Tuesday, May 7, 2013
Aside from the fact we now have to mow our lawns more than once a week, most of us have welcomed the refreshment that comes with the warm weather of May. Hasn’t it been nice to be outside for a change? To spend the sunset hours on the back porch – to spend Sunday afternoon throwing and batting the ball around the yard – to go for a Saturday afternoon bike ride has been a welcome relief from being “cooped up” indoors!
Because there wasn’t much “indoors” to go around in the First-Century Middle East, Jesus spent most of his time outdoors. What he noticed outdoors was a resource that would help us deal with one thing that distracts us from the main thing. For Jesus, the main thing is described in Matthew 6.33.
But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness.
Jesus “left the splendor of heaven” in order to bring the Kingdom of God to earth. God created the earth to be a place where peace and justice reign – a place where the will of God is done by everyone and everything – a place where God and humans would dwell together in unhindered unity. Obviously, the world as it is, is not the world that God desires. The Bible says sin is the reason for the disparity between the world God created and the world that is. The good news, however, is that God loves the world that is and will restore it back to the world that was. In fact, the Bible seems to indicate the restored world will be even better than the original. The plan of God to restore his world came to fulfillment and is coming to fulfillment in Jesus Christ, the Son of God, who came into this world preaching the kingdom of God. Jesus desires us to seek that kingdom above all other pursuits. The main thing, according to Jesus, is seeking first the kingdom of God and the righteousness of God.
One thing, according to Jesus, distracts us from the main thing. The one distracting thing is worry. When we are anxious, we stop seeking the kingdom of God. When I am anxious – when I am overwhelmed by worry, all my energy is transferred to the kingdom of David. I become enamored with my finances, my possessions and my reputation. When I am overwhelmed with concern, which is just a less threatening word than worry or anxiety, I lie awake at night wondering how I will pay for it all – how I will get it all done.
It is that this moment Jesus comes to us and says, “Calm down.” To which I scream, “How?” Jesus’ answer is simple. Go outside. That’s right. Jesus tells us, in our anxiety to go outside. Shut down your computer. Put away your phone and go to where the birds and the flowers can be found. And once we find some birds and flowers, Jesus says, “Watch.” Presently, I am reading a book on stress, entitled, Why Zebras Don't Get Ulcers. Although the author is not a believer in Jesus, his premise about worry/stress/anxiety is similar to what Jesus is teaching in Matthew 6.25-34. What Jesus wants us to notice about birds and lilies and what Robert Sapolsky wants us to notice about zebras is that they don’t worry. Furthermore, they seem to get along just fine without the thing to which many of us devote much energy, namely, worry.
So may each of us be encouraged to walk away from worry. May each of us be wise enough to walk away from the sources of anxiety in our lives. And it just might be the case, that to walk away from worry will involve taking a walk outside and considering the birds of the air and the flowers of the field. So now that you've read this, put your computer to sleep and go outside to watch these living things do quite well without worry.
Therefore, do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble (Matthew 6.34, ESV).
Wednesday, January 23, 2013
What does it mean to be a child of God? What does a Son or Daughter of God do? What does one look like? Jesus Christ is the incarnate, eternal Son of God and defines for all time what the Sonship of God looks like on earth. One of daily readings today was Hebrews 5.7-6.8, in which the author describes what Sonship of God looked like during the incarnation.
Divine Sonship offers prayers that are born out of pain.
In the days of his flesh, Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears (Hebrews 5.7a, ESV), …
Satan want us to assume that being a child of God should mean life comes easy. He plays this trick on us because he believes the promise of Genesis 3.15 that the serpent’s head will be crushes when heels of God’s people are bruised (cf. Romans 16.20). When things are not going well we often believe Satan and question our status as God’s children. The pain of an approaching surgery and the long arduous recovery to follow – the breathless feeling that comes when your doctor uses “that word” to describe your condition – the lonely feeling of a burdensome life that goes on without a loved long after everyone seems to have forgotten your pain. Times like these cause us to wonder if God really is our Father. But when Jesus defines Sonship for us, we know that to be God’s Son does not mean to be spared from all suffering.
Divine Sonship gains strength from the one who can deliver us from death.
… to him who was able to save him from death (Hebrews 5.7b, ESV), …
In the midst of his pain, Jesus was not left to his own resources. He turned to God in prayer with loud cries and tears. When life hurts we endure the temptation to take life into our own hands and not trust God. Jesus, however, reverently turned to God for strength, received it, and offered up his life in faithfulness as a faithful Son and High Priest. He laid his life in the hands of his Father and trusted in the promise and power of resurrection. As the faithful Son of God, Jesus trusted God, not to spare him from suffering, but to resurrect him, having suffered.
So in the midst of our suffering, when our minds are tortured by doubts that lead us to wonder about our status before God, let us look “unto Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God” (Hebrews 12.2).
Wednesday, January 16, 2013
Tuesday, January 15, 2013
Have you been saved … Is he saved … When was she saved? These are questions we often ask and hear being asked in our circles. Individuals who don’t navigate the world of Protestant Evangelicalism, would likely ask, “Saved from what?” When the Bible uses the word, “saved,” it doesn’t always mean what we mean. Jesus’ brother, James uses the word in our reading from January 3, James 1.19-27.
Therefore, ridding yourselves of all moral filth and evil excess, humbly receive the implanted word, which is able to save you (James 1.21, HCSB).
In church contexts, we often use the word, saved, to refer to a one time event when, having believed the gospel, God forgives our sins because they were atoned for when Jesus died on the cross. James, on the other hand, uses the word with a bit more specificity. According to Jesus’ brother, we continually need to be saved from our tongues. In verse 19, we need to be saved from “tongue overuse.”
Everyone must be quick to hear, slow to speak, and slow to anger (James 1.19b, HCSB).
There is a sinful bent within each of us away from listening. And the opposite of listening, according to Jesus’ brother, is speaking. There is a distinctive Jewish flavor to all that James writes. As a faithful Jewish follower of Jesus, James repeated throughout the day what is known as The Great Shema (see Deut 6.4-9). And the first command in this Jewish mantra is LISTEN!! The rhythm of our day needs to be established by obedience to this command. Noise prevents us from listening. Furthermore, the biggest obstacle to listening is the noise that we ourselves create.
The Word of God is able make us into a people who listen. Be encouraged to find a still quiet place to read and ponder and meditate over and marinate in the Scriptures. Having done so, pause and engage in the discipline that Richard Foster calls “Holy Listening.” Our lifestyles make this difficult. It will require some intentionality, but it will be worth it! The Word is mighty to save. My prayer is that we would believe in the saving power of the Listened-to-Word.
So may the Spirit of God use the Word of God to make us into a listening people, who were saved, are being saved and will be saved from our tongues.
And the tongue is a fire. The tongue, a world of unrighteousness, is placed among the parts of our bodies; it pollutes the whole body, sets the course of life on fire, and is set on fire by hell (James 3.6 HCSB).
Monday, January 14, 2013
Last year we did our best as a Church Family to read through the entire Bible. This year we thought it would be wise to reduce the pace a bit, in order to facilitate a more calm and slow approach to our Bible reading. So each day of the week we will be encouraged to not only read, but also to meditate upon two passages from God’s Word. Paul teaches in Romans 10.17 that faith comes from what we hear. My prayer is that this slower, more contemplative approach to our daily Bible reading will enable us to more intentionally hear from God and thereby have our faith strengthened collectively and as individuals.
On January 2, one the passages we were encouraged to read was James 1.1-18. As I meditated on James’ introduction to his letter to the people of God who had been scattered by persecution, a few themes began to emerge and I would like to share one with you.
Neglecting Prayer is a Theological Problem
Notice verse 5. “Now if any of you lack wisdom, he should ask God, who gives to all generously and without criticizing, and it will be given to him” (HCSB). “Wisdom” in this context does not refer to knowledge or understanding, but rather an ability to live life with endurance in spite of difficult circumstances (cf. verses 2-4). So when we are faced with various trials, James teaches that trials should turn us to our knees to ask God for the wisdom to live winsomely within difficult times. Furthermore, James cannot encourage us to pray, without also reminding us of the generous and uncritical goodness of God. Faith motivates prayer. To be provoked to pray, we must know that our Father is good and desires to hear and answer the prayers of his children. In other words, prayer is the evidence that I am coming to believe with certainty that Jesus reveals to us a God who is a kind and loving Father who listens to the requests of his children. Additionally, when I neglect to pray I am revealing what I really believe – that God is not eager to hear my prayers. Are you eager to pray? Why do so few of us make it a priority to gather for prayer on Wednesdays at 6pm? Often times the busyness of the week, the cold temperatures outside or the kids’ homework become obstacles to making corporate prayer a priority. According to Jesus, small groups of praying Christians affect change within the world.
I assure you: Whatever you bind on earth is already bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth is already loosed in heaven. Again, I assure you: If two of you on earth agree about any matter that you pray for, it will be done for you by My Father in heaven. For where two or three are gathered together in My name, I am there among them (Matt 18.18-20, HCSB).
May our growing understanding of God’s undivided goodness encourage each of us to be devoted to prayer.