Month: February 2015

Previews and Promises: Wanting More

This is our final post in the series Previews and Promises. For the rest of the series, click these links.

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A good movie preview will be so impressive that it will almost distract you from enjoying the movie that brought you to the theater in the first place. The preview will be tattooed in your mind and the daily countdown to the release date will pass ever so slowly. A good movie preview will always leave us wanting more.

The life of a disciple of Jesus Christ is a process of daily transformation. We often do not see ourselves progress, but, at various moments in our walk, we realize that something in us is changing or has already changed. There comes a point where reading the Sermon on the Mount no longer feels like a list of impossible demands placed upon our limited human hearts, but rather realistic expectations of a renewed heart. The more one becomes recreated in Christ through his sacrifice and grace the more one begins to reflect his nature.

The more we let Jesus into our lives, the more he is revealed in and through us. We are born again in him, and therefore we find unity in our character with his.  At this point we no longer view certain things in the same light as we used to. To begin with, troubles no longer seem like the end of the world. Our jobs cease to define us.  Our relationships cease to guide us.  Our money ceases to control us. The more we become privy to the foretastes of heaven the more we realize that all earthly things do pass away but the joys of heaven are ongoing, without end. As we walk deeper into this new life and existence in the spirit, there emerges a push and pull on the heart of two very different worlds.  While we value the time and opportunities God has prepared for us in this world, we anxiously anticipate finally seeing and being with the Lord. Paul puts it perfectly in his letter to the Philippians:

22 If I am to go on living in the body, this will mean fruitful labor for me. Yet what shall I choose? I do not know! 23 I am torn between the two: I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far; 24 but it is more necessary for you that I remain in the body. 25 Convinced of this, I know that I will remain, and I will continue with all of you for your progress and joy in the faith, 26 so that through my being with you again your boasting in Christ Jesus will abound on account of me. (Philippians 1:22-26)

The words “death” and “the end” loom over our lives, applying pressure in one direction or another. We know how fragile this life is, and how with each passing day we inch closer to the end and further from the beginning. Many people are scared of death. This fear is completely understandable. For most of us, life is enjoyable, but perhaps more than that, it is known. Death is an end we know nothing about.  We never like to see the end of something familiar and good and death signals such an end. With the knowledge of death constantly looming overhead, we feel pressure to achieve or become something in the time we have left. It is the resurrection of Jesus Christ that breaks that chain.

Jesus proclaims that to believe in him is to have life, not death. And in his words we come to the understanding that this life is simply a preview for something else, something wonderful and confidently promised and assured. Whenever Jesus speaks about heaven in the Gospels, he always says that it is “like” something. The reason he teaches about heaven in this way is because to describe heaven accurately to a human mind is to be describing something completely unimaginable, incomprehensible and impossible for a human mind to fully understand. He uses the word “like” is because it is “like” nothing else we totally know of yet.  Therefore, there exists no true comparison for us to appropriately use.

In his brief, powerful dialogue with the thief hanging next to him on the Cross, Jesus clearly believed in the place he so confidently promised to lead the man after their suffering was to end.  Jesus described it as “paradise,” and so we must believe it to be, a place of life in Jesus that does not come to an end. Forever enjoying the presence of the Savior. For the Christian, this desire for Heaven isn’t about what we will get or see or do there, but about knowing Jesus completely. This process begins here in this life, but not until Heaven will all the work of God in us be made complete.

Tuesday Devotional: Jeremiah 2

Read Jeremiah 2 bible

Faith is foundational to the human experience.  We all profess faith in something everyday.  It is a fact that we do not know much about this world that we live in, or the lives we live in it.  Due to our ignorance we spend most of our time wondering, guessing and trusting.  Yet it seems that most of us profess the strongest faith in things that disappoint us.  We are quick to be offended by “faith” in the gospel of Jesus Christ, yet most would be quick to admit that they have far more faith in their bank account than in religion of any kind.  The God of the Bible seems perplexed by this, and shouldn’t we be as well?  Why this overwhelming faith in our financial systems?  Have they ever failed us?  Yes.  Has religion?  Maybe.  Has God?  I wouldn’t be so fast.  While it is true that many have been wounded by religion, one must reflect honestly on this wound and ask oneself if it was God that caused the pain, or was it a person, a group, or a Church.  God has entrusted his gospel to the hands of man, and man is flawed.  This takes enormous faith on His part!  Faith is trusting in something when reason or logic offers plenty of reasons to doubt, not trusting naively or stupidly but because something real and true resides below the surface.  Faith in humankind is illogical and unreasonable from the perspective of God.  Unless, that is, he knows that within all of us exists the potential to truly change the world through His power in us.  Faith in God defies our logic and reason.  However, to those saved by Him, there is no question that what our eyes do not see and what our hands have never touched truly exists and has changed our lives forever.  Thus, through the lens of the Gospel, it is not the world of God but the world of man that is foolish to trust.

Previews and Promises: Confident Claims

For the rest of this series, go here and here.

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Movie previews are great at making the particular featured movie seem like the best movie ever made, ever. It doesn’t matter if the actors in the movie have a track record of box office busts or if the director has “lost his touch.”  During those two minutes, anyone can look like a genius. I remember a few years ago there was a lot of hype about two movies. The first movie was a science fiction movie, “Cloverfield.” The preview for this movie had a lot of people talking and the hype was impossible to avoid. The other was a movie called, “The Happening.” This movie was from the director M. Knight Shyamalan, of such box office hits as “The Sixth Sense” and “Signs.”  Many people were talking about how great this movie looked and how excited they were to see it. However, when both movies were released, audiences were largely disappointed. Moviegoers felt taken by the timeless “preview” illusion.

Throughout our lives we will all experience setbacks, obstacles that try our patience, strength and character. As time progresses, many often resign to the particular belief that, “thus is life.” There is a resignation to a belief that some things just go wrong. People get hurt, things don’t work out and there is ultimately nothing we can do about it. But the Bible says otherwise. In the Bible we read that we all can experience the fruit of the Spirit during our time on Earth, and that in Heaven, suffering, pain, sadness and injustice will be reversed and undone.

Heaven promises a reemergence or renewal of the original state of existence, an existence void of all of the things unwelcome in this life like pain and suffering. There is a reason why, regardless of our differing religious beliefs, we all are so uncomfortable with crimes against the innocent and the breaking of a heart. The Bible explains that this inner distaste for such things lies at the heart of our original state within the original creation. We are troubled because we were not made for this place. We are troubled because this “preview life” is only a preview with foretastes, but not the actual full-length feature. Paul expands on this point in his letter to the Philippians:

20 But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, 21 who, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body.

In the last book of the Bible, Revelation, the apostle John is given visions of this final recreation and return to the original creation.  The visions of John support the claims of Jesus in regards to the final act of “recreation” and “regeneration.” 

Revelation 5:9-13

And they sang a new song, saying:

“You are worthy to take the scroll and to open its seals,
because you were slain, and with your blood you purchased for God persons from every tribe and language and people and nation. 10 You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to serve our God,  and they will reign[a] on the earth.” 11 Then I looked and heard the voice of many angels, numbering thousands upon thousands, and ten thousand times ten thousand. They encircled the throne and the living creatures and the elders. 12 In a loud voice they were saying:

“Worthy is the Lamb, who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and strength and honor and glory and praise!” 13 Then I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and on the sea, and all that is in them, saying:

“To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb
be praise and honor and glory and power, for ever and ever!”

Revelation 21:4

‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”

 Revelation 22:1-5

 Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, as clear as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb down the middle of the great street of the city. On each side of the river stood the tree of life, bearing twelve crops of fruit, yielding its fruit every month. And the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations. No longer will there be any curse. The throne of God and of the Lamb will be in the city, and his servants will serve him. They will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads. There will be no more night. They will not need the light of a lamp or the light of the sun, for the Lord God will give them light. And they will reign for ever and ever.

These scriptures describe a place that, regardless of your religion or spirituality, all of us desire. Death, sickness, heartbreak, tears and pain are universally despised. These Scriptures offer a glimpse of a place that seems far too good to be true. The Word of God makes truly radical, yet confident claims about what awaits those who “die in the Lord.” Heaven, therefore, is the ultimate good, and is a reality to all of us that seek a place where such things cease to exist.

 

Tuesday Devotional: Isaiah 1

Read Isaiah chapter 1

bibleFrom an early age we come to understand two “truths” about life that are reinforced into adulthood.  The first is that we are not totally responsible for the problems in our lives.  As children we are quick to point the finger elsewhere when something goes wrong, even if the facts point in our direction.  We are quick to defend ourselves, not only by explaining our actions but also by highlighting the faults of others.  Early on we understand the weight of responsibility and guilt, and we learn to avoid carrying it at all costs through dishonesty and denial.

The second is that, when the facts weigh heavily in the direction of our own guilt, we can bargain our way out of punishment or consequence.  While admitting guilt is far too painful to even consider, the next best thing is to shower the accuser or injured party with gifts, praise, or attention, in an attempt to redirect and distract them.  Our view of the guilt and forgiveness process is so shamefully simplified that we see the bargaining approach as not only a viable option, but often as the most logical response.  The absence of guilt after transgression displays a complete lack of respect toward the offended party, reducing them to objects, not actual people.

For many, God is simply an object.  God is an idea, a concept, or a creation.  Viewing God this way makes it far too easy to evade our own guilt by trying to “buy” him off with church attendance, tithes or prayers of confession.  If he is an object, we will never find any reason in our stubborn hearts to ever feel remorse for our transgressions, remorse that could lead us to the repentance necessary to be forgiven and free.  If, however, he is not an object to manipulate, we will finally confront our own hand in our problems, an acknowledgement that acts as a jumping off point for growth and change.  If he is not an object, we will realize that we can never buy our way out of our transgressions, and more importantly, we will begin to understand and finally value his forgiveness, as it should be understood.

 

ASK: Galatians 1

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This update is from the February 14th meeting of ASK Daegu. Each member contributed something to the message that follows. We pray that our group encourages you in the same way that it encouraged all of us.

Have you ever heard the gospel of Jesus? Do you know the gospel of Jesus? What did you hear? What do you know? Did it affect you? Did it change you?

These questions emerged as we read Galatians 1. For most Christians, the answers to these questions are all instinctively affirming, but are tragically confined to the past tense. Many Christians began with the gospel but eventually saw it as a step to other future steps. We once found the gospel refreshing, but over time felt we exhausted it of all of its information, interest and power. Many Christians will revisit the gospel via a Sunday sermon or a Bible reading plan, but when asked whether they still personally read and enjoy the gospel of Jesus in the same way they did when they first became a Christian, the answer for many would be “no.”

The truth is, there is no other gospel. Being a Christian is grounded in the foundation of Jesus Christ. While the other books of the Bible help us to understand the ministry and purpose of Jesus, the rest of the Bible is incomplete without Jesus. He is the key. He is the purpose for all other chapters in the Bible. By removing Jesus from the Bible one effectively removes all purpose from the Bible. Without Jesus, aside from being a historical resource or reference for the nation of Israel, the Bible is useless.

When we come to Christianity seeking something other than God through Jesus Christ, we fail to understand his gospel and our Christianity is pointless. When we come to Christianity with preformed ideas, assumptions, conditions and theories of our own that we apply to the text, we will never meet God, we will never understand Jesus and becoming a “Christian” from this place is equivalent to being a disciple of Santa Claus. It’s embarrassingly foolish and idiotic.

Many Christians grow bored with the Gospels. Many Christians actually grow bored of Jesus and His words. We must never stop being overwhelmed by Jesus and what he accomplished in the Gospels for us. If we have stopped being overwhelmed in waves of ecstasy and joy by Jesus and his ministry we must ask ourselves why. What gospel do we now prescribe to? The gospel of our own knowledge? The gospel of our own professional success? The gospel of our bank account? The gospel of our physical appearance? The gospel of control? The gospel of popularity? Nothing should ever challenge what we have been given by Jesus in his salvation work on Calvary. In Christ alone is our joy and the gospel is where we are privileged to reread and revisit that joy. Have you ever had that joy? Have you lost that joy?

ASK: Matthew 7

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This update is from the February 7th meeting of ASK Daegu. Each member contributed something to the message that follows. We pray that our group encourages you in the same way that it encouraged all of us.

All relationships have standards. These standards are either met and produce healthy relationships, or are abandoned, forgotten and produce chaos. When we enter into a relationship, there are things we inherently expect from the other person involved. When our expectations are met we feel fulfilled and satisfied, but when the person fails to meet our unspoken yet implied expectations we feel hurt and betrayed.

If we approach our relationships with people this way, why would our approach to God be any different?

While many people, after reading a chapter like Matthew 7, turn to God and demand an explanation for why His standards are so high, this response highlights the default of the human heart: to resist holiness as a result of sin and to find someone besides ourselves to blame. We are quick to blame God for creating impossibly high standards when the real question is, why are our standards so low? And why are we so intimidated by a challenge to be better than what we think we could ever be? Why are we so quick to write off holiness and so quick to welcome that which provides momentary satisfaction but ultimately destroys and weakens what was meant to be everlasting? Upon reading a commandment not to judge another person, why do we so quickly say, “I can’t do that. That’s impossible,” when, if we view chapter 7 through the lens of how we view our relationships with the people in our lives, we would be lying if we said that we would not impose the same standard on the people around us. We expect the people in our lives not to judge us, to answer us when we call, to bear fruit of love and peace and to be our solid foundation when our condition is less stable.

We are afraid of holiness because holiness wars against the sinfulness in all of us, and the grip of sin is strong. Sin deceives by convincing us all that although neglecting these impossible standards of God does seem to provide “freedom” and “joy,” the truth is that apart from God’s holiness as represented in Matthew 7, we are all harboring a faux sense of righteousness and goodness, that will neither satisfy nor last.

Jesus never hid anything from His disciples and through the Word remains as up front with us as he was with them. Jesus diagnoses our sinful hearts. Because he loves us, he tells us plainly that only by His power, only by following His holiness and making it our own, will we ever find the relationship with Him that will naturally extend into all of our worldly relationships, reproducing the shalom of creation and the kingdom of heaven here on earth.