Come quickly

You can hear the desperation in his voice:

I am poor and needy;
come quickly to me, O God.

These words come near the end of Psalm 70, at the point in the psalm where you’re hoping for some resolution, a happy ending. Instead of that neat bow, the writer leaves us hanging with a confession of faith and fervent cry for God’s help.

Compared to most of the rest of the world, I am neither poor nor needy. However, there’s been a time or two when our checking account ran low following some unexpected expenses. Besides that, I often compare myself with others who appear to have more disposable income than me. So I’ve been tempted to also pray, “I am poor and needy.”

But had I been the psalm writer, my next words would have gone something like this: “…so refill my checking account.” Or “…so give me what I need.” Or “…so drop some cash from the sky.” The Spirit-inspired psalmist, however, goes in a very different direction: “Come quickly to me, O God.”

The psalmist does not ask for more money. Or more opportunities. Or more control. Or more things. Or more time. Instead, the psalmist asks for more of God.

More of God.

How often don’t I substitute stuff for God’s presence? How often don’t I chase after the gifts rather than the Giver? I want more of lots of things but often not more of God.

The psalm ends with these words to realign my priorities:

Lord, do not delay.

In Christ, God has answered the final petition of the psalm. At the end of the day, all the money in the world will not bring the happy ending anyone is looking for. This psalm recently reminded me that ultimately my “poverty” and emptiness are filled by God’s presence and love in Jesus right now, without delay. As Greg Dutcher puts it: “When we receive Christ as our treasure, we have found the very thing for which our souls have most longed.” Money, time, and more stuff may be nice, but this psalm tells me afresh that Jesus is my all in all.

So that

Echoing the priestly blessing Aaron spoke over the Israelites back in the day, Psalm 67 opens with these words:

May God be gracious to us and bless us
and make his face shine on us…

They are encouraging words of grace and blessing. But this morning when I read this psalm, the words that followed really struck me:

…so that…

Now, if I had finished the original sentence, I might have written something like: “…so that I can have a good day.” Or “…so that I can experience health, wealth, and happiness.” Or “…so that I’ll always have plenty of ice cream in the freezer.” The Spirit-inspired psalmist, however, goes in a very different direction:

…so that your [God’s] ways may be known on earth,
your salvation among all nations.

In other words, God blesses you and me so that we can be blessing to him in return and so that we can bless others. It goes way back to God’s call to Abraham where God says:

I will make you into a great nation,
and I will bless you;
I will make your name great,
and you will be a blessing…
And all peoples on earth
will be blessed through you.

You and I are blessed to be a blessing. Yes, we certainly benefit from God’s blessings, but that’s not the final purpose of being blessed. God means for his blessings to flow not only into us but through us so that others can be touched by God’s grace just as we have been. In fact, I’d argue from Scripture (Paul’s prayer for the Ephesians comes quickly to mind) and from experience that God wants to bless us with far more than we could possibly keep to ourselves anyway!

This reminds me of something J.R. Briggs prays:

God, we would be pipes,
not buckets.
In your grace and mercy,
you have poured so much into us.
We don’t want to keep
this grace and mercy to ourselves.
We want to pour it out into others.

The Holy Spirit inspires me to say “Amen!” to that.

The crown

Let us remember Jesus,
who, though rich,

became poor and dwelt among us;
who loved all people and prayed for them,
even if they denied and rejected him;
who hated sin

because he knew the cost of pride and selfishness,
of cruelty and hatred, both to people and to God;
and who humbled himself, obedient unto the cross.
– adapted from The Worship Sourcebook

One of the sad results of humanity’s fall into sin is how the ground began to “produce thorns and thistles.” Thorns became the sign of God’s curse, that is, of all the sad and painful consequences associated with sin.

How appropriate it is, then, that King Jesus, who is willing to reign through suffering, wears on his head a crown of thorns. Those thorns signify how Jesus came to bear the curse that keeps us apart from God. One writer over 125 years ago put it like this: “As Christ lifted the curse on His own head, He took it off the world. He bore our sins and carried our sorrows.” Only God could take an insult like a crown of thorns and turn it into something that reflected his grace. Jesus’ suffering and death now brings hope and life.

Is it possible, though, that in some ways you and I still pierce Jesus with a crown of thorns today, figuratively speaking? Does my disobedience and sin still create pain for Jesus? Think of the pain it causes him when – despite clearly instructing otherwise – I keep the Good News of salvation through his blood to myself, as though I’m a member of an exclusive club I prefer to keep private with fringe benefits. Think of the pain it causes him when – despite the reconciliation he makes possible – I refuse to be reconciled with others, when I’m insensitive to another person’s feelings, when I’m unkind in my words and gossip, actions and gestures. Do these things sting Jesus a little like those thorns from that cruel crown he once wore?

Jesus, the King of kings, deserves a truly royal crown. While it’s impossible to literally give him one with shining jewels, there are other ways you and I can show his kingship. Do I not crown King Jesus when my life reflects his sacrificial nature in how I treat my family, friends, and neighbors, when I “look not only to [my] own interests, but also to the interests of others?” Do I not crown King Jesus when I make time to worship him – certainly on Sundays with other forgiven sinners, but also in my work and leisure, with my time and finances, so that in everything I do, I “do it all for the glory of God?” Maybe something in this list resonates with you. Or maybe the Holy Spirit is prompting you to add to it as we together crown Jesus in love and loyalty.

This appeared in this week’s Rock Valley Bee
in anticipation of Holy Week next week.

Deer feet

In her book Cracking the Pot, Christine Berghoef writes about a study tour she took to Israel. While there she encountered ibex, an animal similar to the North American mountain goat. You hear about them a couple times in the Bible, including when God speaks to Job about his creation. Ms. Berghoef describes them as remarkable creatures with extraordinary feet, able to “scale boulders the size of semi trucks… They trek the cliffs as if they’re the product of some sort of cross-breeding laboratory experiment – perhaps the supernatural combination of Spiderman, a white-tailed deer, and a tree frog” (page 39). It sounds to me like God designed them just right with the ideal feet to thrive in in their mountainous habitat.

With the ibex likely in mind, the prophet Habakkuk confesses,

“The Sovereign LORD is my strength;
he makes my feet like the feet of a deer…”

I’d like to make this my confession, too. However, as I admitted in my message yesterday evening, I’d rather ask God to give me an easy path than a pair of strong feet to journey down difficult ones. I pray for things to go smoothly without any hassle or trouble.

Observing the ibex, Ms. Berghoef writes: “Perhaps we ought not to pray for an effortless life, but for God to give us the feet we need to traverse the life He continually unfolds before us” (page 39).

I read something similar in a Words of Hope devotional several years ago written by a pastor named Stephen Shaffer: “Even though the road is hard, Habakkuk trusts that God will not let him fall. No matter where his path takes him, he will not slip. He prays that as he walks the path God laid for him, he will walk sure-footed. Habakkuk asks God not to change the road, but to change him.”

Praying for ibex-like feet is not the easiest prayer, but it’s honest about the tough places along the path. It’s also a hope-filled prayer – I can pray it knowing that God answered this prayer for Habakkuk and countless other saints through history.

Redemptive Compassion

Would you love to see some positive change in your life? Maybe you wish the dynamics of a relationship were healthier. Maybe you need to get a grip on your finances. Maybe there’s pain in your past that needs processing to help you move forward.

Twice a year Love INC offers courses that can help you grow in relating better with others, with your money, with the world in general, and with yourself. A few years ago, I took the Redemptive Compassion course. As someone in what’s referred to as a “helping” profession, I’m tempted to quickly assess people by how much help they need from the church or how much help they might be able to offer the church. Redemptive Compassion emphasized how God doesn’t value people based on what they can or cannot do; God values people (myself included) simply because he created us and we are imagebearers of him.

In the course textbook, also titled Redemptive Compassion, Lois M. Tupyi writes:

Most of what the world esteems as valuable is in direct contrast to what God values. Success, money, good looks, skills, degrees, status, power, who we know, or who knows us, are all considered important in today’s society. But God’s rating system does not work that way. In fact, most of the people highlighted throughout the Bible would have been termed failures, non-achievers, unimportant, weak, inadequate, dangerous, and useless in our modern culture. At a service I once attended, the speaker shared three points that changed how I [see] people… He challenged us to see people through God’s eyes, to see their value and worth to the God who created them, before we attempt to serve them. He suggested that until we see them as valuable to God, we will not value them appropriately as we work with them. Once we understand their value, we become willing to invest in them – and invest we must if we really want to impact their lives. He closed with this thought: Our investment will produce dividends as they in turn invest in others, returning full circle God’s gift of redemption. Three simple points – see their value, invest in them, and receive a return on the investment.

And then it dawned on me: Isn’t that exactly what Jesus always did? (page 65)

I submitted this for this week’s Rock Valley Bee. I noted that I’ve attended the Redemptive Compassion and the Boundaries classes offered by Love INC, both of which I highly recommend.

The gift of conversation with God

All books have words. (Even picture books will have illustrator and copyright information somewhere in small print.) But how many books are about words themselves?

I’ve always liked words. Clickbait will get me with headlines like “New Words Added to the Dictionary.” I’m easily fascinated (and distracted) by considering why skilled wordsmiths and expert advertisers chose one word over another. Together with W.H. Auden, I “like to hang around words and overhear them talking to one another.”

A copy of Marilyn McEntyre‘s book Caring for Words in a Culture of Lies found its way onto my bookshelf a few years ago and I enjoy picking it up now and again to reread portions. In the chapter about the art of good conversations, I dogeared a page where the author turns her attention to the words we use in prayer. I appreciate the emphasis on grace – our ability to pray is a gift from God as we’re returning to him words he first entrusted to us.

To be in conversation with God is, like tithing, a way of returning to him some part of the gift of words we have received from him who is the Word. Like the long, intimate conversations of shared life among partners and friends, conversation with God keeps us turning toward, confiding in, trusting, and learning from the very source of life and language. In that intimate conversation [of prayer], we can be sure of receiving whatever direction and words we need for all [our] other [conversations]. Jesus’ promise to the disciples as he sent them forth to preach can be claimed by each one of us as we enter into our daily encounters, hoping to find lively and life-giving words: “…Do not be anxious how you are to speak or what you are to say; for what you are to say will be given to you in that hour” (Matthew 10:19). (page 110)

Crowding the manger

Do you have a nativity scene in your house? We do. It’s a Precious Moments scene that includes several figurines – baby Jesus in a manger, Mary, Joseph, a shepherd, a bale of hay, a donkey, and three sheep. The whole thing is covered by a roof with a yellow star attached to its peak. We keep it in our living room, either on the subwoofer or on the coffee table. The trouble with the subwoofer is that sometimes the figurines vibrate off of it when we turn up the music. The trouble with the coffee table is that sometimes the figurines get crowded with coffee cups, pens, schoolwork, a remote control, the church bulletin, spare change, and Christmas cards.

My OCD tendencies keep wanting to clear away the stuff crowding the nativity display. I want it to look pristine and perfect. It reminds us of the true reason for the season after all, right?

I once read something in a magazine where the writer also discovered things from everyday life cluttering her family’s nativity scene, but she resisted the urge to whisk all intruding items away and restore the scene to tidy perfection. She saw how work, play, and relationships were all represented in the items laid there at Jesus’ stable. Yes, it may have looked messy, but if Jesus was so bothered by messes, he probably would not have been born in a smelly stable. Jesus was not born into perfect circumstances, so maybe I need to ease up on my perfectionist tendencies and come again to the Savior, the one who is “gentle and humble in heart” and find rest for my soul.

At that point I may hear Jesus invite me to lay even more things down before him. My cell phone. My calendar. My family photos. My TV remote. My shopping list. My checkbook. “Lay it at my feet,” he might say, inviting me to keep him and his priorities at the center of my life rather than at the periphery. Then I’ll find a kind of rest that my attempts to keep everything pristine and perfect never provide.

I wrote this for the Rock Valley Bee and noted how I love seeing the nativity scenes set up in people’s yards and at Lights Around the Bend.


Psalm 23 contains some of the most familiar words in the Bible. They are timeless words, true and comforting in all situations, especially hard situations. Psalm 23 reminds me that God surrounds me in even the hardest circumstances.

God, the Good Shepherd, is front of me, leading the way:

He leads me beside quiet waters…
He guides me along the right paths

Middle Eastern shepherds do not drive their sheep from behind as one does with cattle. Shepherds lead from the front, constantly talking and singing so their sheep can follow their voice. Jesus invites me to know his voice well so that I follow where he leads.

God, the Good Shepherd, is also beside me:

Even though I walk
through the darkest valley,
I will fear no evil,
for you are with me…

Sometimes I’m tempted to think that God will join me after I get through a hard time, as though he’s waiting to see whether I’ll pass or fail before deciding whether to reward me with his presence. But that’s a lie. The truth is that Jesus is with me through hard circumstances, closer to me than I can imagine.

God, the Good Shepherd, is also behind me:

Surely your goodness and love will follow me
all the days of my life…

Just as he leads from the front, God also comes up from behind. The Hebrew word for follow can also be translated as pursue. God is not passively, distantly trailing behind; instead he is right on my heals. Jesus loves for me know that nothing can get between him and me – there’s just not enough space.

In Christ, I’m surrounded. For some that might sound threatening. I’m growing in discovering there’s no better position in which to be.

Graphic from The David Movie (

Fully pro-life

I like the new signs along Highway 18 inviting people to cherish life – even when it’s growing in the womb. They are an appropriate challenge to a culture that is slow to “treat all life with awe and respect, especially when it is most vulnerable – whether growing in the womb, touched by disability or disease, or drawing a last breath.” I believe God’s people are called to “protest and resist all that harms, abuses, or diminishes the gift of life.” (Quotes are from the Christian Reformed Church’s contemporary testimony “Our World Belongs to God.”)

Believing this leads to understanding how being pro-life is more than merely being anti-abortion. So I wonder if the pro-life signs along the highway could sometimes speak to other issues too?

I’m alarmed by the termination rate of pregnancies when the baby receives a positive diagnosis for Down syndrome. Even Christians might say things like, “Thank God that he heard our prayer and our baby doesn’t have Down syndrome.” This betrays a belief that a certain kind of person is better than another, lowering the value of a baby with Down syndrome or other disability. Maybe in the future, the sign along the highway can affirm the value of people with Down syndrome with a slogan like, “Real friends don’t count chromosomes.”

I lament how people in our society are treated differently solely because of the color of their skin. An immigrant committing a crime might lead people to declare everyone of that nationality should be kicked out of the country; however, statistics show that in the United States, White people commit far more crimes than other ethnicities, yet no one calls for all White people to be deported when a White person commits a crime. A Black acquaintance of mine with no criminal record reports having been stopped by the police far more often than I ever have. Our society devalues people based on ethnicity which I do not think is a pro-life mentality. Maybe in the future, the sign along the highway can affirm the sanctity of life of all ethnicities with a slogan like, “Red, brown, yellow, black, and white – all are precious in God’s sight.”

I think that caring for creation is also a way to be pro-life. If we value life, we want life to flourish. Flourishing gets difficult, though, where there is pollution and other consequences from poor stewardship in the world. People who have trouble breathing are forced to move away from cities filled with smog. Exposure to chemicals increases the chances of a cancer diagnosis that may cut life short prematurely. People who are poor are often the first to be devastated by climate change, whether it’s floods destroying their low-income homes or drought wiping out their already subsistence crops. Maybe in the future, the sign along the highway can affirm the need to better care of the planet to improve the quality and length of people’s lives with a slogan like, “Caring for creation reflects love for the Creator.”

I wrote this for the Rock Valley Bee, noting that I desire to value the life and flourishing of everyone from the womb to the tomb as a way to demonstrate God’s love.

Upside down

My Office Mousepad

On my desk is a mousepad. It’s a round mousepad and pictured on it is a map of the world. You can see a good chunk of North and South America, all of Europe and Africa, and part of Asia.

There’s just one thing that’s a little strange about my mousepad: It’s upside down – at least compared to how we usually look at a world map. The tip of Argentina points straight up pretending it’s high noon and Santa’s home at the North Pole is at the bottom! I understand that’s how Australians orient their globes, but here in North America it just doesn’t look quite right.

My upside down globe daily reminds me of something the people in Thessalonica say in Acts 17. Although the Gospel is initially welcomed by the Thessalonians, some ruffians show up where the followers of Jesus are sharing the Good News. These bad characters form a mob that turns into a riot. They drag some the disciples before the authorities with this accusation: “These people who have been turning the world upside down have come here also.”

Apparently the people in Thessalonica don’t like having their world turned upside down.

I don’t either.

Yet that’s what the Gospel consistently does. It reveals how weakness is strength. How poverty reveals true wealth. How death leads to life. It sounds backwards, but God wins by losing. His perfect Son Jesus dies on the cross – the most humiliating, shameful ending imaginable. But Jesus beats death at its own game and rises in a shocking new beginning on the third day. Now for all who are in Christ, sin has been defeated, life has purpose, and the future is hopeful.

Those who identify with Jesus can’t help but adapt more and more to God’s upside down ways. Followers of Jesus perceive that generosity carries the highest profit. Slowing down helps you get ahead. Apologies are necessary. Forgiveness is freeing. Fidelity is meant to be celebrated. Sports are not meant to be idolized. Wisdom is more valuable than a university degree. Possessions are temporary. Beauty comes from character instead of the cosmetics counter. It’s ok for both men and women to cry. Those who are overlooked need compassion. We’re stewards (not owners) of creation. The truth matters. Promises need to be kept. Rights can be willingly set aside. The unborn already have an imprint of the divine. Ethnic diversity is a foretaste of heaven. Worshiping is the best use of time. Persecution is a reward. Peace overpowers hate. Loving one’s enemy is normal.

Many influencers in our culture say that living in line with these and other priorities in God’s Kingdom is unrealistic and pointless. They say living like that is upside down. And sometimes it feels that way. Especially when I get used to things not being right side up as described in the Bible.

So I keep Argentina on my mousepad map pointing upwards to remind me that God works in surprising ways. And that his Spirit empowers me to sometimes turn things upside down in God’s name. When I do so, I’m in good company with the disciples in Acts 17.

I wrote this for this week’s Perspectives column in the Rock Valley Bee.
I concluded with saying that I’d like to visit Australia some day
and buy a map while I’m there.

Good questions

In our morning services at Trinity CRC, we’re asking the questions Jesus asked: Do you want to get well? How many loaves do you have? What is your name? Who was the neighbor?

Iowa author Jennifer Dukes Lee sent an email to her friends this week that includes a quote from Lore Ferguson Wilbert, author of A Curious Faith. I love how she sees questions as expressions of hope and curiosity as a spiritual discipline. It connects perfectly with our sermon series!

“So the Lord God called out to the man
and said to him, ‘Where are you?’”
Genesis 3:9 (CSB)

Asking a question is an act of faith: faith that we could be answered, or that we won’t be refused, or that we will like the answer, or, if we don’t, that it will lead to a better question.

To ask a question is to hope that what we currently know isn’t the whole story. If we don’t make space for curiosity in the Christian life, we will become content with a one-dimensional god, a god made more in our own image than the God who made us in his image.

Curiosity is a discipline of the spiritual sort, and it begins by asking some simple questions, questions like “Where are you?” “Who are you?” “Are you there?” and more.

A Curious Faith by Lore Ferguson Wilbert

I believe there’s a reason so many questions are lobbed around Scripture, from God to his people, from his people to God, from people to people, and in the New Testament from Jesus to people, people to Jesus, and Jesus to his Father.

The Bible is a permission slip for those with questions.

All these questions aren’t just pointing to answers. They’re also saying, it’s okay to ask questions. Asking questions is a part of the Christian life.

Speaking the same language

Our family attended Come From Away at the Washington Pavilion last month. This award-winning Broadway musical tells the story of 7,000 people stranded in the small town of Gander, Newfoundland, after all flights into the US were grounded on September 11, 2001. We were surprised at how exhilarating and heartwarming it was – it packed an emotional punch as we felt the confusion and fear in the residents of Gander and the people stranded far from home. But it also had hilarious moments, and it exuded hope in the power of kindness and hospitality even in our darkest moments.

I had forgotten how quickly distrust between people mounted after 9/11. With the dust of 20 years blanketing my memories, I thought it had taken weeks or even months for people of different ethnic backgrounds to experience hostility against them. Come From Away blew off that dust when it showed a crowd of angry people yelling at Ali, the Middle Eastern chef from Egypt. Only a day or two into being stranded in Gander, Ali was speaking Arabic to his family back home when people in line to use the phone started accusing him: “Are you celebrating this?” “Why doesn’t he speak English?” “Are you telling your Muslim friends where to bomb next?” “Go back where you came from!”

This production did not ignore the uglier reactions people had in response to 9/11.

But it also showed equally powerfully people’s ability to respond with decency and compassion. Balancing the scene where Ali encountered hatred, there’s a scene where Garth, a bus driver from Gander, was driving Muhumuza and other passengers on a flight from Africa to one of the shelters for those who were stranded. None of Garth’s passengers could speak English and, in the darkness of night, Muhumuza and the others mistook the Salvation Army camp for a military complex. They were terrified and refused to get off the bus. How would Garth explain to them that they were safe and would be cared for there?

While trying to figure out how to put his passengers at ease, Garth noticed Muhumuza’s wife was clutching a Bible and asked to see it. Although he couldn’t read Swahili, Garth knew their Bible would have the same number system as his English Bible. Finding the spot he was looking for, Garth gave the Bible back to Muhumuza and his wife, pointing and saying, “Look! Philippians 4:6! ‘Be anxious for nothing. Be anxious for nothing.’”

And that’s how Garth and Muhumuza started speaking the same language.

It was a beautiful scene of one person finding a creative way to care for another person very different than himself, someone with a foreign culture and language. And, perhaps completely unintentional on the part of the writers, it was a beautiful reminder of the Gospel’s ongoing power to unite people and dispel fear even in the darkest moments.

I wrote this for this week’s Perspectives column
in The Rock Valley Bee.