Watching, Waiting, Woes: Habakkuk 2

It might be hard to believe or receive, but one could make the case that prayer is the most effective gift given to humanity to bring about change. Some would rather attribute change to talent, charisma, and strong work ethic, but more often than not, it is the prayers of those in right standing with God, coupled with obedience to what is shared in the time of intimate conversation (prayer) that make lasting and loving change.

Yet the world is changing. Public opinion over all sorts of issues and sins are sliding. Loud voices are clamoring, some for true justice, some so steeped in darkness that they are completely blinded to right and wrong. Things also seemed to change without prayer.

Yet prayer serves to keep us aligned with the heart of God on what is right and what is wrong.

And here in Habakkuk chapter 2, Habakkuk volunteers his services to stand as a watchman. He volunteers to see injustice, pray and wait:

I will climb up to my watchtower
    and stand at my guardpost.
There I will wait to see what the Lord says
    and how he will answer my complaint.

Habakkuk 2:1

And summarized in the rest of Habakkuk 2, this is what the Lord says regarding what Habakkuk sees.

Woe 1: to the one who collects what does not belong to him (predatory loans, stealing, drug dealing, tax shelters, money laundering)

Woe 2: to the one who dishonestly gains wealth (slavery, exploitation, harsh labor)

Woe 3: to the one who builds a city with bloodshed and founds a town with injustice (pillaging, hurting your neighbor)

Woe 4: to the one who drugs another for lust and sex (porn industry, sex trafficking, rape, sexual assault)

Woe 5: to the one who trusts in idols (nationalism, the proud and selfish)

All of the consequences coming to those who participate in injustice without repentance will contain destruction.

Lest He be accused, these consequences are no darker than the acts that precipitated them. In fact the consequences are lighter. God bringing low things that were built upon another’s suffering are meant to be brought down, and God Himself patiently waits for those to turn from their wickedness in order to potentially make restitution.

Restitution, a word that should become synonomous with Christianity. It perhaps is what is required of us in order to be genuinely repentant. It is what might be spoken to our heart and soul when we listen, after we ask for forgiveness. But is often neglected in order to maintain what has made us comfortable or so one might keep what they stole.

As Christians we need to move further in maturity, to not only be absolved of our guilt and sin and shame but move on to restoring that which was never ours to have.

And to be more than okay with any potential inconvenience.

To say it another way if I can quote Blink 182, after the watching, the waiting and the commiserating comes partnership with God in restoration.

Happy Clean Imagination

“Blessed are the pure in heart for they shall see God.”

I don’t think I’ve met anyone who has seen God and lived to talk about it. Yet I know plenty of people who perceive God in other individuals and simultaneously embody what it looks like to live and love like Jesus.

Being able to recognize the power of a life set apart and yielded to the Spirit of God, in a measure, is the experience of seeing God. But how does catching that glimpse affect or change us? Or another question I’ve been thinking about: how does my heart become or perhaps stay pure?

I’ve narrowly missed preaching on mercy 2 times this year, and this week I will be preaching on the pure in heart, and I’m not certain why I agreed.

If I were to judge myself, which the Epistles suggest, might be a total waste of my time, I would not describe myself as particularly pure.

Like if purity had a spectrum: from ages to 0-14 I’d rate myself a 9, from ages 14-18, I’d rate myself a 4, from 18-22 I’d rate myself a 7 1/2, from ages 23-27 I’d rate myself a 3. From ages 27-32 I’d fall on any given day between a 5-9.

I offer you this perhaps as a condemnation of myself, but also as an absurd example of how I sometimes and many people probably define purity. Because here is the deal, if I told you just a speck of poop mixed into your bottle of water, you would not drink it (unless perhaps if the money was right) but you wouldn’t drink it with glee, and you certainly wouldn’t call it pure. It could be Fiji water or purified through osmosis, but once the fecies hits the water it is no longer potable.

And this in part is the reason I feel inept at preaching on purity of heart. I know my dark, my motives, my thoughts, my desires and no amount of desire to be completely blameless seems to keep me pure.

Maybe you can relate, maybe you can’t, maybe I just finally need to take myself up on the suggestion of cognitive behavioral therapy and I will be decidedly fixed.

But I can talk about something I do know and have experienced: cleansing.

Psalm 51:2 Wash me clean of my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin.

51:6 “Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me.

Psalm 19:12 “Who can discern his own errors? Cleanse me from my hidden faults.”

If it were not for the tangible experience of forgiveness cleansing and the means in which the Spirit employs to convict me and hopefully mold my heart I’d be without hope.

Which is why I think being pure in heart comes with the implication that I will continue to take a bath. I will eagerly subject myself to perpetual pruning, purging, purification, no matter how painful.

I will, in the light, be confronted with the areas and motives I have concealed or manipulated in order to serve myself alone. I will mourn over behavior and repent of thoughts before they even lead to poor conduct. I submit to consequence and wounds on my reputation as ownership of my brokenness while equally holding steafast to forgiveneess upon confession.

And in the positive vain, I set my mind on things above. I think about whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is rightwhatever is purewhatever is lovely, whatever is admirable–if anything is excellent or praiseworthy–think about such things. Whatever I have learned or received or heard, or seen in Christ and those who follow Him– I put it into practice. (Phil. 4:8)

And as I think about those things, and anything else, I put it to the light to see if its real and enduring and loving and if it is not I must do the work to discard it. I do not tolerate the sin in my own life before I claim to have any authority or power to speak into someone else’s.

There is a difference between sharing your struggle, story or victory and trying to use said struggle, story or victory to bring healing to someone else.

But hopefully until then, we allow our heart (the seat of our intentions, imaginations and affections) be continually cleansed by the Truth and reality of a relationship with a good God who offered His Son’s blood. Imagine that.

Young Camel Knees

It was Eugene Peterson, who in the introduction to his Message translation of the book of James that taught me the nickname for the apostle James, the brother of Jesus, was “Old Camel Knees.” The nickname, which I think cute, was given to him because the amount of time he spent in prayer. The theory being that he so often prayed on his knees, repenting and asking forgiveness on behalf of others that he developed calluses.


As cute as the nickname is, it is also radical. It speaks to devotion and reverence to the Lord. It speaks of the holy gripping he felt when it came to injustice and the lostness of those around him. With the nickname, I also imagine at some point he had difficulty getting up. But maybe that image is not true.

I have to get surgery on my knee; I’ve never had surgery, never been sedated; at the same time I’ve never walked with a limp literally speaking for this long (only 3 weeks). Metaphorically speaking, I suppose someone could make a case that I’ve limped for longer, but let’s not, because I’m looking to keep a happy baseline in this season.

My prognosis is quite long, but to disgust you I will describe it: In my knee, I have a leaky cyst, arthritis, bone spurs, a bucket tear in my meniscus and a several-year-old ruptured ACL that has likely shriveled like a wilted flower stem beneath my patella. It makes sense that my prognosis was that long to coincide with the extraordinary loud MRI.

During MRI’s they play the sounds you would hear coming out of a power station during a nuclear fallout so that no matter what, your prognosis is not as bad as it seems (just an FYI in case you were looking for a fun thing to do on your next personal day off from work).

I say all this because it is surprising the things you can still do when you have tears and ruptures in an area that enables you to walk. I have found I am way more aware and honoring towards my left leg which I rely on much more for balance, though I previously looked down on it for not being able to kick as strongly. (I think my left leg only ever scored one goal in soccer during recreational regulation which is the only arena in which records without an agenda are kept)

When a part of the body is weak or hurt or limping along and is crying out angrily and in pain because it wants protection and wholeness, the other parts of the body will compensate, shoulder the burden because it When a part of the body is weak or hurt or limping along and is crying out angrily and in pain because it wants protection and wholeness, the other parts of the body will compensate, shoulder the burden because it recognizes the pain of the other parts. It recognizes that there is a rupture. Yet the ruptured part also can show great resolve and resilience in the face of wounding. Despite that resilience and resolve, additional woundings to the same area can then highlight the problem and prior wounds and may require desperate measures in order to be addressed and attended to. The wound needs help, needs repair. The wound looks to surgery, experts, physicians, leaders in the field to restore, at least to an equal position, but hopefully to a better place than can be remembered. No one expects things to get worse when they ask for help.

Which leads me to a prophetic word for myself and one for the Church and maybe one for you:

For me Hebrews 12:12, no 12:10b-13:

but God disciplines us for our good, in order that we may share in his holiness. 11 No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.

12 Therefore, strengthen your feeble arms and weak knees. 13 “Make level paths for your feet,”[b] so that the lame may not be disabled, but rather healed.

In my season, I need my knee strengthened. I have been in a season of discipline and have been in Hebrews a lot over the last 9 months. I kept getting sent back to this passage even prior to my knee injury, but now it feels real. I felt like I had some fresh perspective and renewed excitement in walking in a direction for my life. In that same moment, coexisting with my movement, my knee failed me. I can walk but with a limp, and in the midst, God is calling me to live according to Proverbs 4:20-27 (read it I’m not copying and pasting).

The gist of that passage is obey the Lord, guard your heart, consider the path you’re on and heading, and be steadfast in that direction. Don’t be swayed from the call of obedience. I want to do that; I need help to do that in the natural and spiritual realm.

Then the prophetic word for the Church: is echoed in Hebrews 12 in the phrase strengthen your feeble arms and weak knees. It hearkens back and echoes a passage in Isaiah 35 which follows Isaiah 34 which is a prophetic utterance regarding judgment on every nation. What follows in Isaiah 35, which always follows a pronouncement of judgment, is a promise of mercy, the promise of justice, and a promise of restoration.

Isaiah 35:3-7 Strengthen the weak hands, and make firm the feeble knees, say to those who have an anxious heart, “Be strong; fear not! Behold, your God will come with vengeance, with the recompense of God. He will come and save you.

And when he comes, he will open the eyes of the blind, and unplug the ears of the deaf. The lame will leap like a deer, and those who cannot speak will sing for joy! Springs will gush forth in the wilderness, and streams will water the wasteland. The parched ground will become a pool, and springs of water will satisfy the thirsty land. Marsh grass and reeds and rushes will flourish where the jackals once lived.

God is beginning to strengthen parts of the body, strengthening the hands of those who might heal, and He’s bringing stability the knees of those standing the gap in intercession with Christ. God is interested in protest along with prayer and prophecy.

God is interested in strengthening and stabilizing those who are His and saving those who are not. With anything else, He is interested in shaking anything that stands against His glory. He will shake it whether it is inside or outside the Church. Racism and disunity is shook; health, wealth, and prosperous ease is shook, comfort and pleasure is shook. God Himself, not shook. God is first and foremost interested in His creation, His people moving towards and returning to Him, who has all power in the midst of the shaking.

And after His people partner in restoration and the healing work He has planned, then it manifests blessedness. The other benefits of the Kingdom are added, when what is preeminent is relationship and partnership with the person of Christ, the King of the Kingdom.

When God’s people have weak hands and knees, He doesn’t expect His people to stay down, He’s confident they will get up.

The Purpose of Our Collective Tears

It is better to go to a house of mourning
    than to go to a house of feasting.

Ecclesiastes 7:2

I don’t know how prepared you are to give of your tears or how familiar you might be with what that entails. I’m going to write a bit about mourning this morning. Grief, loss, and death, I know are not necessarily fun topics to read about. I don’t know a lot about pandemics, the spread of viruses or the long term effects of these things, but I am  fairly confident that if political leaders and people are willing to show any hint of prioritizing stimulating the economy and bailing out large financially irresponsible big businesses at the risk of spreading a deadly virus, it’s safe to say that some compassionate folks may have to take up the business of empathy and grieving.

*Scroll to the bottom if you just like practicals*

And that person might be you or me. So here’s how:

Tears are beautiful. One day, in the Kingdom of Heaven there will be no more use for them. But here, now, tears of the emotional variety are a visual display of our pain and our stress and our empathy. As they are released chemicals are typically released in our body that calm our mind and relieve us of physical pain. In this way they are chemically associated with doing good for the inside.

It is important to keep in mind that the capacity for tears or crying is more important than volume. So like anything crying too much or persistent crying amidst a depressive episode could yield little to no benefit. It’s important to discern and distinguish between the two.

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For instance:

Yesterday, my mom put her cat Tabitha down who was 19 years old and had kidney failure. I cried a bit on my drive to her house thinking about my mom during this season of quarantine, thinking a little about Tabitha and how interesting of a cat she was. Those tears were in some ways helpful because I was prepared to empathize with my mom and imagined what it was like to lose a pet but also adjust in a season when being home a lot and perhaps for a extended season is necessary.

Later on that evening, I cried again while being exceedingly frustrated and uncertain even scared about what decisions to make, feeling like life is still out of my control and being frustrated and double-minded about how to live out what I feel called to in the midst of my current vocation after a season where I already felt isolated for the previous 5 months. These tears were less helpful, but still helpful. In part because these tears were more a response to an unclear uncertain emotional framework that had me stuck on myself. If I was still crying those same tears now they would not be helpful and perhaps self-indulgent.

Let’s return to loss and grief and death though for a moment. Some of you may have experienced the loss of a loved one. It was a deep loss that you may have not been prepared for and suffered or may suffer still as you learn to adapt to a new rhythm without that individual. Sometimes their loss might still illicit tears or sadness but hopefully, that loss has not kept you unable to find fullness in life.

Hopefully, you found a helpful ritual or prayer or found ways to accept the loss and have been given new eyes of appreciation for others. Hopefully, also, you will be presented with the opportunity to help others walk through their own grief and loss.

My hope is that this will not be a season that you will be called upon to do that, but there is a chance in the coming weeks even months you might know several people who lose something or someone due to this virus.

Not all loss is death, but death feels the most permanent. And in seasons where isolation is already becoming the norm if someone were to die while others are isolated and may not be able to mourn as easily communally, we will need to be diligent in helping to heal those who suffer loss.

We have power to minister and bring healing to others when we stay alert and aware in the midst of our own loss, to not checkout and isolate, but to remain available. To be reminded that others too will suffer the loss of spouse or grandparent or parent or child, that while our grief and loss is unique in the individual or thing lost, the experience of losing is not unique to us.

So a couple of practicals:

-Imagine you are in their position, in the coming weeks it might not take that much imagining (we’ll see)

-Listen more than spouting advice or cliche phrases of optimism (Scripture written in an encouraging note or a timely word spoken gently might be helpful but listen first)

-Pray for them

-Make sure they are fed and checked in on

-Affirm that they are loved, again gently

-Maybe not a reminder for the one suffering, but death is not the end of everything and it is a part of life; death might become more normalized, but Jesus has promised us eternity with Him for those who believe. So yes, a priority on the restoration to or perseverance in their most important relationship.

-Remember God is with us in our tears

Psalm 56:8

You have kept count of my tossings;
    put my tears in your bottle.
    Are they not in your book?