Friday, November 30, 2012

Genesis 47, Job 13, Luke 1:1-38 and I Corinthians 1

I Corinthians 1:17 really stuck in my head this morning. It says, "For Christ did not send me to baptize but to preach the Gospel, and not with words of eloquent wisdom, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power." It is not our job to try to make the Gospel of Jesus sound is not our job to make the Gospel sound more make it make it into a self-help message. The Gospel is far too dangerous...far too dynamic...far too audacious...far too revolutionary to be watered down. The call of Jesus is to come and die. The call of Jesus is to be crucified on the cross with allow him to put to death the selfish and sinful flesh nature that is within us. It is a call to sacrifice. It is a call to slavery. When we speak of the Gospel as if it is easy...and when we live out the Gospel as if it is all about us...we make a mockery of the strength and power of the cross.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Genesis 46, Job 12, Mark and Romans 16

Romans Chapter 16 - I have been tempted in my Bible reading over the years to quickly skip through the end of the letters written in the New Testament. They are often lists of names and personal greeting given to people we do not know, and it can sometimes seem irrelevant to our lives. But I think we can learn a lot and be greatly challenged by the personal interactions between the earliest Christians that we can read as these letters close out. Romans, especially, has some interesting information for us to digest. The first person Paul mentions in his closing is a woman, which is VERY strange in the first century. The first person thanked is given a position of honor that was generally only reserved for men in their ancient society. She is also called a servant, which is "diakonos" in the original Greek...a word from which we get our church leadership title - deacon. Phoebe is clearly a leader in the church and holds a position of influence and respect that would have been shocking in the male dominated first-century. A little further down in the letter Paul mentions Junia as as a kinsmen and fellow prisoner for the Gospel of Jesus. In all of ancient Greek literature, Junia is only ever used as a feminine name. Junia is a woman. The word the ESV translates as "kinsmen" is actually "apostolos" from the Greek which is usually translated as apostle. Paul is saying that this woman Junia is a fellow apostle and prisoner for the Lord...her imprisonment is most certainly based on teaching the Gospel of Jesus Christ to others (which is what keeps getting Paul thrown in prison). Apparently, Junia is a preacher of the Gospel, whom Paul considers to be a peer. These revelations are culture shattering for the ancient world. So often Christians are labeled as chauvinists and out of touch and irrelevant by the secular culture around us, but what we need to understand is that Christianity was at the forefront of breaking down the barriers for women in this world. The revolutionary way that Jesus treated women gave them a foundation for the meaningful place they have taken in church and world history. We need to make sure we are not getting hung up on the gender of the Christians around us, but that we are providing opportunities for men and women to serve in a manner that makes best use of the giftedness that God has given them. 

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Genesis 45, Job 11, Mark and Romans 15

Genesis chapter 45 and Mark 15 have a common theme that speaks very powerfully to me - undeserved forgiveness. Joseph sees the brothers who tried to kill him - they threw him in a well...they sold him into slavery - and he shows them grace. They fear him because of his power in Egypt...they fear that he will exact revenge on them (I mean, that's how people operate right? Eye for eye and so on...) and they slink back from him. Yet he tells them right out, in such a show of strength and faithfulness, that what they had meant for evil was used by God to bring good. In fact, Joseph could see that God had brought him into that position in Egypt so that he would be able to guide Pharaoh, to store food for the drought, so that that Joseph could feed the Hebrew people and keep God's covenant with Abraham alive! How is that for forward thinking? Joseph has seen the way that God works through even people's evil choices and he forgives them.

In Mark 15 we see the ultimate example of undeserved forgiveness. Jesus is slaughtered on the cross. We know that Jesus tearfully asked God for another path in the garden of Gethsemane, but God the Father said, "No," Jesus would have to be crucified...crushed under our sinfulness...and separated from God - cut of from the community of Himself that he had known eternally. Yet he went through this terrible ordeal...he offered himself up as the sacrificial lamb because he loves us. Romans 5:8 tells us that, "God shows his great love for us, in that, while we were still sinners Christ died for us," We were not good people that needed a little help. We were not faithful friends that anyone would die for. We were the enemies of God when Christ offered himself in our place. Jesus accepted death on the cross because he knew that God was going to use this horrific incident to bring greater good than had ever been known.

Jesus offered himself to bring us salvation. Joseph offered forgiveness because he could see God at work in the terrible things that had been done to him. What about you? Is there some kind of hatred  you are harboring...some kind of anger at someone else that is eating you up inside...some kind of desire for vengeance? I know there are some horrible things that happen to people in this world...God knows that too - He has experienced them...but can you open your eyes enough to see how God is working through even the evil choices of other people. Can you place your trust in God and offer forgiveness where you never thought it was possible...where it is undeserved?

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Genesis 44, Job 10, Mark and Acts 14

Mark 14:9 - I have read this story a hundred times...but today I focused in on the ending. This verse says that woman's anointing of Jesus will be shared wherever the Gospel is told for all time. Pretty impressive! But I got to thinking...this story is not told very often when it comes to sharing the Gospel message. We usually boil the Gospel down to...we are sinful...we can't save ourselves...Jesus came to die for our sins...not we can connect with our Creator and become temples of the Holy Spirit of God (Or something similar). Sure, people read about this woman's sacrifice when they read their Bibles, but how often have you heard this woman's gift presented as a meaningful part of the Gospel story. Probably never! So how would you slip this woman's incredible love for Jesus into a sharing of the Gospel? I'm interested to know. I think you could point to her sacrifice...her willingness to give everything...her disregard for what other people thought...all of these things are a picture of her devotion to Jesus Christ. She was willing to lay everything aside to honor him with her whole life. Isn't that what accepting the Gospel of Jesus looks like? Doesn't that just paint the perfect picture of how we are supposed to respond to God's amazing and undeserved grace? So after you realize you are sinful, you need a savior, that savior is Jesus, and you finally understand how much God loves you...this is how you respond. You give it all. You offer Him everything. You don't care about what other people don't care about what it costs...all you want to do is worship and serve such a great God and Savior.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Genesis 43, Job 9, Mark and Romans 13

Romans 13 offers those of us who live in the Unite States some very timely commentary about governing authorities. Paul tells us to live in submission to the authorities that have been out over show respect to the officials who are in charge. We just had a presidential election and it seems that a good many Christians have not spent much time pondering Paul's words here. There is all kinds of talk of secession...there is tons of complaining...anger...fear...none of which seems to reflect Paul's instructions in Romans chapter 13. Paul was writing to a people who had very little say in how their empire was run...the everyday people of Roman were expected to accept the decisions of their Emperors and Senators with no real hope of ever having their voices heard. The leaders of Rome were pagan idol worshippers or politically-spiritual atheists, yet Paul demanded that the Roman Christians honor those leaders because they were being used in God's plan. While it may be difficult to understand how God works out His will through power-hungry men and women who do not humble themselves before Him...our faith in God as the ruler and sustainer of all demands that we accept the leaders that have been put in authority over us. Here in the U.S. we actually get a say...we have it so much better than the Romans Christians did. We should be joyfully celebrating the freedoms we have and the opportunity we have to let our voices be heard...but when the election results are in...regardless of who has won...we must continue to joyfully honor God by submitting ourselves to the authorities that end up in power. And this isn't just an angry, complaining type of submission...a submission that mutters antagonistic words...this is a submission of respect and dignity. That's what Christians in the U.S. need to be modeling for the rest of this country and for the rest of this world. Submission. Humility. Honor. Respect. Love of neighbor. These are the things that should mark us as Christians. When we mutter and whine and live in fear, we do nothing by show what we are lacking in faith.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Genesis 42, Job 8, Mark and Romans 12

I think Mark 12 and Romans 12 compliment one another very well. Throughout Mark 12 Jesus is bantering back and forth with Pharisees and Sadducees (Remember, they are "Sad you see" because they don't believe in the resurrection)...they try to trap him to get the people to turn against him, and he skillfully disarms every one of their arguments by pointing them towards spiritual realities that escape them. One of the Jewish mean that hears Jesus great wisdom asks him, "What is the greatest commandment?" Jesus answers by quoting the Shema, "Love the Lord you God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength." He also follows up with the natural next step for godly relational living, "And love your neighbor as yourself." If you do everything you can to live for those two things, you are following in the footsteps of Jesus Christ. In two shorts sentences, Jesus shows us what it is all about. People like to say that Christianity has all these rules...that God is trying to weigh us down with regulation after regulation...with a huge heavenly "don't do" list...but in reality, there are only two rules. God has called humanity to do two things - love God and love people. You do those things and everything else falls into place.

In fact, those two things are the secret to becoming the living sacrifices that Paul tells us to be in Romans chapter 12. If we put God and others before ourselves, we will be living sacrificially...we will be living in the way of in the way of God. When you put God and others before you, the things that blind and distract us...the jealousy, the fear, the boredom, the selfishness...these things disappear and we are able to see what truly matters in life. We are able to, as Paul promises, discern the will of God - understanding what is good and acceptable. Living for God and others allows us to see the great value of our brothers and sisters in allows us to joyfully function as one small part of the body of Christ...doing what we can with the gifts we have been given to expand God's Kingdom, while celebrating the contributions that others make. Paul even finishes out chapter 12 of Romans by giving us a list of what life looks like when we choose to live first for God and then for others. His finally paragraph is a rapid-fire list of what a God and neighbor loving human being looks like. Review the list...ask yourself, "Is this a picture of my life?" If not, what needs to change? What needs to shift in your life so that you can love God with everything you have and love your neighbor as yourself?

Monday, November 12, 2012

Genesis 41, Job 7, Mark and Romans 11

Job chapter 7 paints a beautifully realistic picture of a prayer life during a time of suffering. Job is hurt...Job is angry...Job is confused...and he also knows that God can handle anything he can dish out. He goes to God in his anger and he questions what God is doing, but he never rejects God. Even as he struggles with why such terrible things have happened in his life, he maintains his faith in God's sovereignty. This is something that we need to remember. Job cannot see the big picture of what God is doing, so he angrily questions God. Suffering, we find out in the book of Job, is not as simple as, "I sinned, so I will suffer." If that were the case, we would all be in brutal agony all the time, right? We find out through Job that God may be doing more through our momentary times of suffering than we could ever understand. We need to trust God and pour our hearts out to Him. Don't be afraid to give God a piece of your mind (Job did!)...just remember that your whole mind doesn't come close to matching the tiniest sliver of God's mind...get whatever you need to get off your chest out, but be ready for the revelation that will come to you when God shows you that He knew what He was doing all along.

This ties in with Romans 11:33 - "how unsearchable are His judgements and how inscrutable are His ways!" To try to figure God try to construct completely error free human theological doctrines is nearly impossible...God is God and we are not. All of creation is working out in an infinitely complex tapestry of decisions, actions, reactions, and so forth...and God is weaving them all towards an end that only He knows. Romans 11 shows us a little glimpse of that complexity. The Jews were called, but when they failed to hold true to their covenant with God (Except for a remnant), He allowed salvation to come to the Gentiles...hoping that the free gift of salvation through Jesus Christ for the non-chosen peoples of the world would bring the wayward Israelites back into commitment. Human interactions with God is a never ending dance of rebellion, discipline, forgiveness, idolatry, grace, judgment, mercy, etc. God is calling all people to Him...God has labeled all disobedient (v.32)...paid the price for that disobedience (Jesus)...and is using everything at His disposal (Which is quite a lot) to bring as many of His children (humanity) back into relationship as possible. Trust that He knows what He is doing, and live to honor His relentless love.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Genesis 40, Job 6, Mark and Romans 10

Romans chapter 10 offers us a huge challenge when it comes to evangelism. Romans 10:9 is very clear...if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart God raised him from the dead - you will be saved! That is a truth that is available to everyone. Th is the beautiful Good News...the Gospel of Jesus Christ...we cannot save ourselves, but if we believe in the saving work that Jesus did on the cross we will receive salvation. That is reality...that is the truth that every person needs to hear and understand. But how are they gonna hear about it if Christians aren't sharing that truth? And I'm not talking about sharing tracts on the side of the street...I'm not talking about yelling at people through a bullhorn about how they are going to hell...I am talking about living out the Gospel for them...entering into relationships with non-believers and journeying with them towards Christ. That is what we need to be doing. Evangelism...sharing the Good News is the job of every believer. It doesn't matter if you aren't good with doesn't matter if you aren't is our job. Every person is unique and gifted differently and every person needs to find out how best to share the Gospel through their own giftedness. "How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the Good News!" Isn't that what you want God saying about you? Go out there and spread the Good News!

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Genesis 35, Job 5, Mark and Romans 9

In Mark chapter 9, Jesus in teaching about what it looks like to be a part of his Kingdom holds up a little child as an example. What are the characteristics of children that reflect the Kingdom of God? What about innocence? There is a beautiful innocence in the lives of young children. They don't know what they are supposed to not like...who they are supposed to not like...what is cool or uncool...they do not allow themselves to be ruled by fear because they don't know enough to be afraid. Their innocence allows them to enjoy drink it love is so godly! How about their faith? They simply believe. They believe their parents will protect them - they jump off couches knowing we will catch them, even if we aren't looking! They do not worry about meals, clothes, shelter, etc...because they know they will be provided for. They accept fully that God is there with them...that God is healing their wounds (scrapes, cuts and what-not)...they pray for any and everything, because they believe that God can handle it all (They are not as concerned as adults about "bothering" God). Their faith is beautifully simple. If adults acted a lot more like children with regard to innocence and faith...the world would be forever changed for the better.

There are times when my youngest son Aidan can get a little whiny. He is 7 years old and still throws the odd emotional tantrum from time to time. It can get really frustrating! Sometimes when he does this I say to him, "Aidan you are in first are seven years is not okay to act like a need to act like a big boy!" The last couple of times this has happened, Aidan has responded back to me, "But I'm just a little boy, Daddy!" There is no excuse in my book for throwing a fit because you socks are off center - no matter what your age - but Aidan's words have really stuck with me. He is just a little boy, and there are so many things about that little boy that I love. We as parents need to be careful not to push our kids to grow up too fast. In fact, Jesus told us that we should take time to watch out kids be kids, so that we might learn something about being Christians. The more I push my kids to "grow up" that more and more they become like me, which in some ways is very scary. We need to fight for the innocence of our kids. We need to encourage them to hold on to their childlike faith. And the best way we can do this is by doing everything we can to walk in innocence and faith in our own lives. We need to do our best job of being childlike in these areas to show our kids what it is like to be Christlike.