Thursday, May 06, 2010

What would you feed Jesus?

An internet forum which I follow poses the question, 
"If Jesus were to robe himself in flesh and come by for a visit, with you knowing that it in fact was Jesus, what would you feed Him or how would you cook for Him?"
One of the answers really hit home, so I asked the author's permission to share it.

"I don't cook, so out to eat we would go among the sinners and reprobates. Probably fish, fried. Where a whole bunch of people could meet and touch his cloak. Wouldn't want to selfishly hoard him for myself but share him with others, the lost, the saved, whomever. This way others could be touched, healed and influenced by the King of Kings. Nothing I could do would impress him. Cooking for the least among these. We would eat often. Under bridges, in alleys, in broken down cars. The people that could be ministered to would be astounding. The lessons that could be learned first hand, awesome!"

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

The Boldness of Youth

The second of the revelations I gained during my latest reading of the book of Job also has to do with that fourth of Job's buddies, Elihu. In my previous post, I described how Elihu rebuked the other three of Job's friends, rebuked Job himself, and proceeded to set them all straight.

It was Elihu's own explanation of his boldness which caught my attention in Job chapter 32. In verses 6 and 7, Elihu begins by explaining why he had not spoken up earlier.

..."I am young in years,
and you are aged;
therefore I was timid and afraid
to declare my opinion to you.
I said, 'Let days speak,
and many years teach wisdom.'
Elihu was being polite and respectful to his elders, yet to his dismay, he did not hear what he considered to be the truth about Job's current situation. He held his tongue until his elders had finished speaking. In itself this is a good lesson, but what happens next is really the exciting part of this story. The remaining verses in chapter 32 are an explanation of his need to speak. In particular, what struck me were verses 8 - 10.

But it is the spirit in man,
the breath of the Almighty, that makes him understand.

It is not the old who are wise,
nor the aged who understand what is right.
Therefore I say, 'Listen to me;
let me also declare my opinion.'
God alone brings the wisdom, through the Holy Spirit. It is He that makes us understand truth because He is Truth. We understand love because He is Love. We can only understand anything at all, because He IS.

Elihu goes on to say,

I also will answer with my share;
I also will declare my opinion.
For I am full of words;
the spirit within me constrains me.
Behold, my belly is like wine that has no vent;
like new wineskins ready to burst.
I must speak, that I may find relief;
I must open my lips and answer.
I will not show partiality to any man
or use flattery toward any person.
For I do not know how to flatter,
else my Maker would soon take me away.
This boldness continues for pages and pages, as Elihu exclaims God's glory and majesty, then dares to rebuke the elder men around him with the Truth that the "breath of the Almighty" had shown him. Elihu did not flatter them in any way. His impartiality toward these men was because of the truth that the Holy Spirit placed within him; the same Holy Spirit that indwells every believer today. We have full access to that Truth in our everyday lives. What a generous gift.

Now I don't see this as a license to go about spouting my opinion on any and all things, rather I see it as a sober responsibility to ensure that the opinions expressed are those gained from the wisdom imparted by the Spirit. That being said, it was a great revelation to me that spiritual wisdom is as much granted as it is learned, and that I may trust the Holy Spirit to help me see the truth and to share that with others as it becomes appropriate. I figure that there will always be someone older than me; certainly someone wiser also, yet God promises to give me the wisdom, if I will ask for it.
"If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him."
-- James 1:5 ESV

Monday, April 26, 2010

Thunderously Abba

I recently read through the book of Job. With so many of us struggling in this most recent crisis, of both economic and spiritual origins, I thought it wise to see how God interatcted with a guy who had it all, lost it all and regained it all and more. I came away with two strong messages from this particular reading of the book, so here goes with revelation number one.

Job's story is perhaps familiar to you, but let me summarize briefly if I may. Job is a man who was recognized as righteous. He is successful, and by all indications, he is wealthy. The story also opens with some questions about Job's children's activities. Well, God allows Satan to test Job up to the point of death, and Job is stripped of nearly everything. His health, his family, and his wealth are all destroyed. His wife even tells him to "Curse God and die."

Later a few buddies drop in to "encourage" Job. He listens to their counsel faithfully, rebuts some of their accusations against him, and tries to justify himself before God. The fourth of these buddies was named, Elihu. Now Elihu was out to set all of these men straight. His monologue begins in chapter 32 and continues through chapter 37. It is in chapter 36 where Elihu describes the greatness of God, and I found myself understanding his description as one of a loving father. Now you may not read it that way, because there is a lot of language dealing with judgement, but fathers have to deal directly and, yes, sit in judgement over their children. It is a crucial part of being an effective father. Note verses 10 and 11,
10He opens their ears to instruction
and commands that they return from iniquity.
11 If they listen and serve him,
they complete their days in prosperity,
and their years in pleasantness.
That sounds an awful lot like an effective father to me, yet my eyes were further opened when I got into chapter 37. Elihu begins to extol the majesty of God. He describes God's voice at that of a wondrous thunder.
5God thunders wondrously with his voice;
he does great things that we cannot comprehend.
Our God, who's voice of thunder is wondrous beyond comprehension is also our father, our dad, our abba. He is... Thunderously Abba.

Stay tuned for part two...

Monday, March 08, 2010

Escaping the Ring of Fire

It seems that every day I hear of another man who has lost his job, who in danger of losing his home, who has a serious medical issue, who has a family on the verge of collapse, or who has some other crisis in his life.

I get the image of an epic adventure where the hero of the story must complete his task. He is running a life or death race, embroiled in a good vs. evil struggle; we've all read the books or seen the movies. In my version of this grand adventure, the hero finds himself in the center of a fierce ring of fire. His enemies have him hemmed in on all sides. He's surrounded. No matter which direction he may turn, he still faces the fire. The only way to escape the ring of fire, is to go through it! Only, how will he get through the fire to continue his quest? Does this warrior have a chance?

When Paul wrote his letter to the church at Ephesus, he gave a long list of instructions, for husbands and wives, children, bondservents, and masters. As important as these instructions are for everyday life, Paul then offers very plain speech about how to handle times of crisis in Ephesians 6:10-18. Paul's discussion here is specifically toward defending against the evil powers that exist in this world. Because we contend in this world, then it is difficult to separate the tumult that happens in everyday life from the evil that exists in a fallen world. God's armor readies us for such battles.

I cannot help but to apply this sage advice to my epic hero. All of his armor faces the enemy. Whatever threatens him, he must face it, head-on. But the good news is that he can use God's armor to shield himself when it is time to go through the ring of fire!

Thankfully, as God's mighty men, we do not face these battles alone; EVER. First, the only offensive weapon in God's armor is the Spirit inspired scripture. It is our guidebook for life and it holds the answers we seek. Also, Jesus, our savior, sanctifier, healer and coming king calls us brother! He walks beside us on every journey and is our help in every struggle. He offers to provide rest for us when the battle is long.. And even though all of our armor faces forward, we have the God of all Creation watching our backs!
I lift up my eyes to the hills — Where does my help come from? My help comes from the LORD, the Maker of heaven and earth.
-- Psalm 121:1,2 NIV

Monday, February 22, 2010

Foundation for Worship

I have spent many hours wondering and studying, trying to come to the essence of what worship means. I have heard many opinions, often expressed with the words, "Well, what it means to me is...". I have never felt that those statements held the truth, at least not the whole truth. I cannot say that I have arrived at an answer as yet, and I still contend with this question.

In many stories in the Bible, God's people are engaged in worship. We see many more examples of this in the Old Testament than in the New, and one story in particular stood out for me. The story of Ezra.

In the story told by Ezra, a group of exiled Israelites have been commissioned by King Cyrus of Persia to return from their captivity to Jerusalem to rebuild the temple of God which had been destroyed some 50-60 years earlier. They began by building an altar and returning to the practice of making burnt offerings to God as He had prescribed to Moses. Then they set about gathering the materials for rebuilding the temple, and of course, as when building any house, they started with the foundation.

We pick up the story here, in Ezra chapter 3:10-13
And when the builders laid the foundation of the temple of the LORD, the priests in their vestments came forward with trumpets, and the Levites, the sons of Asaph, with cymbals, to praise the LORD, according to the directions of David king of Israel. And they sang responsively, praising and giving thanks to the LORD, "For he is good, for his steadfast love endures forever toward Israel." And all the people shouted with a great shout when they praised the LORD, because the foundation of the house of the LORD was laid.
I can only imagine this scene, but it seems to begin as one of high ceremony and great reverence. Eventually, the ceremony broke into a fanfare of shouting praise to God. What a glorious time that must have been. But the story doesn't end there.
But many of the priests and Levites and heads of fathers' houses, old men who had seen the first house, wept with a loud voice when they saw the foundation of this house being laid, though many shouted aloud for joy, so that the people could not distinguish the sound of the joyful shout from the sound of the people's weeping, for the people shouted with a great shout, and the sound was heard far away.
In this scene, I can feel the anguish of the old men; all the regrets over past mistakes that had led to exile. They remembered the splendor of Solomon's Temple containing riches beyond measure and unparalleled beauty.

I can also sense the unbridled joy of the younger generation who only knew that what was once lost, now was found. Captivity was behind them, and a new life spread out before them.

These are the same emotions that exist when we are stirred by the Spirit to accept the gift of salvation. The same emotions which grip our hearts as we struggle toward repentance. The same emotions that well up when we contemplate the promise of joy everlasting.

How easy it is to regret our past, but Jesus wiped that all away on the Cross. The altar for our atonement was at the foot of the cross of Christ. God's offering on our behalf was His son Jesus; the living stone, who being cast aside, became the cornerstone of our faith...our foundation. The people of Israel toiled to rebuild the temple foundation, yet we have only to accept a gift to stand firmly upon ours. The good news of salvation is the foundation on which everything that follows rests. I think this is also the foundation for worship. No matter the past, the pain, the regret, no matter the mistakes or the shortcomings, no matter how well we understand the gift just now, it is upon that gift we stand to worship.

Perhaps Ezra paints a picture of the quintessential worship experience...those who would weep and those who would rejoice gather together before God, the weeping and the rejoicing both attended to by a loving Savior who's "steadfast love endures forever".
The LORD is my rock and my fortress and my deliverer, my God, my rock, in whom I take refuge, my shield, and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold.
Psalm 18:2

Friday, February 05, 2010

Living the Good Lie

No, that wasn't a typo. Patrick Morley asks the question, "Do I serve the God I want, or the God who is?" 1 Wherein lies the truth? In Romans 1, Paul says:
They exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator—who is forever praised. Amen.
This verse is part of a long discourse by Paul regarding Law vs Liberty. He is explaining the actions of the natural man. In other words, without the saving grace of Jesus, this is the "normal" way we would live our lives and likely think nothing of it. It might even be a good life; one of service; one of doing good; even one of sacrifice for others.

Let's examine a hypothetical example of this good life:
  • I work hard to provide for myself and my family.
  • I give my employer a good day's work for a day's pay.
  • I don't steal from others.
  • I love my spouse and I would never betray him/her.
  • My kids have all their physical and emotional needs met.
  • I try to keep my language clean.
  • I help others when I can.
  • I give to charity.
All in all, sounds pretty nice. Sounds like a life of obedience to the Ten Commandments. Everyone gets their appropriate piece of me. I work really hard to please everyone. God is certainly happy with my performance and I am sure that He will take care of me in the end.

Only one problem; it's all a lie.

Paul spends the first eight chapters of the Book of Romans delineating a life under the law from a life of liberty in Jesus, but interestingly enough, it's in just the first few verses of chapter one that he provides straight talk about living the "good lie".
5Through him and for his name's sake, we received grace and apostleship to call people from among all the Gentiles to the obedience that comes from faith. 6And you also are among those who are called to belong to Jesus Christ.
The obedience God seeks from us doesn't come from our own strength, but through faith in Him. We draw near to God because we are "called to belong to Jesus Christ". In other words, if I will answer the call of God on my life to belong to Jesus, then through that faith, my obedience will begin to be evident. Simply speaking, the obedience which God seeks emanates from my faith in Him.

Monday, February 01, 2010

Speaking Surrender

Our God is the God of Creation, larger than large, greater than great, the author of the universe and the author of our salvation. He is all that is good. He is the very definition of Good.
In Colossians 1, Paul says of Jesus, that "all things were created through him and for him" and "that in everything he might be preeminent". So Jesus is to be first in all things, and all of creation, including me, was created through Him and for Him. Jesus is literally the force that binds all of Creation together.
So my question is then, what can I offer to Jesus? What can I give to God?

Matthew 16:24-27
Then Jesus told his disciples,“If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his life? Or what shall a man give in return for his life?

He gives this gift of salvation to us. In His death, we lost our life, and in His resurrectoin, we found our new life. "if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation", and we know that all of Creation is through Him and for Him. So here Jesus says that I cannot buy my salvation, I cannot purchase eternity. I have not given anything for this gift.

I show the intentions of my heart not only with my actions, but also with my words. It is also clear that eventually, I will answer for not only my actions but also for my words. (Luke 6:43-45, Matthew 12:33-37) The truth of what is inside me will undoubtedly be evident by my words. How shall I speak of my relationship with God then?

Over and over in the Psalms, David spoke of gifts that he wished to receive from God, whether the gift be protection, sustenance, mercy, or victory. But whenever David spoke in response toward God, invariably it was a response of praise, and glory, and honor. David understood the words of Samuel to Saul, that "to obey is better than sacrifice, to listen than the fat of rams". David's physical response to God was the one thing God required; his obedience. His actions were not something he gave to God, his actions were simply obedience to God. And when we read the words David used in response to God, they are full of praise and glory and honor.

So our question was "What can I give to God?". This question came to my mind because we so often speak of giving to God, but it's hardly a gift when it's already His. What do you give someone who has everything? What do you give someone who created everything? What do you give someone who's very existence holds all of Creation together? If my words speak of giving to God, be it my time, my money, my will, my very life...what's the common denominator there? I refer to these things as "MINE", as if the God who created them all didn't already own them. "[O]ut of the the abundance of the heart, the mouth speaks".

As I think about giving to God, my heart turns to trying to understand exactly what my relationship to Him should look like?

In Psalm 37:3-5, we are entrusted with three keys to a right relationship with God. Believe, Receive, and Follow.
Trust in the Lord and do good; dwell in the land and befriend faithfullness. (BELIEVE in Him wth all faith) 
Delight yourself in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart. (RECEIVE all of the good that God is, beginning with the gift of salvation, and then by His grace the gift of the fullness of the Holy Spirit) 
Commit your way to the Lord; trust in him and he will act. (FOLLOW Him, and he will lead, and note the sequence there).
In The Practice of the Presence of God, Brother Lawrence wrote this:
“I consider myself as the most wretched of men, full of sores and corruption, and who has committed all sorts of crimes against his King; touched with a sensible regret I confess to Him all my wickedness, I ask His forgiveness, I abandon myself in His hands, that He may do what He pleases with me. This King, full of mercy and goodness, very far from chastising me, embraces me with love, makes me eat at His table, serves me with His own hands, gives me the key of His treasures; He converses and delights Himself with me incessantly, in a thousand and a thousand ways, and treats me in all respects as His favourite. It is thus I consider myself from time to time in His holy presence. “
God gives me EVERYTHING, all of it good, in spite of who I once was. He sacrificed all for me. He has good plans for me. My words should be words of praise and honor and glory, like David's words. My words should not be "I give to You" but rather "Lord I believe in You. I receive your grace and mercy. I will follow You. I abandon myself in Your hands." In short, "I surrender".
Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, my rock and my redeemer. -- Psalm 19:14