Sunday, December 28, 2014

SPIRITUAL DISCIPLINES: I noticed right after Christmas that the newspaper ads were full of exercise machines on sale. I couldn't help but wonder if those weren't targeting those of us who ate too much over the holiday and/or were making New Year's resolutions about pursuing regular exercise in our lives. Paul wrote to Timothy about spiritual training in 1 Timothy 4:7, 8: "Train yourself to be godly. For physical training is of some value, but godliness has value for all things, holding promise for both the present life and the life to come." Many Christians have chosen to pursue spiritual disciplines . . . not to win God's approval, but, like physical exercise, to develop godly habits that will make us spiritually strong and better able to serve God. I can't remember who first suggested two categories of spiritual disciplines: engagement and denial, but I have found these to be very helpful IF, like physical exercise, I am faithful in practicing them. It's my plan in the New Year, to focus on one discipline each week and then repeat the sequence again. Repetitions in godly disciplines build spiritual muscles even as repetitions in physical workouts build physical muscles. Here's a description of 7 disciples of engagement and 6 disciplines of denial: Disciplines of Engagement (things I intentionally do) 1. Bible study – carefully examine the Scriptures every day not to gain information, but in order to become more like Jesus. 2. Prayer – communicate to God my adoration, thanks, confession, and requests for others and for self. 3. Community worship – gather weekly with my Christian family to praise, pray, serve, give, and learn. 4. Fellowship – regularly share life and resources with other believers. 5. Good works – do good things to relieve suffering and meet needs. 6. Giving/Generosity – be quick to share what God has given me to relieve suffering, meet needs, spread the Gospel, and build Jesus’ church. 7. Evangelism – eagerly take every opportunity to talk to others about Jesus and the Gospel Disciplines of Denial (things I intentionally do NOT do) 8. Fasting – give up food or some other regular activity for a time in order to prioritize serious prayer. 9. Solitude – separate myself from people and activities to be alone with God. 10. Silence – take time to be quiet before God in order to listen to Him and to be quiet with people so as to not say too much or the wrong thing (defensive, retaliatory, unkind, critical, condemning). 11. Secrecy – not tell anyone about good things I have done. 12. Simplicity – slow down, pare down, do/buy/possess/and eat less in order to have more energy, time, and resources to enjoy and help other people. 13. Chastity – guard purity in my mind, motives, speech, deeds, entertainment, and technology.

Saturday, December 06, 2014

The BIG STORY OF THE BIBLE: The Bible contains many stories; but all the stories together make up ONE STORY . . . God’s story; the human story; the world’s story; my story, your story, everyone’s story; the story of which every other story is a part: The Bible is a story: Creation  Rebellion and Ruin  Redemption  Restoration Chapter #1: Creation: God made a perfect world. He made the first humans, Adam and Eve, in His own image, to rule and manage His perfect creation. They lived in perfect harmony with God, each other, and the entire creation. It was Paradise; heaven on earth! Everything was perfect! Chapter #2: Rebellion and Ruin: Created in God’s image, Adam and Eve had the capacity for moral self-determination—the ability to choose right or wrong, so their relationship with God was real, personal, dynamic, and intimate. They were not automatons, the original “Stepford People.” Adam and Eve chose to sin by breaking the one rule God gave them. Their sin of rebellion against God changed them, their yet-to-be-born descendants, and the entire creation. Everything was ruined. Now they were and we are broken people living in a broken world. The world is still beautiful but it is also very, very broken – filled with selfishness, injustice, poverty, violence, pain, tears, sickness, suffering, and death. Chapter #3: Redemption: God still loved His broken creatures so He PROMISED to send a RESCUER into the world who would REDEEM sinners and conquer death so they could be forgiven, made new, and given eternal life. Chapter #4: Restoration: God PROMISED that the Rescuer would ultimately RESTORE His ruined creation to its original perfection; that He would fix everything sin broke, banish sin and suffering, and create a wonderful and perfect new heaven and earth where His people will live forever in love, peace, prosperity, justice, health, and fulfilling creativity.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

HOW DO YOU RECONCILE THE HARSH GOD OF THE OLD TESTAMENT WITH THE LOVING GOD OF THE NEW TESTAMENT? Some people assert that the God of the Old Testament and the God of the New Testament are very different. They might ask which one we should imitate. They suggest that those two representations of God are very different. Although the God of the OT is obviously very powerful and sometimes compassionate at least to certain people, they assert that at times He seems to be arbitrary, angry, wrathful, judgmental, legalistic, and unpredictable. The God of the NT, on the other hand, is loving, kind, merciful, and forgiving. The God of the NT seems a lot more friendly and approachable than the God of the OT. While many people buy into this dichotomous depiction of God, the truth is that the God of the OT is the same as the God of the NT. When the Scriptures are rightly interpreted, they reveal a God who is sometimes mysterious and incomprehensible to us (after all, He is GOD!), but whose character and actions display the perfect blend of holiness, righteousness, love, mercy, and justice. Because a finite human is not able to fully understand the infinite God, does not mean that God is inconsistent or contradictory. The problem may well be with our finite knowledge and understanding rather than with God’s character or actions. It’s important to recognize that to understand the God of the OT, a person must understand the story-line. Most of the OT focuses on God as He acted in covenant relationship with the nation of Israel in order to carry out His eternal plan to redeem and to restore His sin-ruined creation. Israel was a theocracy – a nation ruled by God. It was totally unique in history as were God’s actions in dealing with it. Many of God’s actions in the OT were to prepare and to preserve the nation of Israel so that through that very flawed people He could bless all peoples by by giving the world the Scriptures and the Savior. Often we misunderstand God because we don’t understand what He is doing, we don’t have His perspective, we can’t see the big picture, and we can’t see how He is going to bring it all together in the end. We’re like the man watching an artist who criticizes the early dark and incomprehensible brush strokes on the canvass. The artist might well turn to his critic and say, “Wait till I’m finished.” Even more importantly the Scripture makes it clear that if we want to understand God, we must look at Jesus. He is, as Colossians 1:15 and 2:9 assert: "Jesus is the image of the invisible God . . . For in Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form." Jesus said: "Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father." John 14:9. Jesus is God in flesh so that we can know Him and know that He knows and identifies with us. God became a man and lived among us (John 1:14). Jesus is GOD – God in a human body; God who became a man and lived with broken people in a broken world so He could experience everything we do, and so that we could know what He is like. He lived in a family, lost his step-father to death, grew up with half siblings who mistreated him, experienced poverty, had a job, ran a business, was let down and betrayed by His friends, was slandered and falsely accused, was severely tempted in every way we are, had an unfulfilled sex drive, was wrongfully arrested, tortured, tried, and executed. He is Immanuel, "God with us." To know who God is, don't just consider the distorted picture some manufacture from the Old Testament or the New. Look at Jesus!

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Many, including me, have wrestled with the difficulty of reconciling God's love with God's wrath (specifically expressed in hell). This was not the subject of last Sunday's sermon from Ephesians 5, but I did try to wrestle around the edges of the issue in one section of the sermon: Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of such things God’s wrath comes on those who are disobedient. Therefore do not be partners with them. Ephesians 5:6, 7 That verse raises the issue of “God’s wrath.” The subject of GOD’S WRATH is a hard one for many people today. It causes many people to struggle or stumble in their faith. On the one hand they want criminals to be incarcerated and punished. They don’t want bullies, abusers, violent oppressors, murderers, rapists, molesters, and thieves to get away with it and go free. People are deeply offended at injustice – when evil is rewarded and good is punished. But on the other hand, some of these same people, are deeply upset when God, the only totally just judge, the One who knows everything and who perfectly balances love and righteousness, mercy and justice, when He punishes sinners and warns about future incarceration and punishment for those who are stubbornly unrepentant and who refuse to be reformed. The idea of GOD’S WRATH is both comforting and disconcerting; it is both encouraging and frightening. God’s wrath is COMFORTING to all those who have been oppressed, abused, and wronged but have never seen justice done. The wounds of their unrequited victimization mark their lives and lock them in deep pain that never really goes away. To know that someday God’s righteous wrath will bring about justice is comforting. We all want to live in a just world. We want evil to be punished and good rewarded. We are offended when someone does something terrible that harms others and gets away with it. We are deeply angry if a judge shows bias, doesn’t consider the evidence, and allows an evil-doer to go free and unpunished. To believe that God’s wrath will make things right – that justice will finally be done, we find COMFORT. But God’s wrath can also be DISCONCERTING because of the difficulty of reconciling God’s love and His judgment; because of the seeming incongruity between a God of love and a God who warns of eternal punishment in hell. To attempt to resolve these seeming incongruities requires us to understand what kind of Judge God is and will be. He is the only Judge who is totally just and fair; who treats everyone equally and has no bias based on age, gender, race, economic/educational status, or personal relationship. He is the only Judge who knows everything about everything past, present, and future (theologians call it “omniscience.” He is the only Judge who knows exactly what happened in every situation as well as why it happened and any and every related and extenuating circumstance. He is the only Judge who knows what you did, why and how you did it, whether you do it again, whether or not you are truly sorry for what you did, if you’ve genuinely learned from it and changed; He is the only Judge who also knows everything good or evil you didn’t do and how these all relate to each other. He is the only Judge who no matter what you have or haven’t done, LOVES YOU and wants what is best for you, and knows what is truly best for you, what will help you and what will harden you. He is the only Judge who knows what punishment, if any, will be totally just and fair for you as well as for the victims of what you did and for all those who were impacted by what you did. He is the only Judge who knows every possible punishment – what and how long – and how each would affect you -- whether it would help you or harden you; whether it would cause you to change for the better or the worse. He is the only Judge who knows if there is any hope that you can be redeemed and reformed or if you are so hardened that the best thing that could be done is to isolate you and keep you from doing something that will be bad for you and harmful for others. He is the only Judge who knows what is the just, fair, and right thing to do and who is totally committed to doing it. That’s why God’s wrath is to be both loved and feared! Here are a few things to consider: (1) Isaiah 28:21 calls judgment God’s strange and alien work (2) Ezekiel 33:11 lets us know that God doesn’t want to punish anyone: Say to them, ‘As surely as I live, declares the Sovereign Lord, I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that they turn from their ways and live. (3) 1 Timothy 2:3, 4 asserts that God our Savior . . .wants all men to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth. (4) 2 Peter 3:9 assures us that God doesn’t want anyone to have to be punished: The Lord . . . is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance. (5) The Biblical descriptions of hell, while terrifying, in my estimation are clearly meant to be interpreted symbolically rather than literally. That takes nothing away from their reality or seriousness but cautions us from thinking that we know exactly what they mean. C.S. Lewis wrote am imaginative, fascinating, and helpful allegory about heaven and hell, not meant to be definitive, but suggestive. See THE GREAT DIVORCE. (6) The God who will judge is the One who loves us so much that He became a man to die for sin and rise again to provide forgiveness for all who would repent and believe (7) Whether I understand things now or not, I do believe what Abraham said in Genesis 18:25: Will not the Judge of all the earth do right? How God ultimately resolves all this in the end may be very, very different than what any of us now conceive or imagine, but I know this, HE IS LOVING and HE IS GOOD and that will be OBVIOUS TO EVERYONE in the end. I know this: God’s wrath is to be greatly feared and avoided at all cost, and that His love and salvation in Christ are to be joyfully embraced to rescue us from the judgment we deserve.