Sunday, July 31, 2011

The Jesus I met in Mexico—various NT passages

No, not Jesús, José's brother, but Jesus Himself! On one of our early trips to Heaven (Mexico), God revealed a lot about what the kingdom life should look like. He did this through Miquel, the towel attendant at the resort pool. I watched Miguel over several days, and his positive and joyous attitude was amazing and contagious, and I began to wonder how he could live like that, considering that he was NOT on vacation, didn't get to jump into the pool, enjoy a cold drink, or eat the all inclusive food, and likely returned to poverty each evening without enough money to care for his family well. Then I began a list of what I learned about Jesus from Miguel, and discovered the verses that filled in the blanks. I realized that he was far more like Jesus than I was! Here's the list, 10 things, in no particular order but as they occurred to me: (No commentary necessary!)

1.    Be content. Phillipians 4:11 "...I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content." and Matthew 6:25 “Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing?" and 1 Timothy 6:6-8 "Now there is great gain in godliness with contentment, for we brought nothing into the world, and  we cannot take anything out of the world.  But if we have food and clothing, with these we will be content."
2.    Be humble. Phil 2:3-4 "Do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves.  Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others."
3.    Live right now. Mañana is mañana. Matt 6:34 “Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble."
4.    No problema. Phil 2:14 "Do all things without grumbling or questioning." and Eph 6:6-7 "do the will of God from the heart,  rendering service with a good will as to the Lord and not to man,  knowing that whatever good anyone does, this he will receive back from the Lord."
5.    Enjoy relationships and family while you can. Luke 22:14-16 "And when the hour came, he reclined at table, and the apostles with him.  And he said to them, “I have earnestly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer.  For I tell you I will not eat it until it is fulfilled in the kingdom of God.”"
6.    Be thankful. Colossians 3:15-16 "And be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God."
7.    Work hard, and appreciate it. Ephesians 6:5-8 "obey your earthly masters with fear and trembling, with a sincere heart, as you would Christ, not by the way of eye-service, as people-pleasers, but as servants of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart, rendering service with a good will as to the Lord and not to man, knowing that whatever good anyone does, this he will receive back from the Lord."
8.    Be a servant with a good attitude. 2 Timothy 2:24-25 "And the Lord's servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, correcting his opponents with gentleness."
9.    Be respectful. 1 Tim 5:1-2 "Do not rebuke an older man but encourage him as you would a father, younger men as brothers, older women as mothers, younger women as sisters, in all purity."
10.    Simplify. Matt 6:31-34 "But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble."

This is why we must return to Mexico frequently, in order to be reminded of these things! ☺

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Saying Yes to the Adventure—Matthew 14

What is it that makes us yearn for comfort and safety? Why do we tend to run from anything that's a bit new and uncomfortable?  I'm starting to see that this is an either-or sort of decision—whether we'll enter into adventure, or just stay home. And 'home' or safety, or comfort, or however you think of it, sucks us in with the gravitational pull of a black hole. Our very tendency, it seems, is to be drawn back to safety. If we want to enter into the adventure, it's something we'll have to fight for.

Some may be wondering, "Well, why would I want to?" and right there you can see how strong is the pull away from adventure! But perhaps we're not really made for adventure anyway. Perhaps we were made for safety. After all, how else can you explain its lure?

It doesn't take much of a survey of the Bible to realize that we were made for something more. In the very beginning, when God created Adam and the Earth, his job was to take it over and name the animals. By the way, if you read Genesis 2:19, 'between the lines', you'll see the kind of intimate relationship with God we were made for. God creates an animal, Adam names it. God creates another, Adam names it. I can imagine God thinking, "Hmmm, ok, I've got one this time..." and Adam says, "Hmmmm. Platypus!" And God says, "Ok, ok, pretty good, how about this?" To which Adam says, "Aardvark!" Imagine the fun! Even in being cast from the Garden, we can see a bit of our calling...we're forced out of safety and comfort for our own good, and forced to find life outside.

Let's take a look at this familiar passage about Peter coming to Jesus on the water in Gen 14: And in the fourth watch of the night He came to them, walking on the sea. But when the disciples saw Him walking on the sea, they were terrified, and said, “It is a ghost!” and they cried out in fear. But immediately Jesus spoke to them, saying, “Take heart; it is I. Do not be afraid.” And Peter answered Him, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.” He said, “Come.” So Peter got out of the boat and walked on the water and came to Jesus. (ESV) There's been so much written and talked about on this, including John Ortberg's excellent If You Want to Walk on Water, You Have to Get Out of the Boat! But I'm seeing something a bit different here. What has gripped the disciples already? Fear. It's fear that holds us back, fear of the unknown, fear of failure, fear of discovery, fear that we may not be adequate. And it's paralyzing. Notice that Jesus doesn't wait around, it says that He 'immediately' spoke to them. He knows that when fears gets us in its grip, we're in trouble, and stuck. His words, "It is I. Don't be afraid," are all the comfort most of us need to break away from fear and the desire for safety.

And Peter really breaks away, asking to brought out to Jesus! On the water! Imagine. No one had ever done that, and yet something in Jesus invites Peter into an adventure that's not on a chart yet! Eleven others decided that the best place to be was in a boat, safe, and comfy. Peter has to take the initiative here to move out. And why does he do so? What drives him from the comfort and safety of the boat out into the waves and wind?

I believe we've missed something very important, and it's summarized here, in Psalm 37:4 Delight yourself in the Lord,and he will give you the desires of your heart. We've heard that, but rarely do we believe it. Or, what I think is really going on, is that we neither trust our desires nor our hearts. We've come to believe that our hearts are wicked and deceitful since otherwise well-meaning Christians and leaders tell us that they are. And we miss Ezek. 36 when God says that He will wash us and purify us and give us a new heart, and move in, and we would be His people and He would be our God. That's now, for those of us who call ourselves Christians! Our hearts are good. And eventually, we'll discover that the desires of our new hearts are good as well. How will we know? It takes time to discover that and to trust our new desires, which are so easily entangled with our old desires. It will take some adventure to figure out which are which! We won't learn about our hearts from an easy chair. It will take some experimentation, some revelation, some walking with God (who does not stay home or safe, by the way!).

Why do we grow bored or anxious? Isn't it because we're missing out on the adventure that He's called us into? We don't know why we get up in the morning, there's nothing exciting to yearn for anymore. Our greatest thrill is our next vacation or whatever's on sale this week at Target, or a new recipe. No wonder our eyes are glazed, our spirits neutered, our hopes dead. And the enemy laughs, for we are ineffective and useless. This is not what we were created for! Like Peter, we need to trust God enough to believe that He knows exactly why He created us, He knows our hearts, He knows what will bring us the greatest thrill and joy. And stop and wonder what this single event had on Peter for the rest of his life. Did it give him the courage to continue to say yes in leading the team in starting the church and enduring the hardships that he faced. And yet we have to believe that in the end, God gave him the desires of his heart in a huge way! He could have just kept fishing...

We need to Yes to His call to the Adventure. It's what our hearts really yearn for.

As Steven Curtis Chapman sings,
"Saddle up your horses we've got a trail to blaze
Through the wild blue yonder of God's amazing grace
Let's follow our leader into the glorious unknown
This is a life like no other - this is The Great Adventure!"

So let me ask, what fear paralyzes you? If you took a survey of your heart, what desires lie there that you've allowed to die? If you were to ask God to lead you again, out into the wild, what would it look like? And why did you just freeze at that question?

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Battle, Ready or Not—2 Chronicles 29-32

Deuteronomy 20:1 starts: When you go up to battle... There's an important lesson right there. Battle is not optional. We may choose not to go, we may choose not to fight, we may believe that others will fight for us, we may even believe those who would teach us that the battle is already won! (The best lies are hidden in great truths!) Or we may believe that since we're in God's will, He'll protect us. But battle is coming, no matter what. Reread scripture with your eyes open to it, even in the New Testament where Paul, Peter, and Jesus are all in agreement that the enemy is alive and well, that we need to armor up and keep watch and fight diligently, even now. 

Sometimes, we just can't see what's really going on. There's a fascinating passage in 2 Kings chapter 6, verse 8: Once when the king of Syria was warring against Israel, he took counsel with his servants, saying, “At such and such a place shall be my camp.” and then v. 14: So he sent there horses and chariots and a great army, and they came by night and surrounded the city. Battle, uninvited. What happens next is what is 'eye-opening'. When the servant of the man of God rose early in the morning and went out, behold, an army with horses and chariots was all around the city. And the servant said, “Alas, my master! What shall we do?”  He said, “Do not be afraid, for those who are with us are more than those who are with them.” Then Elisha prayed and said, “O Lord, please open his eyes that he may see.” So the Lord opened the eyes of the young man, and he saw, and behold, the mountain was full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha. We are blind to what's really going on around us. In this case, the servant could see the enemy, but couldn't see the LORD's army of warriors ready to fight for Israel. More often, we can't even see the enemy! The gal at the office that the enemy is using to get into our heads. Our kids' rebellion set to destroy our family peace. Financial setbacks designed to steal our joy. Marital discord that comes seemingly from nowhere that makes us begin to doubt everything! The addiction that calls out to us again for the first time in ages. We are opposed, and we need to see it. The passage headlined in this message tells the story, so let's move to 2 Chron. 29-31, which set the stage, and then 32.

Hezekiah began to reign when he was twenty-five years old, and he reigned twenty-nine years in Jerusalem. . . And he did what was right in the eyes of the Lord, according to all that David his father had done. In the first year of his reign, in the first month, he opened the doors of the house of the Lord and repaired them. He brought in the priests and the Levites. . . and it goes on through chapter 31 all the good things King Hezekiah did to restore the country, the people, the temple, and the priesthood, so that they could properly worship the God who had brought them and bought them. Hezekiah is doing all the right things. And if we stopped here, you'd expect the next chapter to begin: And the LORD mightily blessed Hezekiah all the days of his life. Isn't that the "Christian formula" of today? Do well, God blesses? You do x and God does y. Right? I've come to realize that God is not a big fan of equations that obligate Him. God is the freest agent of all! And He is free and chooses to operate in ways that confound us, and often annoy us because we don't understand.

So how does chapter 32 actually begin? After these things and these acts of faithfulness, Sennacherib king of Assyria came and invaded Judah and encamped against the fortified cities, thinking to win them for himself. (ESV) When does the attack come? When things are going well, and Hezekiah is doing things right. Note that. When battle comes to you, it may not be because you're on the wrong track. Think about real battle. When do bullets fly? When you're heading in the right direction. When we are doing the very things that God has called us to do, the enemy is not happy! He becomes bent on destroying our good work and discouraging us from continuing on! We must stand firm, and as verse 7 reminds us: “Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or dismayed before the king of Assyria and all the horde that is with him, for there are more with us than with him. With him is an arm of flesh, but with us is the Lord our God, to help us and to fight our battles.” We are never alone in this. Never. Our Father, the warrior, first created a barracks, Heaven, and then filled it with Very Special Forces ready to fight. (Side note, when you realize that that is His first creation, what sort of story does it tell you that we've fallen into? (To quote Frodo) This isn't some fairly tale with pretty flowers and princesses and kittens. This is a war story.)

Don't miss this next section in chapter 32, where we get to listen in to the words of the enemy, who tries to convince the king and the people that they are doomed and hopeless, that no other people has yet survived them, that no other god has rescued his people. Those are the same lies whispered into our ears today. Too often, we believe them, and we seek a truce with the enemy. The enemy who always breaks his truces, always lies, always attacks again, always seeks our complete destruction. This is one of those trust moments, "Will we trust God in the midst of battle?" Then Hezekiah the king and Isaiah the prophet, the son of Amoz, prayed because of this and cried to heaven.  And the Lord sent an angel, who cut off all the mighty warriors and commanders and officers in the camp of the king of Assyria. The accompanying passage in Isaiah, told from the prophet's point of view says, that "because you prayed..." Don't miss that. Because they prayed for help, God came through, and in this case, rather than doing it Himself, He sends an angel who had an opening that day....Isaiah also mentions that that one angel killed 177,000 Assyrians that day, the baddest warriors on the planet. One angel. Let me ask you, how powerful is God Himself when an ordinary angel can slay 177,000 of the toughest warriors in one night? How many angels do you need for your problems?Ask for one. Because you ask, you might just get some help. Keep doing good. As it says here and in Deut 20:3-4 'today you are drawing near for battle against your enemies: let not your heart faint. Do not fear or panic or be in dread of them,  for the Lord your God is he who goes with you to fight for you against your enemies, to give you the victory.’ The battle is coming, ready or not.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Trusting Our Father's Heart—Exodus 12-14

Our journey with God can get very troublesome. I've come to believe that the final question God poses to each of us is, "Will you trust Me?" "Even when you don't understand? Even when life gets hard? Will you trust Me?" I think that if you look back on your journey with Him, you'll see that that's the driving theme. He yearns for us to come to the place where, no matter what, we will choose to trust Him. This passage makes it clear.

The story of The Exodus begins here, in 12:29: At midnight the Lord struck down all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, from the firstborn of Pharaoh who sat on his throne to the firstborn of the captive who was in the dungeon, and all the firstborn of the livestock. (ESV) Note who it is that does the striking down, the killing of the firstborns. It is the LORD. This is not the gentle God so often heard about in our churches, some modern day, politically correct and green God, palatable to the ladies and children, and gelded from anything resembling masculinity. This is a God who personally intervenes in the lives of His own, to protect them and fight for them, fiercely! He doesn't even send an angel for this one, as He does in other passages. He does it Himself. God is a warrior.

Finally, it's time for His people to go, to leave Egypt for freedom from slavery. v 40 The time that the people of Israel lived in Egypt was 430 years. Why so long? Do you ever wonder that? The people had endured suffering as slaves, and had surely been crying out for some time. Yet God waited. (Please note that silence or "No" doesn't mean that God didn't answer. "No" and "wait" are answers.) Perhaps you've been waiting. Perhaps you've been under hardship for a very long time. Perhaps you have a wayward child. Or spouse. Or an illness, or financial messes not of your own making. Or perhaps you've just grown impatient in having a dream realized, or having children, or finding a spouse. And God has been silent, seemingly saying "No". Without an explanation. It hurts and haunts us, being caught in that wilderness.We begin to doubt the Heart of God. We wonder if He cares, if He even notices, whether we matter at all.

There are some clues here that may help us better understand our own story. Remember how this whole Egypt thing started? There was a famine, which lead Jacob and his sons, except for Joseph, to Egypt for food. And surprise, who is there to receive them? Joseph, the one sold into slavery, intended for death. And so the 12 tribes remain in Egypt, 12 brothers, wives, children. Perhaps 100 of them. Now, back in Gen. 15:13-14 And God said to Abram, "Know for certain that your descendents will be strangers in a land that is not theirs, where they will be enslaved and oppressed four hundred years. But I will also judge the nation whom they will serve; and afterward they will come out with many possessions." (NASB) Now you may think that they were in Egypt for 400 years because God said that they would be. That's true, of course, but hides the real reason. Think of this, if you wanted to take 100 people and make them into a great people who would one day become a great nation, how would you do it? You really can't just have them move to the first vacant lot and set up camp, for surrounding peoples will come and destroy them as soon as they see what's going on. What chance do a hundred or two people have against mighty armies? You'd have to protect them. But how do you protect what turns into 600,000 men of warrior age, which is likely 2-3 million total with the other men, the women, and kids. Where do you hide that many people? God's answer: as slaves, where they can safely outnumber the host country, who will protect them! And when they leave, the Egyptians hand over the goods as a parting gift! Amazing. A people protected, and now enriched, and how could it happen any other way? If you're one of the Jews in Egypt, did you see that coming? Could you trust His purposes and His heart that there might be something bigger going on than you can possibly imagine? Could you endure a bit more suffering if you understand the larger story to unfold?

Gen 13: 17-18 When Pharaoh let the people go, God did not lead them by way of the land of the Philistines, although that was near. For God said, “Lest the people change their minds when they see war and return to Egypt.” But God led the people around by the way of the wilderness toward the Red Sea. And the people of Israel went up out of the land of Egypt equipped for battle. It's easier for us to take comfort, when things are hard, in wondering if we've made a wrong turn, or suffer for our own sinful choices, or whether someone else is trying to hurt us, or even, if our spiritual eyes are open, to say that this is spiritual warfare which we must fight. But what do you say when it is God Himself who has led you to this place? There is no mistaking this story. God is leading. By day and by night. And we get a clue about His purpose: He isn't leading them in a straight line path since He knows their tendency. At the first sign of trouble, they'll bolt. He knows our tendencies, too. And sometimes He leads us into places where there is only one option: to trust Him. There is no other way out.

So where does God lead them? 14:1-4 Then the Lord said to Moses,  “Tell the people of Israel to turn back and encamp in front of Pi-hahiroth, between Migdol and the sea, in front of Baal-zephon; you shall encamp facing it, by the sea.  For Pharaoh will say of the people of Israel, ‘They are wandering in the land; the wilderness has shut them in.’  And I will harden Pharaoh's heart, and he will pursue them, and I will get glory over Pharaoh and all his host, and the Egyptians shall know that I am the Lord.” And they did so. A bit of geography, as I understand it, shows that God led His own people into a trap. On either side are steep mountains which 2-3 million people aren't climbing. In front is the Red Sea. Coming from behind? Keep reading...the Egyptian army! There's literally no way out, and these are God's people. Led directly by God to this place! Will you trust Him now? Seriously? When all other hope is gone? Because what we also learn in this passage is that God has another agenda: He wants Pharaoh and his army! What does this say? It says that He is using His own people as bait in the trap to accomplish His purposes. And we wonder why life is hard sometimes. Sometimes, it's because He made it that way! Sometimes, the story isn't even about us at all.

You know the rest of the story. He indeed destroys the Egyptian army, and rescues His people in a way that didn't make the list of "a hundred ways to escape this trap". After swimming, boat building, bridge building, even fighting back....parting the waters just never came to mind. But God's ways are not our ways. His purposes are way beyond us, and often, the story is not merely about us, but about others around us. Will we trust Him? No matter what?