Perspective Changes Everything

Perspective is everything. Nearly sixteen years-ago, me and my family were in a car accident. I was traveling on a highway in rural Iowa and a small car on a gravel road blew right through the stop sign without even slowing down. There was nothing I could do. I slammed into the rear quarter panel of his car, and he literally spun like a top off the highway and came to a stop. Both the driver and his girlfriend passenger were not injured. 

Two of my daughters were in the very back seat of our minivan, with my wife and dog as front seat passengers.  The girls were not harmed. However, my wife tore her shoulder’s rotator cuff trying to protect the dog and had to have surgery to repair it. My lower back was injured, but not in a way which surgery could repair. To this day I live with low-level chronic pain. Most days it’s not bad, maybe a one or two on the pain scale. But on a bad day I can barely walk across the room and need a cane to get around.

I have played the scene of the accident in my mind hundreds of times. I have thought over-and-over again about what I could have done to prevent the accident. Yet there was no way to avoid it. I thought about the fact that if we just would have left a minute earlier or a minute later from my parents’ house from where we were visiting, all would be fine. But I know that kind of thinking is a fool’s errand. I have pondered every possible scenario in my head and have gotten nowhere. 

It also took me awhile to forgive the young man who was driving the other car. He changed my life, and not in a good way. Although his insurance took care of everything and he was very repentant about the whole thing, I was understandably mad for a long time. I eventually did come to the point of forgiving him.

Over the years I have learned to live with my limitations. I have now accepted the sometimes-irritating pain as part of my life. Still, on occasion, I cannot help but think of what my life would be like today if I hadn’t been in that stupid senseless accident. 

“Everything that irritates us about others can lead us to an understanding of ourselves.”

carl jung

About six years ago I was praying alone in the church for which I was a pastor, at the time. God brought the accident to my mind. I said to God, “Lord, we’ve been through this accident hundreds of times together. I don’t want to think about it anymore. Why are you bringing this up now?”

Even though I wasn’t really looking for an answer to my question, God brought it up because the Lord knew I was finally ready to get a divine perspective on the accident. Out of the hundreds of times I went over that accident, the one perspective I never took was that of the young man – the other driver. God invited me to take the young driver’s view of what happened that day. So, I did.  I know that intersection like the back of my hand, so it wasn’t a hard exercise. 

I put myself in the driver’s seat of his car. I’m driving down the gravel road not paying attention to the fact that a stop sign is coming up. I blow through the sign onto the highway and right in front of a minivan who slams on the brakes just enough to plow into the rear quarter panel. I spin out like a top and come to rest only a few feet from a huge Iowa grain elevator.

For the first time in my life, I finally understood. God had a divine appointment for me that day. You see, if I had not come along just when I did, that young man and his girlfriend would have blown through the stop sign and struck that grain elevator. It would have killed them both instantly.

“Life is 10 percent what you make it and 90 percent how you take it.”

Irving Berlin

Suddenly, my perspective changed 180 degrees. I always thought about me and my family. I always considered my hardship and my change of life. But now I saw that God sent his servant to save two lives that day. Had I not struck his car, causing him to spin and come to a rest unharmed, two people would have died. 

Now, every time my back acts up and it effects how my life is lived, I’m reminded that it is a small price to pay for the lives of two human beings. Perspective changes everything.

The Bible invites us to view our lives from a different perspective. Our hurts and our pains, our sorrows and our sufferings, our changes, and our limitations, are all part of something much bigger God is doing in the world.  We are not always privy to God’s plans and purposes. Yet God’s Word challenges us to take a perspective of the world, of humanity, and of ourselves which is counter to how we often think.

In this season of Lent, we are invited to read God’s Word and practice repentance – literally, a change of mind.  We are invited to see the Ten Words (Commandments) as the glasses through which we are to view our relationship with God and our relationships with others (Exodus 20:1-17). Jesus, summarizing those Ten Words, put it this way: All the Law hangs on loving God and loving our neighbor. (Matthew 22:36-40)

The thread of those moral words, those ethical commands, runs through the entirety of God’s Word, the Bible. The psalmist reminds us that this Word is good, sweet, and more precious than gold (Psalm 19:7-14). The Apostle Paul reminds us that this Word is our wisdom to live by (1 Corinthians 1:18-25).  And Jesus, as the Word made flesh among us, lived that loving and gracious Word with perfect moral and ethical goodness.

The temple, as the place where God’s Word was read and observed, was not to be adulterated with making a profit – which was why Jesus drove out the moneychangers.  And he did it with flavor! (John 2:13-22) Later, after Jesus died and rose from death, the disciples remembered their master’s words and affirmed them as being the Word of God. They believed. Their faith and repentance changed the world.

God is inviting us to take up the Divine Word and see our lives, the lives of others, and every event and situation through that lens. We are to see Jesus, not only as a great teacher, a moral and good person, and a loving healer – but also as Lord and Savior. In a small way, I suffered so that someone else could live. Yet Jesus suffered sin, death, and hell in our place so that you and I could live – so that we might have the eternal life of enjoyment with God forever.

Allow the Word of God to shape your lives and form your thinking today and every day. You might not always know what God is doing, but you can be assured that everything God does is just, right, and good. 

May you know God’s peace today. May you know Christ better in this season as you reflect upon our Lord’s great sacrifice on our behalf.

Psalm 19 – The God We Can Know

The heavens keep telling
    the wonders of God,
    and the skies declare
    what he has done.
Each day informs
    the following day;
    each night announces
    to the next.
They don’t speak a word,
    and there is never
    the sound of a voice.
Yet their message reaches
    all the earth,
    and it travels
    around the world.

In the heavens a tent
    is set up for the sun.
It rises like a bridegroom
    and gets ready like a hero
    eager to run a race.
It travels all the way
across the sky.
    Nothing hides from its heat.

The Law of the Lord is perfect;
    it gives us new life.
His teachings last forever,
    and they give wisdom
    to ordinary people.
The Lord’s instruction is right;
    it makes our hearts glad.
His commands shine brightly,
    and they give us light.

Worshiping the Lord is sacred;
    he will always be worshiped.
All his decisions
    are correct and fair.
They are worth more
    than the finest gold
    and are sweeter than honey
    from a honeycomb.

By your teachings, Lord,
    I am warned;
    by obeying them,
    I am greatly rewarded.
None of us know our faults.
    Forgive me when I sin
    without knowing it.
Don’t let me do wrong
    on purpose, Lord,
    or let sin have control
    over my life.
Then I will be innocent,
    and not guilty
    of some terrible fault.

Let my words and my thoughts
    be pleasing to you, Lord,
    because you are my mighty rock
    and my protector. (CEV)

Today’s psalm is a celebration of God’s self-revelation. Through both nature and law, the Lord has graciously made the divine life known to humanity. What’s more, God’s moral and ethical teachings provide insight for living a good life. This is for the common good of all persons.

The vision of the psalm is of a personal God, not an abstract deity who is aloof from creation. Through both land and law, there is the Lord of life, desiring humanity to know the divinity which infuses it all and has people’s best interests continually at the forefront of providence and goodwill.

The created world witnesses to God. Creation manifests the glory of its Creator. Each creature and every created thing have the capacity to acknowledge and declare their Originator. That which has no mouth can speak. Those with no vocal cords have a voice. We can hear them, that is, if our ears are open to listen. The creation is not God. Yet the created world and order knows the Lord so intimately that it sometimes seems as if the sun, the trees, the mountains, and the meadows are divine. The divine stamp is there, testifying with mysterious words to a glorious God who desires to be known.

So, the Lord graciously gave us law. God’s righteous and good law flows seamlessly from God’s good character. Law is the divine medium for humanity, a guide for human life toward thriving and flourishing on God’s good earth. We were put on this planet with instructions on how to get along on it. It is when we throw out the rulebook and improvise that we tend to get into all kinds of trouble.

“Knowing God is more important than knowing about God.”

karl rahner

Even when we as people dig our own graves and fall into them, God is there. Grace is available for the asking, redeeming the wayward life. Deliverance is a real possibility, to set us aright again, and restore us to our full luster as people created in the image of God. Law and land converge to guide into grateful living, into the wisdom of dealing rightly in all things.

Wisdom in the Old Testament is the combination of knowledge and practice. It is the application of God’s self-revelation to concrete situations in life. We live wisely when we get to know the sovereign God of creation and use the Lord’s revealed mores and ethos as our guide in daily experiences.

We need God’s gracious revealed law. It’s not just for theology nerds or spiritual eggheads; God’s law is for everyone – the learned and the unlearned. Every one of us needs the guidance and direction of God’s Holy Word, and the careful application of it to all our circumstances. That’s wisdom.

You and I are shaped and formed as godly people as we allow God’s Word to awash us and seep into our souls.  Reading this psalm out loud slowly and contemplatively more than once is an opportunity to let our common ordinary experiences transform into divine appointments.

Clean the slate, God, so we can start the day fresh! Keep me from stupid and idiotic sins, from thinking I can take over your work. Then I can start each day sun-washed, scrubbed clean of sin’s awful grime. Let me not be found in the dominion of darkness but bask in the glorious light of your glory. Accept both my words and my life when I place them on the morning altar, O God, my Rock, my Deliverer, my Redeemer, my All. Amen.

Deuteronomy 12:28-32 – Curious

Be careful to obey all these words that I command you today, so that it may go well with you and with your children after you forever, because you will be doing what is good and right in the sight of the Lord your God.

When the Lord your God has cut off before you the nations whom you are about to enter to dispossess them, when you have dispossessed them and live in their land, take care that you are not snared into imitating them, after they have been destroyed before you: do not inquire concerning their gods, saying, “How did these nations worship their gods? I also want to do the same.” You must not do the same for the Lord your God, because every abhorrent thing that the Lord hates they have done for their gods. They would even burn their sons and their daughters in the fire to their gods. You must diligently observe everything that I command you; do not add to it or take anything from it. (NRSV)

The old phrase “curiosity kills the cat” certainly applies to the ancient Israelites concerning the pagan nations that surrounded them. The book of Deuteronomy is a re-statement of the law for a new generation of God’s people poised to enter the Promised Land. The previous generation had experienced a failure of faith and completely died out over the course of a forty-year sojourn in the desert. But now their children were ready to enter the land and receive the promises of God.

There is the healthy curiosity of seeking to understand, and then there is a bad curiosity borne from discontentment. God knew the people would be curious, in all the negative sense of that word. Today’s Old Testament lesson is a clear warning to keep away from the practices of the nations which God was about to dispossess from the land. 

Now, thousands of years removed from the Old Testament, we know the end of the story. The Israelites, although possessing a remnant of people faithful and devoted to God’s law, allowed their curiosity to get the best of them and ended up not following the Lord as they were commanded.

“Curiosity is not a sin. But we should exercise caution with our curiosity yes, indeed.”

albus dumbledore to harry potter

Before becoming a Christian over forty years ago, I did not live according to God’s commands or the way of Jesus Christ. Because of that reality, I have always found it “curious” that there are believers who wonder if they are missing out on something, having always been in the church. They may even adopt some cultural practices, like offering their children on the altar of wealth or sports, serving the idols of security, or getting ahead.  

Spiritual F.O.M.O. (Fear of Missing Out) is likely to lead one down a damaging path. We must all have the wisdom to identify the healthy practices of our culture consistent with God’s Word, and the unhealthy curiosity to pursue endeavors uncritically without making sound godly decisions. 

Ever-present God, you have given us your gracious and holy Word to know and live by. Strengthen our knowledge and faith so that we may serve you faithfully today and always through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

2 Samuel 6:12-19 – Acceptable Worship

David Dancing by Richard McBee, 1998

Now King David was told, “The Lord has blessed the household of Obed-Edom and everything he has, because of the ark of God.” So, David went to bring up the ark of God from the house of Obed-Edom to the City of David with rejoicing. When those who were carrying the ark of the Lord had taken six steps, he sacrificed a bull and a fattened calf. Wearing a linen ephod, David was dancing before the Lord with all his might, while he and all Israel were bringing up the ark of the Lord with shouts and the sound of trumpets.

As the ark of the Lord was entering the City of David, Michal daughter of Saul watched from a window. And when she saw King David leaping and dancing before the Lord, she despised him in her heart.

They brought the ark of the Lord and set it in its place inside the tent that David had pitched for it, and David sacrificed burnt offerings and fellowship offerings before the Lord. After he had finished sacrificing the burnt offerings and fellowship offerings, he blessed the people in the name of the Lord Almighty. Then he gave a loaf of bread, a cake of dates and a cake of raisins to each person in the whole crowd of Israelites, both men and women. And all the people went to their homes. (NIV)

After the worship debacle earlier in which two of the Levites attending the ark of the Lord were struck down by God, King David took time to refocus and go about bringing the ark back to Jerusalem in a proper way. A true celebration was underway that enjoyed the blessing of God upon it.  The sacrifices before God were sweet smelling because they were done in a spirit of obedience and humility. 

However, David’s wife, Michal, the daughter of Saul, did not worship. She critically observed David and the others and evaluated the worship service by how it appeared to her. Michal was not with everyone else giving herself to the true worship of God. She did not like how David went about worship. The acceptable worship of God was unacceptable to her and she let David know it. Yet, David was undaunted and had his focus where it needed to be. We get a cryptic last note on Michal, describing that she was barren to the day of her death – a note meant to convey both a physical reality of her body, and a spiritual reality of her soul.

So, how are we to worship God?  Jesus commented about worship: 

“The hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father seeks such as these to worship him. God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.” (John 4:23-24, NRSV)

Neither good intentions alone (in spirit) nor appropriate actions alone (in truth) constitute acceptable worship.  Both are necessary.  The worship Jesus mentioned is literally “to prostrate oneself before God.”  In other words, it is to have a disposition and attitude of submission and humility toward God, seeking to obey him as king rather than superimpose our desires on him. 

Furthermore, God is near to us and far away from us, at the same time.  God is close to us through the person and work of Jesus Christ, and now in the person of the Holy Spirit. God is also sovereign and far above us, orchestrating the universe. In worship, we appreciate both God’s transcendence and immanence.

The presence of God is both comforting and dangerous. Divine holiness is like a fire, giving us light and warmth; but get too close to the flame and you will get burned, even destroyed. We have collective promises and blessings given to us as God’s people; and at the same time, we have individual responsibilities to know the will of God and do it in the way prescribed for us.

David Dancing by Richard McBee, 1986

The book of 1 Chronicles gives an additional account of David’s worship service in bringing the ark to Jerusalem, which includes a psalm of thanksgiving to God that he wrote himself to be sung by Asaph and his associates, the worship leaders.  Here is part of that psalm:

Sing to the Lord, all the earth!
    Share the news of his saving work every single day!
Declare God’s glory among the nations;
    declare his wondrous works among all people
        because the Lord is great and so worthy of praise.
He is awesome beyond all other gods
    because all the gods of the nations are just idols,
        but it is the Lord who created heaven!
Greatness and grandeur are in front of him;
    strength and joy are in his place.
Give to the Lord, all families of the nations—
    give to the Lord glory and power!
    Give to the Lord the glory due his name!
        Bring gifts! Enter his presence!
        Bow down to the Lord
        in his holy splendor! (1 Chronicles 16:23-29, CEB)

After the worship service, after the psalm had been sung by Asaph and the singers, the text goes on to say:

Then David placed Asaph and his relatives, together with Obed-edom and sixty-eight of his relatives, to minister there continually before the chest containing the Lord’s covenant, following the routines required on each day…. With them were Heman and Jeduthun and the rest of those chosen by name to give thanks to the Lord, because his faithful love lasts forever. With them were also the trumpets and the cymbals for the musicians and the instruments for God’s songs. (1 Chronicles 16:37, 41-42, CEB)

In Israel, King David instituted that the worship of God was to take place every day – not just one day a week.  What is more, David hired hundreds of musicians, singers, and worship leaders to minister before the Lord every single day, twice a day. Every conceivable instrument and voice were used to praise God in worship.  New songs were written continually by David, and arranged by Asaph, the lead worship person. 

God longs for our worship each day: to remember who we are and who God is; to sing; to confess sin; to claim forgiveness; to read the Holy Scriptures; and to pray. If we all devoted ourselves to worship in such a way, then we can begin to imagine God opening to us blessing upon blessing.

Blessed Lord, who caused all Holy Scripture to be written for our learning: Grant that we may hear it, read it, mark it, learn it, and inwardly digest it, so that we may embrace worship in body, mind, and spirit through our Savior Jesus Christ in the strength of the Holy Spirit. Amen.