As Jesus followers we are called into the Kingdom Life. This blog will help us converse and learn what that means. It will contain thoughts on Scripture, Sermon Reflection, Leadership Training and interesting reads. -Pastor Jeff

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Pastors...Exhaustion is NO JOKE!

Pastor Friends…
It’s THERE!  Right THERE!  In John 4…I’ve never seen it before.  All I’ve ever noticed is her, her problem, her lack, her scarcity.  But today, I saw ours…our problem, our lack – the scarcity in the life of a leader, in the person of Jesus.  It’s there in the words, “Jesus tired as he was from the journey, sat down by the well.” 

Exhaustion is no joke.

Think about it.  Just prior to this passage, Jesus had been cajoled by his mother to perform his “ministerial duties” at what he thought was just going to be a party for some friends getting married.  (Ever gone to what you thought was a social event and ended up having to put on your ministerial cap?)  He’d lost his prophetic mind over the injustices of the temple.  (Good thing he didn’t have twitter).  He’d been misunderstood and questioned by a religious authority, someone with “sound theology.”  (Kind of like being stopped after a sermon and asked to explain what exactly you meant).  He’d even gotten caught up in a dispute about numbers (who gets to count which baptisms and who had more).  He’s surrounded by a bunch of followers, most of whom struggled to get him and questioned his rationale…often!  And now…now he’s in a land that I’m sure he didn’t really want to be in.  Samaria cities are not first picks but divine assignments.  And now…he’s sitting in a valley where some of the most important historical events had taken place in the life of his people, in the valley of the remnants of what might have been.

And he’s tired.  Really tired. 

Today I thought…dude that’s tough.  I don’t know if you know this Jesus, you are only 4 chapters into a 21 chapter story.  It’s a little early to be that tired.  You’ve got quite a way to go.

And when we are tired…well let’s be honest.  We isolate.  We grow resentful.  We scroll the internet looking for different jobs.  We secretly envy all the 9 to 5’ers in our churches.  We wallow.  We call into question our worth.  We numb ourselves to the needs around us.  We put our heads down…and hope it will all just go away.  And if one more person comes for some kind of need…we will just…

Oh wait…Hi.  Fancy meeting a girl like you in a place like this.  Are you serious Father?  Can’t you see I’m taking a break here.  Can you cut me some slack?  You send her…right now? 

But what if amidst all the exhausting stuff of life, the fears, the failures, the disputes, the conflicts, the misunderstandings…that God sends someone with genuine need to reawaken you to your purpose and rekindle the fires of mission in your life.  What if she’s not a problem.  What if she’s the Father’s provision?

What if we needed that someone to reignite our belief in the transformative, redemptive power of God?  What if a renewed focus on life change restores the life of the leader?  And what if it happens in the place you didn’t want to be amidst the remnants of what could have been…AND…might still be! 

Jesus, though tired, responds to the call!  Once again!

And you never know.  We know her as the woman at the well.  Orthodox tradition names her St. Photini, one whose faith will inspire others amidst their martyrdom for the sake of the gospel. 

Exhaustion is no joke!  Rest yes!!  But don’t wallow.  Instead allow God to reawaken, rekindle, and reignite your mission and purpose.  Lift up your head.  She/he might be coming through your valley.  And, you just never know what that change might mean!


Keep on, keeping on Pastor!  You are loved.  You are doing great!  Cling to Jesus, the gospel, His purpose as Your mission, lock arms…and let’s finish this race together!

Friday, June 2, 2017

Day 24: Donkeys, Donkeys, and More Donkeys

Episode VI: Introducing the Story of Jesus
Poised for hope, but discouraged by the tardiness of God, they groaned for redemption.  And then, in the most unseemly of places, a promise is made to couple of yet-to-be married peasants.  They were to have a child, and this child was to be the One for whom all of Israel, and all the world longed for.  This Child would be special, the very presence of God in their midst (Emmanuel) and the one who saves (Jesus).  But his birth wouldn’t be the one expected of a great leader, there was no palace or court, no power or wealth.  There was only a cave on the side of a hill, a stable in the town of Bethlehem, among the sheep and donkeys, in a hidden hole under the shadow of Herod’s temple, the Roman Ruler’s Jewish puppet.  This was the hope of Israel?
Little is told of his story until he reaches the age of 30, the age in which Rabbis gather around them students.  This man, Jesus, makes his way throughout the land gathering the most unlikely group of world-changers, men from the working class, violent men, liars and cheats, women of ill repute, beggars, lame, and outcasts.  He calls them!  And they follow, into the uncertainty, into the unknown, into the difficult and disruptive moments, into the conflict and misunderstandings, and they follow.  As Jesus calls, he speaks, and his message is simple, The Kingdom of God has come near.  It is the space of God’s Reign and power.  It is a space in which the righteousness of God is witnessed.  And we only participate as we surrender our lives totally to this Kingdom.

But this wasn’t the Kingdom that many were looking for.  They wanted armies.  They wanted might.  They wanted restored fortunes. They wanted their enemies to suffer.  But Jesus said in His Kingdom, we bless our enemies and pray for them.  In His Kingdom we aren’t measured by what we gather to ourselves but what we’ve given away for others.  Power is determined by our capacity to love others.  His army is a rag-tag bunch of misfits, vagabonds, and ragamuffins.

Wherever Jesus places his feet, whether in Galilee, Samaria, Gentile lands, or Jerusalem, those that witness his work or hear his word are given a glimpse of a redeemed world, a world brought under God’s redemptive designs.  It’s a world where the blind see, the poor hear good news, and those oppressed by the unruly forces of darkness are freed.  It’s a world where the exploited and forgotten are valued, where there are no lost causes, and where those cast down by the judgements and prejudice of others are lifted up.   It’s a world that’s turned upside down, where the greatest are least, and where servanthood is preferred over authority.  In His Kingdom vision, those that for too long had taken for granted their place of “favor” or “election,” those that consider themselves the “in crowd” of God’s people are often left standing outside looking in, where humility trumps position, dependence on grace trumps self-righteousness, and a spirit of mercy is preferred over rule-following.

And so the stage is set, the tension is mounting.  The Kingdom of God has now come into conflict with our Kingdoms, the way we want it.  And at every turn Jesus is pushing, challenging calling into question our stories and assumptions, our attitudes and intentions.  He is piercing the heart and pulling back the veil.  He is displaying faithful living!  He is showing the true sign of holiness.  He is living in perfect harmony with the will of the Father and calling those that follow to do the same.  He is calling into question the agendas of the powerful, the rich, and the hypocrisy of religious leaders.  Followed by the  fringe folks, the prostitutes, the tax collectors and the untouchable lepers, where ever he goes things are shaken up.  There is fervor building.  There is a threat mounting.  This Kingdom of Jesus is not safe for the status quo.

After nearly three years of public ministry, Jesus mounts the back of a donkey and rides into Jerusalem in anticipation of an epic showdown.  The Hope of Redemption would meet the Powers of Oppression.  God in the flesh would meet the gods made by those in flesh.  What would the result of such a confrontation be?

Let’s take another look at Luke 17:
Ok…so today let’s finish out Luke chapter 17.  In reading the story of the Lepers, ask yourself the question, “Is there a difference between being fixed and being made well.”  Jesus seems to “fix” all the lepers, but only the one that returns is declared to having been made well.  Also, Jesus then addresses something the Religious Leaders were struggling with, the Kingdom of God.  Notice how those you’d expect to get it seem to miss it.  What might it mean in your life to believe, “Whoever tried to keep their life will lose it?”

Thursday, June 1, 2017

Day 23: From Rags to Waiting

Episode 5:  Exile through Ezra
Exile is a place of despair, anguish, loss, and hopelessness.  There is a tyranny in the monotony of “more of the same.”  Some give in and give up.  Some acquiesce and find their place among the oppressors.  Others, a few, a small remnant, maintain a faithful hope, an expectant leaning forward into the possibilities of what might be.  Though Exile is a place that taunts us with the weight of nothingness, courage is mustered by some to refuse to give Exile the last word.

After decades in Exile, the people of Israel would again cry out.  Remember, God responds to the suffering.  Through the mouths of the prophets now come words of comfort and prophetic hope, the imaginative, creative, poetic language that evokes the possibilities of newness, a fresh story.  “I will not remain angry forever.” God says.  “I will forgive.” He promises.  “I will prepare a way through the desert, making the crooked road straight, and the hills level.”  “I will lead you home.”  The promise of home.  This is the theme of hope in Exile.  God is a deliverer from oppression and tyranny, the restorer of all good things.  God is able amidst the forces of domination and perversion to cut a highway in the desert.  He alone has this power.  No idol, no god of the foreigners, no promise of prosperity from Babylon, only God can bring Hope from desperate straits.

And deliverance would come, in the most unexpected way.   It will come through the hands of foreign invaders, heathen powers from Persia.  It’s vicious kings, the likes of Cyrus, Xerxes, and Artaxerxes, would show favor upon this beat down people.  It is during this time, that resistance stories like Esther are told, stories that point to the unrelenting favor and faithfulness of God in the most precarious of places.  During this time, release from captivity would be granted.  First, Zerubbabel would be sent back with Jews to rebuild the infrastructure of the city and its temple.  Then Nehemiah, a simple servant of the Persian king, will lead back others to do the extraordinary, to rebuild the walls of protection around the city of Jerusalem in just over 50 days, an amazing, God-ordained feat.

Their hopes were to recover their former glory.  They wanted to become the power they once were, to restore the Temple as God’s inhabitance, and the politics of military strength.  Such glory would not be their destiny.  Ezra, a man well versed in the Law, returns to Jerusalem and launches a major religious renewal, reinstituting many of the former practices, rituals, and feasts, and bringing together the portions of the Scriptures in much more authoritative form.  However, they would remain in a precarious position, finding themselves time and time again under the thumb of foreign powers, the Greeks and then the Romans.  During this time, we have little account of God’s activity in the canon of Scripture (though we can find help from the Apocrypha – secondary literature that according to our faith tradition is not authoritative Scripture).  But Israel yearned, they hungered for a redeemer, someone to save and deliver them from the hands of their enemies.  They sought a Messiah! An anointed Ruler…a Chosen Leader from the family and line of David…and so they waited.

Continue on through Luke…you are doing great!
Well, we you’ve officially covered about 2/3’s of a book of the Bible!  That’s awesome.  And then Luke 17.  This one is hefty.  Do me a favor, take your time.  Let’s only look at Luke 17:1-10 for today.  There’s a lot here.  Jesus pushes us to think through the nature of our actions, forgiveness, our faithfulness, and obedience.  He does so in 10 VERSES!!  Sheesh, that’ll get you.  Imagine standing in the crowd…perhaps you’d just deceived someone and in so doing had led them astray.  Then listen to Jesus.  Maybe, someone you knew had recently sought forgiveness for their mistreatment of you, and then listen to Jesus.  Maybe you are used to thinking you deserve praise for all the good you do, then listen to Jesus.  What do you hear?  How are you affected?


Saturday, May 27, 2017

Day 22: Seeds of Division Produce Destruction

Episode 4:  Divided Kingdom—Prophets—Into Exile
It was once said by Jesus that a house divided against itself will not stand.  This wasn’t simply a wise statement of a Jewish Rabbi…it was the history of Israel.  After Solomon, his son Rehoboam threatened great misery and oppression on the people of the nation of Israel.  Such threats fell upon hearts eager for deliverance.  Such hearts were ignited by the resistance of Jeroboam, who would return to stand against Rehoboam.  From this internal strife emerges not an undivided nation of God’s calling, but the divided kingdoms of human strife.  Once again, brother stands against brother.  There are now two nations.  There is a nation to the north comprising 10 of the tribes of Israel.  It will be called Israel.  The nation to the South, comprising only two tribes, as faithfulness to a promise made to David, with its capital in Jerusalem, will be called Judah.  This portion of Jewish history is seedy and destructive.  Fulfilling the warning of God, each King leads the Jewish people both in the North and the South into deeper and deeper sin.  These stories can be found in 1 and 2 Kings and 1 and 2 Chronicles.

Their worship of Yahweh is emptied and their ethics of compassion, justice, and mercy for their common man is all but nullified.  God is angered by the rebelliousness and sends prophet after prophet to preach the True Word of God.  It is a word of shock and disruption.  Prophets like Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Amos, and others are called by God to speak truth to power.  They are called to announce God’s Word and Will into the world.  Prophets aren’t fortune tellers.  They are fore-tellers.  They announce the actions of God into a world that remains obstinate and rebellious.  The Word proclaims the judgment of God upon the sin of the people and an invitation to turn from their sins and be healed.

These prophets are rejected.  Their words and warnings were ignored.  With hardened hearts and backs turned toward the grace of God, they find themselves at the mercy of the surrounding nations.  From the North in around 730 to 705 BC, the Assyrian empire will sweep through the Northern Kingdom of Israel, carrying many of its people away into Exile.   According to the story of Scriptures, just prior to Assyria reaching Jerusalem, Hezekiah, King of Judah prays for protection, and God responds.  Assyria turns back and Jerusalem remains safe for the time being.  But in his zeal to show himself as a powerful ruler and powerful nation, he invites ambassadors from Babylon to witness all the wealth from the Kingdom.  When hearing the actions of the King…the prophet Isaiah says, “That’s going to come back and bite us.”

And bite them it did.  Just over a hundred years later, when Babylon had risen to great power and triumphed over surrounding nations, it invades Jerusalem, destroys the Temple, and carries off many of the Jewish people to Babylon.  This is the time of Babylonian exile.  Immediately, Babylon began to instruct the leaders in the way of this new homeland (you can follow this story in the book of Daniel).  It taught its language, its culture and customs, and most importantly its gods.  This is true exile, feeling as though “true home” has been lost.  Identity has been surrendered, the past is feared forgotten and the future is uncertain.  No longer can we simply rely on our stories being passed down from generation.  There may be no pure generation to hand them down to.  Now they must be recorded, written down and collected, preserved and sustained.  It is during this time that many of the books of the Old Testament start to be collected in a series of scrolls.  We also believe it is during this time that Genesis 1 is probably written.  In a land that says, “Our many gods create through bloodshed and violence,” the Jews say, NO!  Yahweh creates!  Yahweh is the one that has the power to simply speak and it is…it is truly a story of light from darkness, of order from chaos.  This is the story of God’s power, a power they hoped and yearned for.

Continuing our Journey through Luke...
Ok...Chapter 16 right?  You still with me.  Now, I want you to take this chapter slow today.  There's a lot here...and some of which should confuse you.  There is a rather odd parable of a man celebrated by Jesus for doing something many of us would have a problem with.  What do you make of that?  What do you do when you struggle to make sense.  And what about the story of Lazarus and the Rich Man.  How is it that the poor guy gets a name but the rich man doesn't?  Sounds counter-intuitive doesn't it?  Take some time and see where the Lord leads through this portion of Luke.

Friday, May 26, 2017

Day 21: Into the Weeds: Rebellion, Pride, Division

Episode 3: Joshua – Solomon
At the end of Deuteronomy, the future is still open and uncertain.  Moses had died and the land, the promise, was still unclaimed.  Yet the faithfulness of God shatters the fear of the unknown and again God calls.  This time his call falls upon the friend and confidant of Moses, the son of Nun, Joshua.  His task—very simple, “Do not be afraid, but be courageous.  Lead the people into the land.  Meditate on the ways of God day and night...do not turn to the right or the left...but walk straight.  Then your ways will be prosperous.”  Perhaps, the task wasn’t simple, but with God all things are possible.  Joshua’s story is a flurry of action.  Israel recounts the miraculous ways in which God goes before the people making possible their acquiring of land.  Riddled with problematic and head-scratching violence, this portion of the story is one in  which the Israelites  come to understand God as a Warrior that fights on behalf of His people.  A the end of Joshua, we find the people of Israel in possession of the land, a prosperity directly tied to their obedience to God.

But Joshua had watched the people, he knew their hearts.  Just as Moses had addressed the people before he died, so now Joshua stands before the people and issues a challenge.  “Choose today who you are going to follow...the God that brought us up out of Egypt, or the gods that your fathers brought up out of Egypt.”  “Will you follow the one that carries you...or the ones you carry.”  What an important question.  Is humanity to follow the God that sustains, delivers, upholds, protects, and keeps or will humanity follow the work of their hands, the ones that require that we uphold them?”  Joshua declares... “as for me and my house, we will obey the Lord.”  The people also resoundingly declare their allegiance to YHWH, but Joshua doubts their ability to stay true.  Such doubt isn’t unwarranted.  Joshua had wandered 40 years in the desert because of their fear and disobedience.  He had suffered loss because of their sinfulness.  No less than 2 chapters later into the book of Judges, the people had again abandoned their allegiance to YHWH and now each did what seemed good to them.  Again, such a brutally honest story.  Israel reminds us that God, YHWH, is unswervingly faithful, but humanity is rebellious.

As the story moves beyond Joshua something profound is being revealed.  God is a space creator.  He does not coerce the actions of his people.  He refuses to control every decision.  He gives the kind of space to be shocked by faith and also affected by sin.  God makes space for humanity to make a mess of the promise and covenant of God...but—and this is grace...God steps into the mess of humanity and works out His plans despite the mess. That’s the faithfulness, forgiveness, and grace of God at work in this world.   Throughout the story of Judges we see the incessant rebelliousness of the people of Israel and how their sin constantly lands them into one mess after another.  Yet, God raises up men and women, provincial governors called Judges, to execute God’s deliverance and lead the people to faithfulness.  We read the amazing stories of Deborah, Gideon, Samson, and others as they, in very human and imperfect ways, attempt to follow God.  It will be the last Judge however that serves as the transition to the next most determinative moment in the history of Israel.

Born to a barren mother, (it is always amazing how often God’s gift comes to us amidst the barren impossibility of the world’s nothinginess) Samuel was given to God as a special worker from the time of his birth.  God laid a special calling and anointing on Samuel to lead the people, especially in the face of the perversity of the priests.  But the people were tired of leaning on faith.  They were tired of waiting on God’s direction.  They were tired of feeling as though they were vulnerable to their enemies.  They came to Samuel and demanded a King... “so that they might be like every other nation.”  This is the greatest temptation.  Israel surrenders their identity as the chosen nation of God and a peculiar possession and instead desires to be just like everyone else.  Broken by their request Samuel seeks the direction of God.  God concedes.  God makes space.  God gives them a king but warns them that when they accept the power of man over the direction of God they become subjects of man and find themselves once again bound to that man—and this prophecy will be fulfilled in the nation of Israel.

The stories of 1 Samuel and 2 Samuel tells us of the rise of the monarchy, first from Saul and then in the person of David.  Through Saul’s disobedience, God has Samuel anoint the most unlikely candidate as King over the people, a pipsqueak shepherd boy, the runt of the litter, David.  It is often vexing how God chooses the most unlikely candidates to fulfill the work of God.  David will become the premier King of Israel, the one claimed by God to be a man after God’s own heart, the one with whom God would make a covenant of continued leadership within the Davidic household.  David will lead them into victory in battle, establish the economy of Isreal.  He will reign over the house of Israel for a total of 40 years.  David will not be without sin...for pride comes before the fall.  He will become an adulterer and he will ignore the provision of God.  But his walk with God is virtuous because David responds with contrition and humility.  Many of our Psalms are the product of David and his court.  They tell poetically of the “reality” of life and the faithfulness of God.  They speak of confession and brokenness, fear and trepidation and yet they continue to turn to God as the source of strength and comfort, power and hope.

Unfortunately...sometimes the apples fall farther from the tree than we would like.  David’s sons are riddled and plagued with sinfulness, envy, and violence.  Absalom attempts to kill his father.  Adonjah takes the throne even before David is dead.  Solomon, well let’s deal with Solomon.  At the end of 2 Samuel and into the book of 1 Kings, David is dying and has to make the decision of who shall rule after him.  He chooses—with a little help from Bathsheba and Nathan—Solomon.  At first Solomon has great possibilities.  God promises Solomon whatever he asks.  Solomon asks for wisdom so that he might lead the people justly.  God grants with abundance.  But with power will come corruption.  Solomon becomes an ambitious leader, constructing palaces and a temple on the backs and oppression of the people.  This temple was to be the “inhabitance” for God, the place in which God would reign and be worshipped.  This temple was to serve as a witness that “We are God’s People!” as if God can live in a temple made by human hands (as the prophets remind us.)  By the end of his reign he had surrendered himself to the foreign gods of his wives and concubines.  Solomon had set up the Kingdom of Israel for what is to come...

It is out of this story that we probably have the 2nd and 3rd chapters of Genesis emerge.  It is a recounting of the Creation story...how does a people tell the story of “how things have come to be as they are.”  In this story, man is nothing but dust, dependent on the forming and fashioning of God...dependent on the life-giving breath of God.  But mankind is not content with his own limitation.  Man has chosen to exceed the Creator/created difference and in an attempt to become like God yields to the lying voice of the enemy.  Humanity sins and hides.  With sin comes shame and guilt, vulnerability is shattered.  Now the brokenness of relationship sets in between humankind and God, between man and woman, and between humanity and the rest of creation.  God banishes humanity from the Garden. Then in act of beautiful grace, God banishes himself from paradise and enters the land East of Eden with sinful humanity.  But the disruption hasn’t reached its fullest point until brother turns on brother and commits violence.  The fall from grace is complete.  The lengths that mankind will go to exercise this perversity is recounted in the Primeval History of the first 11 chapters of Genesis...history beyond history...a faith history...a story of “how we got into the predicament that we live in.”  But these stories constantly tell of a God that is faithful in the abyss, in the darkness, in the flood and in the brokenness of humanity.  The story tells of a God “that remembers” his creation, and brings order in the face of chaos.

Time for a Little Luke 15!
Are you ready to jump in.  This is the famous set of passages in the book of Luke.  We have lost sheep, lost coins, and a wayward son.  However, before you go charging into Luke 15, I want you to slow down a bit and notices the transition between Luke 14 and 15.  Pay attention to the Jesus call to “listen and hear.”  Notice in Luke 15, who is listening?  Who is murmuring?  Who is Jesus really addressing?  Why do you think it matters so much about who is listening?  If Jesus is speaking everyone is hearing right?  Or are they?  Is it possible to be so immersed in our own stuff that we don’t listen or hear even though the Word is speaking?  Dive in.  Find your place.  What do these passages reveal about the heart of God?

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Day 20: Episode 2 - Beyond the Rules to Relationship

Episode 2:  Exodus 19 – Deuteronomy
Now on the backside of oppression and at that cusp of a New Story, God delivers the terms of the Covenant, establishing for the people this people, this new nation of Israel, made up of 12 tribes, the call to obedience.  It’s the establishment of the Law of Moses.  Stop right there.  I know what you are thinking.  Really?  When God speaks, he immediately establishes a rule book?  Careful…how you interpret this move will have serious implications in your journey of faith.  The Law of Moses isn’t a set of random and arbitrary rules.  It’s the Blueprint for Difference!  God had called this people out from the rest of the nations to give witness to what it means to live as the redeemed of God.

Over the course of Exodus and Leviticus we follow this Blueprint.  It covers the Big 10 that many of us are familiar with.  However, these 10 must be understood within the broader story of redemption.  These weren’t “good guidelines to live by.”  These were the mandate for a Covenant of Relationship.  We are to live sold out to the One True God.  We are to care for one another “to be our brother’s keeper.”  This Law extends beyond the Big 10.  It extends into every area of the life of the people of God.  Nothing is to be kept as their own.  They are to yield their desire to master their own destinies or determine their actions, attitudes, and ambitions.  This Law touches on the collective whole of life, spiritual, physical health, dietary, relational, justice, community, forgiveness, appropriateness, and ultimately their redemption.  This story speaks to lives lived out in full submission to God.  Leviticus can feel dry, however, as a Blueprint it’s amazing to see the kind of difference the “holy people of God” are to be in comparison to their neighbors.  This difference isn’t to flaunt self-righteousness but as a foretaste of an entire world redeemed.

The books of Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy, paint the picture of the beginnings of this Covenantal relationship.  A collection of stories from different times and different traditions paint the picture of a God that had called this people into something special...into a relationship like none other.  And yet we also follow a brutally honest journey, a journey of God’s commands and Israel’s failure...of God’s patience and Israel’s obstinacy.  God says, “Make no graven images” and Israel molds a Golden Calf so that it might have something certain and touchable to worship.  God makes a promise of provision, a land to call their own, but in the face of opposition and uncertainty they fearfully choose to forgo the promise choosing to manage their own security instead of placing their lives in the hands of God.   It becomes the story of 40 long years.  40 long years left wandering in the desert...40 years of learning that God can and will stay true to His Word, even when the fickleness of humanity pervades our relationship with Him.  It’s a story that leads us to an epic set of speeches from Moses in Deuteronomy and his impending death.  Stuck in the desert, what would God’s next move be?  What would their next move be?

As their story unfolds, they also come to terms with their origin.  Their life in God didn’t happen in a vacuum but began before they had been delivered.  Their lives were the outflow of God’s promises to their forefathers...the elect of God’s grace.  It would be through their patriarchs that God had conceived of this promise.  God had chosen their father Abraham from the Land of Haran and promised him land, descendants, and God’s ongoing presence.  Abraham, this father of faith, whose promise comes in the face of impossibility, too old to conceive and his wife Sarah was without children.  But in the barrenness and desert moments of human experience God brings forth a gift.  This gift is Isaac, the one to whom this blessing is passed.  From Isaac to Jacob, a deceiver and trickster, who will ultimately run out or places to run.  He would be forced to face his broken past and come to terms with his uncertain future.  Wrestling through the night with God, he was wounded and blessed.  It would be from this man that the people would get their name.  Before they were Israel, Jacob’s name would be changed to Israel.  The meaning, “The one that strives with God and prevails.”  Jacob would bear 12 sons, but it would the unfortunate story of his favorite son Joseph that would serve as the important connection with the people of Israel.  It was a life of tragedy, of being sold into slavery, but also of God’s faithfulness, rising to prominence in the land of Egypt that would save the life of his family and serve as the connecting point of how this people eventually became slaves for 400 years.

Jumping back into Luke...
I want to invite you to take some time working through this chapter today.  Jesus is speaking ALOT about the cost of following Him...who makes their way in and who is left out.  How does this affect you?  Where are you challenged?  Where do you find yourself standing in these stories?  Have you heeded the invitation to the Jesus party?  Have you counted the cost?  How do those two stories land side by side?  Party and Cost?

Monday, May 22, 2017

Day 19: Episode 1 - From Formless Void to Peculiar Possession

Part I: Genesis through Exodus 19
Our story begins with God.  Before anything was…He was…and it’s only through him that what is, has come to be.  The story of atheism wants to ask the question “how?”  Our story wants to ask the question, “Who?”  Our story begins as God speaks.  All of life begins with the Word of God!  And when God speaks…it is…and it is good.  It is a story that reminds us that the design of all things is God’s design.  He is the one that forms and fashions the universe and sets our place within it.  That humanity was destined for the high calling of bearing the image and likeness of God in this world.  Unfortunately, it is a story that reminds us that we are not content with this calling.  We would prefer to be our own gods, to be the masters of our own destinies.  We’d rather grab hold of our futures, and when we do all hell breaks loose.  Our relationships are toppled and our futures are in peril.  It is a story of humanity kicked from the perfect communion of the Garden, living outside God’s design.  However, our story reminds us that God does not stay in that Garden but exiles himself and comes close to us…even in our sin…God chases us!

It is a story of humanity run amuck, a story of rebellion and obstinance, where we refuse to be keepers of our brothers and plunge ourselves dangerously into the depths of wickedness and evil.  But this story has as its author a dynamic and relational God, one deeply affected by our sin.  In fact, He is a God that is grieved to his heart, an author that wants to end the story.  And just as this author is about to pitch the story in eternal trash can, He pulls up and He gives us another chance through Noah.  He is a God that endures our sinfulness and sets in the sky a reminder, a rainbow the story says, to remind himself that He is committed to go all the way with us, to see this through to His desired outcome.

It’s a story of a God with a plan.  It is a plan of love and reconciliation.  It is a vast plan, one that has the scope of all humanity and human history within its sight.  God chooses to start small to go big.  So this God sets about a choosing and electing, a picking and a plucking, a calling and equipping to carry his plan, his promise through to the end.  And this God calls the old and the young, He calls the unsuspecting and unqualified.  He calls the timid and the weak!  Because this God is just looking for someone to say yes. Just someone to say, “I’ll leave behind the former things, the land of my father.  I’ll head to that land you will show me.  I’ll be a blessing to those around me!  Yes, God, here I am.”  So God begins this redemption through a man named Abraham and carries that promises through this problematic offspring, reminding us that God is often faithful in spite of us.

However, the story of God’s redemption doesn’t always go off without a hitch.  Evil is at work in this world.  Even though Abraham’s descendants carry forward the promise, they find themselves trapped in the tyranny of bondage, bound to powers and principalities that threaten their well-being, the future, and God’s purposes.  It’s a story that reminds us that night gives birth to day, that hope emerges from darkness, and chaos gives way to order.  For the Israelites, this is their beginning.  The beginning is a God that hears the cries of the broken and oppressed people crying from their bondage in Eqypt.  That is always the beginning.  Our story always begins with God...a God that meets humanity amidst their crisis, in the midst of threat of non-existence.  It is this God whose ears are especially attuned to the heartache of the marginalized.  And their cries come before him.  Their cries move God.  Their cries are a call to action.  And the God of the story faithfully responds.

God responds through an invitation.  His purpose is clear and His will is set...redemption and deliverance.  God chooses to fulfill this action in the world by inviting his chosen to join Him.  Out of the desert of nowhere God calls an alienated stranger from his people, a man whose birth was unusual but whose life had been a failure.  God searches for the most unlikely and invites Him to join Him in the setting free of this bound people from the Pharaoh’s grips, from the talons of the empire of power and oppression.  From amidst the embers of a fiery bush, Moses is given the calling... “For you will set my people free.”  At first there is reluctance, and then God reveals His name to Moses.

Tell them that “I am” sent you.  YHWH.  One of the most definitive moments in the life of Israel. God’s self revelation.  God says my name is “I am” or “I will be as I choose to be.”  God says, I am free.  I am capable in the face of impossibility.  I am able when there is no hope.  Moses...go in the confidence that “I am goes with you.”  Moses goes.

Through the providence of God and the rebellion of Pharaoh, Israel is delivered from Egypt through a series of plagues.  The final plague...the death of the firstborn comes on a night that would eventually be called the Passover.  The Israelites slay lambs, cover the doorposts with the blood of the lambs, and the angel of death passes over the Israelites and slays the first born child of each of the Egyptians.  As tragic as this event is...Israel interpreted it as their moment of deliverance, of God bringing forth beauty and life from ashes and destruction.  God becomes deliverer.

They moved toward the land that God would lead them.  Soon they came under the pursuit of their Egyptian enemies, before they could escape they found themselves on the brink of destruction, doubting the hope of their safety.  The river, the waters of chaos were before them and the enemy was closing in behind them.  “Why would we be brought from Egypt only to die in the desert?” they asked.  Then God acts.  Moses stretches forth his rod over the waters of the Red Sea and the waters stand on end.  The Israelites pass by on dry land and the Egyptians are crushed by the sea as it closes in on them.  For this rag-tag group of ex-slaves, God now becomes the Waymaker, a God that makes a way when no other could be seen.

But this people, now free were without a future.  But again, God faithfully acts.  God calls Moses on top of Mount Sinai and makes him an offer.  God says, “It is I that brought you up out of Egypt.  I am the hope of your future.  I will give you an identity, make you my chosen nation, my royal priesthood...and although all of the earth is mine you will be a peculiar possession...but you must obey my commandments and follow my covenant.”  Moses stepped off the mountain and asked the people if they would agree to follow this YHWH, this deliverer, this Waymaker, this grace giver, and covenant maker.  The people agreed to follow and a relationship was formed.

This is where the story begins.  It begins as God calls a people without hope and without a future, a people threatened by oppression and death.  God calls them to himself, God calls them to be his people.  The story begins as God does for the Israelites what they were incapable of by themselves. God forms a covenant, establishes a bond and makes a promise. a promise of future, land, hope, and redemption.  Their task was obedience and blessing, obedience to the commands of YHWH and blessing to all the nations.

Saturday, May 20, 2017

Day 18: Upside Down and Inside Out

About the time you think that the Scriptures defend the status quo, the Spirit of God sneaks up on you and upends your apple cart.

Today we conclude our section on the themes and threads of the Scripture.  So far, what I’ve shared is in no way comprehensive.  However, we’ve explored enough at this point to alert you to be on watch for themes and threads that hold together the entirety of Scripture.  Over the last couple of days we’ve been discussing the theme of tensions and the way in which those tensions display the character of God.  I would like to peer into one more tension, though this one is a little be different than the others.  Those tensions found on day 15 and 17 primarily are found within the Scriptures, themes that appear at first glance to be at odds with one another.  Today’s tension if found within US as we read the Scripture.

When Dorothy landed in Oz, she looks at Toto and says, “We aren’t in Kansas anymore.” The same might be said when we crack open the Scriptures.  “We are no longer where we used to be.”  The Scriptures, as I’ve stated on other days, offer us a strange new world, a new land that we must orient ourselves to.  Now, here’s part of the tension.  You can take Dorothy out of Kansas, but it’s awful hard to take the Kansas out of Dorothy.  Again, the same could be said to us.  Often when we step into the Scriptures, we step into this strange new world still clinging desperately to the world that we are leaving.  Some of us flat out go kicking and screaming.  Others are a bit more manipulative.  We try to force our world over the world of the Scriptures and use the Scriptures as justification for our perceptions, beliefs, and the way we enjoy the status quo.

The Scriptures weren’t written to baptize our status quo.  They were written to call the status quo into question.

The World of Scriptures creates a tension.  It pits the Kingdom of GOD against the kingdoms of US.  The Kingdom of God is the space where God gets His way, where God’s purposes are fulfilled.  The kingdoms of US, well, that’s like Dorothy’s Kansas.  It’s the space where we are comfortable, everything fits and makes sense, we know the lay of the land, and understand the rules.  When you crack open the Scriptures our kingdoms are called into question.  No longer can we cling to our kingdoms!  What types of kingdoms are we talking about?

The kingdom of self:  This is the kingdom where I define what’s most important.  Everything around me is designed to serve my needs.  I stand at the center of my little universe and everyone else is simply visitors to it.  None of us would like to confess that we reside in this kingdom.  However, it shows up in our pursuits, our ambitions, our neglect of others, our breaches of integrity in order to serve our needs.

The kingdom of greed:  This is the kingdom of our culture.  It’s the incessant desire for more and more at any cost.  It’s the belief that the person who stands holding the most at the end wins.  The kingdom of greed establishes value based on the capacity of a person to earn lots of money and buy lots of toys.  Jealousy and envy are the handmaidens to the kingdom of greed because we live in a state of constant comparison.

The kingdom of power:  We like to be top dog.  In fact, we grew up playing King of the Mountain, standing on some big pile of dirt pushing other kids off the top of the hill.  We live there.  We like to ensure that no matter how little power I have, I have at least a bit more than someone else.   This kingdom shows up in our homes.  Instead of teamwork and cooperation defining the atmosphere, there is a constant jockeying for position of authority.  It shows up in churches, who has the power to make the call.  It is defined by position, title, degrees, or status.

The kingdom of superiority:  This kingdom is one of the most insidious.  It suggests that as long as I am a part of the “right” crowd, then I am among those better off than others.  That crowd could be the “right” religion, political party, race, ethnicity, social class, economic class, etc.  I might be at the bottom of the ladder, but as long as I am one rung above someone else, then I still have someone I can stand over.

Ok…this is not an exhaustive list.  You get my point.  This is the Kansas that we live in every day.  We don’t even realize it most of the time, because it is so thoroughly embedded in who we are.  But its there…all the time, it’s there.  Then we read the Scriptures and everything is turned upside down and inside out.

This is the tension.  When you leave behind Kansas, Oz no longer looks the same.

  • In the Kingdom of God, the least qualified and those without “power” (as the world defines it) are those most often used in extraordinary ways.  
  • In the Kingdom of God, the greatest is the least and the least is the greatest.  
  • In the Kingdom of God we are told that our lives are not about the accumulation of goods, but instead it is a life spent giving itself away to others.  
  • The Kingdom of God makes love of God and our neighbors the priority, with a special emphasis on the least, the last, and the lost (those most vulnerable) instead of self-serving agendas.  
  • The Kingdom of God calls into question politics that caters to the elite and protects the status quo.  
  • The Kingdom of God calls into question religious systems that go through the routine but lack the substance of deep faith and compassion for others.
  • The Kingdom of God creates space where all our silly divisions are undone by our identification with Jesus Christ who makes all, one. 
  • The Kingdom of God turns our belief that strongest, toughest kid on the block is the one that gets to call the shots on its head.  In the Kingdom, God reveals the impotence of the bullies through the power of His love and faithfulness.
  • The Kingdom of God teaches us that there are no forgone conclusions, lost causes, or towels to throw in.  The Kingdom of God is about the hope of God’s redemptive design being realized no matter how many odds are stacked up against it.

The Kingdom of God looks different than our Kansas.  Until the Scriptures are set free to turn our worlds inside out, we will cling to the old kingdoms and miss the power of God’s call to transformation.  That’s the tension.  It’s resides deep within us.  Will we allow all that I once knew, understood, and was comfortable with to be called into question?  Will I allow the disruptive world of God’s new Kingdom to usurp and overthrow my little kingdoms?

Back to Luke…
You ready to jump into Luke 13 now?  Just to give you a little bit of insight here…things are turning very serious for Jesus very quickly.  The tone of his teaching is taking on a new urgency.  Within a couple of chapters, Jesus will be setting his path toward Jerusalem and the cross and He’s not messing around.  We saw that in his warnings yesterday, but it will be picked up again in Luke 13 and 14.  Yesterday, thousands were following Jesus.  You will notice that as Jesus calls into question our kingdoms in attempt to establish THE KINGDOM, the crowds will get a bit smaller.  So dive in, walk around, find your place and listen to Jesus challenge some our ideas about the Kingdom and what matters most to God.

Friday, May 19, 2017

Day 17: So Confusing

Only God can tell the same “one story” through four different stories that seek to tell that same story differently.  Did you get that?  On Day 15, we began to explore the tensions throughout the Scriptures.  We discussed the need to refuse our temptation to chase after the cut and dry, a reading of Scripture that ties up all the loose ends and refuses the implicit tensions and grey areas along the way.  Again, I need to remind you from Day 15, there are some very “Black and White” elements of the Scripture and I refer you again to Day 15 for that discussion.  However, those elements of certainty are wrapped up in moments of faith-filled wrestling and embrace of tensions.

Today we are going to explore just a few more of those tensions.

4 Stories that tell 1 Story Differently:  Perhaps you are new to the Bible and you are still trying to get a lay of the land.  At the beginning of the New Testament, there are four books, each of which have a man’s name.  Their names, Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John.  These books together are called the Gospels (stories of good news).  Each of them have the same objective: faithfully communicate the story of Jesus in various contexts.  Each of them tell the same story…the story of Jesus.  However, each story tells that same story in a different way.  Each of them is speaking to a specific context, makes references that the others don’t, highlights themes and episodes that the others don’t.  Some of the data points along the way can even sound a bit contradictory (a cursory reading of the Resurrection stories will reveal this).  Reading through these books you come to discover that three of them (Matthew, Mark, and Luke) sound “sorta” similar, but John’s Gospel is completely different.  Within the first few hundred years of the church (up to about 300 AD or so) there was a press to combine all four gospels into one.  Some were afraid that four tellings of the same story differently would be confusing (it would lack the neat and tidy that so many desired).  However, the early church refused this push, suggesting that four gospels held together a richness and texture in the stories of Jesus that would be lost in the homogeneity of one text.  We discover angles in Jesus and the intentions of the early story tellers that would be lost in one gospel.  So they held these four together.  In reading these gospels, we allow the texture and richness to illuminate the various ways His early followers witness His life, His teachings, His death, and His resurrection.

Live in the tensions.

Note:  There were other Gospels circulating at this time as well.  If you’ve been to a Barnes and Noble, there will be books on the shelves that talk about the “Gnostic Gospels” or the one’s left out.  We will deal with this next week when I discuss how the Bible came to exist in its current form, however, I say that what’s really important in this is that each of the four accepted gospels hold together similar themes and threads with the rest of the Biblical narrative and follow what’s called the “Rule of Faith.”  Again we will discuss this more later next week.

Shouts of Warning and Whispers of Hope:  Throughout the Old Testament, there are several books that hold together a tension that is often lost on us.  We want it either/or rather than both/and.  God’s serious about His business of restoring this world back to His original design.  Likewise, God is serious about enlisting His people to fulfill that desire by embodying in their lives complete and unhindered allegiance and obedience to Him.  He’s offered them a life, a way forward, a path to a life of meaning and purpose.  However, our story tells us we are a bit hard-headed and seek our own way, our own path, and attempt to construct our own meaning by enlisting the help of self-made gods.  This grieves/angers the heart of a jealous loving God.  God then sends messengers to shout from the rooftops the need for repentance, a faithful turning away from sin and toward God.  We are an obstinate bunch.  God then warns of destruction and promises He will not forever boundary the forces of chaos from sweeping in and destroying God’s people.  Sounds ominous!  This is where “hell, fire, and brimstone” preaching goes wrong.  It focuses only on one side of the coin…awaiting destruction.  However, keep reading because the same people that shout warnings and destruction from the rooftops, pages later whisper hope.  They make promises of a God that will not forever abandon them to their destruction, but that God will restore and make a new way forward, a new story is possible.  God is a God of hope and restoration.  However, this is where other preachers go wrong.  They focus so much on all that is good that they miss the reality of repentance and the call to faithful obedience.  These are always to be held in tension.

HE knows everything, SURPRISE!!:  This is a complicated discussion for sure, because this strikes at the nature and character of God.  However, I just want to touch on it today to give caution in reading the Bible that key tensions aren’t missed.  We usually, in speaking of God throw around words and sayings like, “God is in control, God is Omniscient (All Knowing), Omnipotent (All Powerful), and Omnipresent (Everywhere all the time), God is in charge.”  Now, again this is complicated.  However, when you read the Bible some of these statements will come under scrutiny.  For instance, for some… “God is in charge” often means that God has prescribed or scripted everything.  But…if you read the text faithfully, you will discover that’s not always the case.  Sometimes God changes his mind.  Sometimes God haggles with people.  Sometimes God’s course of action changes or is influenced by the prayers of His people.  Besides, we ought to caution ourselves that God does not script evil.  Sometimes this God that knows everything is surprised.  In Jeremiah 7:31, when the Israelites are accused of sacrificing their children, it says, “something I did not command, nor did it enter into my mind.”  This seems to suggest that evil can actually shock God.  I know right?  This adds a layer of tension.  We love the neat and tidy world of everything scripted.  But what if it is more dynamic than that?  What if it requires more of us than that?  What if the tensions call us to a faith that the static doesn’t regard?

Ok…so that gives you enough today to chew on.  Tensions = Faith-filled wrestling

Back to the Story of Luke…
How ya coming?  Let’s turn our attention to Luke chapter 12 today.  This is a powerful chapter.  I want you as you read Luke 12 to stay connected to kinds of warnings that Jesus gives to those listening.  He warns against hypocrisy, greed, worry, fear, laziness, and injustice.  In reading this passage, how have the very things that Jesus warns against disrupted or affected your life in significant ways.  Imagine standing in the crowd hearing Jesus speaking these words over your life for the first time.  What would your response be?

Day 16: From the Garden to the City

Today we take a journey through the whole story of Scriptures in an hour.  This is a primer that attempts to pull together the scope of the Story.


Friday, May 12, 2017

Day 15: Cut and Dry...Ummm...Well?

Cut and dry, black and white, neat and tidy, for many of us these are our expectations of the Biblical Story.  We value clarity.  We hope to know, beyond a shadow of a doubt, or a hint of tension “the way it is” or “what should be done.” Unfortunately, our obsession with the “clear cut” is often disappointed in the Scriptures.  The Scriptures often refuse to cater to our need for “this or that” and instead, often, pose a world of “this and that,” demanding that we stand in the space of the “and.”  A faithful reading of the Scripture invites the reader into profound tensions that require the risk of faith.

Again, we are exploring the themes and threads of the Scripture.  Today we are going to explore the theme of TENSION and the thread of God’s character as “both/and” instead of “either/or.”  Before I move explore the ways in which those themes and threads are woven throughout the story, it is important for us to understand some of the elements that contribute to our desire for “cut and dry.”

  1. Fear – We believe that a Biblical Story that refuses absolute clarity sets us up for inconsistent interpretations, abuse of the Bible for the purposes of personal agenda, and an incessant relativism that lacks any form of absolute grounding.  Without clarity, we are doomed to unfaithfulness and we will make the Bible say whatever we want it to say.  Unfortunately, this argument is doomed because there have been many “clear” explanations of God and the Scriptures that have been in conflict with other “clear” explanations. 
  2. Laziness – We value the “cut and dry” over tension because it’s easier.  We’d prefer to read the Bible like an online article.  “Just give me the clear, bold headlines.”  Once I get the “black and white,” I can leave the Bible (and its complexity) behind and just follow its principals and precepts.  Tension demands something of us.  It requires us to jump in, linger a bit longer, contemplate, pray, and wait for the Spirit of God to work and move.  It takes longer and requires more of us.
  3. Control – Those who own clarity have control.  I know that sounds terrible.  However, this plays itself out in churches and faith communities all throughout the world.  Once we’ve turned the Bible into a black and white document with clearly defined boundary markers (the space within those boundaries is often very small) than we have the power to control who gains entry into that space.  Control is exercised over congregations and families, using fear, guilt, and shame to manipulate people into rigid interpretations that leave little room for faith exploration, doubt, and wrestling with the textured, multi-dimensional narratives of the Bible. 

We must resist the idolatrous allure of clarity and clear cut against the Biblical invitation to step into tensions and embrace radical faith.  

What do I mean about tensions?
Before you freak out on me…there are aspects of clarity within the Biblical Narrative.  I’ve already outlined several of those throughout our journey into Scripture.  It is clear that Jesus stands in the center of the Christian Faith.  It is clear that as the people of God we are to be a “counter” kind of people, a people that live against the grain, giving witness to the glory of its Creator.  It is clear that God’s tenacious love continues to drive Him to seek the restoration of all things.  These are just a few of the clear elements of the Biblical Story.  You can find clarity.

However, that clarity is often wrapped in tensions that need to be teased out.  For example:
Booming Voice or Dirty Hands – Genesis 1 and 2 speaks of creation.  In Genesis 1, God is a Cosmic Creator who has the power to simply “speak” things into existence.  His booming voice, invites nothingness to produce something “good.”  He speaks, “Let it be.”  It is and it is good.  Genesis 2 speaks of another creation story.  This time God isn’t bellowing a Cosmic invitation, God is down on His knees playing in the dust, forming and fashioning all that is in the intimacy of His gracious tenderness and care.  He tips back the head and breathes into the nostrils, life.  So which is it?  Is it the booming voice or the dirty hands…and the Bible would say, “YES!”

Priests or Prophets – Throughout much of the Old Testament there is a consistent tension that develops between two characters (roles) within the faith community.  Priests throughout the Bible have served a key role.  They are to mediate the presence of God to the people.  They are the guardians of “holy purity” through ritual observance and legal code.  They are overseers of sacred spaces and servants of restoration and forgiveness between God and God’s people.  Prophets are the “thorny” voices of those are keenly aware of how often power can be abused (politically, religiously, and economically.)  They pronounce judgements against those that guard religious observance but fail to fulfill the mandates of justice.  They speak for God, though not always in the way God commands (even prophecy can be self-serving).  These two often come into conflict with one another (sometimes violent).  So which one?  Is it the priests or the prophets that are important, religious observance or justice, purity or the political will to care for the weak, the marginal, and vulnerable?  The Bible would say, “YES!”

Grace or Obedience – Grace is the gift of God that makes possible our access to the beauty of restoration, forgiveness, and wholeness.  This is God’s favorable disposition towards the desire of His heart…His people.  Grace is the freely given gift to all.  We inherit eternity through grace by faith, not by our merits.  We love grace.  But some would say, what about obedience.  Jesus says we are known to love him by what we do, our obedience (John 14)..  James would suggest that grace and faith are great but that better mean there is a life of obedience that marks that grace and faith (James 2).  John would say in His 1st letter, “one can’t continue to sin” and claim a relationship with God (no matter how much grace there is - 1 John 3).  Paul, the champion of Grace says that grace cannot be used as a license to do whatever we want.  Obedience matters.  Obedience marks our salvation.  So which is it?  Is it God’s grace or is it our obedience?  The Bible would say, “YES!!”

Ok…we are only scratching the surface at this point.  However, you are starting to get what I’m saying?  Tomorrow and the next day we will continue to explore the tensions that:
Jesus is Son of God and Son of Man…
That God brings judgement and offers hope…
That only by losing do we gain…
That the greatest is the least and the least the greatest…
That God “knows” all things and is often surprised…
That there are 4 Gospels that tell the same story differently…

These tensions demand something of us.  They demand that we enter in to the story, look around, survey the landscape, discover the multi-dimensional world of the story, cling to faith, linger in uncertainty, embody and embrace a story that has many angles.  There is a richness in a story of tension that is lost in a world that is ONLY and EVER Black and White.

Let’s jump back into Luke…
Today I want to invite you to finish reading the 11th chapter of Luke.  As you read this chapter, especially as you read Luke 11:37-54, I would like you to consider some of the tensions felt throughout these texts.  For instance…When Jesus is talking to the Pharisees (these are the super-religious, Scripturally committed, spiritually committed, guardians of the faith) he says, “42 “Woe to you Pharisees, because you give God a tenth of your mint, rue and all other kinds of garden herbs, but you neglect justice and the love of God. You should have practiced the latter without leaving the former undone.”  What kind of tensions do you discover in these passages?

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Day 14: God Don't Make No Junk

When the forbidden fruit became the feast of disobedience, a shattering sound was heard, reverberating throughout the whole of creation.  Disobedience in the Garden of Eden in Chapter 3 of Genesis has become the story’s way of making sense of the brokenness of our world. Prior to the “the fall,” there was sense of melodic harmony.  I love talking about creation within the metaphor of music.  God created all that is.  Bearing within creation was to be the melody of God’s glory and graciousness played throughout all the various instruments and voices of God’s design.  Each instrument and voice is different, but it is that beautiful difference aligned with God’s melody that creates a harmony that resonates.

However, the radical disobedience (or departure from the melodic composition of God’s design) in the Garden created a dissonance (it no longer sounds as it should, something is off) that has deeply affected the whole creation.  Now the instruments and voices are at odds with one another.  Humanity finds itself at odds with God, at odds with nature, at odds with one another, and at odds with themselves.  In short, “things got broke, things fell apart.”  This leads us to what I believe to be yet another theme and thread that ties together the Scriptural Story.  The theme is Restoration.  The thread of God’s Character is as ARTIST (CREATOR).

Too often we think of “creation” as a one-time event at the beginning of history.  That’s an unfortunate reduction of “creation” and a tragic missing of the character of God.  As Creator, God has the imaginative capacity to dream of what is yet to exist and through the work of his faithfulness and power bring beauty out of nothingness (and in many cases, beauty from brokenness.)  Without a doubt, Creation at the outset was the work of God.  And, at the outset, creation was good and beautiful.  However, this God that creates, doesn’t stop creating when the ball was set in motion at the beginning of time.  No, God’s tenacious and steady influence on the whole of creation throughout time is an exercise of this imaginative capacity and creative (recreative) power.

Why does this matter?  Because “things got broke, things fell apart.”  If God was a one-time Creator, when things got broke, that would be it.  “I made it.  You broke it.  It is what it is.”  We would be doomed to suffer the “forever” dissonance of a harmony that had gone tragically wrong.  We would be doomed to always be at odds with one another.  However, the story of Scripture tells us of a much different story.  In fact, our story tells us of a God that creates (recreates) beauty on the rubble of our brokenness.  We call this RESTORATION.

God has as His passion to restore to beauty that which has been marred, corrupted, perverted, and broken.  God seeks to reclaim the “good” intention of His design.  God seeks to realign all of creation to His melody and invite difference to again contribute to harmony rather than difference serving as the catalyst for dissonance and conflict.

To do so, God stays true to His Character as Creator or what I call Artist.  I love to envision God as artist.  This is not without reason.  Throughout the Scripture God is referred to as a Potter (Jeremiah 18), His Word is poetic, life is painted on the canvas of creation, and when creation aligns itself with the composer’s melody, there is no tune like it.  God has this infinite capacity to look upon what doesn’t yet exist, or what exists in its most broken form, and imagine the beauty of what could be.  He then sets out to exercise his artistic influence to restore all that is to its originally created beauty.

This means…

  • God has the capacity to create and recreate!
  • God is never finished with his artwork!
  • God is a masterpiece maker!
  • “God don’t make not junk!”
  • God doesn’t traffic in junk or knock-offs!
  • God looks into the “trash heaps” of our world and finds the raw material for beauty!
  • God has the capacity to take even the most broken shards and shattered pieces and transform them into a breath-taking mosaic.  
  • God isn’t simply a composer, but also a conductor!  He seeks to woo creation’s diversity back into alignment with melodic score of His symphony of Beauty.  

I know, I know, I’m all over the place with my metaphors.  Is God a composer/conductor, potter, poet, or painter?  The answer is, YES!  All of these metaphors work!  All of them speak to the capacity to take something from the place of an imagined dream and, whether working with nothing or raw materials, make that dream into a beautiful reality.  As an artist, God is restoring all things to His original dream.  He longs to declare once again, “Ooohhhh that’s good!”  When read through this lens, our doomsday fears, our “to hell in a handbasket” fatalism, and our fears are quelled by the hopeful faith and expectation that God’s still at work forming and fashioning a future of beauty, moments when dissonance will disappear, and what we will be left with is the melodic harmony of God’s instruments and voices declaring again the glory of its Artist.

Time to journey back into Scripture:
Today, you’ve only got to read a little bit.  I’d like for you to read Luke 11:1-13 and Matthew 6:9-15.  In today’s Scripture, we are introduced to what’s often called the “Lord’s Prayer.”  Many of us know this prayer even before we are followers of Christ.  However, I want you to read (and perhaps pray) this prayer in light of today’s theme.  How might this prayer be prayed in the anticipation of all of creation aligning itself again with the beauty of God’s melody?  If God’s an artist and we want His Kingdom on earth as it is in Heaven, how might that affect the beauty at play in our daily lives?

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Day 13: Freedom For...NOT...Freedom To

We were not to live as captives, held hostage to powers and prinicipalities aligned to threaten and damage the pursuits of God.  We were not created to live bound to the insatiable passions of the flesh nor the rebelliousness of our self-consumed wills.  We were created for freedom.  Now, before you paint your face blue, mount horseback, and give your best William Wallace (Braveheart) cry, let’s probe into this claim a little bit deeper.

Throughout the last few days, I have been suggesting that central to our confidence and competency of reading the Scriptures well is a deepened understanding of the themes and threads that hold the entire story of Scripture together.  Thus far we’ve looked at God’s Lovingly Faithful character and the theme of Redemptive Hope and God’s Jealous Anger towards those that abandon God’s created design, intending to usurp His authority through power plays and manipulation.  Today we take another step.  I want to suggest to you that the theme of Captivity and God’s character as Liberator consistently resonate throughout the Scriptures.

We love our freedom.  Especially in America.  We love to be able to do what we want, when we want, with little interference from others.  However, what if I were to suggest that the political freedoms we have as Westerners are far different from the theological freedom that God’s story displays (so much so that our Western idea of freedom may actually have corrupted our spiritual sensitivities.)  Political freedom often speaks of the “freedom to…”.  This means that our rights and privileges as individuals aren’t to be limited (as much as socially responsible for the welfare of other individuals) as much as possible.  We want the “freedom to” do whatever we want.

What we have failed to realize is that it is precisely that “freedom to” that got us into a problem in the first place.  The story of Genesis tells us the intriguing and compelling story of freedom and bondage.  In Genesis 2, humanity had been created for perfect Communion with God.  Within the boundaries of that communion and under the direction of God, humanity was free, free in the sense that the Garden was their playground, one in which they were given space to flourish, grow, abound, experience joy, live in peace, and tend to things that mattered.  Within the boundaries that God established there was "freedom for" the purposes of God, freedom for communion with God, freedom for our created intent.

But…we weren’t ok with limitations and boundaries.  We wanted “freedom to” make up our own mind and do our own thing.  Genesis 3 tells the story of this “want to.”  In Adam and Eve’s aspiration to live in the “freedom to” master their own destiny, the harmonic relationship with the Creator is betrayed.  In abandoning our “freedom for” communion with God and choosing the “freedom to” do whatever we want, the paradox is we actually become bound to a life serving the desires of self and our flesh.  We call that binding, sin.  Sin is the betrayal of “freedom for” and a life lived in willful disobedience called a “freedom to” do whatever we want.

The history of humanity has given witness to the bondage of sinfulness in our lives.

What we often call “free will” is nothing more than our wills bound to sin so that we have the “freedom to” do what we want.  Every time we’ve exercised that “freedom to,” we’ve further tightened our shackles.  We live shackled to the lust of the eyes, the passion of the flesh, the tyranny of our ego and pride, selfish conceit, vain ambition, brokenness, addictions, and compulsive behaviors.  The end result is often relationships destroyed, shame, guilt, regret, suffering, exploitation, manipulation, abuse, power-tripping, scape-goating, and the list can go on.  Sounds fun right?  All because we wanted a childish “power to” do what we desired.

But…now this is GOOD!  God is not content with our captivity.  God did not create us to live in the squalor of our bondage.  God created us for freedom.  God created us with the hope that we’d live in “freedom for” an unbroken relationship with God, freedom for the purposes He dreamed over us as He knit us together in our mother’s wombs.  God has set about throughout the Scriptures to liberate us from our self-induced bondage.  Consistently throughout the story of God, God’s character is LIBERATOR.  God liberates us from the dominance of our control, abuse, and manipulation of one another.  God liberates us from the passion of the flesh by establishing boundaries that keep us from escaping into tragic decisions based on the tenacious yearning to master our own destinies.  God liberates us from the damaging consequences of our sinfulness through forgiveness in Jesus Christ and a life lived empowered by the Holy Spirit to overcome the senseless, unfaithful monotony of “more of the same.”  God liberates us from addiction by renewing our hearts and minds.  God liberates us from compulsive behaviors by establishing new rhythms and pursuits in our lives.  God liberates us from the tyranny of our egos by humbling us to our knees and reminding us daily…”but by the grace of God go I.”

Check out these beautiful verses that give testimony to God’s character as Liberator!

Remember Jesus mission statement in Luke 4 we’ve referred to…
18“The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor.  He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, 19to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

John 8: Jesus said, “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. 32 Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”

Galatians 5:1It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.

The list could go on and on…

However, I want you to understand that throughout the Scriptures God does not set us free so that we can do whatever we want to do.  God sets us free so that we can be His, living in the freedom for communion, freedom for our design and purpose in this world, freedom for the blessedness of living in the joy, peace, and hope that God alone can establish in our lives.  When you read the Scriptural story keep the theme of CAPTIVITY and the thread of God’s character as LIBERATOR in mind and heart.  It will shape the way you understand what can be misinterpreted as God’s binding commands.  Through this lens, each command God gives is a command that further establishes the possibility of our “freedom for” a loving, unrestricted, grace-filled, hope-filled, peace-filled life in, with, and through God.

Back to Luke…
Ok…so today let’s read Luke chapter 10:25-42.  As an exercise, let’s keep the above mentioned theme (Captivity) and thread (God as Liberator) in mind.

A little background on the story of the Good Samaritan.  When asked about being neighbors, Jesus tells the story of a Samaritan that happens by a broken man, lifts him up out of the gutter, and extends care and concern.  Just so you know…Jews loathed Samaritans.  In their minds, they were half-breeds.  They were the result of an unholy blending of religions and cultures that had corrupted the sacred practices of the Jews in that area.  They were often referred to as dogs.  There was an implicit (explicit) bias that Jews had toward Samaritans.  As you read this story, what might Jesus be trying to free the listeners from?  How might captivity in this story be defined?  What might the fruit of freedom from bias (prejudice) mean for the lives of those that were listening to this story (or reading it).

Now move on to the story of Mary and Martha?  Where do you find captivity in this story?  Where does Jesus display a “freedom for” in this story?

How do these stories impact some of the captivity you’ve experienced in life?  How might Jesus be at work in your life right now trying to set you free?

Monday, May 8, 2017

Day 12: God’s Anger…My Stumbling Block

On Day 11, we began to explore the idea that there are certain themes and threads that tie together the scope of the Biblical story.  Over the course of the next few days, we will continue this exploration.  However, before going any further, I need to address the elephant in the room.  Anytime we begin to think about themes and threads, we are often met with this looming suspicion that what we will find at the end of our journey is an angry God.  The image of an incensed God, watching from Heaven with a giant cosmic gavel in His hands, ready to lower it on the heads of the sinful, declaring guilty and dooming us to hell has often influenced our spiritual imagination so thoroughly that we have trouble breaking free from this image.  We hear about a God of love, but what we expect to find is a God of anger.

Ok, so, I can’t spare you from the Biblical truth that, “yes, God gets angry.”  I wish I could, really.  I wish I could tell you that God is super loving, daisies and daffodils all the time.  But no, there are moments when the anger of God seems to erupt in the Scriptures…and the people of God find themselves on the short end of God’s temper.  To read the Prophets Isaiah, Ezekiel, or Jeremiah, you will be met with a God that clearly declares his displeasure with the people of God and warns them of looming judgment and their self-induced onslaught of chaos.  You can’t escape it.  If you go looking for it in the Bible, you can find it…and yes you can even build an entire theology around it.

However!!!  This is super important!  God is not arbitrarily angry nor is He rash with his judgment.  God is not prone to temper tantrums nor is He like a drunken angry daddy, unpredictable in his rage.  God’s anger is clear and consistent with His character (yes, that Lovingly Faithful character we talked about on Day 11).  To ensure that we don’t wander down the road of fear or turn Biblical interpretation into fear mongering…we need to briefly explore the “why” of God’s anger.  When does God’s anger burn brightest.  I want to name three consistent issues that often compel God to anger.

1.) Idolatry:  As the author of all creation, God has wired this world to declare the glory of the One God alone.  This world was created to operate best when it is in alignment and harmony with the Creator’s will.  The Creator has promised provision, care, purpose, and beauty to all of creation.  The Creator is unceasingly faithful.  The Creator of all things has not only created the universe but set our place in the universe.  But this Creator who reveals himself throughout the Scriptures is a God that can’t be controlled, domesticated, or determined.  He isn’t our play thing to exploit or manipulate to fulfill our desires.  No, this God is free to be as God chooses to be.  However, our story tells us that we struggle with this.  We’d prefer a “god” that we can control.  We prefer “gods” the way we want them rather than submitting to a God that seeks our complete an unbridled allegiance and obedience.  We make our own gods.  We craft “things” based on our selfish desires and then surrender ourselves to those very things.  We create and then call our creation god.  We yield ourselves to gods that are really no gods at all.  We yield ourselves to gods that make promises they cannot fulfill.  We bind ourselves to the illusion of god and miss the promise of the True God who’s promised care for us.  God’s anger burns brightly when we bind and shackle ourselves to “nothingness” in hopes that “nothingness” can provide purpose and meaning.  God’s anger toward our idolatry isn’t based on some insecurity God has when his people refuse to applaud His efforts.  God’s anger is a jealous love toward those who abandon the glory God promises and surrender themselves to the “less than” of nothingness.  For an example of this anger, check out Jeremiah 10:1-16

2.) Injustice:  When we turn Biblical faith into morality, we think only in terms of good and bad.  God gets mad when we are bad.  God is pleased when we behave ourselves.  That’s an unfortunate reduction of Biblical faith.  God’s anger towards our actions isn’t determined by random moral categories, it’s determined by the justice of God.  Let me explain.  In Genesis 1 (we read this a few days ago), we are told that humanity is created in the Image of God.  That’s huge.  We as humans bear in our created intent the reflection and image of God in this world….ALL OF US.  All humans bear in their lives a glimpse of the Image of God.  This means that each human being should be afforded the dignity incumbent with that Image of God.  When we mistreat one another…
When we exploit one another…
When we manipulate one another…
When we take advantage of one another…
When we treat one another as a means to our selfish ends…
When we abuse one another…
When we betray the vulnerability of the weak, the struggling, the broken and the weary…
When we … well you get my point.
When we do any and all of these, God’s anger burns brightly.  This means we diminish the Image of God in one another.  God has wired this world in such a way that we are to honor, respect, and extend dignity toward one another.  We are to live compassionately, merciful, gracious, forgiving, providing, generous, hospitable, and protective toward and with one another.  When we fail this primal calling, God’s anger burns brightly.  He laments our mistreatment of one another and condemns our betrayal of our high and lofty calling of being with and for one another.

3.) Syncretism:  Ok…we will deal more with this one as we continue, but I want to give you a bit of a definition right now.  Think blending.  Syncretism is a blending of pagan (those that aren’t committed to worldview shaped by the God of the Scriptures) pursuits and heathen (those driven by the lusts of the flesh) passions into the Spiritual life of the people of God, leaving a mixed and confused semblance of what was supposed be life lived in obedience to God.  Let me explain.  God has called us to be different.  He has created us to reflect His image in this world.  How we live matters.  God defines that difference throughout the Scriptures, setting boundaries around our pursuits and bridling our passions so that we never lose our way as those absolutely committed to God’s work and way in this world.  However, full allegiance to God is often hard to come by.  There are things in this world that we struggle to let go of, things that we value, things that make us feel good, things that promise to provide something for us that God seems to be lacking.  So instead of abandoning God altogether, we simply blend those pursuits and passions with our faith and call it spiritual.  For instance, if I already value wealth and prosperity and if I’m worried that God might want to bridle that pursuit, I simply find ways to spiritualize that pursuit into the faith and redefine the trajectory of my faith.  There are other examples that we will note as we move forward.  One great example of this is Israel’s pursuit of a King in 1 Samuel.  In this text, God had been their King.  He’d been taking good care of them.  However, they looked around to their neighbors and began to long for what they had.  So, they adopted, or blended, the pagan pursuits of security and comfort, abandoning absolute trust toward God.  This arouses God’s anger.

Ok…so these are three consistent themes in the Scripture that seem to spark anger in the heart of God.  You will notice, none of these are rash, random, or inconsistent.  They are wired into our betrayal of the created order and intent of God.  Each of these has damaging consequences leaving us broken, bruised, and CAPTIVE (we will explore the theme of captivity and the character of God as Liberator tomorrow).  God’s anger isn’t a rash judgment declaring “You’ve been bad and deserve to be spanked.”  No, God’s anger is the jealous anger of a God that watches as the love of His heart has abandoned His high calling and beauty, His purpose and provision for a “less than” kind of life.

Let’s dive deeper into Luke:
Today I want you to read Luke 10:1-24.  This is a beautiful passage about the missional calling of God’s people.  I want you to really step into this text today.  Instead of God calling the “72,” I want you to image yourself as one of those 72.  Listen to the commission of Jesus, the calling to make the Kingdom known, and the correction of Jesus when they begin to celebrate the wrong stuff.  Spend some time reflecting on this passage in light of what we’ve stated above: Idolatry (God’s Kingdom), Injustice (Care for the Broken) and Syncretism (Holding on to the identity of difference.)

Friday, May 5, 2017

Day 11: Playing Jenga or Stitching Quilts

Too many Christians treat their faith like a Jenga set.  You know what a Jenga set is right?  It’s a game people play made up of many similarly shaped pieces of wood stacked in a tower.  The object of the game is to continue to remove pieces from the tower until that unlucky person is left with “THE PIECE” that once removed will topple the whole tower.  When that happens, they lose.  It’s a fun party game, not a great way to handle your Biblical faith.

For many, the faith is made up of these similarly shaped pieces, drawn from both the Bible and the doctrines of their tradition, stacked nicely, well ordered, and as long as people leave it alone, it looks good.  But…if people start trying to call into question pieces of the tower, if people start messing with pieces, if there is a sense that someone may even be trying to remove a piece…fear becomes the order of the day.  Fear becomes a motivation for anger and hostility, defensiveness and conflict.  Many Christians stand guard fearfully defending their towers from the assaults of others.  Don’t touch my tower!  Unfortunately, that’s one of the reasons why many churches don’t often embrace the hard questions or the doubt of searching skeptics.  Their questions and doubts threaten their neatly stacked tower.

Warning:  This image is a real problem when the key pieces that hold the tower together are actually minor themes or insignificant pieces that weren’t intended to carry the whole weight of the tower anyway.

I prefer the image of a patchwork quilt.  A patchwork quilt is made up of various, multi-colored (sometimes multi-textured) pieces of fabric, arranged in the mind and heart of the creator and then stitched together with a thread that binds the pieces.   Each piece itself can have a sense of beauty about it.  You might like the color or the feel.  Perhaps you were drawn to a particular pattern on the piece.  But the true beauty isn’t until you step back, taking in the breath of the whole quilt, all the pieces arranged beautifully and stitched together in the hands of a master.
 
Biblical faith becomes about beauty more than delicate balance.

I prefer to speak of Biblical faith in terms of themes and threads rather than stacked building blocks.  Using this image we might say that the themes are the patchwork squares and the threads are the character of the God of Scriptures holding and pulling all the various pieces together.

Note…There is a center piece!  The piece that’s in the center of the quilt, around which all other pieces are arranged is Jesus Christ.  We’ve spoken about this consistently through this Blog.  We mustn’t forget or neglect His preeminent role in the quilt.  In fact the Scripture says of him in Colossians 1:“16 For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him. 17 He is before all things, and in him all things hold together.”

Ok…how about an example here.
I believe one of the patterned pieces of Biblical Faith that shows up in the quilt over and over again is “Redemptive Hope.”  This is a theme of Scripture.  Taken alone, this piece is beautiful.  No matter who you are, how deep your commitment to religion or faith is, HOPE standing alone is a beautiful piece.  However, I believe it’s true beauty is found within the overarching beauty of the quilt.  Redemptive Hope speaks to the desire of God’s heart.  It emerges (as we will see in days to come) from the beginning of the Scriptures.  It speaks of the desire of God to take all that is broken, shattered, wounded, and wrecked and to make it whole again.  It’s the aspiration of God that this will become reality.

Hold on cause this is about to get good!!  That theme (the patchwork piece) is woven into the quilt through the thread of God’s character.  God’s character binds the pieces of the story together.  We might say its God’s character as LOVINGLY FAITHFUL that makes possible the beauty of the piece.  Without the thread of God’s consistent character and it’s place in the overall quilt, Hope as a piece might look beautiful and even feel compelling, but in all reality it’s just a beautiful piece that becomes wishful thinking.  However, HOPE woven together with God’s LOVING FAITHFULNESS becomes more than possibility, it becomes the enduring testimony of God’s people throughout the scope of God’s entire story (The Scriptures) pointing to the center piece of Jesus Christ, and witnessed in the people who live out this promise.

This is simply a theme and a thread.  We will explore many more over the coming days, but I wanted to get the ball rolling.  We will look at themes like creation, recreation, liberation, restoration, reconciliation, etc.  We will also look at the threads or Holiness, Self-Giving Love, Compassion, Patience, Graciousness, Strength, etc.  We will also anchor these themes and threads in the overarching story of the Scriptures.

Again…this MATTERS!
Why?  It changes the pursuit and purpose of Biblical Faith.  Instead of learning which way the pieces of the Bible should be stacked and neatly arranged, guarded and defended with insecure zeal, Biblical Faith becomes about discovery and quest.  It’s the discovery of those themes woven into the fabric of human history that lay alongside one another and give expression to the beauty of its CREATOR’s design.  It’s about the intimate journey of discovering the heart and the character of God that is the thread that holds these pieces together.  Biblical Faith is less about defense and more about beauty.  It’s less about guarding stacked pieces that at anytime can topple and more about the passionate pursuit of a relationship with the One that binds all pieces together.

Reading Plan…
Ok, so if you are following along in our reading plan so far, you should be at about Luke 9:21.  I want to encourage you to take today and read the rest of Luke 9.  The quilt of Biblical Faith as a whole is absolutely beautiful.  However, one of the key pieces (themes) that emerges throughout the text is the idea of “Cost.”  To be a God chaser is to recognize this journey doesn’t come easy.  Resolute commitment is requisite in this journey.  Explore this chapter from that perspective.  Ask God to reveal to you not only the immense cost that Jesus speaks about for himself throughout this chapter but also the cost he calls his followers to in this chapter.  Then ask the question, “Amidst the cost, what thread of God’s character have you witnessed so far that would make that piece seem possible in your life?”