Sunday, February 28, 2010

His Voice

One of my favorite passages from the Gospels is Jesus’ teaching on the sheep in John 10. This passage instructs Jesus’ followers that they are to listen to his voice. His voice is the legitimate one. He says in fact the sheep will be immediately able to spot a strangers voice and they will not follow it. He tells us that he is the good shepherd and that he has come that we may have life and have it fully (John 10:10)

There is a Greek construction called the ou meh (this is a transliteration) construction. This construction conveys emphatic negation. When this is present, the sense is that there is no way, no how, no chance that the thing will ever happen. This passage contains an such a construction in verse 5. Jesus is telling the crowd that his sheep will not follow a stranger. What this verse says is, “A strange person, they will never, no chance follow - this will not happen, they will flee from him…” (John 10:5a)

This gets me thinking about how well we know the Shepherds voice. It seems as if many voices call to us, His sheep. Unfortunately, we are like untrained sheep and follow just any voice. We listen to the promises of safety and comfort, and we believe and follow. We buy the next thing because we believe that this time this thing will provide substance, although we know that there is nothing more than an image to it. We visit websites that we should because we think that this time will finally be filled, unfortunately we are left filling emptier than ever. We listen to commercials that promise us that by swinging back and forth on a chair because we will have rock hard abs; while all we are left with is an empty wallet.

The problem is that we do not like what the Shepherd says sometimes. You see the stranger promises a green valley full of rich food to eat. In the end, we end up like Edmund from The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe. Our Turkish delight turns into a chain wrapped around our foot and we regret the very day that we ever listened that evil voice. Oh, what a mistake he made. He traded his Lord and his family for something that turned sour in his stomach. If only we could see life for what it really is.

What is the solution? We have to know the Shepherd’s voice better than we do. I have heard people tell me over and over again, “My God would not do that.” I cringe as I hear that because God does not belong to me, I belong to Him. He is not defined by me, I am defined by Him. If I love God for anything other than what He is, I am guilty of idolatry. Many of us imagine God as a better version of ourselves, when God is so much more than that. Don’t get me wrong, I do not claim to have the one authoritative definition of God. However, I strive to not water Him down, and tame Him. He is uniquely other, and He has given us a glimpse of Him through His word and in Jesus.

We must know Him better. We must. Matthew 24:5 instructs us that we must be wary of voices claiming to be the Messiah. We must know His voice.

His voice often calls to the edge of the cliff. Is it to scare us? No, it is to lead us to pastures, where the grass fills us. It is lead us to the living water where we will never thirst again. Consider Psalm 23. This was on my wall as kid. I looked at it every night. We will walk through the valley of the Shadow of Death, but guess who is there. His rod and staff will comfort us. If we are following Him the rod and the staff are not for our punishment. THEY ARE FOR OUR PROTECTION. The shepherd is there for our protection. Where he leads I will follow, but I, we must know His voice, we must hear it above all the others. I must ignore the trash. In fact, if I am his sheep, then I will not follow but flee from the stranger. I know this because the Bible told me so.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

My Humble Pride

The troubling thing is that I rarely feel truly unworthy of God. I feel like God should be pretty happy to have me on his team. I feel like a 3 star recruit out of high school football. Most college football programs are built on 3 stars and all programs need these players. God should be happy to have me; after all I could have gone elsewhere. When I read Peter’s words in John 6 I am convicted to my bones. Jesus lost many of his followers after a hard and confusing teaching then he turns to his disciples and asks the question that we all must answer at some point in our lives, “What are you going to do?” (my paraphrase). This question haunts me, especially when I struggle through the bad moments of life. When my faith is weak and heart longs to wander, I want to answer, “I am going to run into the safety of my selfish desires and ambitions.” I want to scream from for the bottom of soul, “THIS IS TOO HARD!” “PLEASE MAKE THIS EASIER!” “After all you should be glad to have me.” The questions comes again, “What are you going to do?” I confess that there are times when I want to run as fast as I can from God’s will. However, Peter’s difficult and inspiring words ring in my ears, “Where would we go? Who else has the words of eternal life?”

In the end I understand that ultimately I am void of anything and that I can only be defined accurately by the one who made me. I feel like an employee bluffing his boss for a raise. Saying, “You know I have some other great offers out there.” Ultimately, I do not. I have no one but God, and this is difficult for a prideful human being to admit. In the darker moments this egotism causes me to doubt my faith or rationalize away what I know to be the most rational being. I do not always like the implications that there is a higher being. This means that ultimately I am not god. Nor would I want to be, as I also know my limitations. But if I am not god, then I must follow the one transcendent being that is.

So here I am, caught between the prodigal son and the older brother. I am arrogantly humble. I have a pastor friend who would often look at me with smile and say, “Have you seen how humble I have been? Man I am doing great.” I would always laugh in an understanding way.

I think often times I struggle with these things because I have a poor understanding of who God actually is. I know about Him, but how well do I actually know Him. Have I lived my life in a way that forces me to lean into God? Am I doing the things that actively nurture a relationship between me and the Creator? Is my sin becoming a barrier? The knowledge I have of Him must penetrate into my heart. One of my professors asked us to write a prayer of adoration to God. I am attaching mine, and I highly encourage anyone else out there to try this. This exercise ended up being a great self assessment tool and helped to teach me my proper place in the world.

Heavenly Father, Your transcendence is evident in your creation. Your power set the stars in the sky, formed the mountains in their place, set the sun above us, and caused the earth to bring forth life. Your power and love formed us with hands and by your breath you brought us to life. Your great power causes the sun to be in a state of constant explosion, the comets to hurtle through space, and remote stars to be birthed. Your great power brings the flowers to bloom, a baby to laugh, and the gentle breeze to blow on a warm summer day. Great or small your power is in all things and brings all things together. Your strength ignores nothing and your attention to detail draws me humbly to me knees.
Your omniscience is incomprehensible. You knew me in my mother’s womb, you know my heart, and you know my actions yet you love me anyway. You know what I need before I ask, yet you listen to my requests with patience. Your mind can fathom the deepest of truths yet you make these in small ways accessible to my finite mind. You endure my questions because your knowledge leads to love for me rather than impatience. Like a loving father of a wayward son your gentle hand guides me through my life.
You are everywhere. Instead of inviting you into my presence, I humbly ask if I may enter yours. Your concern for the needs of all humankind is hard to comprehend. I look with trust as I know you have the plans for each individual life that is submitted to you. You draw these plans together like a musical masterpiece to accomplish your will on this earth, and to bring forth your kingdom of love and redemption. You are the great conductor of creation’s harmonious symphony. - Amen

Friday, February 19, 2010

What David Had

I am amazed at the forthrightness that David shows before the Lord. In countless Psalms, David bemoans the fact the he is persecuted unjustly. He recounts to God his own righteousness as if he has never strayed and exhibits bold confidence in his pleas for help and deliverance. He ruthlessly calls down God’s judgment on his enemies. This sort of faith and belief has eluded me for most of my life. We know that David had the Spirit. If it was the same measure or variety that we have now, I am not certain. We also know that we now have the Spirit of God. So what made David so righteous and bold?

Jesus pronounces a blessing on those that are persecuted on his behalf (Matt 5:10). This has always been quite convicting to me because I have never been persecuted on his behalf. I may have been sneered at or laughed at, but these fall pitifully short of persecution. In our rationalizing society we elevate these to persecution because we have nothing else. We believe that the government is persecuting us because they do not allow nativities or the 10 Commandments, when most of Christians can’t recall the 10 Commandments or live them out. The faith that I have exhibited in my life is weak compared to the faith wall of legends mentioned in Hebrews 10.

Don’t get me wrong, I have been persecuted plenty of times in my life. Most of this is due to my own actions. I have often been made fun of and ridiculed, but this has rarely been for any righteous thing that I have done. In fact, when I am persecuted most frequently, I feel that I am getting what I deserve. I am far from David who declared his righteousness before the Lord. If I tried to do this, I would fear that I would be struck down for lying to God. I know that He knows, and He knows that I know, ya know? I feel as though I stand before God naked and trembling. My prayers of deliverance are timid, because I believe deep down that I deserve what I am going through.

Even as a long time believer, I still struggle for the purity that David had. David bothers me for a number of reasons. First, were his bold proclamations of righteousness, but second was his actual life. He had tremendous faith that was exhibited in many stories, but he also had a heroic weakness. When he bedded Bathsheba, he broke many of the commands. He coveted, murdered, adultered, lied, stole and did not love his neighbor (or loved his neighbor too much - depending on how you look at it). That is at least 6 of the big 10 right there. After he was caught, his plea was that God would not take His Spirit away (if this Psalm is labeled properly). I think the big question was how then did he now proceed? He seemed to straighten his life again; he mourned properly, and then moved on. However, strife never left his family after that. Not 2 generations later his kingdom was divided and many generations later the last King was crucified. The curse from his and others’ disobedience was paid for by the last and enduring King of Israel, Jesus.

David had a heart for God, in spite of his tragic weakness. When Samuel went to choose the next King of Israel at Jesse’s house, David was not there. If there was one meeting that I would have wanted to be at, it was this one. David either did not know about or was not invited to this meeting. Where was he? We do not know for sure, but we do know that David did the will of Jesse his father. David protected the flock at the expense of his life. The sheep were precious to him because they were precious to his father. This had to be at least part of what God saw in him. David would do His will. Even when it was extremely difficult, he did God’s will.
You see David received his calling to royalty when he was young, but it was many years and many hardships away. Many of us have heard God’s calling, and we look down the rocky road ahead and do not think it can happen. We lack the faith and conviction. How could the shepherd boy even conceive that he would one day be King? He was a man after God’s heart. How can we ever hope to fulfill God’s calling in our lives. We must ignore the obstacles, focus on God, and completely and totally go for it. We must be people after God’s heart.


Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Jeroboam II

I apologize, as I did not have a lot of time to review for grammatical mistakes.

Who was this dude? First of all let me confess that I used to just float right over many of the lesser Kings of Israel and Judah. I felt like I was pretty smart because I knew who Hezekiah, Josiah, Ahab (not from Moby Dick), and Joash were. Wrong, it turns out that I am still an idiot and have much to learn.

I think we can learn a lot from Jeroboam II’s reign. He is given 7 whole verses from 2 Kings 14:23-29. However, one of the intriguing things is that we have at least 3 “minor” prophets that were operating at the time of Jeroboam II.

Let me first put Jeroboam II in his proper context. After the reign of Solomon, the United Kingdom of Israel that had been fairly united divided because, among other things, Rehoboam (Solomon’s successor) chose to ignore his father’s advisors. They were so yesterday (and so is that term). Anyway the Northern tribes that included 9 of the tribes plus Simeon in the south formed the Kingdom of Israel (also called Ephraim as this was the largest tribe). The Southern Kingdom was called Judah and consisted of the tribes of Benjamin and Judah; also Jerusalem was located in the Judah. Jeroboam (the first) was the first king of Israel and established his own temples so that the Northern populace would not have to go to Jerusalem to worship. Israel tended to be more successful and influential than Judah. Judah’s kings were all in the dynastic line of David, while Israel’s kings were from various dynasties.

Jeroboam II reigned in Israel roughly a 130 years after the death of Solomon. As we know from reading in 2 Kings 14, Jeroboam did evil in the eyes of the Lord. As a reference point, 2 Kings 14 refers to a Jeroboam son of Nebat (this is Jeroboam I). The author is linking Jeroboam II to Jeroboam I even though they are not of the same dynasty. The second continued in the adulterous dynastic line of the first.

In spite of this Jeroboam II’s reign was defined by great military and economic (for some) success. Jonah, Hosea, and Amos all prophesied during his reign. Jonah is sent a message to Nineveh which was an Assyrian city (also he prophesied of God’s deliverance of Israel as noted in 2 Kings 14). The Assyrians were a hated enemy of the Israelites. Jonah’s anger over the patience of God for these people is well founded. Hosea and Amos were both very critical of Israel (Ephraim) and Judah. However, the major criticism was leveled at Israel. Amos prophesies regarding God’s judgment because they oppressed the poor and did not share the wealth of conquest. Hosea and Gomer were a living example of Israel’s adulterous life.

So what is the point of all of this? I think one of the points here is how we deal with success. Most of us equate success with God’s blessings. True, God does bless us with success from time to time. He also blesses us with failure. I ask you to examine your worldview and ask yourself how you view success and failure. God brought success to Jeroboam to deliver His people from suffering, not because of his righteousness. Also, it would have been easy to ignore Amos and Hosea. After Jonah correctly prophesied success and Hosea and Amos must not be correct. After all there were all sorts of false prophets out there and these must have been two of them.

You see deep down inside Jeroboam had to know that he was not honoring God. He knew that Amos and Hosea were right even though he could easily justify his actions by the success he was having. What did it matter? Did he consider that Jonah was handing out a prophecy to the Ninevites (part of Assyria)? Did he hear of the way the Ninevites repented before a foreign God and prophet? Did Jonah have the courage to tell him? Did he listen to Amos speak of God’s concern for the foreign people in the area? Could he see what was coming? The clues were all there for Jeroboam to see. Contrast the King of Nineveh versus Jeroboam II. The Ninevites repented in the hopes that the Lord might relent while Jeroboam quietly disregarded the prophets.

I ask you, are you ignoring the voices calling you to repentance and justice? Have you taken your heritage as a Christian for granted and come to think that God’s blessing will come regardless of your actions. I call you to consider Jeroboam II. Read the prophets Amos and Hosea and consider the conclusion to the story. You see about 30 years after the death of Jeroboam II, the Northern Kingdom was destroyed and was never rebuilt in any significant way. The northern tribes ceased to be (in any substantial way). Jew is short for Judah-ians. They were not called the Israelites (as a complete 12 tribes) because most of the tribes no longer existed. The Assyrians came in and exported most of the Israelites to the far reaches of their Kingdom. They then imported other people groups into the region of Samaria. Those Israelites that were left married in with the new settlers and combined to be called the Samaritans.

The corruption of Jeroboam II had consequences and so do our actions. Galatians 6:7-8 reminds us that God will not be mocked; we will reap what we sow. I ask you to please examine your actions. Stop ignoring the voices from within and without. Most of us sit in church every Sunday and here a fine sounding sermon that we promptly forget or ignore. Listen to God in the midst of all these sermons. Listen to God in the midst of your friends’ encouragements. I will leave you with this quote from one of my professors, Dr Stephen Seamands. He said, “To know God better, is to obey Him more.” If only Jeroboam II had repented and obeyed. If only we would too.


Friday, February 12, 2010

Pain Hurts

This is not exactly new information to anyone out there. There are lots of ways we people experience pain. The pain I am talking about is that which comes with growth. Any new pursuit causes incredible pain. Start a new work out and you will know exactly what I am talking about. I recently acquired the elementary skills required for Biblical Hebrew. It was humbling to sit at the kitchen table and do the exact same homework that my first grade son was doing.

Frankly, I am better at languages than I ever thought I would be. My last experiences were failing German in college and squeaking my way through Latin in High School. When I was a young idiot I thought that if you were talented in something that you did not have to work at it. Therefore, I must not be good at languages because I did not know Latin and German even though I never actually tried to learn these languages. Let me tell you, I finally tried really hard at both Greek and Hebrew. I did this with a determination where failure was not an option. I was going to pass these classes no matter what. With God’s help I succeeded, and succeeded well.

Well, I started Advanced Greek today. I am in this class with mostly PhD students. I feel like the little kid at the big boy table, and could have never thought myself “gifted” enough to participate in this class. Why did I ever believe that lie in the first place?

I say this not to glorify myself, only to ask the question: What lies do you believe about yourself? And how are these lies holding you back? The truth is most of us lead cowardly lives. We are so scared to do anything outside of our comfort zone. We are scared of many things, but I think many of us are scared of the pain.

You see there is pain in life with every new endeavor. When we start a new job we have go through the pain of learning a new responsibilities and new people. This pain prevents us from doing the things that God wants from us. The truly great people of the faith said emphatically, “It was worth the pain.”

Consider 2 Corinthians 4. This does not paint the rosiest of pictures. Paul is telling people that the life of the Christian includes pain. I love the way he wraps up his thoughts on that pain in verse 17, “For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison.”(ESV) Really Paul, you are calling your afflictions light. There really is a sense in which Paul seems to be enduring the light “weight” of affliction for the eternal “weight” of glory.

I am not trying to compare my tiny amount of pain to Paul’s. That would be ridiculous. However, the Corinthian church was not being persecuted like some of the others. Paul was talking to a church that had been taken over by divisions and sin (thankfully those do not exist anymore). Paul is touching on an eternal point. There cannot be advance without pain. We can bear any amount of pain when we realize that there is a glory attached to it. I watched my wife give birth to two of our children naturally, she had the anticipation of future glory. Here is the little secret, when God calls and you answer with absolute, unequivocal obedience, there is glory at the end.

Frankly, our talent without God’s development goes to waste. God is not static, He is initiative, and He initiates with us. God has given us talent and without Him our talent can never be fully actualized. I guess the lesson I am learning is that only through God’s stretching can we truly grow.

It encourages me to no end to here the various stories of how my friends are going for it. I have a friend who risked it for Jesus and things did not turn out quite like he thought. I asked him, are you mad at God. His honest reply was something like, “I went through that a little, but I have learned so much about God through this situation, I am thankful.” Praise God, this faith inspires me to take on the challenges that lie before me. After all this pain is nothing compared to the future glory.

God made us human beings, not turtles. We were not given a shell to shrink into. So while I am enduring the pain of growth at this seminary and in my spiritual life, I will not shrink back and I will not give in. I will lean into the will of God for my life. I am surer of this now than I ever have been. Hebrews 10:39, one of my favorite passages, speaks to this, “For we are not of those who shrink back and are destroyed, we are of those that believe and are saved.” Amen.

When I am on God’s path, I will not back down, I will not give in, and I will not give up. For nothing compares to the future glory. Lord please give me the strength to live this.


Wednesday, February 10, 2010

A Fresh Start

Hello Anyone,

I need this blog to help me learn the discipline of writing. As some of you may know I am currently pursuing a Masters in Biblical Studies. I need to get better at writing and be more disciplined about putting my thoughts down.

I will be posting thoughts of devotion, theology, and humor (at least funny to me). Also, I will be posting some of my papers that I write for my classes. Some of these papers will not make sense because you will not have the full context of the assignment, but I will try to help fill in the blanks.

I encourage you to please comment. I do not want to hear the some old stuff, I do not need to be patted on the back. I am a big boy and can take criticism. Please engage the material if you find it challenging. Also, please do not hesitate to offer suggestions about my writing style or material. Press me to think more deeply, if you feel that is what I need. Most of you will be my friends who will be humoring me by reading my random musings, so I am counting on you to help me be better, as I am a beginner and all of my thoughts may not be clear enough. Of course, I will feel free to completely ignore your advice, but I promise to always thoughtfully consider it.

Please also understand that I can be an incredible jerk. I will try my best to limit this in my writings and replies.

Blessings and I look forward to hearing from you soon.