Monday, June 27, 2016

Rest



“Observe the Sabbath day by keeping it holy, as the LORD your God has commanded you” (Deuteronomy 5:12).

“My Presence will go with you, and I will give you rest” (Exodus 33:14).

“My soul finds rest in God alone” (Psalm 62:1).

“Since the promise of entering his rest still stands, let us be careful that none of you be found to have fallen short of it” (Hebrews 4:1).

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28).

            These few Bible texts ought to make it plain that Scriptural rest is not just a luxury; a biblical Sabbath rest is a vital necessity which is both lovingly encouraged and divinely commanded.  My wife and I just spent a week at a pastors and wives retreat.  I need to say from the outset that this was not a vacation – some sort of filling up the time with the busywork of sightseeing and/or doing a variety of activities – but a God-given and God-ordained opportunity of rest. 

            Perhaps the best way to illustrate what God was thinking when he ordained his people for intentional times of rest comes from my time in a prayer chapel.  One morning I set aside a four-hour block to get away and pray.  I’ll be honest that I came into it with a personal agenda of what I wanted God to do.  I had my list of prayer items and my thoughts of how I believed God should work.  Silly me.

            It did not take long into my forceful striving toward God for Him to reveal to me that I was on a misguided adventure in missing the point.  Somehow in my desire to see all kinds of prayer requests answered I lost sight of why I was really there:  to simply be in the presence of God and enjoy Jesus, that’s it.  You see, in our daily work-a-day world we poke and prod, we push, cajole, and finagle to move forward and get our way on all kinds of things.  To separate ourselves from our typical routine takes something of a withdrawal, and it isn’t really easy.  Maybe this is why so many of us are so stinking tired, cranky, and negative all the time – we find all kinds of reasons to not rest, and even when we do we’re still trying to impose our will on God.  Silly us.

            What we need most is simply Jesus – to know Him, be with Him, and to experience the depths of our wondrous and gracious union with Him.  And that cannot happen, at least not fully, unless we obey the command given by God to rest.  To rest means to relinquish all our plans and agendas to God for a time and just come into His presence and enjoy one another.

            Our compulsions for performance and perfection are the real culprits to rest.  We want to do everything right.  We long to pray right, talk right, be right and live right instead of just coming to Jesus like a little child who needs Him.  Perhaps we are so profoundly discontent with so many things because we are not really content in Christ.  Just maybe the best or right prayer to pray is that we all may be content together no matter the circumstances.  Only then might we find that our burdens are light and our life easy.

            Jesus modeled the life of rest for us.  If there was anyone who did not need to pull away and rest it would have been Jesus, and yet he continually did so.  If Jesus needed a sacred space and place to commune and enjoy the Father, then how much more do we need a Sabbath rest and a place to do it?  When Jesus rested and prayed He did not perform a duty; He rested in order to connect with his heavenly Father.  There was no multi-tasking or juggling other responsibilities.  There was simply the radical pursuit of intimate rest.

            If we do not rest and intentionally practice occasional times of Sabbath, then we are expressing our confidence that money, hard work, and individual talent are really all we need rather than God.  Rest is only secondarily about refueling our depleted resources; it is primarily about connecting intimately with Jesus and a good gracious Father.  Just as we need a special room and a certain bed for sleep, so we need a particular place and a certain time set aside just to pray and enjoy God.  Proper spiritual hygiene, just like proper sleep and health hygiene must include setting aside a place to daily rest, pray, and be with God.

            Real spiritual and biblical rest only “works” when we realize we don’t have it all together – that we are helpless and need Jesus.  Apart from Jesus, the blind man cannot see, Lazarus remains dead, and I am lost in my sin.  I cannot “do” life without Christ in me and with me.


            Maybe this old fallen world is not experiencing revival because God’s people have not yet learned the necessity of rest.  As long as we try and manufacture results instead of relying on the Lord for refreshment and renewal, revival will be elusive.  Instead, enjoy Jesus today, my friends, and leave the results up to God.  And see what the Lord can do.

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

The Evil of Dehumanization



            I understand I am just one voice.  But it is a pastoral voice.  It is a voice that seeks to uphold the best of biblical ethics and human dignity.  Because every person (and I do mean every person) on planet earth is created in the image and likeness of God, each individual human being is a person of worth and deserves respect as a person.  People do and say terrible things every day.  But this never alters the biblical reality that God’s image has left or taken a vacation, or that someone deserves a pejorative label which stigmatizes and ostracizes them from the human family.  For the Christian, the supreme ethic of life is love.  We hold to the Great Commandment:  to love God and to love one’s neighbor; all other commands of Holy Scripture hang on these two bedrock commands, upheld by Jesus himself.

            Therefore we must all ask ourselves if we are living our lives and loving others in this world as intended by our Creator and Redeemer.  In these past few days I have had conversations, read social media posts, heard pundits and prognosticators analyze and predict, conceive and conjecture, all upon the mass shooting in Orlando, Florida.  Some have been ennobling and heartwarming; others have been full of fear, ignorance, and lack of reason.  There is such a constellation of issues, fears, and problems to unpack and deal with that I do not nor cannot even begin to try to do such a task.  I only want to bring at least a small bit of light to the shadows of the human heart which inevitably tries to dehumanize others who do not agree with his/her opinion and group-think.

            There is no lack of people who persist in dehumanizing LGBTQ individuals and gay communities.  For example, one man told me yesterday in a matter-of-fact manner that the Orlando shooting was most likely a judgment from God upon homosexuals because of our government’s straying from godliness.  Those in LGBTQ circles are quite familiar with this kind of speech.  To label it correctly:  hate speech – dehumanizing speech.  When people of any particular kind of group, whether gay or not, are mowed-down like animals and then looked upon by another group as being nothing but animals, then we have become the apple eaten from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.



            Whether anyone agrees with same-sex marriage and life or not, we must come to grips with the fact that the people who were killed were human beings created in God’s image.  Therefore this was a tragedy.  If mass killings of people are to be kindred to God’s judgment, then mass murder of the unborn and mass killing of American soldiers would also be a judgment.  In other words, going down the path of claiming to know whom God judges is, at best, a journey of extreme hubris, and, at worst, germinating the seeds of a future holocaust of killing. 

            In the ancient context of Scripture, eunuchs were a sexual minority and excluded from most everything to do with the worship of God.  Yet, Jesus upheld their inherent worth, the apostles welcomed them into the family of God, and the prophet Isaiah foretold this would be the situation (Matthew 19:8-12; Acts 8:26-40; Isaiah 56:3-5).  Suggesting that eunuchs or any sexual minority simply be wiped off the face of the earth as not deserving of existence is more than disturbing.

            Yet, the light must also be shed upon those who would vilify all evangelical Christians as backward patriarchal homophobes.  When any person or group just paints a wide swath of labeling a large subculture of persons as having nothing but hate, as being monstrous, then they must come to grips with their own poverty of spirit and embrace the real love which Jesus has demonstrated and offers.



            No matter what side one falls on there is absolutely no biblical precedent or place to dehumanize another person or group of people, period.  Christians and churches need to stop acting and reacting to the parts of culture and society they don’t like and start living and loving like Jesus by building relationships with a broad spectrum of groups and individuals.


            It falls to the churches of this land to initiate love and to live above hate speech.  I admit that many do not have a good track record on this.  And I further admit that I have observed an eerie silence from far too many of them, as if nothing of particular consequence has happened.  This is a small and very meager attempt on my part to offer something of the loving Christ to others.  For, the church is nothing at all if it isn’t all about Jesus and his gospel of grace.

Saturday, June 11, 2016

God in the Present-Tense

“Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past.  See, I am doing a new thing!  Now it springs up; do you not perceive it?  I am making a way in the desert and streams in the wasteland.”  --Isaiah 43:19




            It is easy for people to get stuck in the past.  One of the problems the Israelites had was that they did not know how to grieve well.  They kept looking back to a golden age when they came out of Egypt and entered the Promised Land.  And when things began to break down in Israel and in Judah, they kept looking back instead of dealing with God in the present.  Rather than lamenting their losses, they just wished things were different.  When any church or any believer refuses to do the biblical work of grieving a significant loss or change, then the ghosts of the past roam everywhere.
 
No one can effectively move on into the future unless they confront the stark reality that things have changed and can never be the same again.

            They can, in fact, be even better, but that will not happen apart from doing the hard work of identifying our denial of the way things presently are, dealing with our anger, stopping the bargaining with God, defeating the depression, and coming out the other end accepting the new reality.  The Israelites were in exile.  It was not their new normal.  It was their present station of history.  God was ready to take them back to Jerusalem, but they were stuck in depression.  Jerusalem would never be the same city again, and they had to resolve to accept it.  But acceptance is not cheap; it takes a difficult journey to get to that point.

The healthy way to view the past is to see ancient miracles like the exodus be re-enacted in fresh ways for the present. 

When churches and Christians no longer experience God in creative, new, and fresh ways in the present, they are limited by their memories of what God once did back there in the past.  If we keep talking about the same things in the same ways, telling the same stories, we portray a God to others who is not present to us in the here and now.  It is time we talk about the God we know today.  If we only live off past experiences with God, we will be unable to connect with God today.  We need to tell present-tense stories of God.  When God is sealed in the past he becomes just an interesting person to be theologically studied and learned about, like any character from history.  But today God is alive!  Now, in the present, God wants to do a new thing!

            God is most definitely changeless is his character and attributes.  But that does not mean God is not into change and doing new things.  In fact, God’s work is to effect transformation in the lives of people who need redemption and new life. 

What kind of picture about God are we painting for people? 

That God is boring, lifeless, careless, or uninteresting?  The proof that something is alive is that it grows, develops, changes, and matures.  The new plants in our gardens and fields are undergoing astonishing growth and development.  What they are like now is quite different than what they will look like in August and even different than October.

            To simply state the matter:  new, different, creative, exciting things need to happen in the church today in the present.  As long as those things do not happen in the church, people will believe that God is dead or just does not care, that is, if he exists at all.  Because God is alive and works in the present, Christ’s church is to be alive with spiritual momentum, biblical drive, and Christian proactive love.

If we are continually underwhelmed by church, we will not be overwhelmed by God. 

When we look at Jesus, we get a picture of God.  We see a Savior who walks on water, raises the dead, and amazes the crowds.  Christ’s unpredictability led many to have a new and more accurate picture of God.  Jesus came to reveal who God is, to give us a good picture of him (John 14:8-14).

            Through his life on earth, Jesus revealed to us a God who is compelling, powerful, relevant, passionate, unpredictable, exciting, personal and present to his people right now this very day by means of the Holy Spirit.  The church everywhere has been given the assignment to reveal God to the world.  So, whenever the church seems boring, irrelevant, powerless, lifeless, and stuck in the past, people conclude that God is all those things.  When the church becomes like a stagnant pond it portrays the wrong image of God to the world.  What the world needs, and we believers must have, are churches that allow the awesome God who is gracious and powerful to stand out and be present to us all. 

To be present to God is to be alive to the possibilities that God’s Spirit wants to effect in the present. 


May it be so, to the glory of Jesus our present and eternal King.

Monday, June 6, 2016

Do We Change, or Not?



I had just one grandparent when I was growing up.  My Grandma was seventy-nine years old when I was born, and she lived to be ninety-seven years old.  So, I always knew her as an old lady.  But she had a lot of spunk to her, all ninety-five pounds of her.  I remember she had an old wooden cutting board in her kitchen.  I don’t how old it was, but it was probably purchased from Methuselah’s Kitchen Outlet.  It was cracked and nearly falling apart.  The board had deep furrows in it from the thousands of cuts made on it.  Grandma liked her cutting board.

            For Mother’s Day one year my Dad bought her a nice brand new cutting board.  And guess what my Grandma did?  She put the new board in the back of her cupboard and continued to use her nasty old cutting board.  Whenever my Mom or my sisters were in her house and helped her in the kitchen, they were not about to touch that old board because it was like a bacteria trap with its deep grooves.  But Grandma didn’t care about bacteria or that it was falling apart.  When my Dad asked her why she did not use her new cutting board, she simply answered, “Oh, it is much too nice to use.”  But we all knew that was just Grandma’s way of saying that she liked her nasty old cutting board, and didn’t think it was all that bad.

            Sometimes churches and Christians can be like my Grandma, bless her stubborn old heart.  They just like the way they do things, and really don’t see what another person sees who doesn’t know Jesus.  They just don’t realize that unsaved people have absolutely no emotional attachment to the cutting board; they just see a nasty old board that they would never use.

            Sometimes we don’t realize how overwhelming and even intimidating church can be for someone who needs Jesus.  Because we are around our respective churches all the time, we don’t see what others see.  Just imagine being in a new place with people you don’t know.  Are you nervous?  Does it help to have someone you know bring you and introduce you to people?  Is it beneficial to have someone let you know what is happening and what is going on?  I remember walking into a beautiful new church building and sitting down and seeing a huge old pulpit that was literally falling apart.  Since I’ve been around a lot of churches, I quickly discerned it was likely the old pulpit from the old church building.  It was.  But, honestly, I had zero emotional attachment to the pulpit, and it was a distraction because it just looked like a big old ratty collar on a new puppy.

            The point is this:  The decision to change our lives, or not to change, must be motivated by upholding a biblical purpose and a scriptural value.  Our purpose is the Great Commission (Matthew 28:18-20).  Our values are the Great Commandment (love God and love neighbor).  We are to make disciples, and, as believers in Jesus, we are to be characterized by our devotion to teaching, fellowship, the breaking of bread, and prayer in such a daily manner that others are coming to know Jesus (Acts 2:41-47).  So, how are we holding up to that template of the Christian life?

            If our purpose is people coming to know Christ, then we are always to be making decisions based upon that standard.  If any church is reaching new people for Christ and helping them to grow spiritually, then there is no need to change – there is nothing to be fixed.  But if the church has not seen a person come to faith in Christ in the last year, right there is a significant reason to change.  If a church has not seen anyone come to Christ in the last five years, that church is eating meat prepared on a cutting board full of bacteria and it is making that church sick.

            Have we known Jesus Christ for so long that we take the old cutting board for granted and just expect other people to use it if they are in our kitchen?  Or do we have a vision, a motivation, and a driving desire to see people, a lot of them, come to saving faith in Jesus Christ?  If you don’t like empty seats or pews in your church, then the biblical solution to it is to change our lives, change our practices, change our speech, and change our daily behavior by reaching people for Jesus and adding them to the church.  Change, or the lack of it, for any other reason than evangelism, is the wrong reason to change.


            Just so you know, after about a year sitting in my Grandma’s cupboard, my Dad took out the new cutting board, put it on the kitchen counter and threw away the old board.  It was about time.