Friday, April 3, 2015

Laying A Foundation

Abraham is a well known figure in the Bible, and for good reason. After all he trusted in God, left all he knew, and was blessed to be a blessing to others. I am all for Abraham being well known. Indeed, his is a story followers of Jesus ought to know. After all, he is like our great-great-great-great (and a lot more greats) grandfather in the faith (cf. Gal3:7-9, 16-17), and we can learn much from his life.

Yet there is an overlooked person in the Abraham narrative I want to bring into the spotlight a bit this day; his name is Terah. “Why Terah?” “In fact, who is Terah?” you may ask. From Genesis11:26-32 we learn Terah is Abraham’s father (well, Abram at this point). Genesis 11:31 says Terah took Abram and Lot (his grandson) and left Ur of the Chaldeans to go into the land of Canaan.

Now do not miss this. This is the same Canaan to which Abram finally went; the same Canaan God gave to the offspring of Abraham (Gen12:7). In other words, it seems Terah started off on the exact same journey for which Abraham is known. Granted, for some reason Terah stopped in Haran, but do not miss that his initial movement (dare we be open to saying following God in obedience) got Abraham that much closer to where God wanted him.

To be clear, I understand the text does not say God communicated with Terah. I also understand that if God did communicate with Terah he did not go as far as God desired him to go. Yet that is also part of my point. His “obedience” got Abraham to a place that was closer to God’s desire – and followers of Jesus everywhere benefit from it.

I realize there is a lot unsaid in this post; I am also going to make a big jump to an application. Yet here is the point; never underestimate how the changes Jesus brings about in your life can lay a foundation for something “magnificent” in the life of another. Indeed, no one lives in a vacuum.

I intend to follow up again, give a few examples, and explain “magnificent” in the near future. Yet for now, on this Good Friday, do not dismiss your faith and obedience – even if it has fallen short of what you think God desires. Things are indeed difficult at times (cf. Good Friday), but Sunday (and the Resurrection) is coming; the Resurrection is reality. 

Friday, October 3, 2014

A Return...[maybe]

It has been a while since I have blogged. In this post I will partly address a reason why I have been on hiatus. I say a reason because there are actually a handful of them. And while I will address a reason shortly, I do not foresee me sharing, and addressing, all of them. Who knows, it may happen. Yet I do not want to give the impression I am going to be blogging consistently.

As for the reason in focus right now for my blogging hiatus (haha, as if I have ever been very consistent), time is the culprit. As we know, time is a limited commodity. It seems everyone is conscious of the amount of time they spend on at least a few things in their life. This could take the form of something taking "forever" because it is not enjoyable, or passing "in a flash" because it is suddenly over (and was enjoyable). In fact, some people are conscious of how much of another's time they take up. Unless of course you are the Kansas City Royals, who apparently could care less how much of anyone's time they consume lately. Yet I have a feeling their fans don't care much either - despite a lack of sleep - so long as they keep winning.

Be those things as they are, we all have the same amount of time. Yet not all activities deserve the same share of it. While this ought to go without saying, it has a point.

Most, though not all, readers of my blog are Christians. Most, though not all, likely read other blogs as well. Sadly, if percentages on the whole in our culture were to be applied to this group, you are likely spending more time reading my blog (and perhaps another blog or two), than you will spend reading in the Bible and/or praying today.

Time. We all have the same amount of it. Some things are more important than others. So, thank you for reading, I certainly hope you continue to follow and read along in the future. But make sure you communicate with God today as well - through His word and in prayer. While I hope what I share is helpful and edifying, I need to be clear, whenever it is either of these - the Source is the One who deeply desires time with you...and He will never let you down.

Monday, February 10, 2014

Your Story

Every person you have ever met has a story. By “story” I mean the events that have occurred in their lives which have led them to the place where they are currently. These stories come in a variety of styles. Some are success stories. Others are stories of ruin. Some are inspirational stories. Others make us glad we have our own story and not their story. Yet for all the differences in stories they all have one thing in common. They are all lacking…
It does not matter what one achieves in life – there is always more. It does not matter how far someone has fallen in life – it could have been worse. Every story lacks because our individual stories are incomplete until we encounter God’s Story and have our broken story remade by His Story.
God’s Story has literally shaped the world in which we live – for the good. God’s Story gives us hope when everything around us seems to be crumbling down. God’s Story guarantees us that one day things will be made right again. Indeed, God’s Story is where we can find hope, healing, and purpose for our individual story no matter what it currently looks like.
It is undeniable that, no matter how good your story is, it is still littered with difficulty and heartache. It is also undeniable that, no matter how bad your story is, there is still hope. A beautiful reality is that your current story (no matter whether it is “good,” “bad,” or “broken”), once changed by God’s Story, just might lead to a ministry which will bring hope, healing, and purpose for countless people. It is a mystifying way in which God works as He continues to undo the effects of sin on His creation – at times one story at a time.

Monday, January 6, 2014

God's Story: The God Who Meets Us [3]

Today is, officially, the last time you can greet someone with “Merry Christmas” until next December 25th. If you are still greeting people with Merry Christmas, you have more than likely received more than one strange look. 

A funny thought occurred to me just now. What if Christians, who know the Church Calendar, would lovingly answer back, “Yes, and Merry Christmas to you,” when greeted by someone who simply says “Hello,” or “Good to see you” during the Christmas Season (especially as days seven and beyond come and go)? Would it be newsworthy? Would a “War on the Christmas Calendar” news thread begin on our news stations when people do not respond in kind? OK, facetious part of post now done; moving on...

On this last day of this Christmas Season, we will briefly reflect on a common story heard when people start to follow Jesus. The story, which is wonderful and I praise God for them, basically says someone’s life was “a mess,” and then they met Jesus...after this encounter their life got “straightened out,” and here we are. Again, I am thankful for stories like this. They show us how God meets people where they are.

Yet we need more (and more) of another type of story. The type of story we need to hear more of goes something like this... “my life was great and I ‘had it all’...and then I met Jesus and He turned my world upside down.”

I know there are stories like this, we just need more of them – especially in our culture where pursuing the American Dream is so prevalent. After all, Jesus is not merely Savior; He is also Lord.

What I mean is the “my life was a mess until I met Jesus” story has a Savior bent to it. Yet the, “my life looked like the epitome of success until I met Jesus...” story has a Lord bent to it.

This reality does not make one story better than another. Nor does this reality mean Jesus is more Savior than Lord or vice versa. Jesus is both, and we need a growing realization of both if we are going to truly follow Him – wherever He leads us.

Interestingly, while I said the “my life was a mess” type of story has a Savior bent to it, the aspect of Jesus is Lord/King is not absent from this story. E.g., there are ways citizens of a kingdom behave – because their King says so (and this is bigger than morals).

Likewise, the “my life was great until Jesus ‘messed it up’” type of story has a Lord/King bent to it. Yet it is not devoid of the reality of Jesus as Savior. E.g., the person who has been rescued by Jesus (saved) had been deceived by the cultural influences around them. While they need a King to submit to rather than their own wants and desires...they also need to be saved from the hole in which they live (perhaps after having dug it for themselves).

Yes, Jesus is Savior and Lord. If your picture of Jesus does not include both....then something is askew, and you are not following the Jesus of the Bible.

And let us not forget that on this Epiphany Day we remember how the magi came to see a toddler Jesus; the One who, as a baby, was born King of the Jews (Mt2:2) as He would also save people from their sins (Mt1:21) some two years earlier. A significant aspect of this is those magi were Gentiles – not ethnically Jewish. Praise God for revealing the mystery hidden for ages through Jesus at the visit of the magi (as non-Jews worship Him – cf. Mt2:11), as it became crystal clear that God was undoing the effects of sin on all of His creation – including those who are not ethnically Jewish. I, for one, am very glad for this truth.

Praise God for the Miracle of the Incarnation. May we be increasingly shaped by it as 2014 progresses. May we be able to look back on 2014 (and grow to realize in the moment as well) and see a combination of how Jesus both “straightened out” our lives and “messed them up” for God’s glory. And may we desire no other way.

Friday, January 3, 2014

God's Story: The God Who Meets Us [2]

God moves first; He always has and He always will. Last time we saw this truth in the life of Abraham in chapter two of The Story. This time we will move onto another important truth we must place alongside the reality that God meets us where we are – the truth that God tests us.

Now, we may not know whether an issue we are facing is a test from God, or an attack from the forces of evil, or merely fallout from our own learned habits and desires. Yet, in the big picture, knowing this is not the issue. The issue is being faithful. 

For example, Abraham took matters into his own hands (was not faithful) and went the culturally acceptable path of having a child with Hagar rather than trusting God would provide a child for him and Sarai through her womb (cf. Genesis 16). I am not a world religions expert, but it is commonly held that Ishmael (the son Hagar bore Abram) is the patriarch of the Arab nations, and therefore Islam. Hmmm...that decision has not panned out very well throughout the course of history, has it?   

And so as God’s plan for redeeming humanity progressed, He needed to test Abraham to know whether or not he was trustworthy (cf. another lack of trusting God in the last post). We see this test in chapter 22 of Genesis. In what is an unthinkable and unbearable test in our eyes, God asks Abraham to sacrifice Isaac, his only son – the son of the promise no less. By all accounts Abraham was willing to go through with the sacrifice (cf. Genesis 22:9-11), but was stopped by God at the last moment. The result of this test was, “now I know that you fear God, seeing you have not withheld your son...” (Gen22:12).

In order to keep this out of the realm of theological debate, let us simply focus on what is agreed upon by all (I think), the fact that God tested Abraham. This is important for us to not only grasp, but also to accept, because by and large we live in a culture that does not like to believe God tests people.

Many in our culture prefer to think God wants their life to be sheer bliss and enjoyment, for people to have their best life now, to be healthy and wealthy, and never have anything bad come their way. One of the many problems with these beliefs is they are not historically true of those who follow God – let alone Biblically true. 

Yet I want us to move beyond the mere fact that God is a God who tests us. I want us to realize there is no way Abraham would have been able to pass the “Isaac test” when he first started following God (and I do not mean because Isaac was not born yet). This is because Abraham’s faith, like anyone’s, was in its infancy when he first began to follow God.

Basically Abraham had to learn to quit taking matters into his own hands and learn to trust in God. Abraham needed to spend time walking with God. Abraham needed to learn of God’s faithfulness and provision in order to be in a place where he could trust God with the life of his son (cf. Hebrews 11:17-19). 

So what about you?
  • Is your faith (trust) in God able to handle more adverse situations now than it was at the start of 2013?
  • How have you tried to take matters into your own hands this past year?
  • How has God met you where you were this past year? 
  • What decisions have you made, culturally acceptable or not, that have had a negative impact on people? Remember, God is bigger than your mistakes...but your mistakes still have fallout.
  • Are you aware of possible ways God has tested you this past year? 
  • Do you look at difficult life situations as an opportunity to grow in your ability to respond faithfully moment by moment? Or do you wish and pray away difficulties?  
  • Are you following Jesus more closely at the start of 2014 than you were at the start of 2013? What is your evidence?
I have heard it said that a faith that cannot be tested is a faith that cannot be trusted. What a simple, yet profound statement.

And once again we come back to the Christmas Season – the Miracle of the Incarnation. Quite often in our culture we love to hear stories about how someone’s life was “a mess,” and then they met Jesus, and things got “straightened out.” I am thankful for these stories. After all, Jesus showed us – concretely – that God meets people where they are.

Yet there are other stories I long to hear...yet those will have to wait for another post – perhaps on the last day of Christmas as we embark on a new year together.

Tuesday, December 31, 2013

God's Story: The God Who Meets Us

The events covered in chapter two of The Story, titled “God Builds A Nation,” revolve around Abraham and his family. In this, and a follow up post, I will draw on two aspects from the sermon from 9/15/13.

First, we will look at how the God of the Bible is a God who meets us where we are at. In other words, God does not expect us to figure everything out, or get rid of all sin in our lives, or drop our friends, or anything like that before we come to Him. If these things were the case, no one would ever come to God. Yet a sad reality is how these, and similar false beliefs, are what keep many people in our culture away from God.

While it is often said in jest, there is some truth behind a person joking about showing up in church and having it burn down. I am not saying the building would burn down. Rather, what this reveals is a false perception shared by many (even many in The Church) that somehow we have to be good enough for God to have anything to do with us – let alone love us.

However, let us consider Abraham. Did you know that after God called Abraham (named Abram at the time) and he left all he knew, that Abraham did not trust in God and took matters into his own hands by lying to preserve his life? (And this was no small lie as it momentarily jeopardized God’s plan to work through Abram – just think if Sarai had become pregnant by Pharaoh...)  

Now, we could make a biblical case-study for how you can lie and be materially blessed (seriously, read about it in Genesis 12:10-20), OR we can see God is a God who meets people where they are. Although Abraham responded in faith to God’s call, he still needed to trust God more. Thankfully God is big enough to work in spite of our imperfections. No doubt about it, Abraham’s life was not all in order...but God still pursued and worked through him.

So what about you?

One thing the Christmas Season shows us – and yes it is still Christmas until January 6th – is that the God of the Bible is a God who meets people where they are. After all, Jesus left the riches of heaven to invade the slums of earth and meet people, from all walks of life, right where they were. This was certainly an unexpected twist in God’s Story. But when it comes to seems we ought to expect the unexpected.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

God's Story: Which God? [4]

OK, so this is seriously the last post on the issue of “Which God?” – for now. The next post will be different, likely moving on to chapter two of The Story. Yet I must do one more for a few reasons, one of which is how it ties in nicely to the season of Advent.

If more people read the Bible and gained a better understanding of God’s Story, they would be truly amazed at the amount of grace and mercy present. It is practically everywhere.

The distinction between some “god” and YHWH God has already been established. The God of the Bible does not operate how people often expect Him to function. We already Him pursue Adam and Eve in the midst of their rebellion. Yet to illustrate this again let me ask you this.

Why did God kick Adam and Eve out of the Garden of Eden?

Quite often people say Adam and Eve were kicked out because they sinned. Or they were kicked out because God was punishing them. However, what does the text say?

If we read the Bible this is what we see:
22 Then the Lord God said, “Behold, the man has become like one of us in knowing good and evil. Now, lest he reach out his hand and take also of the tree of life and eat, and live forever—” 23 therefore the Lord God sent him out from the garden of Eden to work the ground from which he was taken. 24 He drove out the man, and at the east of the garden of Eden he placed the cherubim and a flaming sword that turned every way to guard the way to the tree of life. [Genesis 3:22-24]

Did you catch that? The reason God kicked them out of Eden was to keep them from the tree of life. In other words, He could not bear the thought of Adam and Eve having continual access to the tree of life, and therefore living forever, in a distorted relationship with Him.

We need to be honest; the fear of death is real. Many people are so terrified of it that they do not talk about it, refuse to go to funerals, and try and “move on” with life whenever death interrupts their daily plans. I do not think it is a stretch for you to think of a few people who would gladly eat of the tree of life as long as they had access to it.

To be clear; I am not insensitive to those who have lost loved one – whether in the distant or recent past. The truth is, losing a loved one hurts. And that is OK…it is one of many signs that a life had significance; that the person mattered.

However, we need to trust God on this one. Knowing that an eternity with a distorted relationship with Him is not an eternity worth living, in His mercy and grace God bars His children from something that would be harmful to them. He bars them from the tree of life.  

Yet notice he bars them. The text does not say He destroyed the tree of life, which was intended to be for the good of humanity. No, God merely made it off limits until the other bookend of God’s Story occurs – the new heavens and new earth. In the new heavens and new earth God’s people will once again have access to the tree of life (cf. Revelation 2:7; 22:2,14,19), and there will be no more death.

Can you imagine it? No death (nor no anything of a lot else – Rev21:4), because the Kingdom of God will have come in its fullness.

And this is where Advent comes in. Advent is an entire season leading up to the Christmas Season. And on the first Sunday of Advent (this past Sunday – 12/1) the focus was on the return of Jesus…when everything is made right in the new heavens and new earth.

So which god; a perception of a god formed out of isolated verses and personal experience? Or the God who took on flesh and came to earth as Jesus?

What a glorious day it will be, when Jesus returns and the fullness of the Kingdom of the God of the Bible is here. There will finally be true peace in that day. And in that day what God’s Story says so clearly, if we have ears to hear, will come to fruition. God’s Story says sin, death, and the current state of this world will not have the last word. No, God has the last word. This is His Story – period.

Maranatha – Come Lord Jesus!