Nothing Compares 2U

Do you remember the song Nothing Compares 2U? It was written and composed by Prince for The Family, but was later made (really, really) famous by Irish recording artist Sinéad O’Connor in 1990. Here’s an excerpt from the lyrics.

It’s been so lonely without you here / Like a bird without a song / Nothing can stop these lonely tears from falling / Tell me baby where did I go wrong

This sentiment is not new to Prince or Sinéad. I’m guessing you’ve also had a time when you’ve felt alone, hopeless. It may be now. It may even be your fault (trust me, I’ve been there). May I encourage you? No matter your circumstances, I can assure you that hope is not lost, that you are not alone. Listen.

Where is the god who can compare with you— wiping the slate clean of guilt, Turning a blind eye, a deaf ear, to the past sins of your purged and precious people? You don’t nurse your anger and don’t stay angry long, for mercy is your specialty. That’s what you love most. And compassion is on its way to us. You’ll stamp out our wrongdoing. You’ll sink our sins to the bottom of the ocean. You’ll stay true to your word to Father Jacob and continue the compassion you showed Grandfather Abraham— Everything you promised our ancestors from a long time ago. (Micah 7:18 MSG)

No matter where you are, no matter what you’ve done, God is ready to welcome you home (read Luke 15:11-32). Ask him. Humble your prideful heart. You are loved and valued. God’s promise is yours to embrace. Nothing Compares 2Him!

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Stop, drop, and study

Ocassionally when reading the Bible, a phrase so captures my attention that I must stop, drop, and study it (if you’re of my generation, I bet you remember being taught to “stop, drop, and roll” if you ever catch on fire – why was that horrific possibility part of my elementary education? why did I need a plan?). When I find one of these phrases, I’ll review the surrounding verses for context, but my reading for a time begins and ends with, typically, just a few words. I encountered one of those instances this morning with a section of Acts 11:18.

God has granted repentance that leads to life.

Here’s the back story. Jesus has been crucified by the Romans and Jewish religious leadership. This appeared to be a victory for them and a crushing defeat for Jesus’ followers. As things often are with God, the opposite was true. Jesus’ death on the cross was part of a much larger plan to save humanity from its sin (that’s you and me by the way). Jesus carried our sin with him to the cross, accepted our penalty for disobedience (death), and then rose from the dead to offer us life through belief in him (that’s why we celebrate Easter).

Acts is the story of spreading this message of miraculous good news. One of the first obstacles for these first generation missionaries was audience. These were Jews who did not mix with Gentiles (everyone else). They did not share meals, worship, or marry outside their culture. Should they share this good news? In a vision from God, Peter (one of Jesus’ 12 disciples and leader of this early church) is told, unequivocally, “yes”. Thank you, God! I’m Gentile.

Back to Acts 11:18. God has granted repentance that leads to life. I see three parts.

  1. God has granted – As a university professor, grants and contracts are important to me. They both provide funding for my research, but they are very different instruments. A contract is a binding legal agreement. A budget and statement of work are approved and payment requires meeting predetermined milestones and deliverables. A grant is different. These funds are issued without the requirement for an outcome. God grants salvation. We have nothing to offer that warrants this gift (that’s what we mean by grace).
  2. Repentance – This is the act of turning from one direction and heading in another. It means we decide against pride and our own will and turn toward God and his authority. It means obedience. It means get-over-yourself and your tiny-kingdom-of-one.
  3. Life – This is more that breathing, eating, sleeping, and waking. This is a reality free from condemnation, fear, self. Life is embracing Jesus as your savior and committing yourself to his care.

When you decide that God is a better leadership option than you, he has already provided a new life. It’s done. It’s waiting. God has granted repentance that leads to life. I welcome you home, friend!

 

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Inigo Montoya

I am the world’s expert on my own shortcomings (okay, my wife probably wears that dubious crown, but I’m in the top two). Because I’ve made a careful study of my thoughts and actions over a span of four decades, I find it inconceivable (“You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.” Inigo Montoya, The Princess Bride) that I am completely loved by the Creator of the universe. Perhaps you can identify.

This is a great mystery. I was chosen before time by the God who knew I would choose Him. Um, what? You were chosen as well. Here’s how Paul explains it.

4 Even before he made the world, God loved us and chose us in Christ to be holy and without fault in his eyes. 5 God decided in advance to adopt us into his own family by bringing us to himself through Jesus Christ. This is what he wanted to do, and it gave him great pleasure. (Ephesians 1:4-5)

The key ingredient here is Jesus. He serves as the bridge between our sinful selves and the Holy God. He gave His life as the sacrifice for our sins. God sees us without fault because our sin-pile was heaped on Jesus as He hung on the cross (Isaiah 53:3 MSG). Mystery explained.

You are an integral part of a plan that began before time. You are selected through God’s immutable will to be His adopted son/daughter. Be joyful! You are chosen and loved.

Listen: You give God great pleasure. Yes, it’s true. Praise to our merciful God!

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Bridging

I just heard a new term I like very much: bridging. The context is trying to make sense of what we’re taught in the Bible as it applies to our daily lives. The objective is to make sure that we’re using the truth/history that we’re provided to grow our relationship with God, to learn from the experiences of those who came before us. Here’s an example. Let’s connect (or bridge) Jesus’ final entry into Jerusalem and Confederate General Robert E. Lee’s 1865 ride to the Appomattox Courthouse in Virginia.

As described in prophecy hundreds of years earlier (Zech. 9:9), Jesus entered Jerusalem riding a donkey’s colt (Matt. 21:1-11). He wore his regular clothes. This heavenly king maintained the humility in which he had lived his life, even on this most important of days. No crown in sight.

Lee, on the other hand, arrived at the courthouse in full military dress, complete with red sash and sword, riding his warhorse. No humility in sight. This planned meeting between Lee and Union General Ulysses S. Grant marked the end of the Civil War.

The bridge? Both events were surrenders. Jesus was preparing to sacrifice his life to cover our enormous sin debt. Lee was surrendering the South’s battle against the North.

Surrender does not necessarily mean defeat, though. Jesus voluntarily accepted our punishment. His surrender was necessary because we have no other way to enter into right relationship with a Holy God. Lee’s surrender was also based on no-other-option circumstances: the South had been defeated, had abandoned the Confederate capital of Richmond, and been blocked from joining the surviving Confederate force in North Carolina.

The difference is that Jesus’ surrender marked our victory. When he rose from the dead, our sin-struggle was won. Belief in him as the total payment for our sin ends separation from our Heavenly Father who loves us so much.

What will you choose? Will you surrender your tiny kingdom of one? I assure you that this is the your one “defeat” that will end in the greatest victory of your life! Love you.

 

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An apricot tree in Pleasanton

I completed an internship at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL) in the summer of 1996. My wife and I rented a 1960s era home in nearby Pleasanton, CA. My favorite feature of the small property was an apricot tree in the backyard. Its base was a large stump that remained from where it had been cut down. From that stump, however, new branches had grown that exploded with apricots throughout those mild summer months.

There was such an abundant harvest from those misshapen branches that we simply could not use them all. My wife turned to canning and we were then overrun with apricot preserves. We put them on everything! Toast, grilled chicken, hand-rolled sushi, all a bit sweeter in response.

That tree makes me think of a verse from the Psalms. The one I have in mind was written by David as King Saul pursued him with an intent to kill.

But I am like an olive tree
    flourishing in the house of God;
I trust in God’s unfailing love
    for ever and ever. (Psalm 52:8)

David understood my rented apricot tree. While it had been cut down, its life was not extinguished. Not only did it produce new branches from the sheared stump, those branches yielded a bounty of fruit. An overwhelming surplus!

May I encourage you? Have you suffered setbacks? Have you been trimmed back to almost nothing, cut down to the ground? Listen. Like David, like the apricot tree, you will flourish again. Your God loves you. Turn your heart and mind to him and see what healing and redemption his unfailing love has in store for you!

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Unbreakable windshield

I have a short reading assignment for you. As you read, look for the wind.

24 and the boat was already a considerable distance from land, buffeted by the waves because the wind was against it.

25 Shortly before dawn Jesus went out to them, walking on the lake. 26 When the disciples saw him walking on the lake, they were terrified. “It’s a ghost,” they said, and cried out in fear.

27 But Jesus immediately said to them: “Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid.”

28 “Lord, if it’s you,” Peter replied, “tell me to come to you on the water.”

29 “Come,” he said.

Then Peter got down out of the boat, walked on the water and came toward Jesus. 30 But when he saw the wind, he was afraid and, beginning to sink, cried out, “Lord, save me!”

31 Immediately Jesus reached out his hand and caught him. “You of little faith,” he said, “why did you doubt?”

32 And when they climbed into the boat, the wind died down. (Matthew 14:24-32)

Did you find the three wind references?

  • Verse 24: the wind was against the boat (and Peter)
  • Verse 30: when Peter took his eyes off Jesus and focused on the wind, he began to sink
  • Verse 32: when Jesus entered the boat, the wind died down

A relationship with Jesus is an unbreakable windshield. It doesn’t mean the wind won’t blow. It doesn’t mean you won’t face difficulties. However, it does mean you are safe. It does mean you are loved and accepted. Placing your faith in him, even when your circumstances suggest all hope is lost, will give you peace and enable you to persevere.

Are you hurting? Sinking? Get behind your Jesus-windshield. Ask for his help. He will respond. Love you!

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Taste and see

Babies explore the world with their mouth. Given a new object in his or her little fist, it goes directly in the mouth. For a first child, this means constant cleaning of all toys within reach. For a second, occasional cleaning. For the third, good luck. I’m kidding, mostly.

This learning style reminds me of Psalm 34:8.

Taste and see that the LORD is good. Oh, the joys of those who take refuge in him!

Are you ready to explore? Taste and see. God is good! I assure you that true joy awaits.

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