Tuesday, February 24, 2009

My group has starting looking at Daniel - a pretty incredible man......

Daniel was probably born in the midst of a national revival. King Josiah had worked hard on radically changing the religious landscape of Israel. Josiah rebuilt the temple, tore down idols that his father and grandfather and the nation had worshiped, celebrated the Passover like it had not been celebrated in a while and generally was passionately attempting to obey the law of God. God was pleased with his actions.

Then the bottom fell out. Egypt attacked and conquered Israel (they were kind of provoked by Josiah) and made them pay tribute to them. Josiah died and his son became king - for three months. The new king did not follow God, but instead worship idols. After three years, Nebuchadnezzar pushed Egypt back to its borders and overran Israel. After a siege, Nebuchadnezzar captured Jerusalem and deported the best and brightest of the nation - including Daniel and his friends.

I wonder what Daniel was thinking as he was being taken to Babylon. He was never going to see his mom or dad, his brother ans sisters, his homeland again. Was he grieving over the loss of life as he knew it or worrying about what his life in a strange country would be like; under the thumb of a conqueror. What would you be thinking or feeling? I probably would be asking "why God? Why did you allow Babylon to capture us? We were obedient to you. Josiah sought you with all his heart; he cleansed the land; WE worshiped you. Why have you abandoned us? This just isn't fair; we worship you and you reward us like this?"

Well......that is not what Daniel did. He responded in faith and obedience to God. Daniel 1:8 records that he "resolved in his heart" to not violate directions from God. He resolved not to eat the provisions of the king. We are not told why, but we do know that whatever it was, it would "defile" him (was it pork or some other forbidden meat?????). He did not abandon his faith in God even after being deported. He did not give up on God, even in the midst of outwardly seemingly horrible circumstances. He RESOLVED to live an obedient life, believing that it was the path to blessing: even when there was proof to the contrary.

Now there is a challenge!!! Live a life of obedience to God, even when everything around you is telling you that it is not worth it. I guess you could say that what Daniel did DEFINES faith - obeying even when you don't think or feel that it is going to be worth it.

Because I know the rest of the story, I know that Daniel lived in the place of blessing. I need to follow Daniel and live in the place of obedience, in the place of blessing.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

I was thinking yesterday morning about the "priesthood of believers". Kind of an odd topic I know, but I have frequently heard this term used in the context of not needing church leadership. Something does not ring true in my spirit about this because of the affirmation of church leadership in the scriptures. In a culture of individualism, the "I don't need anyone to help me" perspective can fester and isolate people from the plan of God. In a culture of equality, the "there are no leaders, we can all get to God" perspective can thwart growth and removes protection that Biblical leadership is to provide. (OK, those last two sentences may seem a bit hyperbolic, but I hope you can see where I am going.)

A couple of background statements to help understand where my mind has been....... I believe, as Peter (I Pet 2:9) and John (Rev 1:6, 5:10 and 20:6) said, we are a kingdom of priests and that we do have access, because of what Jesus did, to the very throne room of God. What an AWESOME reality to consider. The whole "access to God" thing has been quite distorted because for many years, people were led to believe that they needed a pastor or priest or reverend as an intermediate between them and God (which is not true or Biblical). To some degree, we are trying to dig out of this historical hole.

On to what I think the point of Peter and John were making...... When I started this exploration, I went back to the Old Testament and looked at what the Levitical priesthood's position was and what the focus of their duties were. Positionally, they were the only ones who could go into the presence of God; and that only once a year. Positionally, they were the only ones who could handle the sacrifices. They were positionally unique. As I began to examine their function or duties (see Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Dueteronemy), that had to do stuff like look a people's skin to see if they were healed, teach people how to access God, review clean and unclean, etc. - all sorts of interesting things that were directly related to the lives of the people around them.

As I thought about this, it became apparent to me that the function of the priest was to lead people to God; to help them understand how to relate to God; to serve as examples of how to live a life that was dedicated to service of the Holy God. They were appointed by God to lead the people to God; not to isolate them from God.

So what does the kingdom of priests that Peter was talking about look like? What is my FUNCTION as a priest? I beleive that my priestly function is no different that an Old Testament priest's: is to lead people to God. Yes, I have the BENEFIT of being able to directly access God, but my FUNCTION is to lead people to a relationship with God. The reason for my priesthood is to serve; serve the people around me by being an example and by leading them to God. At its core, my priesthood is missional; it really is synonomous with the Great Commission that Jesus gave us to go into all the world and make disciples, teaching them to obey the words of God (Matt 28).

I am afraid that what I have latched onto before this time is the BENEFIT of being a priest, without understanding its function. Yes, I do receive the benefit, but I have the responsibility of leading others to a deeper relationship with God.


Wednesday, February 11, 2009

OK this is abnormal (3 blogs in 4 days), but things are flying at me right and left.

Our group just finished the book unChristian today. Frankly, I am embarrassed the was the next generation looks at Christians (judgmental, hypocritical, too political, sheltered, love with an agenda, etc.) . I understand, to some degree, I have had a part in fostering this image. That doesn't make me feel much better about the situation.

One of the most convicting pieces was a reference to Isaiah 58 where God talks about what He really wants to see in a fast. It is worth a good read and meditation.....

The thought that crossed my little brain as I was thinking about our reputation as Christians is "return on investment". The church has spent billions and billions of dollars over the past 20 or so years in ministry. What is our return on investment? A bad perspective of the title Christian, people staying away from church in droves and a reputation of Christ being "one of many" Saviors. OK, not a very good return on investment.

The question is - what am I going to do about it.............

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

I heard today that the founder of Habitat for Humanity passed away earlier this month. My heart was saddened. I don't know much about this guy, but his abandonment for the cause of affordable housing is inspiring. I was reading a book last night where Isaiah 58 was referenced (read the chapter, it is convicting). One of the verses (v. 7) in this chapter tells us that God is looking for those who "provide the poor wanderer with shelter - when you see the naked, to clothe him". These actions are not passive things like belief, prayer or hope, they are active (hence actions...) that should spring from belief, prayer and hope.

I think the key to this is looking into the faces of those around us as if we are looking into the very face of our Savior. Jesus said if you serve the least of these you are serving me. This is how I have to approach life today - that I am here to serve Jesus. He may look like a co-worker, a friend, my wife, my kids, etc. - but when I serve others, I am serving Him.

OK, I am overwhelmed.

Monday, February 09, 2009

I had someone ask me to blog about creation, science and God. Wow! Huge topic to talk through and dialogue about.

I have to start by saying that I am a literalist - a believe that God literally created the heavens and the earth. I do not ascribe to evolution of the species from an single cell to me. I just cannot believe something random created something this organized. I understand there are seemingly random occurrences in the universe, but I believe that these only seem random to us who have a limited view on the whole scope of the universe and of God.

Having started there, I also do not want this to be fodder for argument. There are those who ascribe to a literal 7 day creation and those that ascribe to a longer time period. I don't want to argument about this. Actually, I really don't even want to give my view on this because it may spawn discussion that wastes emotional time and thinking energy. Suffice it to say that I have committed brothers in the Lord that have varying views on this topic who I know love God, are committed to obey the ways of Jesus and are trying to build His kingdom. I in no way want to take away kingdom building energy and use it on this topic!

There are some things that I mull over as I think of this topic. These are statements or questions or ponderings - figure out which is which!!!!!
  1. When the scriptures say "God created", I believe that literally. My defining statement about creation is found in Paul's letter to the Colossians 15-17: He (Jesus) is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For by him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things were created by him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. I cannot say it any better or any clearer than this.
  2. When Genesis 1:1-2 says "In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters." it does not define when the beginning was and what formless and empty are. I don't think we are smart enough to do that either.
  3. When scripture talks of God separating earth from sky and water from land, these were not separated in Genesis 1:1-2. There was something that existed before He separated them. I am not sure what it looked like; I am not sure of its age. The rocks (notice I did not say humans or animals) on the earth could be billions and billions of years old. I don't know when in the beginning was and when God started the process of making the formless and empty earth. I don't know Hebrew, Aramaic or Greek so I cannot parse the "in the beginning" statement too much. Someone much smarter than I chose to interpret it this way using these English words.
  4. God created Adam with a built in history. Adam was not a baby when God created him. Did Adam have a historical Carbon -14 dating? Did God create the rest of the universe with a built in history? Don't know. Could He have? Absolutely.
  5. How did God set the stars in place? Did He place them one by one in a location? Did He use a "big bang" to move them from a central position? Don't know. All I do know is that GOD SET THEM in a place - the mechanism is not defined for us. We can guess all we want, but God has not chosen to reveal this detail to us. It is not worth arguing about the mechanism. It is worth arguing about God putting them where He wanted them (refer to #1).
  6. Dinosaurs confuse me. They are real for sure (duh...), but why did they and when did they become extinct is beyond me. As I look at recent history, it does not surprise me that something like an extinction happened (consider the buffalo....). The flood could have had a part in this, but hunting to extinction is not beyond the scope of humans!
  7. The Bible is not meant to be a science text book. When God said subdue and rule over the earth, I believe He meant for us to figure it out. Science is the discipline that we use to figure it out.
  8. Any science text book is not the Bible. In our limited brain, we cannot understand everything that happened in creation because it was supernatural. We should be able to figure out more about God's creation as we continue to explore! We will never totally understand the entirety of creation because there are supernatural influences in creation that are beyond our scope of understanding!!!
  9. Spending time arguing about this is a distraction to our real charge - make disciples. If we are arguing about this, we are not making disciples.
  10. I really believe that most people cannot get their arms around evolution and believe deep down inside them that there was a God who designed it all. Paul wrote to the Romans and David wrote in his songs, that creation testifies to God. Just like a vast majority of humans have a basic understanding of right and wrong, so too does a vast majority of humans have a basic understanding that something designed this whole thing. If this is not true, then Paul and David are liars (which they are not).
  11. This is not a huge issue for the next generation.
  12. I believe that science is confusing for most people. There are a select few who have the responsibility to help us unlock the wonder of this creation. Those that use science to turn people away from God will be held accountable for this. Science is meant to help us understand God more, to worship Him more; not to deny His existence. I pray that all scientists will eventually come to worship a divine creator as they continue to explore. (I know that at some point they will bow their knee before Him, I just hope it is sooner and on this earth rather than later when they stand before Him).
  13. The universe is way too big for a human to understand.
That should be enough to get your brain moving! As I said (twice), this is the kind of thing that I don't want to spend a ton of time on - I am not an expert in this area and I can alienate a lot of people from what is real (Jesus) by being too dogmatic in this area. Let's tread lightly and gently in this area so that we don't polarize over a very complex issue. This should not be the lightning rod of our spiritual conversations with people. If they need to get through this issue, then maybe. Let's start with Jesus and His aid in helping us get to a God who loves us and then begin to put creation in that context.

Monday, February 02, 2009

More on differentiation......

As I have thought more about differentiation, in addition to the fruit of the Spirit (love, joy, peace, patience, gentleness, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, self-control) being a visible differentiator, I thought of a few more things. Followers of Jesus also are visibly:
  • Forgiving - not harboring bitterness against others
  • Gracious - accepting of those around them realizing that God is in the process of calling all of us and/or changing us
  • Generous - giving of our time, treasure and talent to others
  • Focused - understanding that we have a mission in life
  • Humble - understanding that God is all in all and we are all in Him
  • Others centered - probably a euphemism for love, so...
  • Not anxious - knowing that God will keep His promises and provide
  • Not complainers - content with what God has provided and when He has provided
I have met lots of people that possess a some or quite a few of these characteristics. In fact, most of us have some of these visible characteristics built into our personality. Those who are not followers of Christ may be focused, gracious and at peace, but are they also humble, others centered and generous? Some may be gentle and kind, but are they at peace and are they focused? I think that the real issue is that if we are a follower of Jesus, we will exhibit ALL OF THESE CHARACTERISTICS, not just a few of them. This is the standard that is set before us.

I have to admit that I am a bit overwhelmed by all of this. When I look at this standard I have two choices - to give up and live defeated or to commit to allowing the Spirit to make these things come alive in me. I choose the latter. I know that this is His job (He has a lot of work to do!!!). I choose to look at this standard, not as a personal short coming (although it is), but as a goal to work for. I want to be a light to the world of what Jesus looks like. I am realizing that the only way that I can do this effectively and without hypocrisy is to look like Jesus in every way.