Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Acts 17:1-15

17:2 - "As was his custom." What was Paul's custom? Going into the local Jewish synagogue in any town he visited and sharing the Good News about Jesus Christ. He would go in and break it down for people from the Jewish scriptures...prove that Jesus was the Christ and explain why he had to die. Pretty great custom to have, huh? Paul was unrelenting in his sharing of the Gospel and was constantly looking for ways to use his gifts to share the truth about Jesus. Some of us look at this passage and say, "But there are no synagogues any more...there are no forums where you can go and makes scriptural sound Gospel presentations for non-believers." That may be true, but we need to remember that this was PAUL's custom...it doesn't have to be yours. Paul's example should drive us to ask, "Where is my synagogue?" Where is the customary place in my life where I am reaching out to non-believers? There are options out there for each of us...unique options made available through our own personal gifts and social situations. I am a pee-wee football coach - I have an opportunity to use that position to introduce fellow coaches and parents to Christ. Am I making that my custom? We all have neighbors...do we make it our custom to get to know our neighbors...invite them over...build relationships with them for the sake of the kingdom? Where is your "synagogue"?

That is the verse that really jumped out at me today...how about you? What stood out for you from Acts 17:1-15? I'd love to read your thoughts...

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Acts 11:19-30

Look at the end of verse 26. What does it say? It was in Antioch that the disciples were first called Christians. "Christian" is such a powerful term. It means follower of the Christ - Jesus the Messiah...Savior of the World. It means disciple of Christ - one who tries to emulate Jesus in everything he or she does. One of my favorite definitions of Christian is "little Christ." This term describes the Christian struggle for me...always trying to be like Jesus...always coming up short...but never giving up...each day is a gift through which we can take one step closer to being like Jesus.

Christian is not a name to be taken lightly. "Christian" is not a term to be thrown around to describe somebody who simply goes to church...somebody who simply believes in a higher power...somebody who was "born into faith"...somebody who prayed a prayer once. A Christian is someone who does everything they can to walk in the footsteps of Jesus...to live and love and interact with the world as he did. A Christian is someone who is covered in the "dust" of the Rabbi because they have followed so closely at the heels of Jesus. This "dust" is very visible...through service...unconditional love...incredible mercy...sacrificial leadership...uncommon love. When an actual Christian - a true follower of Christ - shows up, the world takes notice. They are often mocked, ignored, thought strange, despised and rejected, but that's what happens when you follow the Christ. Regardless of the reaction, people know there is something different...something strangely powerful about the quiet strength of a true Christian.

Think about the people from Acts chapter 11 who were named the first Christians. What was the name synonymous with 2000 years ago? Let's take a look...verses 19 and 20: Even though the community of believers was scattered by persecution, they remain unwavering in sharing the Good News about Jesus Christ. Nothing could keep them silent about the freedom that comes through the cross. Verse 21: The absolute commitment of the believers in spite of persecution shows the strength of their convictions and leads to many converts. Verse 22: When the leaders in Jerusalem hear about the converts they do not simply applaud and move on, they send mature disciples to mentor and train up new leaders. Verses 23 and 24: The people of Antioch see that Barnabas, the follower of Christ, is gracious, faithful and full of the Holy Spirit and even more people turn to Christ. Verses 24 and 25: Barnabas takes interest in a new convert who was once killed Christ followers (Saul), and mentors him for a year. Verse 26: Barnabas and Saul work together to make disciples in the church and to share the Gospel outside of the church, and their influence spreads exponentially. It was during this time that the followers of Jesus became known as Christians.

Committed. Gracious. Merciful. Driven. Loving. Unwavering. Fearless. Mentors. Disciples. Faithful. Spirit-filled. Evangelistic. Relational. Christ-like. These are the attributes that described a Christian in the 1st century. What does being a Christian look like in the 21st? How does the world describe us? Hypocritical? Judgmental? Cloistered? Fearful? Weak-minded? Uncaring? Not Christ-like? What needs to change? What do you need to do to become more like Christ and less like a mere church-goer?

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

I Samuel Chapter 14

The story of Jonathan and his armor bearer is I Samuel chapter 14 is one of my favorite Old Testament stories. Jonathan just cannot stand the fact that the enemies of God are in the Promised Land of God’s people. He is offended by the presence of the Philistines because their strongholds in Israel are a reminder of the Hebrews failure to faithfully follow God. God’s great name is being disrespected by heathens and Jonathan feels compelled to do something about it. He doesn’t want to sit around idly like his dad (lounging under a pomegranate tree), so he grabs his armor bearer and they march over to the nearest Philistine garrison which sits at the top of a cliff. When they get there, this is where you would figure that human self-preservation would kick in. They are looking up at a garrison full of enemy soldiers on top of a cliff. Jonathan and his armor bearer are all alone, outnumbered, and in a bad position. This is a “no win” situation. This is where most of us would say, “Hey, we tried. We came over here and made a show of our displeasure…now we’re gonna go back to the safety of our camp.” That’s what most sane people would do. But Jonathan is a man of faith…he is a man who loves God with every fiber of his being and cannot stand the way God’s chosen people in their chosen land have been corrupted by outside influence. He says to his friend, “Come let us go over to the garrison of these uncircumcised. Perhaps the Lord will work for us, for nothing can hinder the Lord from saving by many or by few.” They don’t even try to sneak into the Philistine garrison. They show themselves to the enemy. They climb up the cliff hand over hand. They get to the top, probably exhausted from the climb…hands shaking…surrounded by foes…and they unleash a whirlwind of pain on the Philistines. Jonathan and his armor bearer strike down 20 men in hand t hand combat and the entire garrison flees in terror before them.

Interestingly enough, we actually talked about this passage when we were on our mission trip in Haiti a few weeks ago. The trip leader, Mike – the founder of CORELUV Intl., gave our group a challenge one evening based on story from I Samuel 14. I want to share his challenge with you. Go back in your bible and read what Jonathan said to his armor bearer in verse 6 (I also wrote it out in my paragraph above). Does anything stand out to you are particularly strange there (Besides the fact that two men want to take on an army by themselves)? One word really stands out to me – “perhaps.” Jonathan says, “Perhaps the Lord will work for us.” This simple statement is an incredible testament to the faith of Jonathan. He does not know for sure that God is going to bring him victory. He does not know what is going to happen when he gets to the top of that cliff. There is a good chance that he and his armor bearer are going to die, but regardless Jonathan knows that something needs to be done about the evil presence in Israel. No matter how this battle turns out…no matter what the outcome…Jonathan knows that he will stand for the Lord.

I meet people all the time who want to know God’s will for their lives. The answer is pretty simple. Love God. Love people. Make disciples. You do those things; you are definitely staying within God’s will! But that answer isn’t good enough for most – they want to know exactly what they are supposed to be doing. They want to know what it looks like specifically for them to love others…to love God…to serve in this world. They want details. They want dates. They want options. Unfortunately it doesn’t always work like that on this crazy journey we call faith. There are times when God will speak very specifically to us - through prayers, into our minds, through other people, etc. There will most likely be times in your life when what you are supposed to be doing with your life is crystal clear to you. Yet that is not always the case. Sometimes we don’t know what the next step in our journey looks like. Sometimes we are not told exactly how we are supposed to be serving the Lord. There is a beauty to that unknown future. There is this fearful wonder that spreads over us when we have to trust God without having all the answers…we have to move forward in faith without understanding the end game. That is what Jonathan was experiencing at the foot of that cliff. As he looked up at the overwhelming odds, I can imagine a crazy smile spreading across his face as he turns to his good friend and gives the comforting words, “Hey, let’s head on up and fight – maybe God will be with us!” He knew that if God wasn’t in that endeavor, it was doomed…and he still stepped out in faith.

Can you do the same? There are things in this world that are wrong – plain and simple. I was surrounded by wrongness for 11 days last month in Haiti…surrounded by beautiful children who were starving…surrounded by unique and amazing kids who have no families…surrounded by poverty, pain, struggle and helplessness. There are all kinds of things that exist in this world that need to be fought against. There are all kinds of things that should make us angry…that should drive us toward loving action as followers of Christ. Yet so many of us sit in neutral, because we feel like God has not told us specifically to do something. You don’t always get a memo from God on what you are supposed to be doing. Sometimes you just need to act. Sometimes you just need to say, “This is wrong…I am going to do something about it…and PERHAPS God will be with me.” Can you trust God like Jonathan did? Can you step out without knowing where the journey is going to end? Can you step out in faith knowing that you could fail? Knowing that if you fail, you will still trust that God is in control and you will move on to the next mission faithfully? Too many times, we sit back in fear and do not step out in faith and we wonder why God never does amazing things in our lives. It’s time to get upset about the twisted and wrong things that exist in this world. It’s time for us to get our hands dirty and to stand for the honor of God’s name in this world. PERHAPS the Lord will work through us…

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

I Samuel Chapter 13

Verses 2 - 4: Saul really starts his kingship out on a high note...oh wait, no he doesn't. He actually sets the tone for the rest of his reign of mediocrity. He splits his forces giving Jonathan 1,000 men and keeping 2,000 for himself. Jonathan then takes his 1,000 men and defeats a Philistine garrison at Geba. Saul in all his kingly wisdom then starts blowing his trumpet all over the place and telling everyone that HE has defeated the Philistines...not God...not his son Jonathan - the commander of the skirmish...but HE - HIMSELF - SAUL. From the outset of his rule we see the kind of king that Saul is going to be...he is completely and utterly focused on himself. He is arrogant, he is loud, he is selfish, he is foolish, he is rash...Saul is everything you don't want a leader to be. But he was just so gosh darn tall and god looking...they had to make him king! (Hopefully you understand that was dripping with sarcasm)

This chapter is a picture of the destruction that is wrought when leaders fail...

- (v.5) After Saul announces to the world that HE defeat the Philistines and is a scourge on their lives...they muster their entire army and the Israelites hide in any hole they can find. His arrogant lies draw the attention of the enemy and destroy the backbone of his army.

- (v.9ff) Saul ignores God's command to wait for Samuel to make a sacrifice before they go to war and offers the sacrifice himself (He's not a priest...this is a no-no), and it costs Saul a chance to be the root from which the Messiah would spring. That is a hefty price to pay for impatience. Saul could have been David...could have started the eternal Kingdom of which Jesus is the head - but he blew it!

What does the story of Saul have to do with us? Oh, just about everything! All of us are leaders in some form or fashion. Maybe you are a leader in your company...parents are leaders of their kids...we all have chances to lead by example with our peers - there are endless ways that you can influence and lead others. The question is - where are you leading them? Saul was forced into leadership because he was tall and handsome (Obviously the best leader qualities out there), but when he assumed power it went completely to his head. The Israelite kingship was supposed to work like this...1.) God is the actual "king" or ruler of Israel. 2.) God is in control. 3.) The human king that the Israelites wanted so desperately is really just a figurehead that is supposed to follow the directions of the Lord and lead people towards God. That is the way it was supposed to work, but Saul rejected that system. He rejected God's commands, tried to claim credit for all the victories and lay blame on others for any defeats. He failed as a king. He failed as a leader. Failed as God's appointed representative. If Jesus is the Lord of your life - He is the King...he reigns on the throne of your heart and you are his representative in this world. That means that as leaders, we should be following the commands of Jesus. That means that we should be leading and living from a place of humble service and not arrogant boasting. That means that we do not always try to get all the attention and accolades, because we know that our victories are really the victories of Christ. As men and women who follow Jesus Christ, we are called to go where he directs and lead people towards God. Follow in the footsteps of Jesus...not Saul. 

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Genesis 22

This is one of those passages that people struggle with. How could a loving God ask Abraham to do something as horrible as sacrificing his only son? Isn't human sacrifice detestable to God? What is going on here? I believe that God is sending a powerful two-part message to Abraham and all of humanity through this intense experience. The first message is one of allegiance - who or what are you committed to? We see clearly that God holds Abraham's allegiance. Without argument, after God tells Abe to go and sacrifice his son, he packs up and leaves to complete the task. He straps his son to the makeshift altar and raises the knife to slaughter him. Abraham totally and completely trusts God. He has seen God move so powerfully, so often in his life that he knows that God is greater even than death. Abraham holds nothing back from God and completely trust that God knows what He is doing. How about you? Where does you allegiance lie? Are you willing to trust God with everything in your life? Do you believe that God is in control of everything...even death? It seems like so many of us refuse to fully trust God. We say we trust God, but we always hold something back. We say we trust God...but when something heartbreaking happens - when we lose a loved one, lose a friend, things don't go "our" way - we blame God. Scripture teaches us that God is faithful...that God is just...that God is working all things for the good of all people. Pledge your allegiance to God above anything else and you will be blessed as Abraham was.

The second message is one of love...God wants to lay the groundwork for us to understand the depth of His love for us. Did you see all the similarities between Isaac's experience and the crucifixion of Jesus. Isaac is Abraham's one and only son (By Sarah anyway). An innocent son is condemned to die. The wood that he would be killed on was laid on his back for Isaac to carry. Abraham says, "God will provide the lamb for a burnt offering (Which He does through Jesus eventually)." The similarities end when Abraham is about to kill his one and only son, because God stops him. All of the readers of this story are relieved because we cannot even fathom the depth of sorrow that would coming from killing your own son. Yet that is exactly what God has done for us. He did not stop the hand of the killers of Jesus. He allowed created human beings to kill their own Creator. He felt the sorrow of losing a son. Felt the separation from a integral part of Himself for the first time in eternity. He knows what it is to suffer. He knows what it is to hurt. He was willing to go through all of that so that He could offer forgiveness to selfish people who did not deserve it. That is love!

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Genesis 18:22-33

This passage brings up some really interesting questions. Is Abraham more insightful than God? Is Abraham more gracious and concerned about the righteous than God is? Is Abraham's plan better than God's? This passage has the first biblical recording of a discussion between a man and God, where it seems that the man changes God's mind (There are other occasions where this happens later in the Bible - Ex. Moses convincing God not to destroy the idolatrous Hebrew people). These are always difficult passages for readers to understand, because it seems like a flawed, finite human being corrects the one and only perfect and Holy God. How are we supposed to interpret that? If God can be wrong in this situation...if God doesn't know what's best and gets talked out of a course of action by a provably flawed person...how do we know that God's will is always best?

Well, you have to start from the beginning. You have to start from what you know about God, not from what you think you know about God from this one discussion with Abraham. What do we know about God? We know that God is love - I John 4:8. We know that God is just and without flaw - Deut. 32:4. We know that God is holy - Lev. 19:2. We know that God is perfect - Psalm 18:30. These are things we know about God according to scripture (And these are just some of the countless examples of verses that speak to God's perfect nature). So if we start from this place - a place where we understand that God is perfect, just, holy and loving - we know that Abraham could not have been correcting God. God was not wrong in the judgment He eventually poured out on Sodom. The perfect God of love and justice decided that the most loving and just thing He could do for all of creation was to remove Sodom from the earth. That is the truth...that is a fact!

Then why did God allow Abraham to question Him and even concede a point to Abraham in agreeing to save the town in 10 righteous people were found? Because God is love. He knows that Abraham cannot see the big picture (Just like you and I often cannot). He knows that Abraham is confused by his limited human perspective and cannot understand how this decision by God is actually a reflection of His perfect and loving nature. God knows that death is not the end (Because He is in charge of how the "end" is gonna play out). God knows that the few righteous who might happen to be in Sodom would be justified in eternity. God knows that both the righteous and wicked will all face stand before God at judgement, and has chosen to bring judgement day to them sooner rather than later for the sake of all of humanity. The destruction of Sodom is actually an act of merciful love as God looks at the big picture. Yet because God loves Abraham and understands his lack of knowledge, He postpones the destruction to accommodate Abraham's shortsightedness. This story actually just shows us another perspective on God's love and reminds me that God cares about His people. Take heart in that!

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Genesis Chapter 12

12:1-3 - This is the covenant that started it all...the beginning of the Israelite nation - a chosen people, a priest nation, a light to the world...from this foundation would come the Savior of the world - God made flesh - Jesus. Did you notice how the covenant starts out? Go! God calls Abram into action. He calls him into leaving everything that Abram knows...the place where he feels safe...to go out into the wilds...to start a nation when Abram and Sarai have never even been able to have any children. God is going to do all the work...God will be ever faithful...but He demands that Abram move...He demands that he go...He demands that He trust in His Creator. As Christians we are people under a different covenant...we are under a covenant bought by the blood of Jesus Christ - God Himself. He paid the price for our failure. He took away our shame. He made a personal relationship with God possible for us once again. And our end of this covenant is very similar to Abram's...Go! And make disciples. Trust that God's way is better. Offer your bodies as living sacrifices. Abram trusted God and without a word...he went. If we trust in Jesus Christ and the power of his sacrifice...we will go too. We will leave the "safety" and "comfort" of our little self-focused worlds and MOVE. We will act. We will trust. We will love. We will be true disciples of Jesus Christ.

12:10-20 - Thank you Abram...seriously, thank you. I hope this doesn't sound terrible, but from time to time I need confirmation that I am not the only screw up in the world. Just before this, Abram leaves everything he knows to blindly wander into the desert because he trusts God. That is incredible...it is an amazing picture of faith...I want to have faith like that! Yet, a short while later he is heading into Egypt and he decides to forget all about trusting God and take matters into his own hands. He lies and gets his wife to lie...he takes advantage of Pharaoh financially ...his choices lead to his wife being apparently becoming one of Pharaoh's concubines...he royally screws up! Abram, who will become Abraham...the Father of the Jewish nation...the man revered in the Old and New Testaments because of his faith...he had moments where his faith was lacking. And I am sorry for that, but I also need to know that. I need to have the hope that this story brings. God continues to work even through our failure. God continues to love us, even when our actions show that our faith is lacking. I need to be reminded from time to time that God's faithfulness never fails...even when mine does.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Genesis 11:1-9

I preached on Sunday and talked about the humorous nature of Genesis 11:5 - "And the Lord came down to see the city and the tower. which the children of man had built." Why is this funny? Because the people were building a tower to the heavens, right? They were putting themselves on equal ground with God...making themselves "gods" through their hard work. Now I realize that is more heartbreakingly sad than funny...but the hilarious part is how the ancient author describes God's interaction with the tower. He has to go DOWN from the dimension He exists in to get a good look at the tower. This so-called "Tower to the Heavens" is so insignificant...so pathetic...so far below the majesty of God, that He has to come down to get a good look at it. It's funny. Imagine God getting down on His hands and knees like a child looking at ants in the grass and saying, "Oh, that's a cute little tower to the heavens!" LOL!

Why is this important for us to understand? Because we need to take some time to think about the things that we give all our time and effort to. We need to think about the things that worry us...the things that bother us...the things we pour endless amounts of resources into. Do they really matter? Are we making a bigger deal out of them then we need to? Do you worry too much about how you look...what you wear...what you accomplish...what you own...who you know...how much you are liked? Because those things are just tiny little towers when viewed from an eternal perspective. What matters is loving God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength. What matters is loving others as much as we love ourselves (And that's saying something isn't it!?). What matters is living our lives as if we actually believe that "Jesus is Lord." If Jesus is Lord, all the things we worship and get caught up in and obsess over and freak out about matter less and less. If Jesus is Lord, than I am not. If Jesus is Lord, than my worth is not tied up in what I accomplish or what other people think of me. If Jesus is Lord, than nothing can destroy my faith...my hope...my love...my freedom. Let go of the tiny towers you are holding onto and cling to the huge God who loves you!

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Genesis Chapter 7

A few thoughts on the Noah flood narrative...

7:5 - How would you like that to be said about your life? "And (Your name here) did everything the Lord had commanded of him (or her)." What a legacy...what a way to be known by the people around you! This is such a simple verse...such a simple way to live your life that Noah models for us. God tells Noah that the whole earth is going to be flooded. Tells him to build a huge boat (Do people even know what boats are at this point?). Tells him to pile wild animals on this thing and get ready for the entire earth to flood like a giant washing machine cleaning off all the vile sinfulness that exists. (Genesis 6:5 tells us that every single thought of the people on earth at this point was corrupt - every moment they were thinking only of ways to serve themselves and please themselves.) And how does Noah respond to these insane sounding instructions...he immediately does everything that the Lord commanded him to do. So many times it seems like the things that God is calling us to do are impossible. Bless those who curse you? It seems like the people God is calling us to be are crazy. Love your enemies? But if we have the courage to follow in the footsteps of Noah...the faith to trust that God knows what He is doing...the wisdom to believe that God's way is better - we will see God at work boldly in our lives just like Noah did. I need to stop making excuses for myself and live out the life God is calling me to live. How about you?

That was the challenging part - now on to the fun sidebar discussion...

7:11 - I like the term the English Standard Version of the Bible uses, "The windows of heaven were opened...". I think maybe there were different types of cloud layers at this point in earth's history. Maybe the clouds were insanely low and thick so that the entire earth was like a greenhouse...enabling the people to live hundreds and hundreds of years.You will notice that after the flood, the ages of people start to drastically decline. Maybe God caused the greenhouse clouds to collapse causing the flood and He didn't put them back the way they were? What do you think?

Monday, June 3, 2013

Genesis Chapter 3

Verse 4 - In my sermon this week, I focused on the Tower of Babel and we talked about how the invention of the brick made people believe that they could "be like gods." In Genesis chapter 3, we see that human beings have always been fallen for the same line. Whether it is whispered in our ear by the Deceiver or springing from the selfishness within ourselves...we give into the temptation of wanting to be like God. And the sentiment is understandable - God is awesome! God is perfection. God is holy. We want to be like God because He is everything we are not - there is no weakness within Him...there is no flaw within Him...He is God. But the reality is...the truth is...the thing that we have to get into our thick skulls is...we are not God. We are not gods. We are never going to be gods. We are human beings, and you know what? There are some amazing things about that too. God Himself blessed us by creating mankind in His image. He gave us life. He infused us with His creativity. He made us for community. We are truly blessed...but we are not God. When we stop obsessing over how to become gods...we will be able to find satisfaction in who we really are...children of God who are passionately loved by God.