Tuesday, March 29, 2011

A Lesson from B

Who is B, you ask, and what does he have to teach us today? He's my son, Brennan, of course! And he is adorable, don't you think?

The other day I was on "B" duty as my wife Julie, was away. Brennan is very active, very fast, and very curious; a dangerous combination. Like all 1-year old's (he's almost there), he understands a lot more than we give him credit for. He knows "no," and "no touch," and "more," and "bath" and "dance" and probably even more than that. He also knows "down," the word we use when he's approaching the stairs. We have two gates in our house to prevent him from going downstairs, but nothing to keep him from going up.

Well I had my back turned for about 2 seconds, after telling him "down," and of course you know the story...in those 2 seconds, he managed to climb up a few stairs. I turned around, rushed to grab him, but was too late as he fell down about 2-3 stairs, bumping his head on the way. Of course he cried hard, mostly from being startled, and gave me a scare (he was fine after about 30 seconds).

Why do I tell this story? Well there's two lessons to be learned here;
1) Dad's - never turn your back, or you'll have some explaining to do...
2) Delayed obedience is dis-obedience. For Brennan, he didn't obey right away and it cost him...even if he had thought "I'll just climb a few stairs and then come back down," by then, it would have been (and was) too late. He had fallen.

I was reading through Matthew the other day and came across these verses;

Walking along the beach of Lake Galilee, Jesus saw two brothers: Simon (later called Peter) and Andrew. They were fishing, throwing their nets into the lake. It was their regular work. Jesus said to them, "Come with me. I'll make a new kind of fisherman out of you. I'll show you how to catch men and women instead of perch and bass." They didn't ask questions, but simply dropped their nets and followed. (Matthew 4:18-20 - The Message)

Of course, what stuck out to me was that last bit...they didn't hesitate, didn't ask questions, didn't balk...they dropped their nets and followed. And it's that "dropping the nets" that is really the challenge. Why? Fishing wasn't something they were just doing for fun on a lazy summer day; fishing was their livelihood. It was their career, their life-work, the way they earned money for food. It was their passion.
So imagine if Jesus showed up at your work-place and said, "Mike, stop what your'e doing, quit your job and follow me, and I'll teach you a whole new way of life."
- But what about my job? What about my career? Where will we earn money for food? What are the risks? What's the future? What will you ask me to do? Where will we live, what will we do?

"Follow me." Jesus said "follow me." Not "buy into my plan, my strategy to grow the church," but "me....follow me." Not "don't worry, you'll be successful in a new way," not "I'll give you a better career," but simply "follow me."

Lately I've been trying to re-focus myself on listening to the Spirit. It is hard; there are so many distractions, and He doesn't always ask me to do the things I want to do. But still, to hesitate is to disobey. The way to intimacy with God is through the door of obedience...and really, when it comes to it we hesitate because we don't trust God.

"Without faith it is impossible to please God..." (Hebrews 11:6).

What about you? When God speaks, how do you respond? Do you follow Him, or do you hesitate?

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Does the Scale Lie?

This morning I did something I rarely do anymore...I stepped on the scale. While my 5' 6" frame has never been overweight by any stretch, (I've pretty much stayed between 122-130 in my adult life), this thought hit me this morning...the scale can lie.

Here's what I mean. Stepping on the scale and reading my weight can give me a false sense of health. There are at least three areas that I need to focus on to maintain proper physical health; exercise, (specifically cardio - getting my heart-rate up), building muscle, (which I do via push-ups, sit-ups, and other athletic activity), and diet. Doing 1 of the three, or even 2 of the 3 is not enough. In order for me to promote health, I need to do all three; exercise, diet, and muscle building.  Stepping on the scale and reading my weight doesn't really tell me anything. I could easily add 10 lbs and if I do it right, I could be healthier than I am now. Conversely, I could lose 3 lbs but if I lose 3 lbs of muscle, I'm actually doing a dis-service to myself.

What hit me this morning is how our spiritual lives mirror this. There are three primary areas that Jesus calls us to grow in if we're His disciples; heart, mind, and strength...or in other words, knowledge, passion/intimacy, and application.

Mind = Knowledge: This is our life-long pursuit of learning and knowing about God. For how can we properly worship a God we only partially know? So many of us are guilty of worshipping a God that we invent or project, without taking the time to really know Him. There's a worship song we used to sing where the chorus says "I will worship You for who You are..." and every time we would sing it, my prayer was "God, help me to see You for who You truly are, not for how I project You to be." The more we get to know Him, the more we love Him and can respond to Him. I love my wife more today than I did when we got married. Why? One reason for sure is because I know her so much better.

Heart = Passion/Intimacy: I use both of these words together, because I believe they are tied together. Passion has to do with our zeal for God, our emotional commitment. It's not just enough to "know" God; He wants a heart-commitment from us. After all, He has gone "all in" with us and wants the same back. Again, to use the marriage analogy (which God does), what if on your wedding day your wife/husband handed you a book and said, "here you go honey. Read this book memorize it, and you'll know all about me." That would be great and all, but it would definitely not be enough. You'd end up with a relationship that was all knowledge, and no passion...no commitment, no intimacy. In Isaiah 29 God had this rebuke for his people;

"These people come near to me with their mouths but their hearts are far from me." (Isaiah 29:13).

Knowledge alone is not enough...it must be accompanied with passion, zeal, emotion. God desires intimacy with you and I.

Strength = Actions: As great as it is to have knowledge and passion, those two are not enough if they're not accompanied by doing the things that God wants us to do. What sets Christians apart from everyone else is love...love the way God defines it is a verb, an action word. How we love each other and how we love our community and the world is what sets us apart. And sometimes we simply need to obey because God told us to.

"We know that we have come to know him if we keep his commands. Whoever says, 'I know him,' but does not do what he commands is a liar, and the truth is not in that person. But if anyone obeys his word, love for God is truly made complete in them." (1 John 2:3-5a)

Of course if you still need convincing about our actions/works, read the story of the Sheep and the Goats. The point of this story? What you do for others...how you love them is what marks the difference between those destined for heaven and those destined for hell.

If all I ever did was read my Bible, I would have a lot of knowledge and nothing else, and would be well on my way to becoming a modern day Pharisee.
If all I ever did was do good works, I'd be known as a great man but in the end, would God even know me?
If all I ever did was show my passion and zeal for God, I'd likely become known as overly-emotional with no depth...someone who just kind of "flips on the God-switch."

The goal is to be 100% sold out to all three areas of our life! To grow fully as a disciple, we must cultivate knowledge, risk our heart in relationship and trust, and do the good works that He has for us.

"Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength." (Deut 6:4-5)

Friday, March 18, 2011

God's Glory Revealed...

“Holy, holy, holy is the LORD Almighty; the whole earth is full of his glory.” (Isaiah 6:3)

Have you ever stopped to ponder this question; "what is God's 'glory'?" I have. I've written about on this blog in many places (here's one spot, if you're interested). Today I want to take a look at one aspect of this question; that is, what is Isaiah referring to?

Taking a more literal look at this verse, the Hebrew here puts it more emphatically; "the fulness of the whole earth is His glory." And what is the fulness of the whole earth? Let's go back to the beginning...the very beginning.

" (1) In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth... (31) God saw all that He had made, and it was very good." (Genesis 1).

Track with me here; In the very beginning, God created everything...EVERYTHING. He created it from nothing. Light, dark, water, animals, plants, fish, trees, forests, mountains, sky, moon and sun, stars, galaxies, black holes, universe(s), everything! God created it all. And the crown jewel of His creation? Man and Woman. Why are we the crown jewel? Because He created us in His own image. Us. Created by God, in God's image, to display God's glory. And he put us in the Garden of Eden, a place of unimaginable beauty, where He sought relationship with us. Now STOP right here. At this moment in time, Adam and Eve exist in perfection; sinless, guiltless, shameless...they exist with God, in an intimate relationship with Him, in a garden of perfection that God Himself created.

This was His original plan...a perfect earth, perfect man, a perfect garden...in fact, God said of this creation, "it was very good."

So what about now? We are not in that state of perfection anymore, nor is the earth. We're fallen. So what gives? Maybe I'm a simpleton, but really, it's simple. The key word is "fulness." The fulness of the earth is God's creation in perfection. We do not live in perfection right now, but that does not mean that God's glory is not on display. It is! Creation still displays His glory, as do you and I. Are we seeing His glory in it's fulness? Not yet.

But therein lies our great hope! When Jesus rose from the dead, He foreshadowed what awaits us. A glorified body. Not only that, but we know from Romans that creation itself is longing for the curse to be lifted. Why? Same reason we are - we long to be renewed. Why? To fully display the glory of God.

"He who was seated on the throne said, 'I am making everything new!' Then he said, 'Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.' " (Revelation 21:5).

And what is the point of all of this? You, and I are the image-bearers of God, created for the display of His glory. The point is not us at all, although we should be honored...no, blown away that God would choose us to display His glory. However, that's not the point. The point is Him. God. Jahweh. The fulness of creation is purposed to display, shout, tell of and marvel in God! His glory. Not ours, His. Not us, Him. The point has always been and will always be God. He is the beginning, and the end.

- soli deo gloria; (To God Alone be the Glory)

To read more on this from an amazing teacher, preacher, scholar and writer,  (John Piper), click here.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

A Secret Revealed...

Do you like a mystery? Or how about a treasure hunt? The best part of a mystery (or treasure hunt) is the unbridled anticipation of solving it. You're always looking for clues, hunting for that next thing that might be the final piece of the puzzle. The movie National Treasure is a great example of this effect...hunting for a treasure of unspeakable fortune, solving clues and riddles along the way all in the hopes of cracking the code.

"Now to him who is able to establish you by my gospel and the proclamation of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery hidden for long ages past, but now revealed and made known..." (Romans 16:25-26a)

"No, we speak of God’s secret wisdom, a wisdom that has been hidden and that God destined for our glory before time began." (1 Cor 2:7)

"...the mystery that has been kept hidden for ages and generations, but is now disclosed to the saints. To them God has chosen to make known among the Gentiles the glorious riches of this mystery..." (Colossians 1:26-27a)

Do you realize that from the of beginning time, there has been a great mystery going on all around us? A treasure hunt to end all hunts? I'm not speaking of a hunt for money, but something far more valuable. For whoever finds this treasure gains immortality and power. It's a fountain of youth that never goes dry. It's treasure that's far more valuable than money or riches. Whoever unlocks the clues and discovers this mystery receives everything his heart was truly designed for. Life, forever, in paradise. For at the end of this rainbow lies GOD. Yahweh. The answer to our purpose for living. 

Friends, do you realize that you and live in the midst of the revelation of this mystery? The mystery has been discovered! The key has been found, the clues have been de-coded, the map has been solved, and the door has been opened. The answer has been given...

"Beyond all question, the mystery of godliness is great:
He appeared in a body,
was vindicated by the Spirit,
was seen by angels,
was preached among the nations,
was believed on in the world,
was taken up in glory." (1 Timothy 3:16)

"God has chosen to make known among the Gentiles the glorious riches of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory." (Colossians 1:27)

The greatest treasure hunt the world will ever know leads right to Jesus Christ. He is the answer. He is the doorway. He is the path to all the riches of His Father's kingdom. Christ In You. CHRIST IN YOU! I cannot possibly over-emphasize the power in those three words. Our hope, our only hope is found in those words.

Christ = The "Anointed One"
In You = He actually lives in you...you are the temple where the King of Kings resides, the Holy of Holies.

Here's the real secret, though; this doorway will not stay open forever. There is a day coming where the door will be shut, forever. Just like the movie Stargate in which a portal opened to a world beyond our own, so Jesus is that opened portal to God. It will not be open forever.

Friend; do you know the day or hour of your death? Have you entered in?

"Seek the LORD while he may be found; call on him while he is near." (Isaiah 55:6)

Friday, March 11, 2011

Echoes of heaven

The creation waits in eager expectation for the sons of God to be revealed. For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God. We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. (Romans 8:19-22)

Are you looking forward to heaven? What is your view of heaven? Where did you get that view of heaven? Do you ever dream about what it will be like? Do you ever stop to ponder what life will be like in "heaven?" Does that thought scare you or bore you? If so, you have an incomplete view of heaven.

In one word, heaven is all about renewal. And in that word, we can declare a few facts revealed to us in Scripture.

1) Our bodies will be renewed - not re-made, not thrown out, but renewed...perfected.
2) The earth and all of creation will be renewed, as the curse will be lifted.
3) We will reign and rule over the renewed earth, like God's original plan.

Is it by accident that the first two chapters in the Bible (Genesis 1-2) show us Creation, and the last two chapters (Revelation 21-22), are all about Renewing that creation?

There is no chance that in one short blog post I can possibly capture heaven for you. But if you are one of the many Christians who aren't really looking forward to heaven, then you have been duped. Heaven will be paradise...Eden. And earth is a foreshadow of heaven.

What is the most amazing thing you've experienced, or seen on earth? I saw a sunset up here in Bellingham a couple of years ago that I swear had colors in it that I'd never seen before. It stretched from horizon, to horizon. It was the most magnificent sunset I have every witnessed...deep blues, oranges, reds, purples, it had it all. It was awe-inspiring...and it is a foreshadow of heaven.

I've included a small handful of pictures that I have had the pleasure to witness...but these pale in comparison to what we will see in heaven. A renewed earth...curse lifted...new bodies for us...

The next time you see a jaw-dropping sunset, you have just experienced a small taste of what heaven will offer.

If you want to explore more of what heaven will be like, I'd encourage you to first go to Scripture with fresh eyes, and second, I recommend the book Heaven, by Randy Alcorn, which will point you to what the Bible says about the paradise that awaits us.

Monday, March 7, 2011

God can't help Himself...it's how you finish

My last post profiled a couple of kings of Judah; two men who started well...really well, but finished poorly. Today I want to look at a man who did the opposite...started bad...really bad, but finished well.

It's another king of Judah; Manasseh. He took over after one of the "good kings," Hezekiah, but unfortunately for him and the people of Judah, he did not follow in the footsteps of his father. He did evil in the eyes of God. He basically un-did all the good his father had done; rebuilding the high places, erecting altars to the Baals, made Asherah poles, and even sacrificed his own sons. To sum up his evil;

"But Manasseh led Judah and the people of Jerusalem astray, so that they did more evil than the nations the LORD had destroyed before the Israelites." (2 Chronicles 33:9).

God rescued Israel from slavery and used them to drive out many evil nations from the promised land...and yet here they are, His people, now guilty of more evil than all the nations whom they had driven out. And the ring-leader of this rebellion? Manasseh. As the leader goes, so goes the people. You might guess what happened next; God brings punishment and rebuke. Manasseh loses it all and is summarily escorted (quite rudely) out of his kingdom to Babylon, where he was prisoner of the Assyrians. It's what happens after this that is quite shocking, on at least two levels...

12 In his distress he sought the favor of the LORD his God and humbled himself greatly before the God of his fathers. 13 And when he prayed to him, the LORD was moved by his entreaty and listened to his plea; so he brought him back to Jerusalem and to his kingdom. Then Manasseh knew that the LORD is God. (2 Chronicles 33:12-13)

First, it is shocking that we actually have a man who responds in humility to God's discipline. I can think of a lot more people that did evil and DIDN'T respond; Saul, Jezebel, almost all the kings of Israel, just to name a few...and yet, here we have a man who arguably did more evil than all of them, and he chooses to respond to God's rebuke in humility.

Second it is shocking that God would forgive Him. I mean, I know intellectually that God always forgives...but Manasseh is no light-weight sinner. He not only was a "sinner of sinners," but he led the entire nation of Judah into rebellion; he even murdered his own sons. Yet God's grace even covered those sins.

This kind of love is not earthly. And it is shocking. Some might even be mad at God for forgiving Manasseh...he deserves death for all he did. The point? I think I have three points to make here;

1. Humility is something that God can't resist. He takes great pleasure in honoring and glorifying those who have a humble heart and spirit. God can't help Himself.

2. There is no depth of sin that is not so great that God's grace cannot cover it. Nobody is ever beyond the grasp of the love and grace of God.

3. It's never too late...it's not how you start, but how you finish. As long as you have breath in your lungs, you have a chance to enter through the narrow door of Jesus Christ, into His glorious kingdom.

Heaven will be filled with folks like Manasseh; people who were evil, vile, criminals, murderers, child molesters, rapists, and worse. Heaven is not for religious people or for those who lived good lives. Heaven is for one group of people and one group only; those who know Christ.

"That if you confess with your mouth, 'Jesus is Lord,' and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you confess and are saved. As the Scripture says, 'Anyone who trusts in him will never be put to shame.' For there is no difference between Jew and Gentile—the same Lord is Lord of all and richly blesses all who call on him,  for, 'Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.' ” (Romans 10:9-13)

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Who's Walking with You?

Take a look at these two verses and see if anything jumps out at you;

"Joash did what was right in the eyes of the LORD all the years of Jehoiada the priest." (2 Chron. 24:2)

"He sought God during the days of Zechariah, who instructed him in the fear of God. As long as he sought the LORD, God gave him success." (2 Chron. 26:5)

These two kings of Judah have something in common. They both started well, and finished poorly. They both intended to follow God, but somewhere along the way they lost their way. And why is that? The answer is contained in these two verses...Jehoida, and Zechariah.

Jehoida and Zechariah were both men of God; one a priest, the other a prophet. Jehoida advised Joash, who became king at the ripe age of 7. As a 7-year old king, it was crucial that he listened to those who knew more than him, and Joash did this in the beginning. Joash was instrumental in rebuilding the temple and re-instituting the tax for those who looked after the temple. But Jehoida was growing old, and died at the age of 130. And it seems that Joash lost his way. In fact, he and the people "abandoned the temple of the Lord" - the very same temple that he had re-built.

Similarly, Uzziah got off to a great start. He was not much older than Joash when he became king...16. As a teenage king, he too needed help and he got it in Zechariah. Uzziah helped expand the kingdom of Judah, taking on the Philistines and Arabs who lived in the land, and oversaw the construction of new gates and towers throughout Jerusalem. In fact, he was doing so well that "...his fame spread as far as the border of Egypt, because he had become very powerful." (26:8)

But then like Joash, it all went wrong.

"But after Uzziah became powerful, his pride led to his downfall. He was unfaithful to the LORD his God..." (26:16).

He stopped listening to Zechariah, stopped following God, and ended up stricken with leprosy, an outcast from the palace and kingdom that God had given him. 

Two men, started well, ended poorly. The key to their success? They both were (at one time) humble enough to allow other men to speak wisdom into their lives, helping to shape their hearts and decisions, and keep them accountable to following God's plan. And it appears that as long as these mentors were given that access, both Joash and Uzziah succeeded. However, the event that signified their departure from God's will and subsequent downfall, was their separation from these mentors.

All of this made me stop to ask myself, who's holding me accountable? Accountable to following God, to being a great father, husband and pastor? Who's helping to shape my decisions and thinking and actions? Have I given anyone in my life access to the innermost parts of my heart, to help mentor me into being the man of God that He designed me to be? I have some mentors, but talk with them far too infrequently...this has to change.

What about you? Who's your Jehoida, your Zechariah? If you don't have one, pray that God would send one your way, and then pray for the humility to accept their wisdom...and hold fast to God.

"He who walks with the wise, grows wise, but a companion of fools suffers harm." (Proverbs 13:20)