Month: May 2015

Born Again: Trouble (Psalm 102)

Welcome to Week 2 of our reflection series “Born Again.” The born again life is focused on Christ’s power and nothing else. Through this reflection series, we’re looking at the things that try to take center stage in our lives. This week, we’re studying what Psalm 102 has to say about “Trouble.”

Read Psalm 102

When someone is suffering, a typical recommendation is to read the Psalms. While this is an excellent idea that I completely endorse, we first have to realize that most Psalms are separated into two parts.

The primary reason we tend to recommend the Psalms in times of trouble is the “hopeful” sections. It’s great to be able to read how others before us have also suffered and endured pain like our own. However, without the hopeful conclusion at the end of many Psalms, all we are left with are groups of people sharing pain together, which is not that encouraging.

As I read Psalm 102, I wish I knew more about the anonymous psalmist, the “afflicted person” who is struggling and in despair. Why? What happened? What brought this man down to such depths that he feared the absence of God more than anything else?

While this question captivates my attention, yet more astonishing is the eventual turnaround in his spirit. The final two-thirds of the Psalm are nothing but praise for God. Not only that, but this writer is so confident in his hope of a new world with people who will worship and commune with God in new and wonderful ways.

This man didn’t have the Psalms!  Nor did he have the encouraging words of the apostles, and even more, he didn’t have Jesus and the Gospels!  Yet, he believed with his entire being in “the Gospel,” the “the good news.”

Psalm 102 is the prayer of a person in trouble, without a solution or happy ending, without the rich fulfillment of prophecy that would come in the ensuing centuries. Yet we, with our plethora of Bibles and Bible resources, tend to so easily let ourselves be overcome with despair and trouble to the extent that the mere mention of hope in a better future gets our eyes rolling. Many hallmarks emerge from a born again spirit and, while all are important, none amount to much without joy and hope. How often are Bible studies, church services or prayers marked with somber silence and not joyful laughter? Do we run into the future that God has prepared for us with feet like the deer? Do we fly into the unknowable future with wings like eagles?

Whether we do or do not, this man apparently did. And he managed this without the foretaste of the Kingdom of God delivered in full by the Son himself.

As Paul writes in Romans 5:3-5, the process of discipleship starts with suffering, but always ends in hope. And hope never disappoints. Hope brought this man out of the darkness. A person born again by the Spirit has taken hold of the Son and his Gospel never to let go.  Troubles only have the ability to control our lives if we ignore the One who offers us a way out.  Living without the joy of salvation and the hope of heaven leaves us futilely wrestling with our troubles.  When we are born again, we know that trouble will come, but will never be a match for the hope we have found in Jesus.

ASK: Proverbs 8

Wisdom

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This update is from a recent 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.

Read Proverbs 8

Why do good people do bad things?  Why do intelligent people do foolish things?  Why is there a desire in our heart to shun wisdom for the sake of personal pride and ambition?

The truth is, they do and we do.

The heart of man is under a powerful delusion that nothing is more important than the self and the world.  From within this delusion it is not only difficult to pursue wisdom for wisdom’s sake, but we often view wisdom as the antagonist in our own stories.  We don’t like to be told what we need to do.  Even though we might quietly agree that the wise advice is good, for the sake of our pride we will pursue a path of potential destruction just so that we can ultimately discover and validate the advice on our own.

Ironically, even while we shun wisdom we lash out in anger that wisdom seems so far away when we need it.  We cry out, “Where is wisdom?”  We proclaim, “If only I had known.”  In doing this on a regular basis we come to the root of the issue at hand.  The heart.

Until we are willing to investigate thoroughly the shortcomings of our hearts, we will be trapped between self-sabotaging ego one day and hopeless vulnerability the next.  Until we realize that we are not simply lost, but that left to our own desire we will seek division and not peace, hatred not love, and death not life, we will continue down a path of a self-imposed delusion from which God pleads for us to break.

In Jesus Christ we have the embodiment of God’s character, word and wisdom.  We are, inevitably, offended by his words, because they are rooted in the reality that he is King and we are not.  However, only by accepting his authority will we discover that not only do we desperately need his wisdom, but also that his wisdom is for our benefit, personally and collectively.  His words judge, but do not condemn.  The wisdom of God in Jesus Christ identifies the disease in our heart, and offers the cure.  Why do we shun his words?  Why do you?

Tuesday Devotional: Zephaniah 1

Read Zephaniah 1:14-18bible

Our lives are filled with contrast.  We love the sunshine because we dislike cloudy days.  We enjoy the warmth of summer because we are tired of the winter chill.  We enjoy our time with friends and family because we lack that kind of fellowship in our weekly work obligations.  For every wonderful thing in our life there exists a counterpoint that provides for the utter enjoyment and satisfaction of the “good thing.”  However, while we enjoy the good things because they are good, we also find joy in them because of the absence of joy in the counterpoint.

This concept is represented in the gospel of Jesus Christ.  The gospel of Christ is truly good news.  It is peace, joy, love and liberation.  To be moved and transformed by God requires that a person truly understand and experience the sweetness of the gospel of Christ.  However, while the sweetness of the gospel is overwhelming upon one’s first taste, without a contrasting consistency, texture or taste, a person might find the sweetness beginning to lose its appeal.  The glory of God brought to our world in the gospel of Christ is sweet.  Yet, the gospel of Christ repeatedly reminds us of all the bitterness of rejecting God and the consequence of choosing self over God.  In serving and following Christ one finds a balance of motivation.  On one hand, one cannot genuinely serve and follow Christ without ever experiencing the goodness of his news.  On the other hand, one cannot genuinely maintain appreciation, satisfaction and joy in serving and following God without the awareness of the counterpoint.  The counterpoint to the goodness of the gospel must never be downplayed or overshadowed.  The result of downplaying this counterpoint results in complacency of worship, and ultimately a lack of focus that can produce casual disobedience.  The counterpoint is bitter; it must be defined, described and experienced always as bitter.  The taste of salt is distinct.  It can never be confused with sugar.  We are aware of the difference because they are so different.  The goodness of the gospel of Christ must never leave our hearts as we proceed to follow and worship.  However, there must be an ongoing parallel awareness of the dangers of sin, and fear of separation from God.

Born Again: Things (1 Kings 18)

brick

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Being “Born Again,” in the broad spectrum of Christian lingo, loses power in our catchphrase culture, with “Jesus is my Homeboy,” bumper sticker Christianity. (For the record: yes, Jesus is your “homeboy,” but of course to leave his identity at that does injustice to the man, his life and his Gospel.)

To most people, being born again means getting a fresh start at something. It means experiencing some moment of revelation and clarity that redirects life from old mistakes to new opportunities. Being reborn in a world of cheap grace is a nice way to sound deeply spiritual while stating that, essentially, something didn’t quite work out and now it’s about time to push the all too convenient “reset” button. However, although the idea of being born again does involve the restarting of a plan gone wrong, the process of spiritual rebirth, according to the scripture, is much more complex.

This reflection series will take us through the Bible to discover that being reborn requires five separate things from us in order to reveal the fruits of rebirth. Each Thursday, we’ll examine what, in order to be reborn, we cannot center our lives around:

  • Things (1 Kings 18)
  • Trouble (Psalm 102)
  • People (Isaiah 20)
  • Our Success (John 3)
  • Blind Faith (1 Corinthians 15)

Things (1 Kings 18)

In the story of 1 Kings 18 we find the showdown of showdowns, worthy of a schoolyard or reality TV show. The prophet Elijah courageously opposes Queen Jezebel, King Ahab and their systematic annihilation of God’s prophets. At this time Israel is completely consumed by Baal worship. 450 Baal prophets on one side and Elijah alone on the other, but with the power of the living God behind him. All throughout the generations of Israel’s walk with God, we see them easily distracted and destroyed by numerous false gods, in a tradition that we continue today.  Why?

Why, when for so many years and in so many different ways they clearly experienced the living God come in power to rescue and provide for them, would they ever seek anything aside from Yahweh?  For ourselves today, why do we need or depend upon anything more than the power of God in our lives?

In the worship of these lesser gods, we can retain ultimate control over our lives in a way that is impossible when serving the God of Israel. While God said to love him alone, without reservation, these other gods fit nicely into a system of “religion” where works and blessings could be quantified. The more you did for them, whether it be Baal or Molech, the more you could feel like you had freedom to do what you wanted. In Yahweh, it was a free will that chose to do his will without question, because of the understanding that he had already done enough to begin with. Following “Yahweh” was living a life that existed for and because of him.

1 Kings 18 culminates in a showdown where Elijah proposes a contest. Each side, Baal’s prophets and Elijah, would call upon their respective gods. The god who responded to the pleas of the believers would be the true and only God of Israel. After hours worshiping Baal, which involved slashing and cutting themselves to garner a response, the priests of Baal heard nothing but the silence of a god that was simply not there.

Elijah then prepared his petition to God. Two important things preceded his prayer, things that speak to us about being born again. First, he built a new altar, entirely separate from the Baal worshipers. Secondly, he used twelve stones to symbolize the twelve tribes of Israel’s forefathers on which to build the altar.

The Altar

The new altar is significant because rebirth in the Spirit can be founded on nothing except God the Father who, through grace and love, has provided for the rebirth in the first place. Being reborn means starting new, set apart from any old life or way of living, rooted in the God who never changes.  In being reborn, everything about our new life is different from the old; however, absolutely nothing is different about the God providing said rebirth. New life means new results and new outcomes, and for the reborn believer, the result of rebirth is demonstrated by the fruit of the Spirit Paul describes in Galatians 5: love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.

This new, fruitful life, which fosters continued growth throughout a lifetime, must submit to the regeneration of the spirit of Jesus Christ reborn in us. Trying to produce these fruits while using the strengths and desires of the “old life” is like two people pulling on opposing sides of a wishbone on Thanksgiving Day. At some point, the bone breaks. Trying to offer sacrifice to God on an old altar is starting from a corrupt foundation.

The Stones

Elijah’s choice to use twelve stones for the altar is striking because Elijah acknowledges the original path from which so many of these prophets and people have strayed so far.

How can we relate this step to our process of being reborn? What we can connect to is the motivation behind Elijah’s decision to use these stones as symbols. He does this to bring the hearts of those around him back to the God who was, is and will always be. Elijah is pointing the assembled people of Israel to their God, who never left them and never forsook them. In our lives, we tend to say things like, “Where are you now God?” However, through the process of being reborn, we discover that God actually never left. God was always there.

We turn our backs. We refuse to acknowledge him. We seek and serve other gods who will give us our own way. In being reborn we might learn new things about God and his presence in our lives, however, it is important to acknowledge that the God we are learning new things about is far from “new.” He has always been.

Tuesday Devotional: Habakkuk 1

bibleRead Habakkuk 1:1-4

We are troubled by what happens in this world.  There are times in each of our lives where not only can we not understand the will of God, but we absolutely disagree with it.  There are times when good things happen to those not at all interested in God, and there are as many times when dedicated disciple experiences tragedy.  Observing these situations, we cannot help but ask “Why?”  Where is justice?  Where is faithfulness?  Where are the promises of God?

Our perception of who God really is affects every moment of our life with him, and the matter is no different in this instance.  Many view God as simply an all-powerful deity who orders us to serve and will judge and punish us if we refuse.  If that were so, being openly upset and angry with the will of God would be a punishable offense, to be avoided at all cost.  However, the God of the Bible never represents himself this way.  Is he a king to be honored and served?  Yes.  Does he have plans to judge and punish the wickedness in this world?  Yes.  However, is his character limited to these very two-dimensional attributes?  Absolutely not.  The God of the Bible is first and foremost creator and father.  While a father might know full-well that his will and plan are beyond the understanding of a complaining child, he will patiently listen to the child, seeing the necessity in allowing the child to express his or her emotions.  It is no different with God.  While he is well aware that we are perpetually shortsighted and hyper-critical of things we do not understand, Father God desires a relationship with his children, and at the heart of any fruitful relationship is communication.  Providing answers is not the sole purpose of communication; expressing emotion, even negative emotions like anger, is a vital part of communicating in a relationship.

While we must always understand the greater perspective of God, and be ready to not understand and avoid judgment or resentment towards him, we must not overlook the importance of sharing our complete heart with him, good and bad.  The fact is, he already knows our displeasure in what he has allowed to happen.  He simply wishes to hear us and be heard himself.

Tuesday Devotional: Nahum 1

Read Nahum 1bible

God’s love must be understood as active rather than passive.  It is not something that has been done, there for us to gather up like shards of glass or crumbs on the floor.  Rather, it is constantly occurring; it is present and it is ongoing.  And not must we view God’s love as active, being fed into your life at this very moment, but it is a love that has to be viewed as interactive.  Any true love must be reciprocated and engaged.  A love limited to flow in only one direction is not love at all.  This is service.  Yet while it is reciprocal. God’s love is not love shared between equals.  In order to fully comprehend the love of God we must understand our position in respect to his presence.  Love among equals is deserved and earned and meets on the same grade.  In receiving this love, we may be affected, but we are not often truly changed.

To be loved by an individual far greater than yourself, to be loved by God, is to be loved far beyond what you know you deserve.  In receiving this love we are confronted by a power that not only overwhelms us with abounding joy as recipients but gives us the opportunity and hope to pursue a path greater and more fruitful than our own.  Understanding the love of God is like trying to understand the vast difference between a pebble and a mountain.  There is no comparison.  One is great.  One is overlooked and insignificant.  Yet God, in all his greatness, sees us pebbles and does not reject us. Instead, he sacrifices his beloved son Jesus Christ for our insignificance.

Candles, Cakes, and Prayers: the Unspoken Answer

We previously discussed the idea that people lose faith in prayer due to the absence of answers to their prayers.  For some people the lack of change in a given situation is proof that the entire process is unreliable.  However, this approach to prayer limits and confines God and the way he responds, only leaving room for answers that satisfy us personally.  To approach a limitless God with limitation is to ascribe to God characteristics more like our own than like his.  And if God is more like us and less like who he claims to be, belief is altogether hopeless.  If he is like us, he is incapable of achieving the impossible, and offers us nothing at all.  The mere act of prayer is built upon the assumption that God is, in fact, not like us, but is something more.

For many, the absence of change after fervent and committed prayer seems to make the case that God has not responded at all and will not in the future.  The problem with this approach is that by limiting the time in which and the method by which God can produce a result likewise limits the growth which, perhaps, God has intended for us to experience during this painful waiting period.

When we find ourselves facing a seemingly impossible situation, that appears to be without solution or cure, we have two options.  The first is to quit and close down.  By following this option one might become bitter, resentful and angry.  The result of a shutdown is isolation from people who care, and from the things in which they once found joy and hope.  The second option is to keep going and to open outward.  Pressing onward in the face of a challenge is always the tougher option.  It requires intense endurance, strength and patience.  While it is harder, those who persevere and endure through difficulty do not often regret that choice.

We learn the most about ourselves and about life when we proceed through setbacks and find greater lessons and development beyond.  The absence of immediate rescue does not imply a God who does not answer.  Intense sufferings is loud and disruptive, but when we are waiting on an answer to prayer we often expect the answer to be just as loud. As we wait in silence, God speaks with a still, small voice.” There are times when God allows the silence so that we are able to hear His voice.

There are several instances in the Gospels where Jesus explains to his disciples that if they believe in him completely, anything they ask for will be given to them.  This is an amazing promise, but it creates a dangerous trap for some Christians if they leave their understanding of Jesus’ teaching at this incomplete stage.  Jesus’ desire to provide for his disciples is taught repeatedly during his ministry.  But to assume that anything we ask for, no matter what, will be given to us, is to leave this promise incomplete, to relegate Jesus to the level of the “Genie in the Lamp.”  Jesus did make this promise to answer prayers. However, he also said that he would not give to us as the world gives.

In other words, the solution we see to our troubles might not be the solution that God sees.  For example, a person might think that getting a sought-after job will bring them joy and confidence. So, they proceed to pray to God to get the job.  Perhaps God knows that this job will ultimately create more stress, and leave the thirst for true joy and confidence unsatisfied.  If this person believes that God promised to give them everything he or she asked for, they may well resent God when they fail to get the job. Such a person fundamentally misunderstands God’s will and desire.  The promises of God are not to give us the things we most desire or the relationship we most long for.  While those things might bring us temporary joy and happiness, the desire of God is to heal us at our deepest level, to fulfill our longing for joy and happiness in Him.

As children, we wanted everything we saw in the toy store, but most likely did not get everything we asked for.  While this created tension between our parents and us at the time, not getting everything we asked for taught us more than we could have foreseen at the time, and nurtured a more complete growth in us as healthy individuals who would have become very different people had we been given everything.

Prayer is a vital and permanent part of the life of a Christian.  It is found throughout the entire Bible, and attempting to avoid it while trying to follow the Bible is impossible.  To be a Christian is to inherently be associated with prayer at all times, as Jesus demonstrated.  Jesus made a clear priority of prayer in his daily life, spoke often about prayer and insisted that his followers share his need for prayer in their lives as well.  But praying is not simply to be done out of reflexive obedience.  Prayer is a dialogue that is both powerfully real and powerfully effective.  Prayer is not simply hoping for the best or wishing for the miraculous.  Prayer is a conversation. It is the expression of a heart’s desire to someone who, though already possessing perfect knowledge, cares to listen and desires to help.  It is not confined to a schedule, or limited by superstition, like a birthday party, a shooting star, or a bedside.  Prayer is ongoing.  Prayer is ever-present.  Jesus was constantly in prayer and he called his disciples to be as well.

A good conversation is not easily had but always cherished.  It escapes the bonds of time and creates communication that could go on forever.  Many people never experience the beauty of prayer as a conversation between God and us due to the silence at the other end of the line.

While the silence is unavoidable and we will never literally hear the voice of God, it is from within the stillness of the soul and the silence of the heart that God promises to speak.  He promised not to give to us as the world does, and this relates to the way we are meant to hear his voice.  A friend telling us to “take it easy” will sound comforting in the moment, but as we part ways and the conversation comes to a close, our soul remains restless and our mind uneasy.  Perhaps, while God’s words remain unheard in prayer, the true answer of peace is in what we feel that validates his response and not what we hear with our physical ears.  A prayer left without audible or visible response does not necessarily mean a conversation left unheard.  God promises to listen and promises healing for our pain.

The question we must ask is, “Do we really believe?”  Or, when we sit down to pray, is the façade simply the physical act of praying?  In which things do we place more confidence, birthday candles or God?  Perhaps the analogy seems silly or childish, but just as our entire approach to God and the Gospels of Jesus is grounded in faith, we must ask ourselves honestly if there is faith in our prayers, or mere fantasy, ritual and superstition.

Tuesday Devotional: Micah 2

bibleRead Micah 2:1-5

Within man is a yearning for harmony among all people.  In each of us there resides a sweet delight in witnessing peace, love and joy spread through communities, uniting groups that once stood at odds with one another.  Love in the heart of man is a pure and powerful force, but only when being used for the betterment of others.  If the same heart is used to empower or benefit the individual at the cost of others, this purity and power can quickly become more corrupt than anything we know.  This delicate balance between beauty and corruption is affected by how much attention we give to our own gain.  When we serve self, each new day is full of anxious anticipation on how to more effectively gain what we wish.  When we serve self, we treat the consequences of our actions on those around us flippantly, as long as our goals have been achieved.  From this perspective, the “self-made” man is a delusional and utterly fictitious view of self. Over time, with any level of success, serving self feeds the pride within the heart of man, leaving no room for correction, no room for competition and no room for a God who is ultimately in control.  The truth of the matter is that while man can achieve “greatness” in this world, man-made success pales in comparison to the consistent successes of the word of God.  There was a time when we were not, and God was.  There will be a time when we will cease to be, and God will remain.  The ways of man have the potential to create greatness in unity with others.   However, in seeking and serving the selfish nature of our hearts we delude ourselves in believing that our ways our unshakable and everlasting.  The ways of man are not represented by these words.  The ways of God are, and always will be.