Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. Point out anything in me that offends you, and lead me along the path of everlasting life. – Psalm 139:23-24
Frederick Buechner, a great Christian thinker and writer, in Listening to Your Life, asked a series of questions designed to help us think about where we have been and where we are going. I think you’ll find Buechner’s questions worth mulling over, and his comment at the end, very revealing:
When you look at your face in the mirror, what do you see in it that you most like and what do you see in it that you most deplore?
If you had only one last message to leave to the handful of people who are most important to you, what would it be, in twenty-five words or less?
Of all the things you have done in your life, which is the one you would most like to undo?
Which is the one that makes you happiest to remember?
Is there any person in the world, or any cause, that if circumstances called for it, you would be willing to die for?
If this were the last day of your life, what would you do with it?
Frederick Buechner goes on to say: “To hear yourself try to answer questions like these is to begin to hear something not only of who you are but of both what you are failing to become. It can be a pretty depressing business, all in all, but if sack cloth and ashes are at the start of it, something like Easter may be at the end.”
PRAYER: Bring us safely, Lord, through the sack cloth and ashes brought about by the searching if Your Spirit, into the joy of an everlasting Easter morning! In Jesus’ name, Amen.
John 4:4-7 (NLT2) – He had to go through Samaria on the way. Eventually he came to the Samaritan village of Sychar, near the field that Jacob gave to his son Joseph. Jacob’s well was there; and Jesus, tired from the long walk, sat wearily beside the well about noontime. Soon a Samaritan woman came to draw water, and Jesus said to her, “Please give me a drink.”
There’s something in this passage that I’d never noticed before. It’s in the first verse where it says that Jesus “had to go through Samaria” on his way from Judea back up to Galilee. I’d never thought about that before, but it is rather interesting because Jews would go out of their way to avoid traveling through Samaria because of their hatred and prejudice against the Samaritans. Usually, they’d travel up and down the Jordan river valley on the eastern side of Israel to avoid Samaria. But Jesus didn’t.
Why was it that Jesus “had to” go through Samaria? We don’t know. It doesn’t say, but I wonder if we might speculate a little. I don’t normally like to do that with Scripture, but sometimes we need to take what we know of Jesus and apply it to the narrative to make a bit more sense of things. In this case, I think I have a good hunch why he went through Samaria.
I believe that Jesus went there to meet this woman…and those she would introduce him to. It would send a message to the disciples and Samaritans, telling them to be done with their prejudices and that all are welcome at the table of God, even the woman who had been married to five different men and was living with another.
Of all the people who would hear the first proclamation (according to John) of Jesus identifying himself as the Messiah (John 4:26), no one would have picked this woman. No one. No one, that is, except the Messiah himself. Jesus wanted her to know that she was not outside the reach of the Messiah. And I think that is why he went through Samaria.
Isn’t that just like Jesus, though? Seeking out the lost one who was astray and telling them he’s the Messiah? He still does that today – showing up in all corners of the world to let people know they are welcome to come to him as they are, that they are loved with a fierce and indescribable love.
No one would have expected to encounter the Messiah – hot, dusty from the walk, thirsty – at a well in Sychar. It may be that no one is expecting to meet him today in your office or school or neighborhood. But they can if you bring him with you (actually, he got there before you did!) and let his love shine out of you in all its brightness.
PRAYER: Jesus, thank you for your ridiculous love for us and for what you teach us through your meeting with the Samaritan woman at the well. In Jesus’ name, Amen. Copyright 2021, Galen C. Dalrymple. ><}}}”>
Exodus 32:1-4 – When the people saw that Moses was so long in coming down from the mountain, they gathered around Aaron and said, “Come, make us gods who will go before us. As for this fellow Moses who brought us up out of Egypt, we don’t know what has happened to him.” Aaron answered them, “Take off the gold earrings that your wives, your sons and your daughters are wearing, and bring them to me.” So, all the people took off their earrings and brought them to Aaron. He took what they handed him and made it into an idol cast in the shape of a calf, fashioning it with a tool. Then they said, “These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of Egypt.”
This passage is one of the saddest passages in Scripture. It hadn’t been all that long since God delivered His people from the clutches of pharaoh through a series of miraculous interventions. You’d think that for a while, they would have been faithful. But therein is the lesson for us: as humans, we are fickle creatures, prone to wander into sin as fast as our feet and hearts can take us. We are not really all that different from the Israelites after all.
But what is interesting to me is that it was Aaron, the man who was to be first high priest, that made the golden calf. The people wondered about the fate of Moses. He’d been gone longer than anyone had anticipated. I’m sure he hadn’t taken much food or extra luggage when he went up the side of the mountain, and the Israelites knew it, too. Perhaps he’d frozen. Perhaps he’d starved. Perhaps he’d died of thirst, or been torn to pieces by a wild animal. If any of those things had happened, the people would probably have concluded that the “God” they’d been following wasn’t all that powerful after all (in spite of all they’d witnessed in Egypt). Or, perhaps, just perhaps, Moses had been guilty of sin and God had decided to strike him dead. So, it was time for a new god. This one would be golden – from a human perspective, a vast improvement on one that couldn’t even be seen.
In his book, Into the Depths of God, Calvin Miller had this to say about those who build golden calves: “Golden calves are the glitzy work of those Aarons who have not traversed the upper slopes of Sinai. Those who have, meet that God who is the only food that can appease their hunger.”
Moses would never have built the calf after he’d encountered God in the burning bush, nor after he’d come down from Sinai. He’d “seen” the real thing – who would need a cheap, golden imitation? Miller also noted about the gods in our own lives: “Making Christ in our image avoids the painful work of being conformed to his.”
Once we have encountered God in the truest and purest way, we will have no hunger for cheap imitations, and nothing else will even come close to the experience of the real thing.
PRAYER: Father, keep us from building golden calves and following false gods to avoid the pain of being conformed to the image of our Lord Jesus! In Jesus’ name, Amen.Copyright 2021, Galen C. Dalrymple. ><}}}”>
Matthew 4:1-4 – Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the desert to be tempted by the devil. After fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry. The tempter came to him and said, “If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread.” Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.’”
There are several things about this passage that are interesting. First, “Jesus was led by the Spirit” into the desert for the expressed purpose of being tempted by the devil. I don’t like that idea. The concept that the Spirit might lead someone to a particular place or situation for the purpose of being tempted is scary! I mean, if the Spirit would lead Jesus into the desert to be tempted, why won’t the Spirit do the same to/for me? We view it in a negative way, of course, and for Jesus, it was part of his becoming able to identify with us in our temptation. Still…it is an interesting, if not frightening, thought – one that I will have to consider and pray about.
On the surface, the temptation doesn’t seem to be that difficult. What was Satan really after? All he asked Jesus to do was to turn the stones into bread. What’s the harm in that? Well, as usual with Satan, there is more than meets the eye, and there are hidden motivations and trickery afoot any time he appears on the scene. I think that Calvin Miller in The Unchained Soul, had an interesting insight that may be right: “Christ rejected the bread of Lucifer. It was not the bread that he rejected so much as self-gratification. If he makes bread out of one stone, he may create wine from the next and so on, till his self-denial is literally swallowed up in gluttony. Christ freed himself from this material bondage to be the role model for our own self-denial. Materialism does not always consist in what we have, but in what we hunger for. It is not our concern about bread but our temptation to horde it that sins so against our Lord’s wilderness example.”
What if Christ gave in to self-gratification? He was God, after all. He could have indulged every whim that crossed his omniscient mind and no one could have stopped him. But Jesus didn’t give in to that temptation, giving us an example to follow. Isn’t there a lot of truth in the sentence about materialism not being what we have, but in what we hunger for? This means that we could be materialistic, even though we may not have the things we desire, but simply because we desire them for ourselves and they consume our minds, desires and passions. We could well be materialists if we long for things more than we long for Jesus.
PRAYER: Let the longings of our hearts be in alignment with the great command! In Jesus’ name, Amen.Copyright 2021, Galen C. Dalrymple. ><}}}”>
I have recently completed one of the most compelling and remarkable books that I’ve ever read. The title of the book is Ghost Soldiers and it was written by Hampton Sides. This amazing book tells the true story of an incredible rescue mission that was launched in the Philippines during WW2. You may have heard about the Bataan death march that took place during WW2. This was a brutal forced march of American, Philippine and other prisoners of war by the Imperial Japanese army. Hundreds died during this forced march, and those who survived were brutalized, beaten, diseased, starved, tortured and forced to live under the most incredibly demeaning circumstances in prisoner of war camps. This amazing story (I would highly recommend it, but it isn’t for the squeamish) was one I’d never heard before, but one which deserves to be told over and over again – and never forgotten.
This story highlights the most noble side of human nature – and the most degrading. It is hard to believe that humans could rise to such heights of self-sacrifice, honor and integrity – in many cases giving up their lives for fellow-prisoners or for people they’d never met before. I am in total awe of the prisoners and rescuers. At the same time, it also reveals the depths to which human nature can sink when deprived of any knowledge of God.
Sadly, I think that far too often the church reflects both sides of humanity, too. Some of the most noble and honorable acts in human history have taken place in the church because of the love of one Christian to another. Sadly, some of the most inhumane acts have been perpetrated in the church and by the church – supposedly in the name of God.
Matthew 7:3-5 – “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.”
I know that we are also told to speak the truth in love, and also that we are to restore those taken in by sin: (Gal 6:1-2) “Brothers, if someone is caught in a sin, you who are spiritual should restore him gently. But watch yourself, or you also may be tempted. Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.” While Paul may be warning us about falling into the same sin as the one who is being restored, I don’t think that’s what he had in mind. I think he was warning us about becoming too puffed up, too proud of our own righteousness (which we truly have none of – our only righteousness is HIS righteousness!) and as a result fall because of our prideful, haughty attitudes.
Sometimes when a brother or sister has been around a long time and has a long track record of sinning, repenting, being restored, then repeating the pattern over again, we become jaded and skeptical of repentance. We start to judge the heart of the person as if we can really see it, we determine if the person really feels sorry for their sin or not, and if they have really repented or not. That’s dangerous ground. Peter asked Jesus how many times he had to forgive someone who sinned against him. Jesus’ response didn’t delve into reading the person’s heart, weighing the risk if the person hadn’t really repented, etc. No, he put it this way in Matthew 18:21-35: Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother when he sins against me? Up to seven times?” Jesus answered, “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times. “Therefore, the kingdom of heaven is like a king who wanted to settle accounts with his servants. As he began the settlement, a man who owed him ten thousand talents was brought to him. Since he was not able to pay, the master ordered that he and his wife and his children and all that he had be sold to repay the debt. “The servant fell on his knees before him. ‘Be patient with me,’ he begged, ‘and I will pay back everything.’ The servant’s master took pity on him, canceled the debt and let him go. “But when that servant went out, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred denarii. He grabbed him and began to choke him. ‘Pay back what you owe me!’ he demanded. “His fellow servant fell to his knees and begged him, ‘Be patient with me, and I will pay you back.’ “But he refused. Instead, he went off and had the man thrown into prison until he could pay the debt. When the other servants saw what had happened, they were greatly distressed and went and told their master everything that had happened. “Then the master called the servant in. ‘You wicked servant,’ he said, ‘I canceled all that debt of yours because you begged me to. Shouldn’t you have had mercy on your fellow servant just as I had on you?’ In anger his master turned him over to the jailers to be tortured, until he should pay back all he owed. “This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother from your heart.”
Perhaps the most difficult thing here is the last 3 words: “…from your heart…”. What does Jesus mean? With ALL our heart. Without reservations. Without hesitation. The same way God forgives us. Can you imagine, even for a second, that God sits and debates about whether or not to grant you the forgiveness you ask for? (And He already KNOWS if you’ll fall into that sin again!!!)
Perhaps someday we’ll learn to extend even a portion of the grace to others that God has extended to us.
PRAYER: May we extend grace to others as much as we desperately want Your grace to be extended to us! In Jesus’ name, Amen.
“The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who gave a wedding feast for his son, and sent his servants to call those who were invited to the wedding feast, but they would not come. Again he sent other servants, saying, ‘Tell those who are invited, See, I have prepared my dinner, my oxen and my fat calves have been slaughtered, and everything is ready. Come to the wedding feast.’ But they paid no attention and went off, one to his farm, another to his business, while the rest seized his servants, treated them shamefully, and killed them. The king was angry, and he sent his troops and destroyed those murderers and burned their city. Then he said to his servants, ‘The wedding feast is ready, but those invited were not worthy. Go therefore to the main roads and invite to the wedding feast as many as you find.’ And those servants went out into the roads and gathered all whom they found, both bad and good. So the wedding hall was filled with guests. – Matthew 22:2-10
Do you have a good singing voice? Perhaps your answer depends on what you consider a good singing voice! Do you sing, for example, better than your next-door neighbor, or your spouse? Can you carry a tune in a bucket at best? Do you have the voice of Celine Dion or Andrea Bocelli? (Who does, right?)
Sometimes we don’t even attempt things because we’re embarrassed. Sometimes we don’t because we’re ashamed. Sometimes we don’t because we’re afraid of failure. Sometimes we sit and twiddle our thumbs because we’re either too lazy or too tired to anything else. Sometimes, we just think we don’t fit, that we’re not worthy.
There’s a great children’s song that’s entitled, “All God’s creatures got a place in the choir.” The chorus says, “All God’s creatures got a place in the choir, some sing low and some sing higher. Some sing out loud on a telephone wire and some just clap their hands or paws or anything they’ve got.”
Instead of that old message, “No Oddballs Allowed,” let’s proclaim the message that Christ demonstrated during his life. He ate with publicans and sinners, with cheating tax collectors, with lepers, drunkards…and prostitutes. What was Jesus trying to tell us? Perhaps simply this: “All God’s creatures got a place in the choir.” There’s room for everyone in God’s Kingdom. Even me.
PRAYER: Thank you for making a place for us in the choir, Lord, and for saving our seat until we get there!! In Jesus’ name, Amen.
For if we are faithful to the end, trusting God just as firmly as when we first believed, we will share in all that belongs to Christ. – Hebrews 3:14
We live in a time that is perhaps more highly competitive than any other time in history. Sure, there have always been competitive people (Cain and Abel, for example – at least from Cain’s point of view!) And there always will be. That competitive culture causes us to think that life is about winning. That’s not always the case.
When you think about the 2000 Summer Olympics in Sydney, you probably don’t think about Paula Barila Bolopa, in fact, you probably never even heard of her. Paula was the women’s 50-meter freestyle swimmer from Equatorial Guinea. She had also never been in a 50-meter swimming pool until she arrived in Sydney to compete.
How did Paula qualify for the Olympics? She is a person who can barely swim across the pool and doesn’t even get her face wet when she swims freestyle. She had never stood on a starting block before the Olympics. In fact, Paula didn’t even have a swimsuit when she arrived in Sydney.
She was invited to participate in the competition by the International Olympic Committee (IOC). The IOC has a program that reaches out to athletes from developing nations who might not otherwise have the opportunity to join in the world-famous games. Why in the world would Paula travel to Sydney to compete in an event she had no possible chance of winning? Not only did she have no chance of winning, it actually took her more than three times longer than it took the women’s freestyle gold medalist, Inge de Bruijn of the Netherlands to finish the 50-meter race!
It isn’t always about winning. When Paula finished her heat in 1 minute and 3.97 seconds, the crowd gave her a deafening round of applause. “I got very tired at the end, but the crowd urged me on,” Paula confessed in a recent Sports Illustrated article.
Which will carry you farther in life, a gold medal or undaunted courage? Scripture is clear: the race isn’t always to the fastest or strongest, but to the one who just keeps at it, day after day, struggle after struggle. Someday, those people will hear the cheers of the heavenly host when they walk through the gates of that city!
PRAYER: We get so tired, Lord! We get weary of the struggle. We feel there’s no way to survive, like we may drown in the deep end of the pool before the race is over. Give us courage to keep fighting! Give us courage to keep trying! At those moments, give us a foretaste of the cheering hosts of heaven to keep us going! In Jesus’ name, Amen.
“What do you want me to do for you?” Jesus asked. “My rabbi,” the blind man said, “I want to see!” – Mark 10:51 (NLT2)
Put yourself in the position of blind Bartimaeus. What would you think of Jesus’ question: What do you want me to do for you? Seems like a rather silly question, don’t you think?
I think Jesus never plays games with us. I think he ask this question for a very specific reason, and it is one we need to contemplate because he’s asking that question to each and every one of us.
Here it is: do we come to God because we want to be well or just because we don’t want to be “sick”? I’m sure Bartimaeus was tired of being blind. I’m tired of my sinfulness with the shame and guilt it causes me. But what Jesus is asking me – and you – is: are we ready to do that which will make us well?
How do you know the answer to that question? This question might give each of us a clue about the nature of our heart and how much we desire to be well instead of just not sick: If it were not possible for you to be found out and shamed, what risks would you take? Would you steal? Would you lie so you could get ahead the next time to boss asks you a tough question? Would you cheat on your spouse? Would you walk away from your marriage? Would you drink until you couldn’t stand up?
Spiritually, to be well there exacts a greater price than just being healed. It requires dying to oneself, taking up your cross daily (might I say, continuously each moment), putting others ahead of yourself and surrendering yourself totally to be obedient to the will of God no matter where it may take us. (Notice I didn’t say just telling God you want to do his will – I’m talking about actually DOING it.)
I think that the question Jesus asked Bartimaeus two centuries ago should haunt each one of us.
PRAYER: Jesus, I want to truly want to be well, but my sinful nature gets in the way. Help us to want the full wellness that you are so willing to give to us. In Jesus’ name, Amen.Copyright 2021, Galen C. Dalrymple. ><}}}”>
When the cool evening breezes were blowing, the man and his wife heard the LORD God walking about in the garden. So they hid from the LORD God among the trees. – Genesis 3:8
Have you ever wondered what the sound of God walking in the garden was like? We don’t know if God had walked in the garden before this or not – presumably he had – but maybe not. Certainly the first couple had communicated with God before this. But now things had changed – they’d rebelled and the pristine creation was pristine no long.
But what is interesting about this verse isn’t the sound of God walking – whatever that may have sounded like – but the fact that God came to walk in the garden at all.
One might reasonably presume that God would visit his creation whenever he chose. I’ve always pictured him walking the garden before this and I think he probably had.
Here’s a puzzling question: why didn’t God come to the garden when Adam and Eve were being tempted – to stop the fall that would introduce so much sorrow and death into the world? It surely would have been far less painful for God to have prevented that fall than to watch his son die to reverse it.
The point though, is this: God comes to the garden after Adam and Eve had sinned. What does that show or tell us about God? It would seem to say that in spite of what had happened, God still desires to be with and near us. Even in our sinfulness, God wants to be with us. The incarnation was the ultimate proof of this fact.
Overwhelmed with sin? Thinking God couldn’t want anything to do with you? If you listen closely, I think you’ll hear his footsteps walking toward you. He simply can’t stay away.
PRAYER: Father, thank you for a love so overwhelming that in your perfection you still long to be with us in our ugliness and sin. May we be comforted by your presence this day. In Jesus’ name, Amen.
He is despised and rejected of men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief: and we hid as it were our faces from him; he was despised, and we esteemed him not. Isaiah 53:3
This past week I was talking with someone who was rather despondent about the activities in their life that have led them to be discouraged. This was someone who has a deep spiritual nature – and someone who loves God with all their heart. This person often puts me to shame when it comes to spirituality and insight into spiritual truth – and I’m a pastor/former pastor. I suspect that is true of many who sit under the teaching of a pastor.
Anyway, things just weren’t working out in this person’s life in the way they had hoped. And they made a comment to me: “But I thought that if I was doing what God wants that He would take care of me.” Makes sense, doesn’t it? Don’t we all think that if I am doing what God has asked me to do that all the other things will be peachy?
Before we go too far down that path, let’s remember the martyrs. Let’s remember the persecutions that befell Paul and the other apostles. Let’s remember the persecutions of the early church. Let’s remember Jesus – whose request in the Garden was turned down. All were doing the will of God – and they paid a price for it at the same time that they reaped the rewards for it (though some of the rewards would only come after this life.)
Dr. Fred Craddock states that in this passage we see a central theme of Mark’s Gospel and a hallmark of Jesus’ ministry, “He (Jesus) is not seeking to be a star, known for relieving people of burdens and difficulties. All the way to the cross Jesus will be trying to get those who think, ‘where the Messiah is, there is not misery’ to accept a new perspective — ‘where there is misery, there is the Messiah.’”
Misery and ministry are often linked hand in hand. But so are ministry and joy. We may not be spared what appears calamitous at first glance. But we will be rewarded if we persevere in doing what is right and don’t grow faint! If Jesus was “a man of sorrows” it is likely we will know our fair share of sorrows to the extent we follow in his footsteps, but we will also reap the Kingdom for our home!
PRAYER: Keep us from human delusions that would tempt us to be discouraged, and to see things from your perspective, Jesus! In Jesus’ name, Amen.