Wednesday, December 22, 2010
In Mark 8, a group of Pharisees (ie, really religious people) came up to Jesus and demanded He show them a sign- perform a miracle as a way of proving He was indeed from God. At first glance, this seems rather innocuous, until you note the three stories preceding this one. In them, Jesus has driven out a demon from long distance, healed a deaf/mute by using spittle, and fed 4,000 people with a few dinner roles. I don't know about you, but this seems like a pretty good run of ministry to me.
And yet, here are the high and mighty religious guys asking for a sign. "Um, excuse me," I'm thinking, "are you paying attention here? Have you seen what's going on? Why don't you get it?" Granted, the Pharisees probably hadn't been personally present at any of these miracles, but there was more than enough evidence for them to realize that Jesus was the real deal. But it wasn't good enough for them. Jesus had to do it their way, in their timing. With this as their mindset, the Pharisees missed Jesus altogether.
Sad. Even more sad when I think about how often this is MY experience. I want God to do things a certain way- show up at certain times, fix things a certain way, "prove" himself to me with a certain sign. Rarely, if ever, does God work this way. He is doing his own thing, and if I have the eyes to see it, His ways are far more wonderful and beautiful than my own.
Nowhere do we see the brilliance of God's plan more than in the Christmas story. If it were my way, I would not send a child to change the world. But God's way was to take on human form, become one of us, and proclaim through our humanity, "I am with you." His ways are not my ways, and thank goodness for that. Through Christ, His way continues to change and shape the world today.
"Our God is in the heavens, and He does as HE wishes." (Psalm 115:3) May your eyes be open in this Christmas season in such a way that you can trust this God. He is good, and his plans are good. Celebrate with great joy in Him.
Saturday, December 18, 2010
Saturday Night Devotional
So much of life is never finished- dishes, laundry, garage cleaning, tasks at work- on it goes and we wonder sometime why we bother. It will just need doing again later. At times, it’s more serious than that- we can feel that same about parenting our kids, working on our marriage, or even our faith- prayer, reading the Bible- sometimes we wonder what it will accomplish.
Luke 1:68- there’s something wrong with this verse. It reads, “Praise the Lord, the God of Israel,
because he has visited and redeemed his people.”
The tense is wrong, isn’t it? We would expect it should read “and he WILL redeem His people.”
But instead it says, “redeemed”- past tense. Over and done.The NAS makes it stronger still- “accomplished redemption”- a finished work. In the Greek, it’s the aorist tense- which means a SINGLE action referred to typically in the past.
But Jesus is just a baby. In fact, Jesus is still in the womb of Mary at this point! How has redemption been accomplished?
The coming of the Messiah set in motion a whole new era of God’s Kingdom, and the final outcome of this plan is guaranteed. The old has gone, the new has come! The coming of Jesus represented more than the birth of a single person, but the in-breaking of all God’s promises that would forever change history. It was the beginning of the New Covenant that prophets had pointed to for a thousand years. Zechariah realized that when his son had been born, the whole plan had been set in motion. And because God was behind it, the new covenant era was unstoppable. God was going to finish what He had started.
We are living in that time! It is now! So what is our mindset? Do we still live in the attitude of “one day, he WILL redeem”. Is it just a future hope? NO- he has come and he HAS already redeemed. It’s certain. Live in this certainty! Live in simple trust that in EVERY area of your life, REDEMPTION has been accomplished. It’s done. Because Jesus has come.Peace, and goodwill towards all, as you journey on...
Tuesday, November 30, 2010
In Mark 6, Jesus does an amazing thing. He walks on water. He defies the laws of nature, which He created, and finds stability where everyone else sinks. As He is cruising past His friends in a boat, they see him and shriek in terror, believing it is a ghost. Jesus calms them with His voice and He climbs into the boat with them. As He does, a ferocious storm that had been raging around them suddenly calms to nothing.
Now here's the real kicker- this is what it says about the disciples reaction, "They were totally amazed for they still didn't understand the significance of the miracle of the loaves. Their hearts were too hard to take it in." So, Jesus was bringing down the power of heaven all around, and the disciples reaction was basically, "Huh?"
Which got me thinking- remember last week how I said the disciples were tired and worn out when Jesus performed the miraculous feeding of the 5,000? He took a few fish and a few rolls and fed everyone with 12 baskets of leftover food on the ground. If you put the disciples tired condition together with their hard hearts, it leads me to believe that when they were picking up the left-over bread, they were grumbling. They were complaining about the extra work they had to do. Jesus had just done something absolutely amazing, and it is entirely possible that all the disciples could see was the inconvenience it caused them.
So, grumbling can cause blindness. We can get so focused on our needs and what we don't have on a personal level that we miss incredible displays of God's power all around us.
I don't want that. My guess is, neither do you. So pray for a soft heart. And open eyes. Pray hard that when heaven opens and God's power falls, you won't miss it because you're focused only on yourself. Ah, a hard prayer, but a good one.
May you have eyes to see, ears to hear, and hearts that understand what God is doing around you!
Tuesday, November 23, 2010
In chapter 6 of Mark, Jesus' followers have been out on a serious butt-whooping tour; casting out demons and healing the sick. They come back to Jesus and tell them about everything they've done. And ministry goes on. They are so busy healing and helping that same day, they don't have time to even stop and eat. I'll bet a McD's would have come in handy.
Anyway, Jesus recognizes this and says, "Hey, let's get out of here and rest." The disciples must have thought, "Finally- he's thinking about our needs!" So they take off in a boat. Only there's a problem- someone sees them going and spreads the word. By the time Jesus and his weary helpers reach the shore, a whole crowd of people are waiting. If I'm one of the guys who just came back from a long foot-journey of ministry, I'm thinking, "Jesus, send them home!" But instead, Jesus has compassion on them. He starts teaching. And he teaches for a LONG time. Surely, the disciples had to have slipped in a nap here. But the teaching goes on so long that it's well past dinner time; and remember, they have already been too busy to eat.
Understandably, the disciples come to Jesus and complain, "It's late, there's no food here, send the people home." The words of Jesus must have sent their jaws to the ground, "YOU feed them." Us? HA! Jesus, we're tired. There's way too many people (over 5,000), and in case you didn't hear us, there's no food! You feed them. Honestly, I would have been ticked. I might have thrown in the towel right then. I do NOT do well when I am hungry! Or tired. Especially not both.
But Jesus is about to make magic. He sits the people down, takes one small sack lunch (a few fish and loaves) and simply looks up to heaven for blessing. Soon all 5,000+ people are chowing down with plenty to spare. While the disciples wanted Jesus to care about them and their personal well-being, Jesus seems more interested in growing their faith and showing them the power of God.
You know what? I'm not sure I like that. I think most of us would like a God that took care of us first and then did more ministry. But God continually calls us to something more, something higher. When this happens in my own life, I hope I'm not too tired or hungry to see it!
On your journey, may you know the kind of God who is MOST interested in growing your faith and showing you the power of heaven.
Thursday, November 18, 2010
I've been thinking this week about how important it is that we focus on the right things. We've been going through the book of Revelation at church, and one of the major themes of this book is that God wants to teach us how to see the world. We learn to see the world accurately by looking at him.
But getting people to look in the right direction can be challenging. Just look at this picture...In case you can't tell, I'm trying desperately to get Carter, my son, to look at the camera. I hope I will also be as desperate to encourage him to look at Jesus.
Peace on your journey-
Wednesday, November 10, 2010
On my way through the book of Mark, I have been pondering a story concerning John the Baptist and Herod Antipas, King over Galilee at the time. In this very short story, we see that Herod struggles with some pretty significant life issues- he is a control freak, a sex addict, and very power hungry. I could go into more details, but that's not really the point here. Anyway, Herod often spends time "listening" to John the Baptist talk about God and his plan. But because of Herod's own issues, he is unable, or unwilling to respond to God. In the end, Herod's personal struggles put him in a position where he is forced to have John the Baptist beheaded to satisfy some of his friends.
Now, this event certainly left John's followers and friends wondering "Where is God? How could this happen?" But God is not to blame. Herod is. Clearly, Herod's unwillingness to deal with his own stuff caused incredible pain to others. Where was God? I think he was with John, giving him courage and strength. And I also think he was with Herod, trying to woo him to a new way of life. But God was not the one causing pain.
Here's my point: sometimes we face excruciating pain because of someone's sin. (Although this word may seem archaic to some, it is still an accurate way to describe any action, thought, or motive that is contrary to the heart of God). God does not cause it. God does not want it. God is dying to stop it. (And He did, literally) But in a world where we are free, and I mean really free, others are also free to hurt us.
What does this mean? Well, we might be tempted to think, "Yeah, I sure hope so-and-so reads this and deals with their sin!" But the best thing we can do, the best way we can help our loved ones and friends is to choose to deal with our own stuff. Simply put, if we love others, we will address sin in our lives so that we won't hurt others. Rather than pointing fingers and telling others to stop hurting us, our best move is to look within and say, "God, help me to deal with me."
So, who's to blame? In a word, ME.
Peace on your journey-
Monday, November 01, 2010
I ran across a quote yesterday that really struck me. It goes like this, “Our culture diverts our attention from the present…its over-extension and compulsive busyness sends us searching for quick ways for life to be better.” How true! We certainly live at a time, perhaps more than any other, when we are led to believe that we can have bigger and better. We can have a better TV or car. A better job. A better spouse. In general, a better life. And, we are told, it is simply up to us to pursue this better life.
The net effect of this kind of thinking, however, is that we can become entirely unsatisfied with today. If something better lies before us, how can we be content with what we have right now? The irony here is that the only day we get to live is today. As promising as tomorrow might sound, our only reality is this day. And yet, because of culture’s promise of the future, many of us are left without any real joy or peace in our current reality.
So what are we to do? Psalm 90:12 says, “Teach us to number our days aright, that we may gain a heart of wisdom.” Do you know who penned these words? Not King David or any of his skilled musicians, who spent much of their lives enjoying the fulfillment of God’s promises. No, this Psalm was written by MOSES, a man who spent 40 years in the hot, dry desert while looking forward to the Promised Land. Rather than being overcome by his longing for “what might be”, Moses wanted to see God in his current situation. So what did he do? He PRAISED. He wrote, “Satisfy us each morning with your unfailing love, so we may sing for joy to the end of our lives.” (Ps. 90:14) Moses realized that the key to joy was the daily reality of God and his unfailing love towards him.
The single greatest antidote I know to discontentment with today is choosing to praise God for His goodness and His gifts. Praise causes us to stop and look around at what we do have- both in the physical realm and the spiritual one as well. When we recognize all of God’s tremendous blessings, we can recapture joy for today!
Psalm 103:2-8 Praise the LORD, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits-- who forgives all your sins and heals all your diseases, who redeems your life from the pit and crowns you with love and compassion, who satisfies your desires with good things so that your youth is renewed like the eagle's. The LORD works righteousness and justice for all the oppressed. He made known his ways to Moses, his deeds to the people of Israel: The LORD is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in love.
May you find JOY in the Lord TODAY!
Tuesday, October 26, 2010
Here's what I mean. When you and I hear the word "news", we tend to think immediately of WORDS. We read "the news" in a paper- column after column of words. We watch "the news" on TV- 30 or 60 minutes of talking heads telling us all about local stories, weather and sports. We ask others to catch us up on "the news"- fully expecting a verbal report of what has gone on in their lives.
Because of all this, it is only natural for us to think of Gospel, the good news, as being a matter of words. We believe in these powerful words about Jesus, what he has done, and what he can do in our hearts. The problem with this, in my mind, is that we have come to put our faith in words- great words, mind you- but nonetheless, still words. These words come in all shapes and sizes- in creeds, worship songs, and even the pages of the Bible.
If you read through the gospel of Mark, you will be surprised at how little Jesus talks. You may also be surprised at how much Jesus does- he goes places, he heals the sick, he raises the dead. What you encounter in Jesus is a Gospel, not of words, but of power. I would argue that the only reason people were listening to His words was because they had seen His power. Jesus came in the power of God to release captives, open the eyes of the blind, and set the oppressed people free. And so people listened to His words. Perhaps this is a big reason why more people aren't listening to the words churches have to say today. We offer words, but not power.
I am just wondering today how often we settle for a Gospel of words. Good words, meaningful words, but often devoid of an expectation that God will show up in power. When Jesus met with his followers for the last time, He was clear with them, "You will receive POWER (not words) when the Holy Spirit comes on you, and you will be my witnesses."
What does all this mean? I'm not entirely sure. I'm just becoming aware in my own life of how often I settle for words when perhaps God wants me to hunger for his power. By sharing this with you, I hope it will provoke a desire in your own heart to pray, fast, cry out for, and expect more of God's power to be displayed in your life.
May you know the power of the gospel today as you journey with Jesus,
Monday, October 04, 2010
The experience of parenting can be challenging to say the least. As a parent, you enter a seemingly unending journey of teaching your children about all they should and should not do, and how to tell the difference between the two. Pick up your toys. Use your fork. Don’t hit your brother. Don’t run with your fork.
What I find amazing, however, is all of the things I have never had to teach my children. I have never had to teach my daughters to play with dolls. I have never worked with my son to teach him how to make car noises. I have never had to convince my girls to love Barbie movies. Some things just come naturally.
If you survey the book of Acts and look into the life of the early church, you will find something that came naturally to that group. In a word, COMMUNITY. No one ever teaches the believers to gather. None of the disciples have to stand and say, “You know, you really ought to get together.” We find quite the opposite. These believers, apparently of their own free will, are meeting daily, celebrating meals in one another’s home, and even pooling their property in order to share with one another.
So now for the big question: WHY? Why did this group have such a natural inclination to be with one another? I believe that their decision to follow Christ was intricately tied to a decision to be with His people. To love Christ was to love His people. To know Christ was to know one another. To worship Christ was to worship with others who had the same desire.
Though we live in a radically different culture today, we can move in that same direction. Here are a few ideas how:
1. Look for the Spirit. The first church had encountered God in a radical way on the day of Pentecost. I think they gathered together because they experienced more of that Spirit when they were in community. When we celebrate as a church, whether at our weekend service or a special event like a Baptism, we can experience the same thing. Seek out those places where the body of Christ will gather- the Spirit has a way of showing up!
2. Think people before tasks. One of the real traps of our society is that we are taught to think task first. What am I accomplishing? What am I getting done? Sometimes we approach church with the same mentality, “I am going to church. I went to church. Check that off the list.” How different would it be if we consistently thought, “I am going to gather with others who seek God with me.” Suddenly the whole point of our meeting takes on new meaning.
3. Place reality before formality. When we think of church as an organization or a social structure, we begin applying rules to how we should act. Dress a certain way. Say the right words. Act like life is fine, and then go home and be real. As a community of believers, however, the church is a family. And family is a place where you can be real and find acceptance no matter what’s going on in your life. When we can stop “cleaning up” and just be real, we find the kind of community Jesus had in mind from the beginning.
I dream of the day when my kids will be naturally inclined to clean their room. Until then, I will keep training them in the right way. I also dream of a day when each one of us feels naturally inclined to gather regularly in Christ-centered community. Until then, I will keep encouraging people to move in the right direction while modeling a life that does the same. I hope you’ll join me on this journey.
Thursday, September 02, 2010
Recently, my wife and I sat down to enjoy a movie together called, "The Box." Unfortunately, there was little enjoyment as we followed Cameron Diaz through a bizarre journey where higher alien life forms were conducting an experiment on the human race. The gist of the experiment is that a couple is given a box (by a very strange man with a disfigured face) with a large red button. They are told, push the button and you will receive one million dollars, but someone whom you don't know will die. If you don't push the button, the offer will be made to someone else.
Cameron and her husband have some pressing financial needs and so they push the button, believing the money will assure them of an easy life. And, as they conclude, everyone dies sooner or later, so if someone we don't know pays the price, it's not such a big deal. As you might image, pushing the button is a big deal. Pushing the button only leads them to frustration, pain, and chaos. It does not end well for them!
The one redeeming moment of the whole film comes when the disfigured man is being asked about how the experiment could be stopped. He replies, "Oh, the experiment could quickly come to end. People just have to stop pushing the button. But no one will stop." Faced with a choice for perceived personal gain at someone else's expense, the human race continues to choose for the self.
While I cannot recommend the movie, I do recommend considering how we are faced with this choice on a regular basis in our own lives. We have a button in front of us that we can push called "self". Pushing this button seems to promise an easier, better, and happier life. But just like the movie, this promise is an illusion. If we are honest, we can see that pushing the button of self leads to a great deal of frustration, pain, and chaos in our lives. The very things we thought would help us- doing what made us happy- actually end up destroying us.
This is why Jesus was so adamant about calling people to deny the self and lay down their lives. This is why Paul invited people to consider others as better than self and to throw off our old nature (self) in order to follow Christ. A choice to gratify self at the expense of others will always put us in opposition to what God wants to do in our lives.
So, the button sits before you. The button is red and shiny, full of promise. Don't push it! The easy way out is never easy and it never leads out. It is only when we deny ourselves and follow after Christ in complete surrender that we find life, hope, and true freedom.
Journey in peace today!
Friday, July 30, 2010
One of the themes of our class this week has been how important it is for us to ask and wrestle with tough questions about God and our faith. But, by and large, churches and other religious institutions (i.e. seminaries) have become places where you are expected to toe the line and nod in agreement. If you ask about something that might challenge orthodoxy, you are viewed as weak or a trouble-maker.
Our professor told a story about his first experience in seminary. Having an undergraduate degree in literature, he entered seminary with a different lens. In one of his first Bible classes, he realized that the story of Sampson and Delilah fit ALL of the historical parameters for a fable, and so he asked his professor about this. Rather than addressing the question or even acknowledging the tension, the professor blew him off and encouraged him to pray. This led to a fairly quick exit from seminary for our prof. (He says the second time around was much better.)
Here's the dilemma for me. We believe that God is truth and the source of all ultimate truth. So, when we start to ask really good questions, Christians should believe more than anyone else that this will lead us toward God. And yet most Christians fear that asking hard questions will lead us away from God.
I want to reject this. I want to reject that my faith only makes sense when I blindly follow what I have been taught. I need to believe that I can ask the hardest of questions, and if my motives are good, these questions will draw me deeper into the Father's heart.
So, I ask again: why are churches the last place where you can ask a hard question?
May you know today that faith is not belief in the absence of doubt, but clinging to God in the midst of it.
Tuesday, July 27, 2010
And then we were challenged with this question, "If I pray for a safe trip, am I more likely to be safer?" How we answer this question begins to give us insight into our God-image. I tend to think that if God has ever once in all history answered this prayer (which so many of us pray), then yes, we are more likely to get home safer. But, that tells you more about my math than my picture of God. :-) How would you answer the question?
For many of us, listening to our prayers will reveal how incredibly me-focused we are...God help me...God bless me...God give me a good day, a good test, a trip, etc, etc, etc. Without realizing it, we turn God into a cosmic traffic cop who exists to make our commute better than the world around us. What was suggested in class today was that we use prayer to help us manage the anxiety of our day more than we do to help us know God or come under his authority in our lives. This kind of praying also sets us up for an unhealthy dualism- if my prayer is "answered" and things go well, God is for me. If things go wrong, then God must be against me or angry with something I have done. Our professor told a story about praying as a child for a snowstorm so school would be canceled. The next day, sure enough, the ground was covered and school was axed. But later that day he heard about a family who had died on the roads because of the snow- and he felt responsible!
Here's where the rubber really meets the road: we will worship the God we imagine, and this is the God we introduce to others! How often do we get involved in selling an image of God that will make your life better? If you read between the lines, this is often our appeal to Christ- come to Jesus and your life will get better. Really? Is that really who God is?
So, I ask you- if you pray for a safe trip, are you more likely to arrive home safely? Why?
Let the discussions begin...
Monday, July 26, 2010
We did a thought-provoking exercise in class today. The professor had us make a list of names/images of God used in Scripture. We took at least 15 minutes giving suggestions while one of the students wrote them on the board. Our list easily contained 50 items, and could have included many more. Then, in reflecting on the whole list, we were asked to consider which ONE of these was God. (Hmm- none of them and all of them is the best I could think of) And then we were asked how many of these were metaphors. (Hmm- pretty much all of them!) And finally, the kicker question- How many of these images are YOUR image of God?
Here was the point for me- with a list of over 50 images of God, I have three, maybe four of them that are really central to my way of knowing and approaching God. If I'm honest, I have easily a dozen of these images that I rarely if ever think about, and I have several more that I try NOT to think about when it comes to God. So if my image of God is formed primarily by 3 out of 50 God-images in Scripture, how accurately do I know God? It's not that my image is flawed- but perhaps wildly incomplete. This leads me to a few conclusions:
1. We need to have much more humility when we speak of God. He is far bigger and far greater than we can fit into our concepts of deity. In many ways, it is very freeing to begin worshiping a God that is far greater than I can imagine.
2. We need others to help us see God. I am constantly amazed how different God looks through other people's lens. And yet, how often do I surround myself with people who think just like me? If we want to grow in our knowledge and love of God, we have to willingly seek out Christ-followers who have a different perspective. This can begin to fill out our picture of God.
3. We need to continually be passionate seekers. The moment we think we've cornered the market on God and got him figured out is the moment we need to start over again and realize how little we know. I have been challenged through this seminary experience to read church fathers, men who are revered for their faith, and see how frequently they expressed their inability to know God fully. Somehow, in their confession of ignorance, they were free to continue pursuing a fuller reality of God in their lives.
So, how about you? What images make up your picture of God? Have you ever had an experience where you realized how little you actually knew?
May you know that God is bigger than your imagination, and may this draw you to continue pursuing His glory and splendor-
Thursday, July 22, 2010
1. God's mission in the world is NOT to save people. God's mission is to create a new humanity- the people of God. While it is accurate to say we must all choose Christ, it is not accurate to call our faith personal. The idea of a "personal faith" is not only foreign to Scripture, but to the first 1500 years or so of Christian tradition. To be saved is to be brought into God's family, the church. Only as part of God's people are we able to experience his plan for us.
2. Being the people of God has less do with behavior and more do with relationship. When Adam and Eve sinned in the garden, the ultimate falling was a loss of relationship with God. As a result of the fall, they gained the knowledge of good and evil. This was not God's intent! God desired a people that lived only on His word; knowledge of God and not knowledge of laws/rules! To become the people of God is to come under the rule of God in our lives by re-establishing relationship with Him through Christ.
3. Salvation is more than a moment. From a Biblical point of view, salvation is the process of coming completely under God's rule and living in His Kingdom. While this process must have a beginning, it will not find completion until we enter heaven. In other words, we should place a little less emphasis on "crossing the line" and a little more emphasis on continuing to place our lives completely under His rule.
4. We gather in community because of our bond as the new humanity; the people of God. “The community is not to be visualized basically in terms of ‘natural’ bonds of gregariousness but in terms of God’s act. Before we say any of these terms we should first think: God’s purpose, his promise, his calling.” (Minear)
5. Following Christ means NOT that Jesus exists for us, but that we exist for Him. We have created a kind of faith that says Jesus is here to make my life better. Sorry, but that's not true! Jesus is here to make you and I into a new kind of people. This will only happen as we re-orient our lives around Him and His word.
6. There are times when the church needs to close the doors. Luther once said, "God doesn't sleep with his bride in public." In other words, there are times when the church needs to gather in intimate fellowship with only the church "membership" (those who are committed to Christ). It is through these times of intimate worship that the church can be formed and strengthened to have something to offer the world. (I think our new worship nights have become a beginning expression of this.)
7. Churches lose sight of love over little things! Did you know that the largest split in church history (catholic and orthodox) occurred over one word- filioque? The word means "of the son" in Latin, I think. Basically, because the Catholics added the word to their creed, the Orthodox church took off. Now, I know that some theologian will explain exactly why that was such a big deal (as we spent a good hour on it in class), but my point is obvious. If we are to be a witness to the world of a new humanity that has been transformed by relationship with God, then we have to get over our pettiness! We need to be on a mission- in our own churches! We need to strive to BE the people of God so that the world can see the Body of Christ. This is the heart of true evangelism.
Well, there ought to be something there for you to chew on! I just summarized two days of theology, so you should thank me. :-) No, seriously, I hope you'll push back on anything here that strikes you as unique.
May you be willing to THINK on your journey today! God gave you a brain- so use it! When we begin to understand faith and church from God's point of view, it really makes sense. You have a reasonable faith- get to know it! Blessings-