Monday, November 28, 2011

Advent Reflections

Sunday November 27th was the first day of Advent, a time of reflection and preparation to celebrate the coming of Christ.
The four Sundays in Advent we will look at different aspects of Incarnation.  I hope these meditations enrich your heart and draw you closer to the One.

Advent 1- Incarnation: God in the flesh
When God delivered the nation of Israel from slavery in Egypt, he entered into a covenant with them at Mount Sinai.  As a part of this covenant, he promised "I will put my dwelling place among you, and I will not reject you, but will walk among you and be your God, and you will be my people."(Leviticus 26:11-12)
God did this with his pillar of fire and cloud that led his people through the wilderness.  He did this with the ark of the covenant in the tabernacle and later in the temple.  These things were representations of his unseen presence among them.  But God did not stop there.  

He fulfilled the second part of his promise to walk among his people by coming in the flesh.  John 1:14 says "The Word became flesh and lived for a while among us."

God coming in the flesh gives us confidence that he understands what it is like to stand in our place.  We all hunger for a diving perspective, but God Most High chose to humble himself to see from a human perspective.
The writer of Hebrews says it this way, "For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are--yet he did not sin. Let us then approach God's throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need." (Hebrews 14:15-16)

We can approach God with confidence, knowing that he understands what we go through: our weakness, pain, struggle, the betrayal of friends, the pressure of work, every emotion and loss.  We no longer have to despair that God is so high and holy that he could never understand.  He became flesh to walk in our shoes and open a way for us to be in complete fellowship with him.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Weekly Schedule

Our Regular Fall Schedule

Monday- 7pm Men's Group at the Church

Tuesday- 6:30pm Women's Group at the Church
Second Tuesday night of the Month is Elder's Meeting at 7:00
Third Tuesday morning of the Month is Coffee at Amanda's for fellowship at 9:30
Fourth Tuesday morning of the Month is Friends Women Fellowship, missionary society at 9:00

Sunday- 9:30am Sunday School for all ages
10:30am Fellowship Time with Refreshments
10:45am Morning Worship
3:00pm Iglesia Evangelica Amigos

Catching up with Romans 9-11

In these chapters, we hear Paul's heart cry out for his people.  Paul is a Jew and has spent his entire life in devotion to his faith and his people.  Accepting that Jesus is Messiah did not change that.  Paul's discussion in this section of Romans shows us his struggle to reconcile the firm belief that the Jews remain God's chosen people, with the reality that so many were rejecting the Messiah that Paul held dear.

Paul asks several questions that must have come from deep in his own soul: has the word of God failed; is God unfair; where did it all go wrong; can it ever be made right?

Paul gives his answers by quoting the Old Testament scriptures, pointing out the inconsistency of God's people in the past, God's sovereignty, and His faithfulness to always preserve a remnant.  Paul doesn't seem to need a resolution to the free-will versus destiny argument.  On one hand he says belief does not "depend on man's desire or effort, but on God's mercy" (Ro 9:16).  Then he turns and says, "Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved" (Ro 10:13) followed by a discourse on how to call first they must hear; to hear someone must preach; to preach someone must be sent.

We have a difficulty with this kind of tension in the text.  Most of us will grab on to the verses that support our theological perspective on predestination or free-will.  Perhaps the better path is to let go of fear and understand that there are mysteries that we will never understand.

Throughout this discussion, Paul does an amazing job of pointing to hope.  He has hope that God will reserve a remnant.  He has hope that some of his fellow Jews have accepted Jesus as Messiah.  He has hope that God is still holding out his hands to His people, even if they are disobedient.  He points to a day when all the requisite Gentiles will come to faith so that in the end all of Israel will be saved.  His hope is based on the triumphant Grace of God which has never failed to receive His people.

Paul ends this whole section with a prayer:
"Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable his judgments, and his paths beyond tracing out! 'Who has known the mind of the Lord? Or who has been his counselor?' 'Who has ever given to God, that God should repay him?' For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be the glory forever! Amen." (Ro 11:33-36). 

Because of this prayer, I have hope.  Even if we don't understand all that God is doing, all of his plans for us, we can base our hope on his Grace.  We can stand confidently on the knowledge that nothing is beyond his reach and all belongs to him.  Our praise can flow from that hope and confidence, fueling our lives for love and service.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Flesh and Spirit

Romans 6-8.

Paul is showing us a different way of living in right relationship with God. That is his stated purpose for this whole letter. This is greatly illustrated in the second half of chapter 7 and the first half of chapter 8.

Paul gives us an illustration of how things work apart from the Spirit of God working in us. He says "The things I want to do, I do not do, instead I do the things I hate." This is our common plight as human beings. We set our minds on doing, or not doing, something only to fail again and again. We get so frustrated as we try and try and try, only to fail. Paul ends by saying "What a wretched man I am, who can save me from this body of death?" Eventually we come to the end of ourselves and our own strength and need someone to save us.

Paul answers his own question by saying that God, through Christ Jesus saves us and removes the burden of condemnation from us. Moving into chapter 8, Paul shows us the role of the Spirit in our lives. God put to death the sin that binds us, and that freedom from sin is offered to us in the Holy Spirit dwelling in our hearts as we have faith in Christ. The former way of struggling with sin on our own leads only to anxiety and death. The Spirit brings life and peace.

That peace not only applies to our freedom from sin, but also to our relationship with God. In the old way of trying to defeat sin on our own and trying desperately to win God's favor, we never knew if we were quite good enough. With the Holy Spirit in our hearts, we have a great gift. God gave us this Spirit, not so that we would live in fear of him, but so that we would learn to cry out to him as our loving father. The very Spirit cries out for us, "Abba, father!" Literally "Daddy!"

Our relationship to God suddenly goes from distant and wondering, to intimate and confident. No longer to we rely on a list of rules to tell us right and wrong. The Spirit directs our actions, changing our motivation from self-interest to love. God does not leave us wondering if we are on the right path. The Spirit nudges our hearts, saying this is the way. When failure comes and we get off track, the Spirit directs us back on course with repentance and acceptance of God's forgiveness.

Why walk in the former way, depending on your own strength to fight sin and be good enough? Surrender your life to Christ, receive the Holy Spirit and begin walking in life and peace; free from sins chains and the uncertainty that you are not enough.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

This week's message: Celebrate!

Romans 5:10-21.
Our reconciliation through Christ restores us to a relationship with God and brings us from Death into Life!

Adam’s story:
Sin entered by him
Death came to all by him
Sin brought Judgment that resulted in Condemnation
One Sin ushered in the Reign of Death
One Transgression Condemns All
One’s disobedience=Many sinners

Jesus’ story:
Grace of God entered by Him
Life is restored by Him
Sin with Grace applied results in Justification
Receive Grace and each one can Reign in Life
One Righteous Act Justifies All
One’s obedience=Many righteous

When the Law came, more people became law-breakers, but Grace won! Sin ruled in death, grace rules through a new-found righteousness in Christ to produce in us Eternal life. So celebrate the life you have available in Jesus the Messiah. Let that joy well up in your life and overflow into the lives of those around you!

Romans 5:10-21 The Message
If, when we were at our worst, we were put on friendly terms with God by the sacrificial death of his Son, now that we're at our best, just think of how our lives will expand and deepen by means of his resurrection life! Now that we have actually received this amazing friendship with God, we are no longer content to simply say it in plodding prose. We sing and shout our praises to God through Jesus, the Messiah!

You know the story of how Adam landed us in the dilemma we're in - first sin, then death, and no one exempt from either sin or death. That sin disturbed relations with God in everything and everyone, but the extent of the disturbance was not clear until God spelled it out in detail to Moses. So death, this huge abyss separating us from God, dominated the landscape from Adam to Moses. Even those who didn't sin precisely as Adam did by disobeying a specific command of God still had to experience this termination of life, this separation from God. But Adam, who got us into this, also points ahead to the One who will get us out of it.

Yet the rescuing gift is not exactly parallel to the death-dealing sin. If one man's sin put crowds of people at the dead-end abyss of separation from God, just think what God's gift poured through one man, Jesus Christ, will do! There's no comparison between that death-dealing sin and this generous, life-giving gift. The verdict on that one sin was the death sentence; the verdict on the many sins that followed was this wonderful life sentence. If death got the upper hand through one man's wrongdoing, can you imagine the breathtaking recovery life makes, sovereign life, in those who grasp with both hands this wildly extravagant life-gift, this grand setting-everything-right, that the one man Jesus Christ provides?

Here it is in a nutshell: Just as one person did it wrong and got us in all this trouble with sin and death, another person did it right and got us out of it. But more than just getting us out of trouble, he got us into life! One man said no to God and put many people in the wrong; one man said yes to God and put many in the right.

All that passing laws against sin did was produce more lawbreakers. But sin didn't, and doesn't, have a chance in competition with the aggressive forgiveness we call grace. When it's sin versus grace, grace wins hands down. All sin can do is threaten us with death, and that's the end of it. Grace, because God is putting everything together again through the Messiah, invites us into life - a life that goes on and on and on, world without end.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

This Week's Message: Abba- Father’s Day 2011

I. Our relationship to God
Romans 8:14-16 "For all who are being led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God. For you have not received a spirit of slavery leading to fear again, but you have received a spirit of adoption as sons by which we cry out, 'Abba ! Father !' The Spirit Himself testifies with our spirit that we are children of God…"

A. Not slavery to fear. No anxiously wondering if he loves us.

John 1: 12-13 "Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God-- children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband's will, but born of God."

B. Sonship--belonging to God and his family. Able to inherit the promise!

II. Our relationship to each other
Galatians 3:26-28 "For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus. For all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus."

A. No favorites because of bloodline, social status or gender.
B. One in Christ. Equal footing and belonging to each other as family.

III. Our heart’s cry in the Holy Spirit—“Abba!” (Daddy)
Galatians 4:6 "Because you are sons, God has sent forth the Spirit of His Son into our hearts, crying, 'Abba ! Father !'"

A. God is better than all the best in our earthly fathers
B. God can fill the void left by the failings of our earthly fathers
C. God’s father-love for all of us is perfect

1 Co. 13:4-8a "Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails."

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

This week's message: Redemption

Romans 3:20-31.

For many Christians this is a familiar passage, or at least parts of it are familiar. This is a section of scripture that usually finds it's way into references to salvation or particular techniques for evangelism. While this is not necessarily bad, taking scripture verses out of context can give us an incomplete picture of the topic at hand. In this case the topic is redemption.

Paul has been addressing Jewish believers and pointing out that while their heritage is important, it does not give them an instant "in" with God. Having the Torah (Law) is not the same as living the Torah. Living according to the Torah in its entirety, Paul says, is impossible. Everyone falls short regardless of their faith background and tradition.

If that were the end of the story--everyone falls short--it would be bad news, not good news. But Paul does not stop there. He says not only has everyone fallen short, but everyone is justified freely by God's grace presented to us in the person of Jesus the Messiah. Paul tells the Jewish believers that God has made Jesus to be the Kapparah for the whole world.

When we read verses like Romans 3:25, " God put Yeshua forward as the kapparah for sin through his faithfulness in respect to his bloody sacrificial death," it is easy to forget that we are not talking about brutish oppression of one member of the God-head by another. God the Father and Jesus the Son are one. Their will is one will. Their purpose is one purpose. All of God (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit) willed together that they should become the atoning sacrifice for the sin of the whole world in the person of Jesus the Messiah.

The picture is not one of God the Father sending Jesus to the cross, but a beautiful image of God stepping out of heaven to bear the cost of forgiveness on our behalf. This is something we understand all too well. Forgiveness requires the forgiver to bear the cost. That is what forgiveness is: choosing not to force repayment by one who has wronged us. When a bank forgives a loan they bear the financial cost. When we forgive one another we bear an emotional cost, and it hurts. When God chose to forgive the sin of all humanity for all time, he bore the physical cost: death.

This act of bearing the cost of forgiveness lifts the burden of repaying an impossible debt. It sets us free from trying to pretend we are righteous. When we accept this gift, it sets God free to bring healing into our lives. It becomes a thing that is not about us or what we do, but about God and what he has done on our behalf.

This is why there is no more boasting. This is why there is no need to put on a holy church face. This is why we can embrace those still under the impression that they are slaves to sin. We have all fallen short of perfection, and have been forgiven and cleansed by God's sovereign choice to bear the cost of forgiveness himself so that we could be restored to a right relationship with him.

Psalm 147

1 Praise the Lord!
How good it is to sing praises to our God;
for he is gracious, and a song of praise is fitting.
2 The Lord builds up Jerusalem;
he gathers the outcasts of Israel.
3 He heals the brokenhearted,
and binds up their wounds.
4 He determines the number of the stars;
he gives to all of them their names.
5 Great is our Lord, and abundant in power;
his understanding is beyond measure.
6 The Lord lifts up the downtrodden;
he casts the wicked to the ground.

7 Sing to the Lord with thanksgiving;
make melody to our God on the lyre.
8 He covers the heavens with clouds,
prepares rain for the earth,
makes grass grow on the hills.
9 He gives to the animals their food,
and to the young ravens when they cry.
10 His delight is not in the strength of the horse,
nor his pleasure in the speed of a runner;
11 but the Lord takes pleasure in those who fear him,
in those who hope in his steadfast love.

Monday, May 16, 2011

This week's message: Level Ground

Romans 1:16-2:16.

Many times this last half of Romans chapter 1 is quoted to heap condemnation on those who struggle in a few particular areas of sin--mostly sexual sin. If we read the passage and stop before chapter 2, verse 1, we often feel pretty holy in comparison to all "those people" that Paul is describing who live their lives apart from God. Surely we don't fall into the category of "wickedness, evil, greed and depravity."

We feel really safe until we look deeper into these words and find that evil is really better translated "injustice," and greed better understood as "wanting more." Injustice is not giving God and people their due. Who among us has never shortchanged God or our fellow human beings in love, kindness, and compassion? Who among us is completely satisfied with what we have and do not desire more?

It is important for us to recognize our place in this fallen state so that we can accept what Paul tells us in the opening verses of chapter 2. "
You, therefore, have no excuse, you who pass judgment on someone else, for at whatever point you judge the other, you are condemning yourself, because you who pass judgment do the same things." These things bring death and destruction into our lives and the lives of others around us. God will not look more kindly on our sin than the sins of others.

We like that God has kindness, patience and tolerance for our sin. His kindness brings us to repentance. We lose sight of this truth when we call God's wrath down on others. His kindness, tolerance, and patience applies to all because his desire is to draw all mankind to himself. When we justify ourselves while condemning others we show that our hearts are not in unity with his. "
But because of your stubbornness and your unrepentant heart, you are storing up wrath against yourself for the day of God's wrath, when his righteous judgment will be revealed."

The next few verses are a further emphasis that God's judgment is based on our actions and our knowledge or awareness of what is good. He is leading and driving us toward the ultimate declaration in chapter 3, verse 23 "For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God." The key challenge in today's scripture is to lay down our stubbornness and un-repentance, recognize our place in the fallen world and seek God's free forgiveness.

God has grace for all of our sins, whether great or small. He wants to bring forgiveness and healing into our lives. What we must do is surrender to his grace all the broken, wounded, and corrupted places in our hearts and lives.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

This Week's Schedule

Tuesday May 3rd- Ladies Group 6:30pm

Sunday May 8th-
Sunday School 9:30am
Fellowship time 10:30am
Meeting for Worship 10:45am
Iglesia Evangelica de Amigos 3:00pm

This week's message: Called to Belong to Jesus

Romans 1;1-7.

In these first seven verses, Paul introduces himself and his mission. Paul says he is a slave of Christ Jesus, set apart for apostleship, given a mission to call others to obedience in faith, to be saints and to belong to Jesus.

We don't have a great modern understanding of the relationship Paul claims to have with Jesus. It is stronger than an employee and more voluntary than purchased slavery. The best way to express it is really that Paul has sold out to Christ. Jesus actually owns him and directs his life.

Paul says he has been set apart for a purpose. William Barclay suggests that this is a play on words, as Pharisee can be interpreted as Set-apart-one. Paul had been a Pharisee, set apart for his own personal holiness. Now Paul is set apart for a purpose, for the benefit of others.

Paul's purpose is to be sent out among the nations. The book of Acts gives us this picture of Paul constantly going out, moving on, and moving further into territory where people have never heard. He went out to call people to obedience that comes from faith.

Obedience from faith is much different than obedience from obligation or fear of punishment. We have all experienced obedience that does not come from faith. We all had parents who told us to obey "Because I said so!" We all had teachers and employers who required obedience on pain of detention, docking our wages or firing. Paul's mission is to call people to obedience that comes from faith that God is good.

Many of us grew up seeing God as someone to be afraid of a cosmic punisher of wrong. It is not that God does not represent judgment, but rather that he is not sitting somewhere waiting for us to mess up so that he can hurl lightning at us. When we come to know and understand who God is, his kindness, mercy and compassion, we obey from faith in who he is and from our love for him.

Paul also calls these people at Rome to belong to Jesus. Paul has introduced himself as one who is sold out to Christ, and he is calling those reading this letter to do the same. When we believe in Christ Jesus as Lord, we must in that recognition give him our very selves. If he is to be Lord, he must be our Lord. He must own our lives.

Finally, Paul calls these believers saints. Most of us would not raise our hands if a call were made for saints. We see sainthood as a state of perfection, and it does mean "Holy one." Holy is a tricky word that at its core means "set apart." Paul is calling people to be as he is, set apart for God's purpose.

In essence, Paul is saying in this introduction "This is who I am, and I am calling you to the same life, purpose and Lord." That was his challenge to the Romans, and it is my challenge to you. You have been called to obedience that comes from faith, to belong to Jesus at the core of your being, so that you will be set apart for his purpose.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

This week's schedule

Easter Service Times
Sunrise service at Cottonwood Friends 7:00am
No Sunday School
Worship Celebration 10:00am

Monday, April 18, 2011

This week's message: Anointing

We used a method of scripture study this week in our worship that is a little different. We read the story of Jesus being anointed by the woman with the jar of perfume in all four gospels. We began by reading the account in Matthew 26:6-13. Then we allowed a period of silence for meditation and, if prompted by the Spirit, for people to share what impacted them from the story. We then read the accounts in Mark 14:1-11; Luke 7:36-50; and John 12:1-8. Between each reading we allowed for that same quiet space for individuals to chew on the similarities and differences in each reading.

There are arguments that these stories are not all referring to the same anointing. Some scholars would like to set aside the Luke account as a separate incident, and even a few who would argue that there are three separate anointings. We approached these passages with a "what if" attitude. We asked "What if they are the same? What would that teach us?" There are so many overlapping details from each account that it makes it highly possible that this is one story told from different perspectives.

The location for the anointing is given as Bethany in Matthew, Mark and John. The name of the host is given as Simon in Matthew, Mark and Luke. Yes, in two he is referred to as Simon the Leper and one as Simon the Pharisee. We must remember that Matthew and Mark were writing from the perspective of direct followers of Jesus, while Luke was writing as a historian who most likely conducted interviews to gain his information. Since we know that "the leper" and "the pharisee" were not formal last names, but reference points, and that they were not mutually exclusive, there can be no claim that these are two separate individuals.

Jesus was anointed with very expensive perfume in Matthew, very expensive perfume made of pure nard in Mark, perfume in Luke, and a pint of pure nard in John. The vessel holding the perfume was alabaster in Matthew, Mark, and Luke. Jesus was anointed on his head in Matthew and Mark, but his feet in Luke and John with the woman wiping his feet with her hair in both accounts as well. The woman is rebuked in all four accounts. Jesus defends her in all four accounts.

I think the greatest obstacle to overcome in reconciling these accounts is that Luke calls the woman a person of ill-repute, and John says this woman was Mary the sister of Lazarus. We have a hard time conceiving of Mary as a prostitute or sinner. We like her. She chooses to sit at Jesus' feet and the little sister/brother in all of us wants to stick out our tongue at Martha as she complains and Jesus defends in Luke 10. But we fail to consider that perhaps her devotion comes from a place of deep gratitude for many sins forgiven. It certainly explains why she was not married. It may even explain why her sister resented her so much, a sister with a bad reputation easily spoils the reputation of the whole family. It would explain why she was seemingly uninvited to a banquet where her brother reclined and her sister served. An upstanding member of the community would assume that she was unfit company for an important rabbi.

Seeing Mary in a new light can actually give us hope for our own condition. We lift saints too high sometimes. It is easy to do, thinking that if God interacted with them, they must be morally perfect. But Jesus was not criticized for hanging out with saints, but tax collectors and sinners. This is exactly the kind of person he would have welcomed into his group of followers. And we are too.

Regardless of your past, God has a bright future for you. Bring him your gratitude and genuine praise. Don't be afraid to pour it all out at his feet. The opinions of others do not matter to him. Present him with yourself and allow him to fight the battle for your reputation!

Monday, April 4, 2011

This week's Message- Pray

Luke 11:1-13.

In this section of scripture, we read three of Jesus' teachings on prayer: the Lord's prayer, Parable of the friend at midnight, and God gives good gifts. Each teaching flows into the next creating a united message that God is our Father who longs to give us not only answers to our prayers, but his very self when we seek him.

The passage begins with Jesus praying. His disciples come to him asking that he teach them to pray according to his method of prayer, just like John had taught his followers to pray according to his own practices. This may seem odd to us. We don't typically ask each new pastor or teacher how we should pray, but it was not an uncommon practice for students to ask their rabbi to teach them to pray.

Jesus gives them a model prayer which fits with the Matthew Lord's Prayer, but is not quite as fully composed. The disciples may have been shocked and amazed when Jesus told them to address God as "Father." If you look at the Old Testament, you will find prayers addressed to God Most High, or The One God, but you will not find a prayer addressed to "Father." Jesus as the Son of God invites his followers to address and experience God as more than a far off , all-powerful deity. He invited them, and invites us today to see God as our Father.

Moving into the second teaching, Jesus tells a parable. The situation is this: a friend knocks on your door at midnight asking for bread to give to a traveling friend, do you get up or not? Jesus says you might get up, but not because of your friendship. He says the mere act of boldly knocking at midnight will make you get up and get your friend whatever he needs.

Many times we do not ask God for things we feel are beneath him. We don't want to bother God with our problems. If the friend at midnight had said to himself, "I shouldn't bother them with my problem," he would have received no bread. In order to have answers to our prayers, we must pray! And Jesus concludes that teaching with the words "So ask, and you will receive. Seek and you will find. Knock and the door will be opened to you."

Moving into the third teaching, Jesus poses a question to his hearers intended to shock them into realizing a truth about God. He says, "Who among you, if your child asked for food would give him a deadly predator to sting and bite him?" In this question, Jesus addresses another reason we often do not go to God in prayer: we don't trust him. We don't pray because we think he'll answer in a way that will hurt us.

Jesus corrects this fear by saying "If you, then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children; how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him." Now this differs from the Matthew account of this teaching, Matthew says God will give good gifts to those who ask. Luke shows us a different intent. God does not merely want to answer our prayers. He wants to give us himself when we seek him.

God does not always give us what we ask for. Sometimes when we ask for a fish, he gives us an apple. Sometimes when we ask for an egg, he gives us bread. His answer may not fit our desires, but they do fill our need. God, like all good parents, knows when the desired outcome is good for us and when it is not. Sometimes God must answer "no" to our prayers.

Regardless of his answer, in spite of the outcome of our situation, God gives us himself. And at the end of the day no miracle we seek or ask for is greater than the God of the Universe giving us his Holy Spirit to dwell within us; to be our comforter, guide, companion, and friend.

God is our Father. He created us and delights in us. He longs for us to bring him our hearts desires, our needs and dreams. He longs to answer our prayers, giving us good gifts, and the greatest gift of all--his presence.

Monday, March 28, 2011

This Week's Message- The Christ

Luke 9:18-27.

There are two conversations in this section of scripture, and we include both of them today because the second hinges on the outcome of the first. Jesus asks his disciples who the crowds say he is. They answer that some think he is John the Baptist, or Elijah, or one of the prophets. This same report had come to Herod earlier in the chapter, to which he replied that he had killed John and was curious about the rumors. Then Jesus asks his disciples who they say he is; almost asking what they say in response to those who claim he is John the Baptist, Elijah, or a prophet. Peter, impulsive as usual, blurts out "The Christ of God!"

This conversation is interesting because we know that Jesus is not asking for information. He is God incarnate and does not need his disciples to give him the latest gossip to know what people are saying. He also does not need their response to know what they are thinking about him. Often when God asks us questions it is for our benefit, to make us think. Jesus wants his disciples to think about their response to his question in light of what the world is saying about him.

We still must answer these questions today. Who does the world say Jesus is? A good teacher. A myth. A madman. And what do we say in response to those statements? Who is Jesus to you and to me? Who do we say he is?

We can take a clue from Peter if we will stop to ponder for a moment what Peter is actually saying. The word Christ is used so much in church that we often begin to think of it as Jesus' last name. Christ is the Greek equivalent of Messiah, which is the Hebrew word meaning "Anointed One." This word carries with it a promise that God would send someone to continue David's line, to be prophet, priest and king. This Messiah was thought to be the great deliverer from Roman oppression in Jesus' time. They were looking for a savior from Rome who would turn their hearts to God, and set up an earthly kingdom.

Jesus tells his disciples not to spread the word that he was the Messiah. This may have been to prevent the zealous from creating an uprising against Rome anticipating that earthly kingdom. Jesus says to his followers that their concept of Messiah would have to be reformed. "The Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, chief priests and teachers of the law, and he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life." Jesus said to them that he would be crucified.

Interestingly, Luke takes us into a conversation with a wider group of people in which Jesus says that in order to follow him people must be willing to deny themselves and take up their cross daily. The King of Glory was to be crucified, and his followers must choose to enact their own daily crucifixion of their self-will.

In church culture it is not unusual to hear "It's just my cross to bear." We hear it in relation to annoying people we must tolerate or work situations that are not ideal. When we overuse the phrase for such trivial things we cheapen the sacrifice that Jesus made and calls us to make as well. The cross was not an annoyance or inconvenience, it was torture.

Our daily dying to ourselves, if we are serious about it, is painful. We must choose each day to allow God's will to reign supreme in our lives. We must choose to allow him to be Lord. This does not mean that we won't disagree with God. It does not make everything easy. When Jesus prayed in the garden to have the cup pass from him, he was expressing his will. We can do the same. We can tell God how we feel, what we think, how we want things to be. But at the end of the conversation we must still determine that his will, not ours, be done.

This crucifixion of self does not turn Christians in to automatons. We do not lay down our personality, who we are. Instead, we lay down that part of ourselves that wars with God, the part that rebels against his perfect will, the part that takes us down the path of destruction. The truth is that God made you to be who you are. He took part of his infinite nature and put it in you to represent a side of himself. He is infinite and every one of us is a different reflection of who he is. When we lay down our self-will, instead of killing our personality, we actually find ourselves transformed into the fullness of who he always planned us to be.

Jesus said that it was pointless to strive for a nice, safe, self-determined life here on earth. As John Ortberg said "When the game is over, all the pieces go back in the box." We can't take our nice life with us, it ends when we die. If we do not choose to start investing into eternity now, our earthly lives are wasted--they produce nothing that lasts.

But Jesus also says that we don't have to die to start experiencing the Kingdom of God. You and I, by declaring that Jesus is the Christ/Messiah/King of Glory and choosing to lay down our will, can begin to experience eternity now. Jesus has opened the door for us and we can enter in as we choose.

If Jesus is the Christ, and we wish to follow him and taste eternity now, we must be willing to sacrifice our self-will and declare him King of our lives. Let him reign in you today!

Monday, March 21, 2011

This week's message: Soul Gardening

Luke 8:1-15.

The Parable of the Sower is a very familiar story in scripture. I have often walked away from studying it with a sense of futility or hopelessness. This time I want us all to walk away with hope. In the past it seemed as though the message was, "What kind of soil are you?" or "Don't bother with the rocky soil or the thorny ground or the path, seed won't grow there anyway!" Both impressions leave me feeling helpless to change my own situation or to effectively share the gospel message with people whose lives are full of imperfection and difficulty.

I know many gardeners and they all consistently tell me that soil cannot change itself. Rocky soil cannot decide to be un-rocky. Thorny soil cannot choose to get rid of thorns. Hard compacted soil cannot just loosen up! In order for soil to change, the gardener has to change it. It is the same in our lives. God is the master gardener, he is the sower and his desire is to amend the soil of our hearts to accommodate the growing Word in our lives.

This gives me hope! I can't change my own heart, but God can. I can ask him to work the soil of my heart knowing he did not plant seeds there for them to die, but with the desire to bear fruit.

The other discouragement I often face is in spreading the word. I have heard that farmer called irresponsible for wasting seed by broadcasting it onto the path and the rocky/thorny soil. What we must realize is that the Farmer is God. When Jesus came as God in the flesh, he came proclaiming the message to anyone who had ears to hear. He came healing those with grateful hearts as well as those who never said thank you. (Think of the ten lepers.)

This picture of the broadcast seed has become beautiful to me! There is God, casting seeds of truth to whoever will receive them. God does not withhold his truth from those whose hearts are hard! He does not keep his gospel from those with busy, hectic, distracted lives full of worry and anxiety. He does not refuse to plant his Word in the lives of those who are too shallow! Rather, he casts his seed abroad giving anyone and everyone who hears a chance to receive it and produce fruit.

This does something for us as those entrusted with the scattering of seeds of truth. It gives us permission to sow into the lives of those who may not receive it. It gives us freedom from anxiety as we contemplate those who may not keep the word even if they initially receive it with joy. Our job is to scatter seed. Our job may be to water it, or help people see their need for the master gardener to come and work in their hearts. But it is not our responsibility to make those seeds grow and bear fruit. He lets us off the hook for the productivity of others.

But Jesus does not let us completely off the hook for the outcome in our own lives! We may not be able to choose our soil composition, we may not be able to keep out the weeds or the rocks or keep our hearts from becoming compact when it is stepped on; but we do have a part to play in the productivity of the Word in our lives. Our job is to do what Jesus says in verse 15. We must cling to the Word. We must steadfastly endure with perseverance. That is our part. Cling to the Word of Truth that God plants in your heart. Hang on in tough times, trusting the Master Gardener to work the soil of your life, and watch as fruit grows and matures to bring a great harvest!

Last Week's Message: Setting the Tune

Luke 7:18-35.

This passage of scripture holds a lot of information and complexity, but no part of it would be complete without the surrounding text. John the Baptist is in prison and he sends his disciples to Jesus to ask if he really is the Messiah. John knows that this is Jesus' claim, John himself baptized Jesus and declared to those who would listen that Jesus is Messiah. Sitting in prison, though, John needs to know with absolute certainty that Jesus is really the One.

Amazing, how God never chastises those who ask openly and honestly for reassurance. Recently we talked about Abram asking God to tell him once and for all just how he planned to fulfill his promise when God had not yet given him a son. Just like God dealt compassionately with Abram, he deals compassionately with John.

Jesus, without saying a word, turns and heals the sick and diseased, gives sight to some who were blind, and drives out evil spirits. He tells John's disciples, "Go tell John what you witnessed with your own eyes." Here he quotes from Isaiah 61 about the coming of the Messiah, but he leaves off that part about liberating those in prison. It is as though he tells John, "Yes, I am the Messiah, but you will not be set free." He says "Blessed is the man who does not fall away on account of me." He is saying in essence "Things aren't going to turn out the way you want, but hang in there. Don't fall away."

John's disciples leave and Jesus turns back to the crowd where he tells them that John the Baptist was a prophet preparing the way for the Messiah, and that he is the greatest man ever born of a woman. This crowd just heard him say that John would stay in prison.

Then Jesus paints a picture for us of a problem faced by people of that time, and I would argue of any age, they want to set the tune. They want to play a happy tune and have God dance along, they want to weep and wail, and have God join in the wailing. They, and we too, want to call the shots.

It is easy, it is the human nature thing to do. But Christ calls us to live above the human nature to the very nature of God present in our hearts through the Holy Spirit. God will not dance to our tune. He will not allow us to manipulate him. He desires to mold and shape us. He calls us to lay down our "want to's" and allow him to work.

John wanted to get out of prison. But even John did not get to call the shots. Jesus did not want to die on the cross, but even Jesus was willing to lay down his fleshly desires to do the will of God. This is hard to understand, it is tough to think that God could have a greater purpose in something as gruesome as the cross or a prison beheading. These are not the things we like to think about.

Jesus closes this section with the words, "Wisdom's children prove wisdom right." I read those words as an encouragement. We can choose to be children of this age, demanding our own way, or we can choose to be wisdom's children, finding out that wisdom (God's way) is right by following God's path.

As a result of John's suffering, we see a witness to steadfast faith in the face of persecution. In Christ's sacrifice we see that death is not the end as he is resurrected and ascends to glory. Walking through difficulty while choosing the path of wisdom instead of seeking our own way allows us to witness God in action.

Monday, March 7, 2011

This week's message: The Test

Genesis 22:1-18.
It says in verse one that God was testing Abraham. We need to pay attention to that word: testing. God was not tempting Abraham to sin, or expressing some kind of power trip. God wanted Abraham to see that his faith was real. This is an event that Abraham never forgot. It is something his children never forgot. It is essential to the faith of every Jew and Christian that has come since that time!

Abraham was God’s chosen servant. He did not always make good decisions, we have seen that! But we have seen Abraham act in faith, stepping out in obedience when God called him to do something specific. This story is often cited as one of the greatest proofs of Abraham’s faith in God. But this morning I want us to look at this from a different angle. I want us to see how this is a story about love; Abraham’s love for God and God’s love for Abraham.

In verse two, God takes special care to emphasize Abraham’s love for his son. In essence he is saying, this is the most important thing to you. It seems as if Abraham was in danger of loving Isaac more than God. Remember when Abraham tried before to make God’s promise happen his own way, or when he begged God to choose Ishmael to be the child of promise? Here he has the child of promise, Isaac and it may be that Abraham is now giving more value to the gift than the giver. Isaac was the child of promise, but it was God’s promise, not Isaac’s, and not Abraham’s.

It is interesting to see Abraham’s response in this. He does not argue, but I wonder what he is thinking. I know what I would be thinking. Did I hear you right God? You really didn’t just say what I think you did. Seriously?!? This had to be a joke, right? The Bible does not record Abraham’s verbal response, but it does say that he was obedient; he packed up and went to the place where God told him to go. Abraham was showing his love through obedience. By doing this, Abraham was affirming his love for God. He was saying to God, and he was telling himself through these actions, “I love God more than I love this gift that he has given to me.

This is so important! With all of the times Abraham stumbled, or went astray, or made his own path, Abraham needed to know that his love for God was supreme. God didn’t need to know. God sees our hearts. This was not a proof to God of Abraham’s love and obedience, this was a proof to Abraham of the condition of his own heart! God loved Abraham enough to give him this opportunity to see into his own heart and witness the growth that God had brought about in himself.

In verses 11-14, we see God’s deliverance and his provision. Because Abraham had shown that his love for God took the greatest precedence in his heart, God gave him the gift all over again. I find it really interesting that when we look at God’s message through the angel compared to his statement at the beginning of this story, God says, “You have not withheld your son,” God leaves out whom you love. It is not that Abraham has stopped loving Isaac. He did not stop loving this son that God gave to him, but because he had shown that his love for God was greater, his love for his son was no longer an issue.

Verses 15-18 stand as a reminder and a reinstatement of God’s promise to Abraham. If you look at verse 16, it says that the reason that God is able to fulfill his promise is that Abraham has chosen to put his love for God above his love for his son, the gift that God had given. Abraham’s love for his son no longer stood in the way of Abraham’s faith and love and trust for God.

We all have things that God has promised us. We have blessings that God has given us and it is tempting to allow those things, those gifts to compete for our love. Love for other things, even good things—even things God wants us to appreciate and love like our children, our families—if we love them more than God, it can keep us from God’s best for us.

We know that love is a choice, we have the choice of whether to give God precedence in our hearts, or let love for other things rule. God may have a test for you of your love or your faith. Don’t take that as God asking you to prove something to him, take it as an opportunity to prove the condition of your heart to yourself. When we have a clear picture of where we stand, we know the areas that need growth. We see the areas that have grown and changed for the better. We see how far we have come and that gives us confidence to walk forward in faith.

God is our greatest example of love and our love is reciprocal to his. He does not ask us to do what he will not, or make a sacrifice greater than the one he has already made. He does not ask us to love him first. 1 John 4:19 says we love because he loved us first. He gives us his power to love him above all things. But the choice is up to us. Will we choose to love God with all our hearts, or will we allow competing objects of our love and affection take precedence? Examine your life. Ask if the decisions you make every day demonstrate love and obedience to God above all else. This is a choice we have to make daily. God gives us power to follow through, but we have to start with a simple act of will. Will you make a decision today to give God all of your heart? The choice is up to you.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

This week's message: God fulfills his promises

Genesis 21:1-21.

This chapter records the birth of Isaac and the rejection of Ishmael. At first I was reluctant to use both narratives, one so full of joy and the other so full of pain. I don't particularly like the hardness of Sarah's heart as she receives God's grace and mercy for herself, but will not impart it to Hagar and Ishmael. It was not until my eyes were opened to a greater theme in these two stories that I gained some excitement and a message to share.

Through this whole narrative of Abram becoming Abraham and the journey he takes walking with God through success and failure, ups and downs, disappointment and delay, one common theme emerges. In fact it beats so loudly in my ears that I don't know how I missed it! The theme is this: God is faithful.

God's faithfulness was at work in his patience as Abram strayed away, as he sold away the vessel through which his promise would come (twice), as he tried to make things happen in his own way and his own timing. God remained faithful and steadfast. God restored him to fellowship every time he fell. God repeated his promise over and over and over until Abram finally believed.

At the beginning of the chapter, we read about Sarah giving birth to Isaac, bringing joyful laughter to her heart and the hearts of those who knew her. Everything was as it should be, until the party when they celebrated Isaac being weaned. That was the moment when Sarah decided she didn't like Ishmael's face. She told Abraham to throw them out. And he did.

I don't know if Sarah was bothered by this reminder of her past attempts to get God's promise her way, or if she was really paranoid that Abraham would love him more than Isaac or at least enough to split the inheritance. Whatever her reasons, she was hardened in her heart against these people who were in all ways her family.

Hagar is the mother of what was to be Sarah's surrogate son. Now that she has her own biological child, Sarah despises Hagar and Ishmael. Her request to get rid of them has Abraham in a panic. This is his son, the son he asked God to bless. Abraham pleaded with God to make Ishmael the child of the promise! Now he was considering sending him away.

It is really sad and then God comes in and tells Abraham that God would care for Ishmael. He restates his promise that although he would not be the covenant child, Ishmael would be blessed. Hagar and Ishmael find themselves in the desert having run out of water, and Hagar meets again with the God who sees her. God brings them to water, cares for them at that moment, and then scripture shocks our socks right off! It says in verse 20, "God was with the boy as he grew up."

We miss that line in our Sunday school lessons with the flannel graph figures. God did not just give them water when they were thirsty, he stayed with Ishmael as he grew up. God fulfilled his promise to give him sons--12 of them. God fulfilled his promise that those sons would be princes, most fathered entire tribes of Bedouins, and caravan traders, and shipping entrepreneurs, and oasis guardians, and great warriors who opposed the Assyrians and Babylonians. God kept his promise to bless Ishmael beyond what we can imagine. Ishmael's descendants built Petra, the great carved city. They still seek to serve God, an entire tribe became Christians early on. There is even evidence that the Magi were Arab descendants of Ishmael, not Persians as typically portrayed.

The story has a happy ending because of God's faithfulness. When Abraham dies in chapter 25 of Genesis, the scripture writer tells us that he was buried by his sons Ishmael and Isaac. God's faithfulness overcame all the obstacles Ishmael faced to bring blessing beyond measure.

God can do the same for us. Are you rejected? God is faithful. Are you abandoned? God is faithful. Are your dreams and plans unfulfilled? God is faithful. He has promised to never leave us or forsake us. He has written his name on our hearts. His faithfulness does not change with our circumstances. He remains faithful to his promises and loving toward all he has made regardless of what we experience. We can trust and depend on his faithfulness in the face of any trial, any persecution, any trouble, any failure on our part. God is faithful.

Catching up with Abraham!

It is embarrassing how long it has been since I updated the sermon posts! Sorry to those who follow regularly. Here is a recap of the teachings for Genesis 13-17.

In Genesis 13 we see Abram coming back to the land God had promised to his descendants. It takes him a while, though, to come full circle. He is still meandering, not heading straight back, rather he takes his time coming back not only to a physical location but to the God who spoke to him there.

We often find ourselves in the same place. We fall and then avoid coming back into fellowship with God because we are afraid of retribution or a lack of acceptance. The beautiful thing about this story, as Abram parts ways with Lot and moves further into this land God had promised, is that God honors his return. God honors the fact that Abram chose to come back and does not even chide him for taking so long. God reaffirms his promise and adds that Abram will have children that are like the dust in number. What a beautiful picture of God's gracious acceptance of us when we do repent (turn away from what distracted us) and turn back to him.

In Genesis 14 a story unfolds of kings going to war with each other over tribute payments that were not paid. Abram's nephew Lot gets caught up in the fray and his whole family is taken captive by invaders. All of the local rulers in Lot's area gave up and went home defeated. Abram gathered some allies and went to recover the captives and plunder taken in the conflict.

The great thing about this seemingly mundane story is not so much in Abram's recovery of Lot and the captives. The shining moment comes instead when Abram interacts with Melchizedek. Basically at that time the system of governance was thug rule. Whoever had the most allies and could beat others in battle became their own ruler/king. When Abram presents Melchizedek with a tithe gift, Melchizedek offers him all of the plunder.

The gleaming glorious moment is Abram's refusal: "I have raised my hand to the LORD, God Most High, Creator of heaven and earth, and have taken an oath that I will accept nothing belonging to you, not even a thread or the thong of a sandal, so that you will never be able to say, 'I made Abram rich.' I will accept nothing but what my men have eaten and the share that belongs to the men who went with me--to Aner, Eshcol and Mamre. Let them have their share."

Abram takes nothing from the plunder. This man who came back from Egypt loaded from having sold his wife to Pharoah's harem looks past wealth for once to the promise of God's provision. He commits to look only to God for blessing and material gain so that God will be glorified!

Genesis 15 finds Abram finally being honest with God about his doubts and fears. He asks God about his inability to produce an heir and for a confirmation of God's promise. Again, we have an aversion to speaking frankly with God for fear that he will strike us with his holy lightening (actually that is Zeus, not YHWH). But we do not see that here!

God responds to Abram with loving compassion and confirms his promise with a covenant ceremony, something Abram was familiar with. God cuts a covenant with Abram, but we do not see the reciprocation of Abram at this time. God commits to the covenant, not based on Abram's great performance as a man of faith, but because when God makes a promise he keeps it.

In Genesis 16 Abram and Sarai conspire to make God's promise come true by hook or by crook. They decide that a surrogate heir would be just as good as an heir from both of their bodies. This all works very well, until Sarai suspects the surrogate mother of contempt. Mistreatment by Sarai and the turning of a blind eye by Abram drive Hagar to flee.

This could have been the terrible end of a sad story. But God intervenes. He promises Hagar that he will care for her and her son, encouraging her to return to Abram's household. Hagar is comforted because God is aware of her struggle and will bless her son. It makes such a big impression that she names him Ishmael--God will hear.

One might expect Genesis 17 to hold stern rebuke from God, but quite the opposite is true. God comes to Abram and restates his covenant, this time asking for Abram to accept it by the way of a physical change to his body--circumcision. God promises a son in one year's time that will be born of Sarai.

At this time, God completes the covenant by giving part of his name to Abram and Sarai. They will now be Abra-ha-m and Sara-h. God is YHWH and he is now identifying these two flawed human beings as part of himself. The redemptive picture here is beautiful and full. God will fulfill his promise, not because of their perfection, but because of his faithfulness.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

This week's message: Distraction

Genesis 12:10-20.

Not settled, Abram is still living like a nomad. In verse nine he was meandering his way south, then he encounters a food shortage and decides to go on into Egypt for a while. He is not going there with the intention to stay forever, but there is no indication that he sought God's counsel or that he had no other option. It is likely that the famine was limited to that desert region of the Negev and that returning to the land God had promised would have been as effective as crossing into Egypt.

Abram enters Egypt and even though he wants to partake of Egypt's wealth and provision, he fears Egypt's power. He tells his wife to lie about their relationship so that he will not suffer. This goes too far when Abram does not protest as men come from Pharaoh's house to take Sarai to become one of Pharaoh's wives. He does not protest as they bring him livestock and treasure in return.

Sometimes we encounter tough times while we are waiting for God to fulfill his promise. It is tempting to turn to the world for answers and resources. Admittedly, sometimes the world does have answers and resources. Egypt had food. It was not necessarily wrong for Abram to go in search of food.

The problem arises when we are willing to trade the promise of God for a quick fix. Abram did not have to trade his wife for wealth. That was his choice. He sold her to Pharaoh. All those goods he received were a bride price. I am not sure we understand everything he was trading away, or even that Abram understood all that he was giving up.

God had promised that he would provide Abram with descendants. Those descendants were to come through Sarai, his wife. By trading her away for earthly wealth Abram trades away the source of God’s fulfillment. And then Abram settles in, enjoying his wealth.

Because of earthly wealth, Abram is now prepared to forsake both the promise of children and the promised land. If the story ended there, we would not know who Abram was. Just like if he had not left Haran to go to Canaan. This could have been the end of the promise.

But God is more faithful than we are. His promise to Abram was bigger than Abram having a few children. So God intervened. He sent a signal to Pharaoh that Sarai was really Abram’s wife. Some have speculated as to whether the plague on Pharaoh’s house was a venereal disease or whether Pharaoh had actually taken Sarai to his bed. I am not sure that those details are important. Whatever the nature of the plague, and whether Sarai was Pharaoh’s conjugal wife, what is important is that God was at work. God revealed to Pharaoh that Abram had lied about his relationship with Sarai. And here is one of the most important things in the whole story. Pharaoh sent them away with an escort to make sure they made it to the border safely.

He had every right to have both Abram and Sarai killed for lying to him and getting him involved in this scheme, but God protected them. He provided a way for them to leave Egypt and go back to the land he had promised. Regardless of Abram’s actions, God was faithful. This is not the last time we will see God continuing in his faithfulness in spite of Abram’s choices.

We also fail. We make wrong choices, we give in to temptation, we act out of self-preservation and selfishness when we face difficulties. We may have a promise from God—I will never leave you or forsake you—but we forget in the moment and we fall into sin. You know sin is missing the mark, it is falling short of perfection or stepping over lines we know we should not cross. But here is the most important thing about sin—God has already conquered it. He has dealt with it.

We don’t have to be under condemnation. We don’t have to let shame keep us away from him. We don’t have to let our regrets stand in the way of receiving God’s promise. The solution is repentance, which is simply turning away. We turn away from those wrong choices and that sin and we turn back to God. We choose to put our trust in him again. We choose to allow him to heal the wounds that came out of that sin and to restore us to what he wants us to be.

The one redeeming action on Abram's part is this: when Abram was confronted with his sin, he accepted Pharaoh’s reproach and willingly left Egypt. He didn’t try to justify or argue. Abram knew that what he did was wrong and he accepted it.

Maybe you feel like you have taken the wrong path, traded God’s promises for wealth or safety. Maybe you know that you have fallen short or crossed lines that you don’t think you can ever come back from. God has that covered in Christ. Your penalty has been paid, his blood covers your sin, and all that is left for you to do is turn away from those past wrongs and turn back to him. I encourage you to do that today. Do it everyday or as often as you think of those errors. God’s forgiveness has no limit.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Weekly Schedule

Due to snow and ice and wind and cold, no activities at the church this week.
Stay home and keep warm!

Sunday January 16th- Regular Schedule
Sunday School 9:30am
Fellowship time 10:30am
Meeting for Worship 10:45am
Iglesia Evangelica de Amigos 3:00pm

This week's message: God's Impossible Promise

Genesis 12:1-9.
God came to Abram with a promise. Abram was 75 and childless. He had lived his life in Haran and God came to him and told Abram that he would do the impossible. He said first that Abram must leave the home he had known and his family behind and go somewhere else. God did not tell Abram where his destination is, he did not even give a general direction. God just said “Go, and I will tell you when you get there.”

We are familiar with this story, so it is easy to forget what a preposterous thing God was asking of Abram. If God came to you and said, “I want you to pack up and go someplace. Sell your house and get a moving van. Get on the highway and I will let you know where you are going when you get there.” I think you would have some questions before you just decided to say yes.

Then God told him that Abram and his descendents will be a great nation. If it were me, I think I would be looking around wondering where these descendents were going to come from. 75 is not an ideal age for fertility. Yes, there was still a chance that he could father a child, it happens, but tough to think that if it had not happened yet that it was going to happen at all.

Not only that, but God told Abram that he would bless him so much that Abram would become a common example of blessing everywhere. In fact people would bless each other by his name. “May you be as blessed as Abram!” “The fortune of Abram to you!” “May you have descendents like Abram!” Can you imagine having your name as a byword for blessing? Instead of being richer than Midas, people might say “As blessed as Billy.” Or instead of as wise as Solomon, “As fortunate as Gary.”

God came to Abram claiming an impossible future for him. And the amazing thing in this story is that Abram went. He packed up and headed out. I wonder if he had a clue where he should go, North, South, East or West; but he ended up in Canaan. He set up camp and God appeared to him somehow and told him that this was it. Abram’s descendants would occupy this land. Abram made an altar there, but he didn’t stick around. He continued in a nomadic pattern, making his way through the land until he was in the Negev, a desert place.

Whenever God appears in scripture giving promises, he often requires a leap of faith. He told Abram to leave and then he would show him where he was to go and then he would make him a great nation and then he would bless him beyond measure. Each step was dependent on the last. God would not reverse the order of events giving Abram the blessings then the descendents then the land and then ask Abram to go. No, Abram had to step out of his comfort zone. He had to step out in faith trusting that however improbable the promise that this was God and he could be relied on to keep his word.

I believe God is calling each of us to follow him in the same way. We don’t initially know what to expect, but God has invited us on an adventure. He says he has a plan for your life and that if you follow him, he will make it clear. Maybe what you think God has shown you for a future looks impossible. Maybe you aren’t sure at all what he has planned. Maybe like Abram he simply whispers to you “I’ll show you when we get there.” Regardless of where he is calling, we must follow if we want to see how the story ends. Sure, we could stay where we are comfortable. The choice is always up to you.

We are going to be following Abram over the next few weeks studying his story and looking at how we pass through similar times of trust and obedience as well as times of panic and disobedience. Through it all I want to invite you to examine the journey you are on with God. Seek his face. Ask him to show you where he wants you to go next on this adventure. Repent of the times, like Abram you choose to go your own way. And commit to follow wherever the Lord takes you, no matter how impossible the destination seems. He is God, after-all, and if he tells you he has a plan you can trust that as you walk in obedience he will bring it all to pass at just the right time.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

This week's meditation: The Challenge of the Magi

Matthew 2:1-12
The Magi were seekers of Truth, Gentiles, foreigners. None of God's people were seeking as diligently. The Magi said they had seen “His” star and knew he was coming. The star was in the backyard of the greatest Hebrew scholars, and they did not even know it. The Magi were not Jewish, but they were open to finding truth in the God of the Hebrews. The scholars and Priests thought they had it all figured out, and were no longer seeking.

The Magi came a great distance to seek the new king. No scholar in Israel even traveled from Jerusalem. The Magi came in a caravan from somewhere near Iraq. They spent time getting everything together and making the journey. By the time they arrived, Jesus was no longer a baby, but a child. When the Magi came asking about this new king, the scholars all looked to see where the messiah was to be born. They found the answer and passed on the information, but did not take it to heart. Bethlehem is only about 6 miles from Jerusalem. The Magi went, the scholars stayed in Jerusalem.

The Magi went out of their way to protect Jesus. No one challenged Herod’s scheme to kill the newborn king. When warned in a dream, the Magi went home a different way, probably far out of their way, in order to avoid returning to Herod and giving information about Jesus. The scholars, priests, and any others who had searched to find out about the coming messiah, said and did nothing when Herod ordered the murder of children in Bethlehem.

Our Challenge: Are we seeking God’s Truth, or are we content in our own human understanding? Are we willing to follow in obedience when God calls us to step out in faith? Will we inconvenience ourselves, even to great extent in order to be obedient when God calls?