God Says “It’s OK To Not Be OK”

This morning I read Psalm 88 again. When I say ‘again’, I mean it comes around regularly in my daily readings.

This Psalm always unnerves me. Sure, I t starts with a voice of praise, acknowledging God as the true rescuer, but that’s about the only positive thing we read. Heman, the writer, then takes us downstairs through trouble and difficulty into the lowest pit and the darkest depths (v.6). Heman reckons those dark times are no chance occurrence, or a string of bad luck. It’s confronting to hear him say all those terrible things are the work of God (v.6-8). I am not sure whether he’s got that right. Maybe he’s just trying to rationalise all the pain in his life and this is his best shot. Whatever the reason I can tell you it takes guts to say it the way he does.

Thankfully, I haven’t been through depression. I’ve seen some pretty torrid times, though. I don’t think anyone can do thirty something years in congregational ministry and not encounter some rejection, betrayal, and most certainly some tears. Don’t get me wrong: I love pastoral ministry, and generally it loved me. But there are valleys and sometimes they are very dark and very deep. And at those times it could be hard to get motivated, or to see the good things around me. I could get irritable and negative, too true. But I never felt depressed.

For plenty of people the Black Dog is a reality. From the little I understand, it can be ever present, very dark, and hard to shake. That’s where my mind goes when I read Psalm 88. The writer may well be depressed, and the comfort of God seems absent. He blames God for everything he’s experiencing. He calls out to God, but he doesn’t get any answer.

I wonder how God felt, hearing this cry in Ps 88? My best guess is that it wasn’t anger. Maybe more like heartbreak, or compassion, or He may have just sat with Heman in his black hole and wept with him.

God wanted us to know it’s OK to not be OK. That when we’re the un-ok-est of all, that he’s still with us. That we can weep, and rail against him, and shake our fist, turn our back, throw the kitchen sink at him, and he’s still there. Faithful and caring and loving as always.

If we believe what we say about the Scriptures, God also treasured these hard words of Heman, and preserved them for us to read. Perhaps God wanted us to know it’s OK to not be OK. That when we’re the un-ok-est of all, that he’s still with us. That we can weep, and rail against him, and shake our fist, turn our back, throw the kitchen sink at him, and he’s still there. Faithful and caring and embracing as always.

This is our God, right? He is with us through the the darkest valleys. He knows, the deepest valley of all is to be utterly forsaken and bereft of his nearness. He knows that because Jesus entered that darkness, and conquered it, we never have to go there. Not ever.

Heman, it may feel like he’s not there, that he doesn’t love you, that he’s throwing all hell at you. But really, he’s still with you, even when you can see him, or hear him, or feel him. It may seem like the darkness is your closest friend, but really, it’s God. He’s there, right there, in the darkness with you. He’s never going to let you go.

[I have to apologise for not hitting the blog that much. It’s been a time of adjustment. Hopefully I’ll be a little more regular now – Dave]

Remember: Satan’s Power Is Limited

Whatever happens today, remember that as strong and as ugly as the evil one appears to be, he has limited strength and ability. Jesus Christ, ruler of our universe, has all power and authority. He is on the throne and rules all nations. You can trust this powerful Saviour to be near you and to give you all you need today to follow him.

Rev 12:1-9 “A great sign appeared in heaven: a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet and a crown of twelve stars on her head. She was pregnant and cried out in pain as she was about to give birth. Then another sign appeared in heaven: an enormous red dragon with seven heads and ten horns and seven crowns on its heads. Its tail swept a third of the stars out of the sky and flung them to the earth. The dragon stood in front of the woman who was about to give birth, so that it might devour her child the moment he was born. She gave birth to a son, a male child, who “will rule all the nations with an iron sceptre.”  And her child was snatched up to God and to his throne. The woman fled into the wilderness to a place prepared for her by God, where she might be taken care of for 1,260 days.

Then war broke out in heaven. Michael and his angels fought against the dragon, and the dragon and his angels fought back. But he was not strong enough, and they lost their place in heaven. The great dragon was hurled down—that ancient serpent called the devil, or Satan, who leads the whole world astray. He was hurled to the earth, and his angels with him. “

Prayer: High King of Heaven, this strange visit fits our this world. Every news story of misery and corruption is an echo of the dragon waiting like a thief to devour all that is good and to vandalise your shalom. Thank you for the good news that evil has met its match in Jesus, and give me the patience in this day as I wait for its complete end. Amen
(Philip F. Reinders, Seeking God’s Face, p.537 – using material from Belgic Confession, Article 12)

So, what’s with all the locust stuff?

In the 1870s a huge plague of locusts descended upon the American Midwest. Back then, the midwest was just being opened up, and the people who first settled there were living very remotely. Their very survive depended n their capacity to develop working farms and grow good crops. This was the tender existence upon which the biggest locust plague ever recorded in modern times descended.

It is estimated there were over 27 million tons of them. I don’t know how anyone weighs a locust plague, but the destructive power of this plague is well documented. No matter how people tried to protect themselves, the locusts continued on their destructive march. There are even accounts of people trying to cover at least some of their crops with blankets, but the locusts even ate the blankets! The plague was unimaginably powerful and totally unstoppable!

In his book, The Locust Effect, Gary Haugen makes the point that when the locusts descended, you can be sure the farmers weren’t thinking about whether to buy a new horse, or how to plough more effectively, or where to place the next fence. All that mattered was for the locusts to stop. Back in 1875 the locusts did not stop. Not only did farmers and their families loose livelihoods they had worked so hard for, some lost their lives, simply starving to death from the plague’s aftermath.

Sometimes I wonder how we have been so slow to see what has really been happening

In The Locust Effect, we learn that there is a plague on the world’s poor. Like locusts, it just keeps happening, and it needs to stop. In many developing countries the poor are subject to daily violence. They live outside of police protection. Justice systems are broken or dysfunctional. Corrupt forces within society do what they can to ensure the system stays broken, and they stay beyond the reach of the law.

Violence comes in many forms: sexual violence (primarily against women); forced land seizures (also primarily with female victims); forced labour and slavery. It also comes with the gut wrenching realisation that the police forces who are supposed to protect and serve society are in many developing world contexts perpetrators of violence against the poor. Watch this clip to get a sense of it all.

Wealthier countries have turned a blind eye to this plague, and many people – like me – who live in those countries have been ignorant of these malicious forces that are destroying so many lives on a daily basis. While we see such great work being done in the developing world, this plague is undermining everything that is being done, and preventing the world poor from thriving. The disturbing reality is this: unless we address the plague of violence everything else we do is only gong to have limited value.

There are no words to describe this evil

I must say, I have only understood this sobering reality after having been on the pre release review team for The Locust Effect. Sometimes I wonder how we have been so slow to see what has really been happening. I read the stories of lives broken or snuffed out, and more often than not I am just stunned. There are no words to describe this evil.

Here are a few things you can do to see how deep the problem is:

You can visit The Locust Effect page to learn more about the modern plague of violence at. You can also read a gripping section of The Locust Effect here.

You can also buy a copy of Haugen’s ground breaking book. These next few days any US sales will result in a $20 donation going straight to International Justice Mission. So buying the book is a great way to help the poor, and not just become informed about the issue.

Watch Gary Haugen talk about his purpose in writing The Locust Effect

PS. before you ask, the authors of The Locust Effect receive no royalties for the book, which is currently sitting around no.30 on the Amazon Best Seller list. All proceeds form the sale go toward ending violence against the world’s most vulnerable people.

Upon a Hill

Three men shared death upon a hill,
But only one man dies;
The other two—
A thief and God himself—
Made rendezvous.

Three crosses still
Are borne up Calvary’s Hill,
Where Sin still lifts them high:
Upon the one, sag broken men
Who, cursing, die;
Another upholds the praying thief,
Or those who penitent as he,
Shall find the Christ
Beside them on the tree

“Upon A Hill”, Miriam LeFevre Crouse

Offended?

Read Ezekiel 34 (again)

The audacious message of grace is Jesus has offensive undercurrents. Not that God is offensive, but more that we might find his grace offensive.Think about it: Paul reminds us that the message of the cross is a stumbling block and foolishness to many (1 Cor 1:23). That puts it mildly. It was so offensive to Jews in his day that several times they sought to kill Paul. Stephen was put to death because the Gospel tripped the religious leaders up (Acts 7). Other NT church leaders were also put to death. Jesus himself dies on a torturous cross.

Why does the message of Jesus provoke such strong reactions? Maybe it’s because God himself becomes the shepherd, and take on a position of weakness and powerlessness. It does not sit right with our human categories of power, authority and leadership. But that is what God does. Jesus, true God, made himself nothing (Phil 2:7). On the cross, Jesus takes into himself the sin, guilt and punishment of those who hate him. As he does, we observe a heinous transfer where Jesus becomes becomes our sin. And why? So that you and I might become the righteousness of God (2 Cor 5:21).

The offence, then, is how Jesus – God’s perfect Son – had to become our sin in order to set us free. The other angle is this: we could not, can not, and never will be able to bring ourselves to God, and find his life, without Jesus. Jesus is our only hope, because all we have to offer, even our very best, is stained with the fall’s ugly pollution.

I am broken and humbled by this Jesus, who just keeps loving me, and others, and he does not stop. This love is the measure of my own. And God’s own commitment to rescue and redeem through his servant hearted, sacrificial act in Jesus, is the measure of my own commitment to mission.

Q: What does this audacious grace of Jesus say to your inability and failing? How does it make a difference to what lies before you today?

The Audacity of Grace

Read Ezekiel 34:11-16

I am struck by the contrast between the abusive shepherds of Israel and the Lord, who is the good shepherd. A context of the shepherd’s self interest and abuse we are drawn to the breathtaking faithfulness of the Sovereign Lord. He knows all, and decides to do all to change this ugly pastoral picture into a one of peace, tranquility, protection and blessing.

More amazing is that God does this despite the terrible situation before him. He could have sold the farm, written off the loss, and done one huge cull. His lavish grace draws him to do something else: he took on the shepherds job himself and got to work changing the situation.

What he promises here: to search to restore, to care for, to rescue, to bring to pasture, he has done in Jesus, the Good Shepherd (John 10), and Jesus continues this work through his church (Matt 28:16-20; John 21:15-19).

When people fail, God will find other ways to bring his purposes to fulfilment

God takes our failing and rebellion upon himself. God steps in and brings restoration and hope to our brokenness. This is the audacity of grace. And we have to learn from his undying commitment to his own saving purpose. When people fail, God will find other ways to bring his purposes to fulfilment. Jesus’ death and rising is all the proof we need.

Q: What do these verses say about your own style of leadership, or about the challenges faced by your own church?

Strength for the Weary

Psalm 121

After everything that has happened these last months, I am so encouraged and humbled by the security afforded by the Living God. Help comes from him (Ps 121:2), his foot does not slip, so nor will mine. He watches over me (Ps 121:3), he keeps me safe, and he protects me:

“The Lord is your shade at your right hand” (v.5)

He knows my life’s path, he knows all the challenges I face, and he is with me as I go through all the trials that lie before me today. I feel safe, I feel blessed, I feel confident in his goodness and grace. What a privilege!

Q: What aspect of this Psalm has the most impact on you today?

…I thought it would be good to share a few devotional thoughts with you over these next weeks. My hope is that you find them helpful, and that God uses them to draw you to himself. DG