Month: June 2015

Tuesday Devotional: Matthew 1

Read Matthew 1bible

Over the course of life one develops certain expectations.  We develop standards and scales by which we measure everything we encounter, about people, about ourselves, about life in general.  Often these expectations are not misguided or unreasonable.  They are based on our personal experience of patterns that we in turn come to expect.  We rely on these expectations, although at times they confine rather than liberate us.  For many, the expectation when approaching the word of God is that two things will be inevitable.  First, the words will be uninteresting and irrelevant.  Second, the presence of God will be present only to the imagination.

At first glance of the New Testament, in Matthew 1, those expectations seem to be verified with the famous “begats.”  A list of difficult names to pronounce that, without background knowledge, feels distant and unnecessary.  However, upon closer examination of this list one discovers a rather different message.  Found within this list of begats is a range of people who, when grouped together, make up the complete and complex spectrum of human character, background, status and record.  This list is best represented with one word: “imperfection.”  This list of begats, that introduces the world to the life of Jesus Christ and the Gospel, not only defies the expectations that the word of God will be uninteresting and irrelevant, but exceeds even the best of expectations implied by a gospel of blessing and salvation.  This list is the open-door policy of a God who has been gathering his people long before we personally emerged into this world, a God who does not seek a people cut out of a perfect cloth.  Rather, He has been seeking to gather a people honest with their imperfections and totally overcome by his perfection.  This list actually defies the idea that God’s presence and influence are only of the mind by presenting a God pursuing his people personally and directly throughout the ages.  The quotation from Isaiah confirms this: the son of the virgin will not only be the savior of the world but will be “Immanuel,” “God with us.”  This chapter, from the list of begats to the declaration of Immanuel, shows that the God of the Heavens has always been with us. His desire is to always be a God “with us.”

Born Again: Blind Faith (1 Corinthians 15)

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Welcome to the final 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 1 Corinthians 15 has to say about “Blind Faith.”

Read 1 Corinthians 15

One of the most cited chapters of the entire New Testament is 1 Corinthians 15. It is THE chapter that draws the proverbial “line in the sand.” On one side, upon reading the Gospels, Paul shows that the person who accepts Jesus’ claims receives a restructured life with Christ residing in the center as king. On the opposite side, the one who rejects the claims of Jesus as “The Messiah,” God in human form, as a lie, must believe that none of what he did or ever said matters one bit.  In that case, one can live in this world without a single care about what the Bible says about one’s life, since the Bible is all one big and vicious lie.

However, the most important thing to remember about Chapter 15 is that Paul doesn’t simply say, “Believe or don’t believe, the choice is yours.” To the surprise of many critics of Christianity, Paul appeals to the reader’s reasoning and logic as a means to arrive at one of the two conclusions.

For many who oppose Christianity, faith in Jesus is blind, zombie-like faith, where Christians plug along bumping into walls every which way, because simply walking forward is what a “good Christian” is supposed to do.

Paul never preached or knew that kind of Christianity, and if he heard someone argue from that position, he would be appalled.  This is not the Christianity he was transformed by.  This is not the Christianity that he preached to the world.

Are there areas where we do need faith beyond our senses in order to believe every word of the Bible? Yes. Are there things in the Bible that we cannot explain? Yes. However, Paul is clear that belief in Jesus is neither of those things. Paul contested that the Gospel he preached to the church in Corinth contained stories and accounts that could be attested to and verified by people still living.  He cites stories that go beyond individual hallucination and self-created mythology. There is a seriousness of Paul’s tone regarding the Gospel he preached and the conclusions people ultimately arrive at.

At the beginning of my walk with Christ I felt like the “Jesus Scale” was so heavily weighted in the favor of myth and legend that I felt like nothing short of a miracle would shift any weight to the opposing side. However, the more I read the Gospels, the more I realized that it was taking more faith to not believe what I was reading.

Being “born again” in truth does not mean believing everything, simply because it’s right, nor does it mean that the way we carry ourselves in the knowledge of this truth is by an irrational blind faith, like that of an insane person. I believe that I am a sane man, with a good head on my shoulders. I understand the ups and downs in this world and I carry myself like any other respectably sane individual. However, my belief in the Gospel of Jesus Christ is something I have more trust and confidence in than anything in the world. Understandably, this strikes some people as a contradiction.

Being born of the Spirit doesn’t mean losing a grip on your senses or reality. Being born again means that the truth  of the Gospel makes the most sense of all truths. The Spirit testifies to this truth when we are born again, and the way in which we testify thereafter is a testament to our rebirth in the Spirit.

Tuesday Devotional: Malachi 1

Read Malachi 1:6-14bible

Most of the “religion” found today is purely an illusion, something man has created in order to serve himself.  Religion, for some, is a means to get what you want in life.  For others, it is a guideline of how to do the “right” things in this world.  Some use it as a standard of judgment and legislation that can control the good and bad of this world beyond the powers of our political and judicial systems.  Religion to many people has nothing to do with God and has everything to do with themselves.  It is a means to retaining control of their own lives, and being served and rewarded in the process.  Only when looking at the words of the Lord will one begin to notice the horrifying hypocrisies and delusions that religion in our world has often demonstrated and promoted.  To many believers in religion, God is no more real than Santa Claus or the legends of Genies in Lamps.  He is an image of hope or an encouraging figure of goodness and power that we all wish were true but, due to his radical claims, can’t possibly be.

Although religious people spend hours worshiping this God, they remain unchanged as a result of a complete lack of faith.  If God is God, he has to be understood and approached as God.  If God is God, we are nothing compared to him.  If God is God, we cannot escape him.  He is everywhere and knows everything.  If God is God, without him we have nothing and deserve nothing.  If God is God, he knows what is best for us better than we ever could ourselves.  If God is God, his words are stone and will last beyond our final breaths in this world.  If God is God, he deserves all that we have without any compromise or bargaining.  The truth is, many people have never genuinely approached God in these ways.  For many, God has less value to them than their boss, their family, their president, their celebrities of pop-culture, and ultimately themselves.  In many ways, God comes last.  God is the scramble for a few loose coins in the pockets of those caught off guard by the incoming offering basket on Sunday at church.  He is an afterthought. An inconvenience.  A burden.  In ignorance of the Word, one can maintain this position of complacency and disrespect.  But in the presence of his Word, this position is unacceptable and inexcusable.  God cannot be God while allowing us to reduce him to an insignificant figure standing in our over-powering shadows.  If he is God, we are always and ever in his shadow, and cannot see the realities of this world in any other way.

 

 

Born Again: Success (John 3)

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Welcome to Week 4 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 John 3 has to say about “Success.”

Read John 3.

At the heart of every sin, since the original fall, is our inclination to look God in the face and say, “I know better. I can do it without you.” In the third chapter of John’s Gospel we have two individuals, and two differing approaches to Christ. The stories of both provide us direction and warning in becoming too aware of our knowledge and success, and how that relates to the process of spiritual rebirth.

Nicodemus

It is no secret that Nicodemus had a sincere interest in Jesus and continued to take an interest in Jesus even following the Crucifixion.  For a man to step onto the unpopular side of the line in the face of mounting criticism is commendable, and Nicodemus is honored by being included in the Gospel of John as the Pharisee quite unlike the rest. However, as one looks at this discourse between the Pharisee and Jesus, we see two things that we must become aware of when we look at being born again, in both his physical and spiritual approach to Jesus.

The first thing we see is that Nicodemus came to Jesus at night. This is not a trivial piece of information. In fact, it says volumes about what is going through Nicodemus’ mind. The word is “secrecy.” Nicodemus does not want to be seen conversing with Jesus. His interest in Jesus, although sincere and genuine, is still enslaved by the potential judgment of his fellow colleagues, were they to hear that he met, “the teacher.”  Likewise, as we approach the Gospel, it is easy to be concerned about how your new interest in life with Jesus will meet the ears of those close to you who, unlike you, have no interest in the Gospel.

Our place among friends, co-workers and family is important to all of us, and to do something that we know will jeopardize those delicate relationships is difficult, to say the least. In many ways, our identities are inextricably linked to these relationships, so to choose to do something that might threaten this bond or connection is like choosing to commit identity suicide.  To do something so risky as to threaten these bonds is like losing your life. This is serious business in which not many are willing to engage. This is where we see Nicodemus. Although his interest is enough to get him in front of Jesus, the fear of committing identity suicide is far too great, and so he seeks Jesus in the dark.

One of the many things that happens upon being “reborn” is an inner augmentation of perspective. The more one starts to see Jesus as “the way, the truth, the life” the more we start to see all other things in this world as “a way, a truth, a life.”  The larger Jesus gets in our hearts and minds, the smaller everything else gets. Or, to use his example, Jesus always refers to himself and his disciples by using the contrast of light and dark.  So, in the area of spiritual rebirth, the more one steps into the light with Jesus, the more one wants to remain in the light with him.

The second thing we see with Nicodemus is a mental and spiritual barrier preventing him from understanding Jesus’ explanation about being “born again.” Nicodemus has been trained so effectively in one train of thought that it seems nearly impossible for the logic of Jesus to find any room in his reasoning.  His mind was fixated on literal possibilities, while Jesus is speaking from a standpoint of Godly potential. But this aspect of rebirth is the most exciting part.

For most people, scripture is bland and two dimensional, and at times, life itself feels rather two-dimensional.  However, when we are born again, we encounter “the Counselor,” the Holy Spirit, who testifies to the truth Jesus spoke to Nicodemus. Upon his arrival in our lives, we move from two-dimensional perspectives into multidimensional realities with endless possibilities. To be born again is to become privy to the endless possibilities of God’s plans, wisdom and presence that, in a world where impossible is impossible, suddenly all things are possible through Christ.

John the Baptist

The second character we read about in this selection of scripture is John the Baptist. In many ways, John is an excellent representation of the born again spirit. During his preaching years he gathered a large and adoring crowd of followers. We learn many things from the life of John the Baptist, but no trait is better exemplified by his life than humility.

John had every right, according to the world, to think that he was something special. He had every right to think that he had unparalleled authority and power to do whatever he desired. But his behavior shows us the opposite. The portrait we see of John the Baptist is a humble servant who looks at Jesus “the Christ” and says, “He must become greater, and I must become less.Being reborn means arriving at a critical point of restructuring. The born again life gets restructured internally and externally. Internally, we realize that in the presence of God we are nothing. We realize that without God we are nothing. We realize that because he is everything, with him we can finally be something.

Upon being reborn we lose our right to the throne, because it is forever occupied by Christ. This not only gives us profound respect and admiration for God, but it provides increasing confidence in his voice and character, and reveals our temporal and shake-able selves.  Externally, we no longer expect our well-deserved and long overdue adulation from the world. We realize that, without the servant who suffered for us, we would be left with nothing real. Finally, we  realize, in our awareness of our forgiven and sinful state, that our place among men is simply a sinner among sinners.  With this yoke of pride and superiority removed from our necks, we are then free to give of ourselves in a way that puts us on an increasingly solid footing with our Friend and Savior Jesus Christ. The opportunity to experience him becomes our life’s desire and, rather than clinging to our old identities, we come into a shared existence with Jesus that overpowers our lust for worldly praise.

 

Tuesday Devotional: Zechariah 14

Read Zechariah 14bible

Our lives are constantly filled with the pressure to make decisions.  Sometimes these are relatively easy to make.  On the other hand, they may be nearly impossible to make, and we often put them off in hopes that one day we will not have to take a firm stand one way or another.  In those moments that we find it difficult to decide a direction, we are often paralyzed by the fear of making a bad choice.  We fear that a bad decision will result in our losing something precious.  We fear that a bad decision will result in suffering that possibly could have been avoided.  At the heart of hard decisions is fear.  The irony of that matter is that the fear of making the “wrong” decision pales in comparison to the fear that we ought to have of our prolonged indecisiveness.  We develop a notion that making no decision is making a safe decision.  On the contrary, making no decision is the most dangerous and self-destructive position to take.  We think that committing to a “non-position” in the middle of two difficult ones will keep us safe from the consequences of either.  This is a man-made delusion. Merely a coping mechanism and nothing more.  A non-position is in fact a position.  It is simply a position that refuses to label itself as such.

In the case of the gospel of Christ, the message of salvation carries with its hopeful and promising news a warning to those who refuse to respond to the message of the Lord.  The easiest thing to do is to casually dismiss the gospel and occupy a position of indifference.  Without actually reading the gospel, this choice can be defended.  Upon reading the gospel, this choice self-destructs.  The gospel is not casual.  It is deadly serious.  A “non-position” in the face of the gospel has the same qualities as complete defiance to the message of Jesus Christ.  A “non-position” indulges in ignorance, the weakest of all positions on any given issue.  In facing consequences for any important issue, the “non-position” will be given the least sympathy and understanding.  In fact, the “non-position” is the position to be pitied the most.  The message of Jesus Christ in regards to salvation and his future return is both a serious promise and a serious warning.  By maintaining a casual stance in the presence of a serious message, one adopts a position of irresponsible defiance, just for the sake of holding onto a “non-position” that has absolutely nothing to offer, and will lead to losing everything.

Born Again: People (Isaiah 20)

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Welcome to Week 3 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 Isaiah 20 has to say about “People.”

Read Isaiah 20.

In the book of Isaiah, chapter 20, Israel was starting to realize that by this point in the story, their footing as a nation in the face of encroaching powers was less than stable. So, like most people facing trouble, their first instinct was to find something to hold onto.  In this case, Israel was looking to grab onto Egypt, although God, through a naked and barefoot Isaiah, was clearly advising against such loyalties.

The conclusion to this story was that by putting their security in an apparently strong and trustworthy ally rather than in God, Israel ultimately sealed their upcoming invasion by Babylon and Assyria.  But does this passage teach us not to trust people? No.

Trust in people is at the heart of our relationships.  Because we were created in the image of God, trust is at the heart of our relationship with him. Trusting people is not the issue. The issue is that, when we entirely locate our hopes and security in people, the countdown for disappointment and pain has already begun.

We put our hope in people because we believe, for some outlandish and irrational reason, that these particular individuals are not like us when it comes to trouble.  We believe that they are better.  We believe that they are different. Unlike us, they seem successful and strong. Unlike us, they always seem to have a plan B. Unlike us, they never seem troubled by anything. Their glass is not only half full, but will never be depleted.

Of course, the reality is that this is not the case. These “superhero” figures in our lives are far from superhuman. These are simply humans. Just like us. And just like us, they experience hardship and moments of uncertainty, and are capable of experiencing pain as well as inflicting it, just as we are.

People will be there for you, but then they won’t. People will love you, but then they won’t. People will understand you, and then they won’t. People have limitations. And when we put our hopes and security entirely in people, these limitations will be unveiled in disappointing and hurtful ways.

In this passage of scripture about Israel’s loyalties, God was trying to shock them to the understanding that only he was enough to rely on. No other relationship and no other fellowship can compare.  He was showing them the wall of destruction towards which they were speeding in the hopes that they would turn back.

We were created to form relationships, to trust those relationships, to make friends and ask for help. But the ultimate relationship, the only one that can and should be trusted to the fullest extent, is the relationship between God and his people. Out of dust he created us for the pure and simple reason of fellowship, so that the love shared within the Trinity could be expressed beyond the triune relationship. Regardless of our behavior toward him, his love and patience led him to ultimately send his Son so that none would be lost.

Regardless of differences of testimony, everyone who has been born again experiences similar spiritual changes. This is because, while all things human and earthly pass away, one thing stays the same.  He is the only ally who will never fail you. He is the only father who will continue to provide for you. He is the only one who whose love is so enduring and pure. He is the only person so close to us that, in him, we never have to feel alone or misunderstood. He has always known us, and he always understands.

Tuesday Devotional: Haggai 1

Read Haggai 1:1-15bible

The driving force behind most of our lives is the desire to find satisfaction.  Most of us will spend our entire lives seeking it out.  There are thousands of different ways we all try to grasp this elusive satisfaction, but regardless of what “it” is we chase, the fact remains that we all do a lot of chasing.  While we dedicate our lives toward striving to possess this satisfaction, the reality is that we repeatedly find ourselves closing ground on satisfaction, only to realize that we have not gained any real ground at all.  Regardless of the effort we put forth in trying to satisfy ourselves, we all are confronted by a harsh reality that we are never truly satisfied with whatever it was we chased for so long.  No matter how hard we try, we all want to have and be more than we are.  We all bear an expectation of satisfaction that nothing in this world can truly satisfy. Whereas our expectations of satisfaction are working off of a system of perfection and purity, the things with which we seek to satisfy this deep expectation are superficial at best, and do not possess the ability to satisfy us the way we expect to.

God’s desire that we put him first is not so that we can follow in melancholy servitude.  God desires our satisfaction.  If God is truly God, he knows far more than we do, and this must also apply to our needs.  While we convince ourselves that we have a firm grasp on what will satisfy us, the truth is that we don’t.  Just as a child would argue with a parent that candy is a far better choice for dinner than vegetables and fruit, the child is speaking as a child, with underdeveloped wisdom. To another child this reasoning works, but to an adult is ridiculous.  In choosing candy over nutritious food, the child is seeking to satisfy a superficial need for taste and pleasure.  While this candy is satisfying on the superficial level, it offers nothing for the child’s body and health and will make life much harder on the child if the years of candy-consumption proceed.  Similarly, God does not desire that we not be satisfied with our meals, but that he be fully content.  He desires that we eat what will truly be good for us and will provide for a healthier, more fulfilling life over time.  God is a “God with us,” and not a “God against us.”  His desire that we put him first does not mean him standing front of us, frustrating our progress.  Rather, he commands it so that he can lead us into a more satisfying life, and that he share in that satisfaction with us every step of the way.