,
And there’s something inside me that answers the call
So how can you say to my soul,

“There is no purpose, no point to the fight.
Careful not to miss out cause you’re chasing a kite.
You haven’t the might to attain to that height,
So flee like a bird to your mountain.

“Do as you please and live as you will,
Chase after safety or run after thrills.
Your magnificent mountain is only a hill,
And behold, the wicked bend their bow.”

The weight keeps increasing, the voices begin;
As the pressures mount up, my soul’s caving in.
The fortress’s walls appear to grow thin,
And they have fitted the arrow to the string.

I cannot see clearly with pride in my eyes.
Compared to the next man, we’ve all become wise.
I try to defeat it but still fall for the lies
That shoot in the dark at the upright in heart.

For if false was the truth then all was in vain;
I’ve been setting a pace that I cannot maintain.
I’m drifting, uprooted, nothing remains
If the foundations are destroyed.

But if faith is a seed that grows into a tree,
Then its roots run much deeper than mere man can see.
If you always answer our knock when we seek,
What could the righteous do?

The foundations are steady, barren of cracks;
You’re grace for my weakness, enough where I lack,
My refuge and compass, the wind at my back.
The Lord is in his holy temple!

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Temples and Palaces

So in 1 Kings 8, there’s this fabulously beautiful speech Solomon makes to dedicate the temple. It definitely makes the most impact when read out loud, because then you can hear the rhythm and repetition: “When your people Israel are defeated before the enemy because they have sinned against you, hear in heaven….When heaven is shut up and there is no rain, then hear your people….If there is famine in the land, if there is pestilence or blight or mildew or locust or caterpillar, if their enemy besieges them in the land at their gates…whatever plague, whatever sickness there is, whatever prayer, whatever plea is made by any man or all your people Israel, each knowing the affliction of his own heart and stretching out his hands toward this house, then hear in heaven your dwelling place and forgive and act.”

He goes on like this for eight paragraphs before he comes to his benediction, imploring the Lord to come and inhabit this house, be shrouded in darkness no longer but to hear his people when they cry, even when they make mistakes, even when all seems lost, if they even stretch out their hands in the direction of his temple–hear, O God.

And this is amazing to me because in the Old Testament they didn’t yet have a new covenant; they had to go through priests and rituals and sacrifices over and over and the priest had to wear a bell in case he be struck dead in the presence of God and yet they were confident in their prayer, God dwell among us, God hear us. And yet even though we do have the new covenant and we don’t have the constraints of the Old Testament, the curtain was torn and the sacrifice completed, sometimes we still feel like God doesn’t hear. That he’s still so far away. That he is distant and unknowable and unreachable and unaffected and unimplorable. Right?

But this is amazing to me, because when I read Solomon’s prayer it gives me chills because God has fulfilled the promise, he has heard his people’s cry. He has been faithful and he has never let us go. He told Isaiah, “I have not spoken in secret, from somewhere in a land of darkness; I have not said to Jacob’s descendants, ‘Seek me in vain.’ I, the LORD, speak the truth; I declare what is right. Come, gather together, and draw near, you fugitives of the nations.” In Thessalonians Paul writes, “He who calls you is faithful; He will surely do it.”

This passage is amazing to me, because it shows how the promise has been fulfilled. Look back at your own life–can you see it? Maybe not yet–but you will.

And remember, this is Solomon praying this. I remember growing up in Sunday School, learning about the first three kings of Israel, right? Saul was bad, David was good, Solomon was wise but he had too many wives. Boom, I just summarized I Samuel through the first half of I Kings for you right there, right?

We do this, don’t we? Make these men into legends, epitomizing them as good or evil? But we forget that these aren’t just characters in a story meant to teach us a lesson. They were real people, living real lives and so their choices and actions are just the fleshing out of a complex consciousness as real and full as yours.

There was a study once that found that people tended to describe others in terms of absolutes. “He’s really attractive,” “She’s hilarious,” “He’s a jerk,” as if that characteristic were a constant feature of their personhood. But when they described themselves, they tended to speak in relative terms: “I’m having a bad day today,” or “It’s a good hair day.

I feel like we do this with the Bible, too. Like when we read the story of how Solomon’s brother Adonijah was setting himself up as king (1 Kings 1). A lot of times, this is painted as a deceitful power grab. And yeah, Adonijah was jumping the gun a little. But he was the oldest, and he had good reason to expect the throne. It’s partly on David for not sorting this out until, like, the day he was about to die. But you can see how this would happen, too. It’s not exactly a fun conversation. And Adonijah might’ve suspected, based on who he left off the guest list. But maybe he was just playing his cards wisely.

It’s the same with Solomon. He’s the epitome of following God…some of the time. And we say that so judgmentally, like, of course he should have followed God all the time with his whole heart. But how many of us can say the same?

For instance, look at the time he spent building the temple (7 years) versus his own palace (13 years). In fact, he paused the temple once the construction was completed and didn’t furnish it until he was done building his palace, oh, and one for his Egyptian wife he wasn’t supposed to take. It’s easy to look at that and be like, Solomon! What are you doing, man? Get your priorities straight! But how many of us find it easy to put God on hold, just for a little while? How much time are you spending on your palaces, and how much in the temple?

Once these actions are written down and crystallized into factual Biblical text, it’s easy to not think about the internal thought process behind them. Did Solomon care about the temple? Of course! 1 Kings 8 is full of this incredible passion and humility for God’s house, and an awe of who God is. But sometimes, he let his palaces get in the way of his passion for the temple.

How often do you do the same?

“What is that in your hand?”

in your hand

Is it a pencil? A paintbrush? A computer? A soccer ball? Is it a phone? A schedule? Your wallet? Your keys? Are you holding an instrument? A pair of shoes? A schoolbook?

For this man, it was a staff. He wasn’t sure why he was being asked this. It was pretty obvious, he thought. It wasn’t anything special. Just a roughly hewn, solid piece of wood, knotted with age. It had been with him for many long miles. Under his hand and weight, the grip had been worn smooth and the grain familiar. It wasn’t anything special; just a walking tool to balance him in the arid, rocky desert. He wondered why God wanted to know.

“Throw it on the ground.”

Shrugging,  he let the rod fall from his hands. Maybe it was meant as a symbol for leaving this intermittent time in the desert behind.

He could never have foreseen what would actually happen next.

As the staff began to writhe, he jumped back. For in the eyes of the snake, there was something more–there was the realization of the God to which he was committed. Though he couldn’t yet see it, in the eyes of the snake there was contained locusts and frogs and hail and darkness and blood, and the parting of a great, great sea. In those eyes, there was the coming knowledge of what God will do for his own.

At first, he ran. He’d lived in the desert for four decades; he knew not to mess with vipers. But God told him to pick it up.

Are you sure, God? Are you sure you know what you’re doing?

He picked it up.

God gave him two more signs, the leprosy and the Nile. Then he gave him a charge: “Go tell Pharoah to let my people go.” My people–a people of slaves who would be made free, and then bring freedom to the world.

Moses’ reaction was visceral and immediate. “Send someone else!” I am slow of speech and tongue. I am not ready. I am not enough. I can’t.

And God responds: “Is it not I, the Lord? Is it not I, the Lord, who gave human beings their mouths? Who makes them deaf or mute? Who gives them sight or makes them blind?” Is it not I, the Lord?

I ask again: what is that in your hand? Is it a hoe, a needle, a broom? Is it a calculator or test tube? A pen or a sword?

“Whatever you do, do it with your whole heart as unto the Lord.” (Colossians 2:23)

Jesus himself was a carpenter. Do not make the mistake of the Nazarenes. Someone once said, “That Jesus was a carpenter was to them poor credentials of divinity, but it has been divine credentials to the poor ever since.”

Yes, yes, a carpenter, same trade as mine!
How it warms my heart as I read that line.
I can stand the hard work, I can stand the poor pay,
For I’ll see that Carpenter at no distant day.
–Maltbie D. Babcock

This is the carpenter of whom God said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.”

So what is that in your hand? Time is in his; he knows your beginning and your end. He was there at the start and he’ll see you through to the end. He knows where you’ll be on your final day, and where you’ll end up; he knows that it will all be okay, and you’ll see his face. He’s put you where you are for an exact and specific purpose. Maybe he wants you to use your staff, and maybe he wants you to pick up your snake.

Whatever may pass and whatever lies before you, may you be singing when they evening comes.

Blessings!
Bre

Why do you stand here?

men of galilee

the angel asked. It was as if he was mocking their astonishment at their Teacher’s ascension. Didn’t you know this was going to happen? his merry eyes seemed to say. He’s going to come again, too. Will you still be standing here staring?

“We’ve never seen anything like this before!” they could have exclaimed. But they had. They’d been with him for three years, watching him heal the sick, turn water into wine, make the blind to see and the lame to walk. Peter, James, and John had been with him at the Transfiguration. They’d seen far more dramatic things than a simple disappearance. In fact, you’d think they’d be used to it by now! Jesus had been coming and going like a wizard with a hole in his Floo-powder pouch for several weeks, appearing and disappearing from the Upper Room and on the road to Emmaus. So why did this event leave the disciples staring?

Maybe it was his words before he left. “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you, and you will be my witnesses.” What was this Holy Spirit? Maybe they were waiting around for it to descend right there–not that the disciples had a great track record for taking Jesus at his word.

To be fair, who could blame them? He had an awkward tendency to say the craziest things. “If anyone comes to me and does not despise his mother and father…yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple.” Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life in yourselves.” “If your eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away.” “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up again.” Whaaat?

The disciples sometimes take a lot of flack from the modern-day church for this. He’s talking about himself, you idiots! But seriously, what would it look like if we started taking Jesus at his word? “Love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you.” “If anyone slaps you on one cheek, turn to him the other also.” “Do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself.” “Seek, and you will find; knock, and I will answer.” “Behold, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” Think our lives might look a little different?

Before Jesus left, the disciples had asked him, “Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom of Israel?” His answer? Not yet. Wait and see. And in the meantime, he had a job for them.

“Why do you stand here?”

Maybe it was because they didn’t know what else to do. Maybe because the weight of Jesus’ last charge hadn’t fully sunk in yet. “Go and make disciples of all nations.”

“Men of Galilee, why do you stand here? This same Jesus, who you have seen go up into heaven, will come back in the very same way.” The angel spoke with urgency, galvanizing them into action. These were the words that lit a fire in the early church! The disciples had to prepare for their Lord’s return!

But he didn’t come. Not yet.

I think the two thousand years since then have made us complacent. We metaphorically stand and stare into heaven every day, blinking into the sunlight and wondering what to do.

“Why do you stand here?”

If Jesus came back today, would he ask you the same question? Don’t just stand here; move! In your current vocation and location, what is he calling you to do?

Maybe you don’t know. Overwhelm is an understandable feeling. Maybe you should start by taking Jesus at his word: “Love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you.” “Do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself.”

If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing.”

Ours is the same charge as that of John and Peter–of Paul and Joshua and Timothy and Moses. Maybe we should spend less time squinting into the sky and waiting for answers to come to us, and a little more soaking in his word and letting him teach us how to love. Maybe that’s where the answers really come from. Maybe sometimes, when we think we’re waiting on God, God is really waiting on us.

So why do you stand here?