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 God...it 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! 

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

God's Story & Black Friday

Long before the day after Thanksgiving became known as Black Friday, there was another Friday that was black. On that dark Friday, over 1,900 years ago, an obedient Son laid down His life to ensure that His Father’s Story – which includes His will to dwell among people in an unhindered relationship again – would not be thwarted by anything ever again.

Jesus, whose name means The LORD (YHWH) is salvation, was brutally executed. The forces which control this world – and keep it in darkness – deceived people into killing the Prince of Peace. Yet in a beautiful twist of irony so majestic that it could only be found in God’s Story, the servant who laid His life down was raised back to life and is now enthroned as the King above all kings…and the whole world groans, longing for His return when He will make things right. 

Wow, there is a lot that needs explained in the above paragraphs...but I want to keep this short. Therefore I will cut to the chase.

What bearing does that black Friday have on the Black Friday that is now less than 48 hours away? I would say a lot... Yet if I expounded on even some of the “a lots,” this would not be short. So, while it is true that Jesus died because of the sin of humanity...it is also true that we do not grasp how far that sin reaches its ugly hands.

It certainly shows up in greed, and while other descriptors could be used to describe these Black Friday disasters, greed certainly is applicable.

But alas, in order to keep this short, I am not going to rant and rail against Black Friday (like I kind of did last year). Yet more importantly, in order to turn one of the evil one’s weapons against him, I am going to say the following (by the way, the cross gives us the opportunity to turn every weapon of the evil one against him). If you plan to go Black Friday shopping I am not going to try and talk you out of it. However, I do want you to consider – and actually do – the following…   

1) For whatever amount of money you save on Black Friday, give a sizeable portion of that to something like The BigDent [www.bigdent.org]. The Big Dent is a Christian organization that works with microfinance to help people in the two-thirds world with a small loan. This loan is then paid back, which provides more money to loan to other small businesses. This is a way the cycle of poverty can be broken. Oh yeah, you do not even have to fund the whole loan if you did not save that much…but there are so many on the list – with varying amounts – that you may be surprised.

Here is another one that extends beyond Black Friday.
2) For whatever amount of money you spend on your “Christmas shopping” as a whole, give a portion of that away to a local charity. What we do at New Life Christian Church, in Emporia KS, where I preach is this:
We encourage families to at least “tithe” (give 10% - they can give more) of whatever money they spend on Christmas gifts back to the church. We then take this money and send it to The Voice ofthe Martyrs [www.persecution.com] in order to help persecuted Christians around the world. This help does take the form of a Christmas Care pack – but these care packs are much different than what many in our culture would think. This year they are going to Nepal, and $25 will provide a backpack, a children’s Bible, school supplies, a sweater for school, socks, and shoes. 

While I am sure there are other better ideas out there somewhere, that is not the point. The point is people today can harness an aspect of our culture’s Black Friday and be a light shining into the darkness for others in great need. Nice huh? In other words, turn a weapon of the evil one – i.e., grossly disproportionate wealth – against him by diverting some “savings,” and even planned expenditures, to help others.

There, how’s that for short? Oh yeah, even if you are not a Christian and are reading this blog, please feel free to give to the above organizations. I think if you checked into them your heart would break for what those they help experience. However, if you want to give to a local charitable organization instead, I have no problem with that. 

The reality is, the black Friday over 1,900 years ago does have profound implications for the Black Friday in less than 48 hours. To not consider those implications is less than Christian – if you are a follower of Jesus that is.  

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

God's Story: Which God? [3]

I bet a lot of people think God is going a “poor” job of running things (feel free to insert whatever expletive you want). Truth be known, I bet you have had a similar thought in your lifetime too. In fact, this truth goes for those claiming to be atheists (perhaps this thought was a step on their journey to rejecting a belief in God), those who are agnostic (perhaps this thought keeps them from trusting in God), and even many Christians. Yep, you read that correctly, even many Christians too.

Yet I will assert that if you are thinking this, or something similar, then you really do not know God’s Story as well as He would like you to know it… So, let us get back to exploring God’s Story together.

If you had someone read Genesis 2:4-3:24 out loud to you, your ears undoubtedly heard a major shift in Genesis 3:1. Yet the shift was not simply that a serpent entered the narrative. No, the shift was from the use of YHWH God to simply god in the text. Not only was this shift on the tongue of the serpent…but on the lips of Eve as well.

Eve, who was in a covenant relationship with God, shockingly bought into the distorted view of God put forth by the serpent…started by the omission of the word YHWH when referring to God. When the serpent used the distant, non-covenant word for “god,” it put forth a deity who was distant and uninvolved – perhaps even uncaring. And Eve took the bait. Sadly many take the same bait today – but I am ahead of myself.

Eve taking the bait is clear as she too calls YHWH God merely god. But she goes further. Not only does Eve not correct the serpent’s words in Genesis 3:1, which is a total trashing of YHWH God’s generous provision in Genesis 2:16-17, she also distorts what YHWH God said. On the lips of Eve are words YHWH God never said, “neither shall you touch it, lest you die.” Again, as far as we know, YHWH God said no such thing. The serpent jumped on this continued distortion of God, twisted things a bit more, and the rest of humanity – in fact all of creation – have felt the brunt of the next decision for millennia.

I like the words of Gordon Wenham as he says of Eve’s comment, “The creator’s generosity is not being given its full due, and he is being painted as a little harsh and repressive, forbidding the tree even to be touched. Indeed, the way “lest you die” follows “touch” suggests that not just eating it but touching it may be lethal.[1]

After Eve, and then Adam, ate of the fruit, the gig was up. God’s Story says their eyes were opened, and among other things, they hid from “god.” However, who is it that shows up in Genesis 3:8? Yep, it is YHWH God once again (remember the 20x YHWH God is in act two as compared to the four times god is used here). This shift back to YHWH God is significant.

In my sanctified imagination I cannot help but wonder if Adam & Eve were hiding from “god” because since they did not immediately die, they thought He was coming to finish them off. Yet the text says it was YHWH God who came looking for them.

You may scoff at such a notion. But let me ask you. When you are caught in sin (whatever it may be), do you run to God immediately, or do you hide it? Do you run to the Body of Christ on earth (The Church), or do you isolate yourself from community and cover it up? Answer truthfully…because if you do not, you will not be able to appropriate the beauty of God’s Story.

You see, what is so amazing about God’s Story, and learning about God based on who the Bible says He is, is that the God of the Bible is not much like what people expect. I think many Christians cower from God in fear. I think many Christians are afraid and ashamed of what they have done and are wondering how God could possibly love them. Oh He may have loved me in the past…but I have crossed the line this time… Whenever you think thoughts like that, you are thinking of a god, and not YHWH God.  

I say this because what we see in Genesis 3:8 is that, even in the midst of their rebellion, YHWH God moves toward Adam and Eve. Can you imagine that? The Creator of everything, longing to be with the crowning point of His creation so much that He seeks them out while they are hiding from Him – in fear and rebellion.

There is much more that could be said about act two of Genesis. I am not sure I will get to it before moving onto the next chapter in “The Story.” My goodness, I expected to do a short post per chapter highlighting something. Well...

But I want to leave you with this encouragement; before you reject God…or hide from Him in fear…make sure you know which God you are rejecting and/or hiding from. Is it a god formed from a variety of readings and experiences? Or is it YHWH God, who reveals Himself in the Bible (and Jesus - but that is later), who is at work undoing the effects of sin on His creation – which includes you reading this right now. 

[1] Gordon J. Wenham, Genesis 1–15, vol. 1, Word Biblical Commentary (Dallas: Word, Incorporated, 1998), 73.

Monday, November 25, 2013

God's Story: Which God? [2]

I did some google searches a moment ago. I typed “who is god?” and got 1.25 Billion results in .25 seconds. I also searched “What does god want?” and got 1.35 Billion results in .39 seconds. I doubt there is enough time remaining in my life to read the results from just one of those searches – let alone both – even if I did nothing but read them. This reality can pose a variety of interesting questions. Yet I will focus on one; where would people have found the answer to those questions BG (before google)?

I realize there are many answers to the question. However, for our current purpose, we will stick with one source – the Bible. While this may seem like a “no-brainer” answer, it is surprising how many people have formed a view of God that is not based on the Bible – and this goes for both Christians and those who are not Christians. The outcome of this practice is not good.

So, last time I encouraged you to read Genesis 1:1-2:3 as “act one” and Genesis 2:4-3:24 as “act two.” Simply stated, “act one” shows us a god created; “act two” shows us which God created and what this God desires. This can also be stated as “act one” shows us creation in broad brushstrokes (like for a painting), while “act two” focuses in on certain aspects of those brushstrokes (like day six and events sometime after it). In other words, these are not competing creation accounts; they are complementary vantage points of the same creative act. 

In act one a generic word for god (or God as it is in the Bible) is used. This is why I said “a god” in the above paragraph. There were lots of gods in the ancient world…just as there are today (we just do not call them gods – but that is another issue). An assertion that a god created would not have been earth shattering in the ancient world. The real question would be which god(s) actually did it. And as you can guess, this would be answered by whose creation story you were reading. Yet there are still some striking elements to act one in Genesis that clue the reader (or hearer) in a bit that something is different.

In other words, the somewhat generic creation story in act one still makes some startling claims. An example is on day four. In the text, when the sun and the moon are created, they are called “the greater light” and the “lesser light” (Gen1:16). This is significant as both the sun and the moon were viewed as gods in many cultures – particularly in Egypt.[i] In other words, the Bible begins by telling of a god who created everything, even what others claim to be gods. Huh, that is interesting. 

Now, some may be bothered by my use of the lower case “g” in god. There is a reason for this, and it becomes clear as we swiftly move into “act two.” In act two, the account that looks at certain aspects of the broad brushstrokes of act one, there is a shift from god to the LORD God (YHWH God from here on in the blog; YHWH = The LORD). This shift is huge as YHWH was the personal, covenant name of the God of the Bible. In other words, while act one makes some startling claims, act two becomes even more alarming as the Hebrew people learn it is their covenant God – YHWH God – who made everything.

And now, for literary purposes, I will get a bit Jewish on you. In act one god is mentioned 35 times. This may sound insignificant, but numbers were very important to Jewish people (they are for us too – but in terms of $$$). Jewish people (and other ancient cultures) were often more interested in the “weight” of a number rather than the number’s “measure”. In other words, certain numbers were significant, because of their weight, and at times this was the focus rather than the actual numeric value we view as important (and let us not forget that numbers “weigh” for us too – e.g., 13, or 9/11).

The number seven was one of their numbers for completion; using god 35 times in act one is a complete number multiplied (7 * 5). There are other phrases and words in act one which have numeric weight to them, but alas, we will move on. The point here is what happens when we shift to act two. In act two, YHWH God is used 20 times (10 is another number of completion in Jewish thinking). Interestingly, the generic word for god appears in act two as well. However, it only occurs four times (yes, a number for completion…often attached to the earth; e.g., think of four directions)…but what is astounding is where these four occurrences are in act two.

If you do not remember from reading it, they all occur in Genes 3:1-5. These are the verses where the serpent comes to Eve (and Adam) and asks, “Did God actually say, ‘You shall not eat of any tree in the garden’?” (Gen3:1). Make no mistake about it, this is huge. The serpent, already introduced as crafty, does not give the God of the Bible His full due. The words of the narrative (story) shift in his mouth from YHWH God to god. In other words, from the personal, covenant God to a distant, non-caring god… 

Even more shocking, Eve reciprocates and does not correct the serpent. Eve says, “We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden, but God said…” Note, she did not say “‘YHWH God’ said.” This reality is not some minor bit of trivia…this is huge.

How huge it is we will look at a bit more next time. Yet you can be thinking of misrepresentations of the God of the Bible in the meantime. Until then (hopefully tomorrow), try reading out loud – or better yet have someone read to you – act two and see what you notice around the time the serpent enters the picture.

While there is major difficulty in act two…it is not all downhill from here. After all, this is God’s Story.

[i]  Christian tradition holds that Moses wrote the first five books of the Bible, which would place them sometime after the departure from Egypt (the exodus). This is a significant point as a) we should not read Genesis as a “reporting on the go” type of document like the news of our day...or like a scientific explanation of the world, and b) it points strongly to Genesis being a “polemic” (a verbal attack on something) on the worldview the Hebrew people had been living among for over 400 years. 

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

God's Story: Which God?

In the last post I mentioned how I am preaching through The Story where I serve. I plan to have a series of posts dealing with an issue or two in each chapter of The Story as I progress through it. But first a few disclaimers: 1) there will likely (hopefully) be other posts intermingled with this “God’s Story” series, and 2) hopefully this will not die in the realm of good writing intentions (I have had more than a few of those).

With that said, chapter one in The Story covers material found in Genesis 1-4 and Genesis 6-9. Granted, not every verse is included as the editors selected what they thought were the more important passages in order to accomplish their purpose.

A major issue I focused on in this sermon (from 9/8/13) was the importance of knowing who God is based on what the Bible says about Him. While this may sound a bit simplistic, it is foundational for learning more about God.  

Let’s be honest, everyone has a concept of God. Even if one’s concept of God is that He does not exist, this is still a concept of Him. This concept is certainly not accurate based on the Bible…but people who believe God does not exist do not believe the Bible is truthful – which is a much different topic than I am addressing here.

What I am addressing here is that if we are going to open ourselves up to the transformative power of God’s Story, then we need to have an accurate view of God. We cannot base our view of God on our experiences or what we have been told. This does not mean everything you have been told about God is untrue, or that your experiences are not valid. Yet it does mean people can, and do, misrepresent God (not always willfully, though sadly this is sometimes the case), and God is bigger than our experiences (however joyful or painful they may be).   

I certainly do not have God all figured out and will not claim to as I write. Yet it is sad to hear of perceptions of God, even some shared by Christians, which are simply not true. This is why looking at the Bible is foundational to knowing God. Actually, it is vital. The Bible must trump our experience and what we think we know.

With that said, next time we will look at parts of Genesis 1-3. If you read it, I want to encourage you to treat Genesis 1:1-2:3 as “act one” and Genesis 2:4-3:24 as “act two.” Trust me; it really is OK to ignore chapter and verse divisions in the Bible. While they are helpful, they can also be a hindrance. Oh yeah, a reason to read Genesis 1:1-2:3 as a unit is because Genesis 2:4 starts with “These are the generations…,” which is a phrase found numerous times in Genesis – all of which start a new section (e.g., Gen5:1; 6:9; 11:10; et al.).

Until next time, may the Spirit of God open our eyes to the truth of Who God is and what He desires. 

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

God's Story

I remember years ago – more than a few, but not too many…I am not that old you know – when I just graduated from Bible College I had a thought. The thought occurred to me while reading through the Bible; it would be cool to preach through the entire Bible – like do a sermon per Bible book.

At the time I was not employed full time by any congregation. In fact, I was volunteering quite a bit of time at a church while working various other jobs and getting ready to start seminary. Yet the thought stayed with me – a sermon per Bible book.

I remember talking to an older, more mature, and wiser friend in the ministry about the idea. He had the same idea when he was younger and started to preach through the entire Bible, but did not finish for a variety of reasons. Yet the thought stayed with me – a sermon per Bible book. 

The thought of preaching through the entire Bible, a sermon per book, is still with me. I suppose it would be the “mother” of all sermon series. I mean a 66 week series. Who does such a thing? This is more than a year! Yet more than this…it is not having a Sunday off for over a year! While it is exciting, at times, to think about a sermon per Bible book, couched in terms of no Sundays off for over a year…it is not exactly a healthy thing.

While the thought of preaching a sermon per Bible book has not totally died within me…a more compelling thought – birthed by the initial thought – has grown stronger. The thought is the compelling power of God’s Story.

While I did not know it at the time, what was driving me toward thoughts of preaching through each Bible book in a series was a desire for people to know God’s Story. God’s Story is the most powerful and compelling Story ever told. And by Story I do not mean fiction. I mean Story in the sense of explanation of reality – and where reality is moving.

While I am not preaching through each book of the Bible, I am preaching through God’s Story right now. Since September I have been preaching through The Story as the people of New Life Christian Church read along in it. If you are not familiar with it, The Story is a book of carefully selected verses chronologically arranged from Genesis to Revelation. It is intended to help God’s people understand God’s story as a seamless narrative of God and His pursuit of relationship with mankind (I think that is one of Zondervan’s descriptions of the book).

I will admit, when an elder approached me and the other elders about going through The Story I was a bit hesitant. However, after prayer, our discussing it, and realizing I like to talk about God’s Story and have been for quite some time, we agreed to proceed with it.

Granted, I will not be preaching from every Biblical book (The Story is divided into 31 chapters), but I will be exposing others – and myself – to the broad sweep of God’s Story. And this is a good thing. So far we have done a 5-week mini series titled “Creation to Creation” in which we looked at things from the creation in Genesis to the creation of a people with the giving of the covenant at Mt. Sinai in Exodus 19.

Just this past Sunday we finished another 5-week mini series titled “Rebellion to Rebellion” in which we looked at the start of the wandering in the wilderness in Numbers (due to their rebellion against God), and ended with Israel’s rebellion by rejecting God as their King because they desired an earthly king in the book of 1 Samuel.

When Advent starts (December 1st) we will resume looking at The Story as we talk about “Longing for The King.” We will look at some of the monarchy in Israel (e.g., David and Solomon) in contrast to Jesus as King.

God’s Story is amazing. I am enjoying both reading in The Story as well as preaching from the Bible. However, there is at least one unfortunate thing in going through it. I am having so many thoughts of what to say and continue to study, that they are having to be left “left on the shelf” for now. Oh well…there is never an end to the study and application of God’s Story. It is The Story by which we are to view all of life.

I will wrap this post up with what we have on some banners around our church building:
The greatest Story ever told has the power to radically reshape your individual story. Allow your story to get caught up and remade in God’s Story.
We want every person to find Hope, Healing, and Purpose in their individual story as they daily engage God’s Story.
God’s Story starts in a Garden (Gen2:15) and ends in a Garden (Rev2:7) thanks to Jesus’ obedience in another Garden (Mk14:36). Your story’s purpose is found in this Story.

Oh God, grant us to see Your Story more clearly and live out It’s implications in our lives – for Your glory. Amen. 

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Concrete & Sand... [2]

So what is behind the lunacy of my suggestion to make a life goal of following God in the sand rather than in concrete? Well, simply stated, life. And the Bible, and sin, and our weakness, and God’s faithfulness, and our power to choose.

Let’s be honest; life is difficult. The Bible does not hide this fact. Life is difficult because sin has done a number on us – far greater a number than we all too often realize I fear. We must also be clear, we are weak. And not only is this OK to admit, it is necessary if you are to follow God. Yet while we are weak, God is faithful. And when we acknowledge our weakness we can exercise our power to choose – and choose Him.

A reason I am suggesting a life goal of following God be made in the sand is because (and please recall the analogy disclaimer of yesterday) if you “draw a line in the sand,” so to say (or place your handprint and initials in sand, to keep with the concrete analogy of yesterday), and you want it to stay there (meaning you mean it), you have to revisit it daily. If your decision to follow God is made in concrete, you can mistakenly think that commitment will stand the test of time – no matter if you revisit it or not. Make no mistake about it, if you are going to resolutely follow God throughout your life, it is a commitment you will have to daily revisit.

A way of revisiting this commitment is through thanksgiving. In fact, I am becoming convinced that thanksgiving is the most fundamental thing we must do in following God. When you revisit your “line in the sand,” you further etch it as you recall what God has done for you. Yet in giving God thanks you dare not stop with what He has done for only you. You must also thank God for what He has done for others, for what He has done throughout history, and for what He has done to advance His Kingdom. Thanksgiving is tantamount to trust in God. And trust in God (or faith) is a prerequisite to following God. 

Another reason I am suggesting a life goal of following God be made in the sand is because your “line in the sand” will be met with challenges. We will call them the “storms of life.” What happens to a line in the sand during a storm? Yep, it gets washed away. At the least it becomes less noticeable. Have you ever been guilty of running away from God when things got difficult in your life? If you have not then congratulations, you and Jesus are the only ones to have never done that! In other words, of course you have. Yet if you know your commitment to follow God is in the sand, you know this commitment is susceptible and in danger of being washed away and forgotten when times get hard.

Let’s face it, pretty much all growth in life is through difficulty. Ever watch a baby learn to walk? It is humorous for us...but can be painful and frustrating for them. Ever watch world-class athletes? The grace and power and skill mask countless hours of grueling workouts and sacrifice. Ever watch a skilled laborer do their part in making a house? Have you ever considered their skills have come through hours of learning as well as having made many mistakes? The list of examples is endless. 

I think a reason why so many followers of Jesus are struggling and practically infants in their faith is because they do not embrace difficulty. When “life happens” and things get hard, they turn to a variety of things rather than to God (just to be clear, we have all done this). And all the while their line in the sand is beaten and all but washed away. Tragically, in place of the commitment to follow God (which includes relying on and trusting in Him), in deceptive ways mind you, comes a commitment to whatever they turned to in the time of difficulty (shopping, TV, giving into whatever thoughts enter their mind, eating, cutting, being busy, etc.). Yes, to keep our line in the sand – our commitment to follow God – we must revisit it daily. Indeed, often we need to revisit it multiple times a day, especially when the storms of life come. And let’s be honest, what day is totally “storm free” in your life?  

There are other reasons why I am suggesting a life goal of following God be made in the sand, but those will have to wait for another time.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Concrete & Sand... [1]

Some rather common wisdom concerning goals and achieving them is that you set your goal in concrete and make your plans in sand. Behind this thinking is the reality of life. Situations will arise, so how you plan to accomplish a given goal may have to change. It is obviously easier to change something in the sand than it is to change something etched in concrete. Furthermore, a goal made in concrete connotes a sense of permanence and stability.

Yet when it comes to following God, I am inviting you to consider with me the value of placing this life goal in the sand and leaving concrete out of the picture all together. Why would you even suggest this? Just read along please. Haven’t you ever read about the foolish and wise builders Jesus talked about? Which ones, those in Matthew 7 or those in Luke 14?  

Have you ever made (or seen) handprints in concrete? Examples with which I am familiar are agrarian (perhaps because not many children want to ‘immortalize’ their handprint with a name in the city limits). When the pad was poured for whatever (floor of a shop, approach to building, a sidewalk, etc.), a place was reserved for handprints in the concrete accompanied with initials (sometimes full names) and a date. It is kind of cool really. Yet, how often are those memorials (which is what they seem to be) forgotten? Oh to be sure, a person can revisit a site from their childhood and “remember when” if you will. Yet how often do the events of “remember when” come back to their mind without revisiting the site?   

Let the reader understand, this is an analogy. Analogies do not prove truth, they illustrate truth. Furthermore, all analogies will eventually break down at some point. So, let this be what it is – an analogy.

There are many who have “made a goal in concrete,” if you will, and have not revisited that goal in any substantial way for years. The intention is good: “I will be faithful to you as my wife/husband” or “I will follow God whole-heartedly” or “I am convicted, I will no longer ______”. A concrete resolve is made, with good intentions, but over time it is ignored. Granted, something might spur the person to “remember when,” but what follows the trip down memory lane is not set in concrete. Indeed, the trip can go a few ways. For some, it will embolden the person and they will recommit to their initial goal in concrete. After all, they meant what they said. For others, it will lead to the person being disheartened and defeated as they think, “Wow, a lot of good that commitment did me…just like a lot of other things in my life – F.A.I.L.U.R.E. – I may as well give up.” Yet they meant what they said as well... 

The above is not only unfortunate. It is also tragic. Worse yet, it is also reality day after day after day. What is the divorce rate in our culture? [And no, I am not saying a lack of commitment is behind all divorces – there are many factors] How many people have initially decided to follow God only to, at the least, wane in that commitment if not fall away? How many have been convicted that “this is the last time” only to return to it, or have it return – with a vengeance?

What if the goal was made in sand?  I realize I involved some other goals above, but I will now return to the life goal of following God – you can make the application for other life goals easy enough. Yet...Made in sand? What, like something that takes hardly any effort? Like something that can be easily washed away or eroded? To those inquiries I answer “No” and “Yes.” We will explore why next time… 

Friday, August 9, 2013

When I Slowed Down...

On Monday of this week I stopped everything and ate. It was good. To be clear, "it" was not the food. Oh I am sure the food was good, and if I thought hard enough I could likely recall what leftover food from home I ate. Yet what I mean by "it was good," is the experience I had. So...what happened?

Simply stated; I ate, observed my surroundings, contemplated things, and struggled to stay "slowed down."

If you think about it, having an abundance of food is a recent luxury. Granted, throughout history the wealthy could enjoy an abundance of food. Yet the majority of the world was not wealthy, and often food was scarce. A reality is, for much of the world today, food is still a precious commodity. Indeed, it is for those of us who are not "food poor" as well. Yet in a busy pace it is easy for food to become an assumed and simple given.

As I observed my surroundings I noticed the leaves rustling with the wind. When I take the time to notice this, it is rare if my thoughts do not turn to the Spirit of God. The Spirit is always at work, desiring to bring about transformation. The question is, for followers of Jesus at least, "Are we willing counterparts to what He desires?"

I also observed the busyness all around me. I-35 was to my left (south) and Old Highway 50 was to my right (north). There was not a moment when my eyes lacked a vehicle to observe. I find this amazing given how I could only see about 200 yards of either roadway from where I sat. We live in a fast paced world. Unfortunately, it is often this fast pace that blinds us to the continual working of the Spirit. God can, and does, work quickly at times. Yet His greater work is most often a process which takes great lengths of time...sometimes an entire lifetime.

As I observed the busyness around me, I wondered about the people driving by. Were some people on vacation? Were some commuting to work? Were some working and transporting goods? I also wondered how many of those people know God's Story. I do not mean have they heard about God...but rather, do they know His Story?

As I ate, reflected, and observed what was around me...I also had to struggle to keep focused on being slowed down. More than once my mind  drifted to what I could be doing. It did not take long to think, "Hey, I could blog about this...it has been a long time since I have written a blog."

I am convinced that living in the present is something many struggle to do. For some their present is too painful, so they think of better days gone by or blame others for their pain. For some their present is too boring, so the next new adventures fill their mind or they despair over their "pitiful" life. For some their present is filled with doubt, anxiety, worry, fear, and a host of other things - so precious time is filled with everything from workaholicism to escapism.

Yet for the follower of Jesus, the present ought to be the most joy filled place one could ever be. A Christian can face the uncertainties of the present based on the reality of an amazing future (Jesus' return which will usher in the Kingdom of God in fullness), which is assured by the past (The Christ Event - which includes Jesus' Resurrection - as Satan and all the forces of this world have been defeated). Granted, this does not make the present "easy" - but that is OK. Yet it does make the present worthwhile and manageable, and that is a huge and healthy shift for many.

Ultimately what happened when I slowed down was I opened myself up a bit more to a healthy rhythm of life. It has been said that idleness is the devil's tool in the hands of many. While there is truth to that, I think idleness (perhaps some would prefer to call it stillness...or slowing down...or downtime...) is a tool of the Holy Spirit that God's people need to allow Him to wield.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

I Slowed Down The Other Day...

It was a Monday, two days ago, and things were going well - extremely well. I was back from some time away; both time off (vacation days spent mostly around home/Emporia), and time away to work on things for New Life (at an Abbey in Athchison), and I was being productive. While being productive is not a huge accomplishment, after all, it goes with having a job. Yet being as productive as I was on my first day back from time off is a big accomplishment - at least for me.

And in the midst of all of this productivity I did something extremely out of character for me. I stopped. In the past I would have kept going, kept being productive. Yet when I got hungry for my mid-day meal I not only ate...but I stopped everything and ate.

If I am not eating with my biological family, I work through my meals. I realize I am a guy, but I can multi-task if one of the things involves eating. So I spend my meal breaks reading, doing email, or something productive. Yet Monday, for the first time in a long time, I stopped. I sat outside, in the shade, and ate. It was good. I cannot remember what I ate...but I hope I will never forget what happened.

I must be honest, I did not conclude I needed to do this (stop everything and eat) on my own. Two weeks before, during mid-day prayer while at the Abbey, one of the monks thanked God for this break from the labor of the day to enjoy a meal...this time to rest. It resonated, deeply, with me.

Meals are an increasingly big thing for me - but most of that is tied in with the Eucharist (Lord's Supper or Communion if you prefer) - and I am not going into that here. Yet at the Abbey I was struck with how I often rifle through a meal, working...and not resting and taking a break from my toil.

What happened as I ate? I will go into that next time. Yet in the meantime I encourage you to slow down, stop everything, and eat.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

I Am Convinced...

I am sure you noticed the title for this post did not end with a period (.), but rather with an ellipsis (…). This is because I have been pondering a thought for quite some time now, and I believe it is now time to hesitantly share it…while leaving some room for modification (hence the ellipsis). Here is the statement; it is harder to live for Jesus here in our culture than it is in other cultures. Of this reality I am convinced… 

Another reason I use an ellipsis instead of a period, is because my experience is in this culture. I have only read about following Jesus in other cultures; I have not experienced it. So allow me to cut to the chase again, phrased a bit differently, following Jesus is harder in our culture than in other cultures…

I have pondered this statement for a while for a variety of reasons. One reason is that it is one thing to ponder something, but it is another to put it out there for consumption. Quite often in my mind I think if my life does not reflect what I put out there, then what is my basis for making the statement? In other words; “practice what you preach”.

Granted, I am all for practicing what I preach. Yet we need to understand something; if someone highlights an issue or a problem, and for some reason their life does not match up to “the solution,” this does not mean the issue or problem is false or irrelevant. E.g., around 26,000 children will die today (and tomorrow, and the next day) from a lack of food or some other poverty-related issue. However, just because I am going to likely eat more than the bare minimum needed for survival on most days, and drive a car rather than walk to work, does not negate the reality that 26,000 children are going to die of preventable causes. In other words, just because I have not reduced the “stuff” in my life to what seems to be drastic measures (by our standards), this does not negate the truth of poverty devouring life on this earth. Truthfully, I think far too many Christians play the “Well yeah, but what are you doing about it?” card in order to somehow justify their lack of doing anything. Let us call that for what it is – sin.

OK, now back to why I am convinced it is harder to follow Jesus here than in other cultures. Simply stated, it is easy to know following Jesus is costly if a gun is pointed to your head for your professed belief (or a machete is being repeatedly lowered on your leg, or your house is being bombed, or your children are being targeted for death because the persecutors know they can no longer keep you silent by threatening merely your life), as you are given an option to repent. On the other hand, it is not so easy to tell following Jesus is costly when we are faced with upgrading to a nicer automobile (or home, or cable package, or brand of clothes) when what we have is honestly, and quite often, more than enough. 

On one hand, the above examples of “it is easy to tell” and “it is not so easy to tell” can easily be expounded. Yet on the other hand, we must not be fooled into thinking this applies only in the realm of materialism. However we cannot deny Jesus bluntly states “the deceitfulness of riches and the desires for other things choke the word, and it proves unfruitful” (Mk4:19). No wonder Jesus told a guy to sell all he had and give it to the poor (Mk10:21). 

If you are still reading, let me briefly expand this difficulty in following Jesus in our culture beyond the realm of materialism. For example, in a culture where your very life depends on unity and harmony in the body it is likely “easier” to reconcile and forgive an offense. Yet in our culture, where one can just leave one church and go to the next, or choose not to talk and reconcile with someone because the stakes for unity and harmony do not seem so obvious, well then forgiveness and reconciliation are easily viewed as an option. Similarly, it is perhaps “easier” to be blinded to the reality of how our actions impact others here as well. Yet I recall Paul saying something about protecting the Unity the Spirit has gifted to The Church (Eph4:3), and Jesus saying the world will know we are His disciples by how we love one another (Jn13:34-35; cf. Jn17:20-23). Those do not sound like optional aspects of following Jesus. Indeed, they are not; we are only deceived into thinking they are. Let us again call that for what it is – sin.

We live in a culture that teaches us to be self-centered, not self-denying. We live in a culture that teaches us to be independent, not dependent on God for everything. We live in a culture that teaches us things are disposable, not a resource to be leveraged for the Kingdom. We live in a culture that tells us relationships are replaceable, not valuable and worth fighting to preserve. We live in a culture that tells us unity is important so long as it does not cost us anything, not to go to extreme measures to protect it. We live in a culture that teaches us to consume will bring ultimate happiness and fulfillment, not that it leads to addiction and emptiness. We live in a culture that teaches us so many things contrary to God’s desires are acceptable, the norm, or just the way our culture is so we may as well accept it.

I think many people seeking to follow Jesus struggle with things in this post…yet sadly I think many have been placated into at least a partial resignation to the way things are. Yeah, it is harder to follow Jesus here than in other cultures, of this I am more convinced… 
So, I turn to God in prayer; thankful for His grace...yet expressing my desire to respond to It more fully. I realize this is a battle I cannot win on my own; of that I am convinced.


Friday, March 1, 2013

Shoveling Snow & Lent [2]

As we concluded our time together pondering shoveling snow and Lent last time, I stated, “the reality of sin in our lives can and does lead to jarring impacts…So what is one to do?”. Well, we will consider what to do in a moment. Yet before we do that let me start with an analogy, which I hope will prove to be helpful. 

If 20” or so of snow falls in a 24 hour period, it will eventually have to be removed. If it is not, getting in and out of one’s driveway will prove to be hazardous, if not impossible. Indeed, the snow will need to be removed from the driveway, sidewalk, etc. Well, there is the option of letting nature take its course and allowing the snow to melt. Yet aside for the soon to be seen irony with that choice, let us simply acknowledge that will make getting around your place extremely difficult and treacherous for quite some time. In fact, many people could even get hurt in the process.

Since the snow needs removed, one has a few options, of which we will look at two. One option is to wait until it is all done snowing, at least as best as one can tell, and then remove all 20” of snow at once. Another option is to go out a few times during the snowstorm and remove smaller amounts; obviously this will include scooping snow more than once to finish the job.

Option one, shoveling 20” of snow at one time, is no small feat. Even for someone in good physical condition, it will take a lot of time and effort. In fact, one may need to stop a time or two while doing a driveway, sidewalk, and/or deck. Indeed, doing this much snow at once would likely seem to be a daunting and impossible task. One might even get frustrated and discouraged while doing it – especially if one were doing it alone.

In option two, lesser amounts of snow could be done at breaks in the day – especially if it were a true “snow day” (i.e., a day without normal work). One could scoop a few inches shortly after waking up, scoop some more upon returning from work late in the morning (or else risk getting stranded away from home), then go back out in the afternoon, and perhaps in the evening as well. To be certain, this will still take time and effort, but the overall time and effort will be less. Well, the time might be a bit more, but I doubt it. Yet for certain the strain on one’s back is much less in dealing with 3-6” of snow multiple times as opposed to 20” at once. In fact, you cannot manually scoop 20” of snow at once. Indeed, one would be forced to scoop their way down to the bottom; either straight down or by taking a layer, then doing another layer, and likely another layer (not to mention those difficult icy footprints and tire tracks on the bottom layer).

Now what does this have to do with sin? Actually, I would not be surprised if many of you already know where I am going with this. When it comes to sin in our lives we have two basic choices: a) let it pile up until something has to be done with it – usually because of some sort of consequence or difficulty one now faces, or b) deal with it as it occurs in one’s life. 

Simply stated, dealing with sin is difficult; there is always fallout – somewhere. What do I mean by fallout? I mean your sin never impacts only you…it impacts others around you as well. We can pretend it does not, but it always does (e.g., read the Bible).

I would like to expound on the above analogies and draw comparisons, but I think you all can do that. So, instead of that, I will give an example of “a” and “b” with a common sin that is often overlooked – anger.

Actually, I will not. Not this time at least. I will simply end by stating the fact; sin has to be dealt with – sooner or later.

It can “accumulate” in one’s life until it is “too big” and “too daunting” and therefore people feel defeated before they ever start to address it. This is option “a” above. Or, one can live a repentant life and deal with sin as they are convicted by the Holy Spirit (option “b”). To be certain, this still takes effort and is daunting at times…but it is much more manageable – not to mention godly.

Oh yes, there is also a “c” option, you know, the “irony” from the second paragraph of this post. This option is to do nothing and let nature run its course. Well, in the course of sin – it is death. Granted, for those “in Christ” things are different…but it certainly leads to a lot of frustration, a lack of fruit, in short – bondage to the forces of darkness. This should never be the option of a follower of Jesus. Yet sadly, and ironically, it is often chosen; sometimes by default, other times as a preference.

We will continue again – likely by showing options “a” and “b” in relation to anger. Who knows, maybe option “c” will be included, I do not know. Yet this I do know, Jesus came to ‘destroy' the works of the devil (1Jn3:8). Yes, take heart, Jesus has overcome the world! (cf. the Bible).   

Friday, February 22, 2013

Shoveling Snow & Lent [1]

Shoveling snow and Lent huh? What do they have to do with one another? Well, I like snow. I do not like sin. I am growing in my appreciation of Lent. Yet on top of that; this is the season of Lent, we got a lot of snow yesterday where I live (KS), and sin – well, sin is pretty much everywhere.

Yet there is more to the connection of snow, sin, and Lent than their current presence all around me at the moment. However, their current presence was certainly the inspiration for this and some following posts.

Many in the Christian faith are familiar with the concept of their sins being washed “whiter than snow”. One’s knowledge of this could be via a text in Isaiah 1:18; “Come now, let us reason together, says YHWH, though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall become like wool.” (ESV). One’s knowledge of this concept may have come through a song, of that title, by James L. Nicholson. 
Lord Jesus, I long to be perfectly whole;
I want Thee forever to live in my soul.
Break down every idol, cast out every foe;
Now wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.
Whiter than snow, yes, whiter than snow.
Now wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.

To be certain, it is assuring to know that even though sin has left its ugly mark on every single one of us, thanks to Jesus, we can indeed be “whiter than snow”. I can hardly think of that concept without having Romans chapter five come to mind – how God acted on my (our) behalf while I was still a sinner. Yes, because of Jesus I can be justified; I can be “whiter than snow”. 

I imagine the concept of being “whiter than snow” likely comes to one’s mind more readily when looking at fresh snow. After all, it is a peaceful picture, and taking that concept into our lives and how we are that way with God can be a comforting reality. Yet there is a hidden reality, if you will, under the pristine and unblemished fresh snow.

An elderly couple lives across the street from us; whenever it snows I clear their driveway as well. I will never forget the first time I cleared it. Why? Well, I did our driveway first and then headed over to theirs. In doing ours I had become accustomed to giving hard shoves and pushes to move the snow across the even driveway. Yet as I attempted this on their driveway I came to more than one shoulder-jarring (and back-jarring and wrist-jarring) halt. Why? Their driveway has a variety of cracks in it. Yet on top of that, grass and weeds had grown up in those cracks, and while they were now either dead or dormant, the left behind foliage added to the difficulty of snow shoveling. In other words, not only did I have to shovel the snow, I also had to feel my way for cracks, and then chop through the foliage in order to clear their driveway.

So, again you may be wondering – snow? sin? Lent? – I am not getting it. The issue is this. Despite the “whiter than snow” gift those “in Christ” have…a reality still exists. This reality is sin. Even the most beautiful snowfall only obscures what is really beneath the surface. In the case of our neighbor’s driveway it was a lot of cracks that made shoveling snow more challenging (and time-consuming). This is where Lent comes in. An aspect of Lent is preparing oneself for Resurrection Sunday (Easter) by taking a more serious look at sin in our own lives. Sin is present in your life; sometimes in obvious ways, but at other times sin is lurking beneath an otherwise pristine surface. What will you do about it?  

Just to be clear, I am not downplaying the truth of “whiter than snow” – yet I am calling us to not downplay the reality of sin in our lives either. While we may be “pure” in God’s sight…the reality of sin in our lives can and does lead to jarring impacts. These impacts affect not only our lives, but the lives of those around us as well. So what is one to do? We will look at that next time. 

Friday, January 25, 2013

Honesty With God

Every now and then I make some rather audacious statements concerning Christianity. I suppose making these types of statements, for me, is a natural out flowing of seeking to be faithful to God.

I made one such audacious statement in a sermon the last Sunday of 2012. I sought to brace the people of New Life so it would not catch them completely off guard. I warned them that some would not like what I was about to say…but I was OK with that. However, I did relay my hope that they would ponder and pray about the statement and hopefully come to a point of agreeing with it in the near future. I went on to say that God knows what He is doing.

I kept going for a bit, but it seemed my point was missed, so I let them know I had made my audacious statement – God knows what He is doing. This promptly drew a few chuckles and not a few puzzled looks. So I added that we ought to give the Creator of everything the benefit of the doubt – He knows what He is doing.

I was serious when I said it then, and am serious while writing about it now. We, the finite creation, need to give the Infinite Creator of EVERYTHING the benefit of the doubt and trust He knows what He is doing. 

Well, this may sound nice, but what difference does it actually make? Is there any impact for my life you may ask. Yes, there is. The benefits that come from being honest with God are immense.

Think back to when you were a kid. Did you ever get in trouble? If you did not please feel free to stop reading right now. Better yet, call your parents and ask them (if you still have contact with them that is).

Anyway, did you ever try and deny what you did, while not knowing your parents knew what you did, and therefore receive a more harsh punishment? Conversely, did you ever confess what you did and get a bit lighter punishment?  Some may be able to relate to this analogy, others may not. Regardless, it is a way to understand something about God. Namely, honesty with God is a good thing. When we are honest with Him there is forgiveness and empowerment. Yet when we are dishonest with Him there is bondage and misery. 

A lot of God’s people need to be honest with Him and confess a variety of things. Think of all the problems in The Church right now. A lack of forgiveness leads to people leaving churches, and worse yet, splitting churches. Materialism is out of control, which leads to next-to-nothing giving (on the overall scale) and needs being unnecessarily unmet all around us – and the world.  A lack of prayer leads to people not seeking God’s guidance and will for their lives; simultaneously they go about living their lives as if they have no need for God. This is further shown by a lack of reading in God’s Word while making time for newspapers, magazines, TV shows, recreation, etc.

I realize all of those can have their justifications. For lack of time I will not mention any, only to provide what I hope to be a future link. Yet justifications are not confession…and they will keep people in bondage to the habits, and whatever else, is influencing them. 

So, what is one to do? Well, in light the audacious thought of “God knows what He is doing,” how about doing the following. Find Scripture that addresses a certain issue with which you struggle, read it, be honest with God, and ask for help. It would look something like this…

If you struggle with forgiveness read Matthew 5:43-48 (where Jesus tell us to love our enemies), you might also read Matthew 18:21-35 (a parable about unforgiveness). Then say something like, “God, I am not there right now…I can’t forgive this person…what is more, I don’t really even want to forgive this person…yet I know Your word tells me I must forgive them…God, please help me…please give me a desire to forgive because right now I do not even have it…and honestly, I don’t even want that desire…BUT I trust You more than I trust me.”

That may sound foolish, but I assure you, it is not. It is not because of a few things: 1) you are in God’s word, 2) you are praying to (communicating with) God, 3) you are being honest with God, and 4) it opens the door for God to do what only He can do. Seriously, do you think He is unaware of your lack of a desire to forgive someone? Do you really want to continue to feel bad for not reading or praying? Do you really want to live in disobedience while being deceived by the evil one?

I did not think so.

I challenge you to try this method with whatever issue you are facing in your life. For some, it may need to start by reading 2 Corinthians 4:4 (Satan blinding eyes), 2 Corinthians 10:4-6 (taking thoughts captive), and Matthew 4:9 (showing Satan’s ownership of this world). Satan (though defeated and bound) is alive and well enough to cause havoc in the lives of anyone – including those seeking to follow God. Maybe we all need to beg God to be merciful and reveal where we are being deceived by the evil one.

None of us are above that…and after all, honesty with God is a good thing. 

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Is Your Gospel Too Small?

Disclaimer 1) this is a post rife with difficulties.
Disclaimer 2) this is a post with much left unwritten.
Disclaimer 3) this is a post with which some in The Church may struggle.
Disclaimer 4) this is a post with which some in the world may struggle.
Disclaimer 5) the struggles of #3 and #4 are not the same struggles.
Disclaimer 6) this is a post I am humbly undertaking...I am open to dialog.
Disclaimer 7) the implications of this post, and all the above disclaimers, point to the beauty of God’s Story (albeit incompletely).

There is, perhaps, nothing more central to the Christian message than the gospel. I suppose an accurate equation could be “Gospel = Christian Message.” And here is where our list of disclaimers becomes a factor.

The above disclaimers now engage us because I am using human language in an attempt to describe that which is, ultimately, indescribable – God and the things of God. Now this is not to say our human language is useless in talking about God. Yet it is to say human language continually falls short when talking about God. There is too much left unsaid, unknown, incomplete, and quite honestly open to wrong interpretation.

For example; to talk of God as Father is a Biblical truth (e.g., Deut1:30-31; Ps68:4-6; Mt5:45; 6:9; Rom1:7; Rev1:6, and Mk14:36; Rom8:15; Gal4:6). Yet for many, to think of God as “Father,” is quite unpleasant (even repulsive) because their earthly father was abusive, distant, sexually exploitative, or perhaps even unknown. This illustrates a struggle/tension concerning cataphatic and apophatic statements about God. What those strange terms mean is this: cataphatic statements are positive statements about God and apophatic statements are negative statements about God. So in relation to “God is Father” we need to understand He is indeed “Father” (apophatic), but He is unlike any earthly father you have ever known (apophatic). Unfortunately, all of our earthly fathers fell short of giving us, their children, God’s best. Equally unfortunately, as a father now, I know I fall short of giving my children God’s best. There is a real (and often ignored) danger which must be worked through by everyone seeking to follow Jesus. The danger is that of seeing God – the Heavenly Father – through the lens of their earthly father. God is indeed “Father,” but not like any father you have known.

Wow, I think I now need to add Disclaimer 8) “at some point I am bound to ramble and get a bit off topic,” and Disclaimer 9) “by God’s grace He will bring me back around to making something resembling coherent sense – and the ramble will be helpful in some way...I hope,” and for good measure, Disclaimer 10) “thank you for continuing to read this post.” OK, that is not really a disclaimer; I just wanted another to end on one of the numbers used for completion in the Bible (Bible study insider joke).

All of that said, what is the gospel? A rather standard answer in Christian circles is Paul’s description in 1 Corinthians 15:1-8 (or so) - "Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you—unless you believed in vain. For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me."

We will talk about this very important text in due time. Yet for now I simply want to make two observations about the word “gospel.”

Observation 1) the Greek word underlying gospel [εὐαγγέλιον] means “good news.” This can be seen with the prefix “eu” – good; cf. eulogy – a “good word” about someone in a funeral service, and the word root “angelos” – messenger; cf. “angel” – a messenger, who may in fact be preternatural. So at its core the gospel is “good news.” However, this leads us to…

Observation 2) the word “gospel” is a completely relative term. In other words, what is “good news” for one may well be “bad news” for someone else. In fact, this is how the nouns and verbs related to “gospel” are used in the Old Testament.

For example, the death of King Saul was spread as “good news” (verb form) for the Philistines (1Sam31:9). Yet while lamenting this news David does not want it “published” (verb form) lest more Philistines rejoice (2Sam1:20). In other words, the “good news” of Saul’s death was not so good for the people of Israel – even if some thought it could be leveraged to their advantage (cf. 2Sam4:10 – both noun and verb forms).

So where does all of this leave us? It leaves us with a few more disclaimers: Disclaimer 11) “this will not be the only post on this topic,” and Disclaimer 12) “I pray these words and thoughts will continue to shape me and all who read them.” 

It also leaves us, I hope, with the door at least open to the possibility that “the gospel” is larger – and I will add more beautiful – than we ever realized. Perhaps even more beautiful than we ever dared to dream or imagine. But yet…isn't that so like God?