Aliens in a Strange Land

In Galatians 1:3-4, Paul writes that Jesus “gave himself to rescue us from this present evil age.” It seems like every day we’re confronted in new and more blatant terms just how evil this present age is.  On the one hand, it can be heart-breaking to see a culture in constant decline and that reality should push us towards it with the desire to communicate hope in Christ.

On the other, it serves to remind us that disciples of Jesus are not of this world (1 Peter 2:11) and this place isn’t home.  The deteriorating condition of the world should push us closer to Jesus, longing for another land with a Father-King who rules with strength and grace, protecting His children and welcoming them into His presence, face-to-face.

…but does it?

Are you homesick?

I know too often I’m not.  That’s what is frightening.  It’s when I don’t long for home.  That’s when I know I’ve gotten too comfortable in a world I wasn’t ultimately designed for.  It’s when I have to pull back a bit and remember I’m not to be conformed to this world, but transformed by the renewing of my mind (Romans 12:2).  That comes through the Word–spending time absorbing the Truth, meditating on the reality of another Kingdom that I’ve been born into and fitted for, and praying for a fresh perspective on why I’m still here.  Only then will I be ready to engage the world in a way that brings glory to God and healing to the hurting.  Only then will I experience what it means to be rescued from this present evil age.

A Morning Meditation

“There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” Romans 8:1

brokenchainsThis is an amazing passage, especially in light of the fact that Paul has just concluded chapter 7 by talking of the war that wages within us; of the struggle, as Christ-followers, to do what we want to do, all the while finding ourselves doing what we don’t want to do as it relates to sin.  His conclusion is that of wretchedness as he declares his imperfection before a holy God…but then immediately follows with an answer to the question of who will deliver him from this body of death with spontaneous praise to God through Christ!  Why?  Because he knows it is not based upon his own righteousness, which does not exist (Isaiah 64:6), but upon that of Christ.  Paul admits the continual struggle between serving Christ in his mind and with his will, desiring to always be faithful, but wrestling with the law of the flesh (sin) that is always close at hand.

That is a struggle with which I am familiar.  That is something that I can identify with.  I desire to follow Christ closely; desire to obey with my whole heart, but I find that I am often found horribly lacking.  I have wrestled with fear and doubt and depression over the condition of my life…why can’t I be a better dad or husband or pastor…a better follower of Jesus?  The enemy is always close at hand, seeking to devour me (1 Peter 5:8), to destroy me (John 10:10), to accuse me before the Father (Revelation 12:10).

What do I do?  I keep reading!  Because of what Christ has done in me, redeeming me from the penalty of the Law of sin and death, there is no condemnation!  NONE!  The Father does not look at me as the failure that I am, but the new creation (2 Corinthians 5:17), the child of the King that Christ has made me (Romans 8:15-17).  The Father looks at me and sees the righteousness of Christ that has been imputed to me (2 Corinthians 5:21); credited to my account to such an extent that I shine righteously in the Father’s presence, the only way He can look upon me with pleasure…and He does!

I still struggle with sin and I am to always be at war with my sin nature, but I am not defeated by it.  I can never be defeated because the law of sin and death was destroyed by the means of a Roman cross (Colossians 2:13-15), never to have victory over me because in Christ, I stand redeemed!

Getting it Right

One of the things I had to learn once I started seminary was how to effectively and rightly interpret Scripture. I guess I hadn’t though much about it up to that point. I figured you just read the Bible and did what it said. From time-to-time, I would have people ask me, “Do you interpret the Bible literally?” Hm. Wasn’t sure how to answer that. I guess so. At the time, I didn’t understand what they meant. I later learned that some people interpreted everything literally. Since there are passages that instruct women to “adorn themselves in respectable apparel…” (1 Timothy 2:9-10), some churches have decided it best that women not wear make-up or shorts or anything other than long dresses. While I respect their desire for modesty and am totally in favor of the appropriate amount of cover-up, make-up, in my humble opinion, is not a bad invention. Therefore, I assumed that I didn’t take everything literally.

On the other hand, there were those who argued for allegorical interpretation of Scripture. In this case, stories like Jonah and the Whale, Daniel in the Lion’s Den, Noah and the Flood were not historical events but stories made up in order to illustrate a moral or spiritual lesson. I definitely didn’t fall into that category.

So, when I got to seminary, I learned how to properly interpret Scripture. I learned that it is important that we seek out the author’s original intent according to the context in which he wrote. What was he trying to say when he wrote what he did under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit? I learned that there are different genres in Scripture just like there are different genres in other types of literature. As such, they must be interpreted accordingly. For instance, poetry can’t be interpreted the same as history. Imagery is used that cannot be taken literally. If it were, then a painting of the bride that Solomon describes in Song of Solomon 4 would end up looking like a strange work of art by Pablo Picasso…more like the Elephant Man than a beautiful woman.

During my studies, I discovered a device that is often used in Scripture called “Phenomenological Language.” When someone uses this literary device, they are simply describing what they see as they see it without using technical jargon or concern to describe what is actually happening. For instance, in Psalm 19, David, in describing the heavens that God created, writes:

In them he has set a tent for the sun,
5 which comes out like a bridegroom leaving his chamber,
and, like a strong man, runs its course with joy.
6 Its rising is from the end of the heavens,
and its circuit to the end of them,
and there is nothing hidden from its heat.

Now, if we take that literally, we have a lot of problems with Scripture. As a matter of fact, this verse has been used by some who believe the Bible is full of errors. They say that if God essentially wrote Scripture, it should be known that the Sun does not actually move, but that the earth revolves around a stationary sun. This, therefore, proves Scripture errant. These people fail to realize the phenomenological language that is being used to provide word-pictures. David is simply looking up and describing the heavens as he sees it. The reality is, we know that the Earth revolves around the Sun yet we do the same thing today! Think about it: “What time is sunrise today?” “Did you see that beautiful sunset?” “I love watching the Sun rise over the ocean.” What are we saying about the nature of the Sun’s actions in relation to the Earth when we talk like this? Nothing. That’s not what we’re talking about at all.

In light of this, it’s important that we understand how we interpret language. Otherwise, it can completely derail our understanding of Scripture and how we live our lives.

I have another one for you. We talk about “going to church.” How often do you talk to your family and friends about going to church? It happens all the time, doesn’t it? Do you go to church every Sunday? What church to you go to? What are we doing? We’re using phenomenological language! It looks like we’re going to church, but that is not the reality. The Bible describes the Truth behind the language in places like 1 Corinthians 12:27, “Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it.” Again in Romans 12:4-5, “For as in one body we have many members, and the members do not all have the same function, so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another.” As a matter of fact, there are over 20 passages in Scripture that talk not about going to church, but being the Church! Our understanding on this point makes all the difference in the world as to how we respond to it.

If I believe that I simply go to church on Sunday, then my level of commitment and involvement is very limited. I go to the store to get what I need and leave without another thought of it. I go to the movies and am entertained for a couple of hours and then get on with my life. I am, essentially, a consumer who gets what I need and then moves on with that experience having little impact on the other parts of my life.

If, on the other hand, I understand that I am the Church, that changes everything! I cannot be a father only when I’m around my children or a husband only when I’m around my wife. These aspects of my identity shape everything about me. They determine decisions and actions, attitudes and thoughts. That is me. In the same way, I cannot be a part of the Church only when I’m there. I am a part of the Body of Christ at all times and in all places. That fact should also shape decisions, attitudes, actions and thoughts. It should determine how I function within the Body as well:

I don’t ask whether I should serve. I assume that. Instead, I ask “Where should I serve.”
I don’t ask wether or not I should give. I assume that. Instead, I ask, “What should I give?”
I don’t ask whether or not I should participate. I assume that. Instead, I ask, “How do I participate.”
I don’t ask whether or not I should be a witness for Christ at work and play. I assume that. Instead, I ask, “How can I be a good witness in my context?

I hope you can see the importance of understanding Scripture rightly, and how our use of language matters, as well. If I talk too much about “going to church,” that will eventually shape my thinking about it. Instead, I need to begin reminding myself at all times and in all ways, that, because I have been adopted by the Father, redeemed by the Son and sealed by the Spirit, I am the Church. In so doing, I’m changing the way I identify and interact with all of the other members of that same Body of Christ, serving, giving and going with the right attitude and determination to glorify Him in all things.

Portrait of a Savior, Part 11 video

Portrait of a Savior, Part 11 from The Gathering on Vimeo.

According to John, Jesus has the authority to both give life to whomever He pleases and to judge the living and the dead.  What does it mean to truly live the life given by Christ?  Is it possible to have eternal life and yet live a life of unrepentant sin?  I fear many people have received a false sense of security by holding onto a moment in which they prayed a prayer asking Jesus into their hearts, but after which have lived a life where there is no indication of transformation.  What does the Scripture say about this?  Can you be a disciple of Jesus if you aren’t actually being discipled by Him?  Can you say that you are a follower of Jesus if you aren’t actually following Him?

This was a difficult message to preach and I’m certain a tough one to hear, but I think it was an important one.  I pray God’s Spirit will be your guide if you decide to watch.  Blessings!

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Come and See

wpid-Photo-May-7-2013-958-AM.jpgAs someone who has studied apologetics extensively, I know and have used all of the logical arguments for the existence of God, the deity of Christ and the reality of miracles. I have talked with people about the rationality for believing in the reliability of Scripture and the resurrection of Jesus. As a natural skeptic, I tested my inherited faith against reality until it became a proven faith to me. I began to have a confidence in what I always thought was true as I scrutinized it and it began to make sense beyond the “blind faith” responses we often hear to questions about how we know it’s true or why we believe.

I was reading in John 1 yesterday and was reminded of how people initially came to Christ during His time on earth. Take a look at this passage:

35 The next day again John was standing with two of his disciples, 36 and he looked at Jesus as he walked by and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God!” 37 The two disciples heard him say this, and they followed Jesus. 38 Jesus turned and saw them following and said to them, “What are you seeking?” And they said to him, “Rabbi” (which means Teacher), “where are you staying?” 39 He said to them, “Come and you will see.” So they came and saw where he was staying, and they stayed with him that day, for it was about the tenth hour.[h] 40 One of the two who heard John speak and followed Jesus[i] was Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother. 41 He first found his own brother Simon and said to him, “We have found the Messiah” (which means Christ). 42 He brought him to Jesus. Jesus looked at him and said, “You are Simon the son of John. You shall be called Cephas” (which means Peter).

43 The next day Jesus decided to go to Galilee. He found Philip and said to him, “Follow me.” 44 Now Philip was from Bethsaida, the city of Andrew and Peter. 45 Philip found Nathanael and said to him, “We have found him of whom Moses in the Law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.” 46 Nathanael said to him, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Philip said to him, “Come and see.”

Look at how that played out. When Andrew and the other follower of John asked Jesus about where He was staying, Jesus didn’t convince them to follow Him based on His trustworthiness or He deity. He simply said, “Come and you will see.” Whatever the rest of that day held, it was enough to convince Andrew that Jesus was the Messiah. So what did he do? He told his brother, Simon, which apparently roused Simon’s curiosity that resulted in Peter going to check it out for himself. Something tells me there was something that Simon saw in the way his brother had become so quickly convinced that set things in motion.

My favorite, though, is Philip with Nathanael. This guy is no push-over. He has questions. He’s not into “easy believe-ism”, even doubting that it can be possible that this is the Messiah because of where Jesus is from. Now, I would be tempted at that point to dive right into the apologetics and give the reasons as to why God could, in fact, bring the Messiah from Nazareth or anywhere else He chose since He is, as it were, you know…God.

Philip let’s me down, though. Not a word of defense. He doesn’t argue the historicity of Christ’s having actually been born in Bethlehem which lines up perfectly with the Old Testament prophecies or anything. He doesn’t engage in any arguments at all. Doesn’t he know that God needs these arguments? Please!

What he does say is awesome!

I love what Philip actually said: Come and see. It’s like, “Dude, I don’t know…see for yourself.”  That is incredibly powerful and how often I forget that part!

If Christ is real and alive and well, there is no need to try and argue someone to Christ. Just point them in the right direction and let Jesus do the rest.  Am I swearing off apologetics because of this? No. There is a place for helping people understand the reasonable nature of Christianity, but in my opinion, it’s not the strongest apologetic. You know what is?

A life well-lived.

That’s it. It’s like the apologetics of life. If I live my life according to the power given me through the Holy Spirit of God, my life will be the greatest apologetic there is. Joy in all circumstances. Hope. Purpose. Power. Love. Kindness. Grace. Man, if my life bleeds these things and they’re on display for all to see, then all I have to do is say to people, “Jesus is the power source for a life lived well. Come and see for yourself.”

I still struggle to get my mind around that…that “come and see” was all that these guys said, but think about what they did: they left the rest up to Jesus. They really trusted that Jesus would take care of revealing who He is Himself. Actually, I think there is more faith in that than the attitude we often take that it’s up to us to convince people of God’s existence. It’s almost as if we don’t really believe this stuff, so we have to make a really good argument so they realize this is a bargain they can’t refuse.  That’s not the heart of apologetics, but it can be our own attitude.  If it is, we have to ask whether or not we really believe in the working of the Holy Spirit and the power of God to draw to Himself anybody He chooses.

What does a “come and see” approach look like now?

Well, when Jesus was here on earth, it was possible to literally take them into his physical presence. Obviously, He’s not here anymore. Now, what?

Now, we are His physical presence. His transformational work within us is evidence of His presence so we can essentially say, “Watch what He’s doing in me and if you like what you see, follow Him. Believe in Him. Swear off following your own path and doing your own thing and watch what He does in you, too.” This is about living authentically, loving people genuinely, and not being afraid to give a reason for the hope that is in me. (1 Peter 3:15)

That last part is important, so make sure you hear what I’m NOT saying.

I’m not encouraging you to live according to that old saying, “Preach the Gospel at all times and when necessary, use words.” I think words are most always necessary. Without words, our hope and joy can be attributed to anything: exercise, good fortune, positive thinking or Tums.  Paul certainly used an abundance of words in his reasoning for the faith.  Look at his life, though, and you can see why his words were so powerful.  They backed up a Spirit-fueled life.  If my life isn’t “preaching the Gospel” first, my words are probably weak.  That’s when we look hypocritical.  On the flip side, if my life is already communicating the results of faith in Christ in how I am living, my words will carry a tremendous amount of weight.

Yeah, I’m still big on apologetics. I still believe that reasoning with others about the legitimate claims of Scripture is important. I believe it is imperative that we know Scripture that points to Christ. I also believe, though, that a lack of knowledge in the area of apologetics keeps many people from feeling confident in sharing their faith and answering questions they have about God, but a life well-lived coupled with accrediting the One who empowers it is the strongest apologetic there is. In that, I don’t have to know all of the answers. Philip certainly didn’t know whether or not anything good could come from Nazareth and didn’t feel compelled to try. He just said what anybody can say: “Come and see for yourself.”

“Taste and see that the LORD is good! Blessed is the man who takes refuge in him!” ~Psalm 34:8

Monday Morning Rewind: A Passion for ‘The House’

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The following is from my message yesterday at The Gathering.  You can watch video on Demand here.

What is your attitude towards “the House”?  I’m talking about the Church.  Not the building…the people; the Body for which Christ died?

Over the years, the church has been largely defined by individuals or groups who have led it…or been active in it. For some, by using manipulation and threats, church leaders could get people to act the way they wanted and so it has been used as a tool to control people.

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For others, it is a means of great gain, with so-called “ministers” using their pulpits to woo members to make a $1000 vow and pay it or to buy the minister a new Mercedes so he can make hospital visits in style, or give very large percentages of their income regardless of whether they knew where the money was going or not.

Politicians throughout modern history have used church membership in order to demonstrate their upstanding community status and improve their electability. Conservative political parties have “courted” the Christian vote in order to further their political agenda while liberal political parties have done the same to liberal Christians in order to rubber stamp policies that stand starkly against the clear instruction of God’s Word.yle, or give very large percentages of their income regardless of whether they knew where the money was going or not.

It seems so many people use and abuse the Church in such a way that, rather than being held up and protected as the beautiful Body and Bride of Christ that she is, she is mistreated and turned into a pleasurable commodity up for sale to the highest bidder, whored out as nothing more than some cheap, special interest group who can win over the populace or earn a buck under the guise of religious interest.

What does God think about this? Do you think it bothers Him when people fail to understand the nature of the Church and mishandle the very thing that Christ died to establish?

I think the clearest picture we get is what happened after Jesus entered into Jerusalem on that Palm Sunday, the week before He gave Himself up to be crucified on the cross. I’m framing it like that because I want you to see the connection between how He came as the suffering servant contrasted with His attitude towards those who abuse the Holy things of God.

Look at Matthew 21:12-13:

 Jesus entered the temple and drove out all who sold and bought in the temple, and he overturned the tables of the money-changers and the seats of those who sold pigeons. 13 He said to them, “It is written, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer,’ but you make it a den of robbers.”

In this statement, Jesus quoted from Isaiah 56:

56 Thus says the Lord:

“Keep justice, and do righteousness,

wfor soon my salvation will come,

and my righteousness be revealed.

2 Blessed is the man who does this,

and the son of man who holds it fast,

xwho keeps the Sabbath, not profaning it,

and keeps his hand from doing any evil.”

3 Let not ythe foreigner who has joined himself to the Lord say,

“The Lord will surely separate me from his people”;

and let not the eunuch say,

“Behold, I am za dry tree.”

4 For thus says the Lord:

“To the eunuchs xwho keep my Sabbaths,

who choose the things that please me

and hold fast my covenant,

aI will give in my house and within my walls

a bmonument and a name

better than sons and daughters;

cI will give them an everlasting name

that shall not be cut off.

6 “And ythe foreigners who join themselves to the Lord,

to minister to him, to love the name of the Lord,

and to be his servants,

everyone xwho keeps the Sabbath and does not profane it,

and holds fast my covenant—

dthese I will bring to emy holy mountain,

and make them joyful in my house of prayer;

ftheir burnt offerings and their sacrifices

will be accepted on my altar;

for gmy house shall be called a house of prayer

for all peoples.”

8 The Lord God,

hwho gathers the outcasts of Israel, declares,

i“I will gather yet others to him

besides those already gathered.”

By quoting Isaiah 56, Jesus is foreshadowing the very salvation He came to establish and not for the Jews, alone: (7b) “my house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples“. Keep in mind here that He is not talking about Universalism (all people will be saved), but all peoples as in “people groups”. This is in keeping with Revelation 5:9-10,

Worthy are you to take the scroll and to open its seals, for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation, 10 and you have made them a kingdom and priests to our God, and they shall reign on the earth.”

Jesus has just walked into Jerusalem to prepare to be slain in order to establish for Himself a people from every nation on earth, fulfilling God’s promise to Abraham in Genesis 22:16-18 where God said to Abraham following his near sacrifice of Isaac:

By myself I have sworn, declares the Lord, because you have done this and have not withheld your son, your only son, 17 I will surely bless you, and I will surely multiply your offspring as the stars of heaven and as the sand that is on the seashore. And your offspring shall possess the gate of his enemies, 18 and in your offspring shall all the nations of the earth be blessed, because you have obeyed my voice.”

This song in Revelation, sung by the angels, is from the future looking back on the events of this week of Jesus’s passionate mission coming to a head. On the other hand, both the passage from Isaiah and the promise from Genesis are looking forward at this week centuries before they happened! This is the week! This is when it’s all coming to a head and salvation will either be secured for all peoples or it will not. Jesus is focused and He is passionate! It’s clear in His response to those who were abusing the Temple.

We see it also in the second part of Isaiah 56:

9 All you beasts of the field, come to devour—

all you beasts in the forest.

10 His watchmen are blind;

they are all without knowledge;

they are all silent ldogs;

they cannot bark,

dreaming, lying down,

loving to slumber.

11 The dogs have a mighty appetite;

they never have enough.

But they are shepherds who have no understanding;

they have all turned to their own way,

each to his own gain, one and all.

12 “Come,” they say, “let me get wine;

let us fill ourselves with strong drink;

and tomorrow will be like this day,

great beyond measure.”

 Jesus is very compassionate towards the repentant; towards those who know they are in need of a savior and fall on His mercy. He is merciful, providing forgiveness for those who desire to be holy yet fall in sin, calling out to His name in response.

Yet He is jealous of the Holiness of God and responds in fury to those who abuse and willfully mishandle things of God. Look at what He calls them: A den of thieves.

These are people who are not only cheating other people, but more importantly they are cheating God, robbing the Temple of it’s holiness; using and abusing the holy things of God for their own purposes.

Let’s not miss something important here: this was not directed just at those selling, but also to those buying.

“[He] drove out all who sold and bought in the temple…”

Everyone who missed the point, who got caught up in the accepted religious traditions of the day, and abused the holy things of God, fell under the righteous, passionate fury of Christ.

So, are we off the hook now that Christ died and Temple worship has been abolished? Now that WE are the Temple of God? Are there ways in which we still abuse the holy things of God by participating in the Body of Christ in a way that communicates that we’re primarily interested in what we can get like a pack of thieves?

Let’s see if we can identify the characteristics of a modern day Den of Thieves:

– Pursuing God for personal gain (blessings of some sort) at the expense of personal relationship (which is the greatest gain!).

– Personal satisfaction over personal holiness. Pursuing what makes me feel good at all cost.

– Emphasis on taking over giving.

Warning: this might get a little personal

Throughout the Christian church today, one of the most popular non-contact sports to engage in these days is church-shopping. That’s closely aligned with church-hopping, which is what we’ve done after we’ve checked out the amenities of each club.

We move around from church-to-church, going to websites first, checking out their online inventory to see what they can “offer me” before making our way to their “showroom” and ask for samples, like Saturday at Sam’s Club. We’ll ask for a test-drive, jump into the seat and take it around the block a few times, getting a feel for it so we can decide if this one is “for us.” We have to make sure all of our needs are met; all of the boxes are ticked. If not, well, there are plenty of other options around.

Sound familiar?  Have you been guilty of the attitude that leads us to this?  Obviously, there is validity in visiting churches before settling into one, but what is the goal?  Is it finding God’s place of service for you or finding the right mix of programs to keep you and your family happy, satisfied and fulfilled?

Is this the same thing that was going on in the Temple that Jesus was so upset by? I think so. I think it’s the same attitude that says, “church-involvement is all about what it does for me?” How it makes me feel. What they offer, using all of the most up-to-date principles of consumerism.

Of course, those of us who have settled into a church aren’t off the hook either. We can be a member of a church for years with the same basic mindset. We serve when and where it’s convenient; the times and places that it is both convenient and obviously rewarding. If the message on Sunday doesn’t leave me with warm-fuzzies as I walk out the door on Sunday, I wonder if I’ve gotten my money’s worth from the five I dropped in the basket…or maybe we’re relieved because we made the right call keeping the five in our pockets…what a waste of money THAT would have been!

No, I think it’s very easy for us to be among those whom Jesus would run out of the House because we live in such a consumeristic, “ME” world. We’re programed to think about our satisfaction first: “Have it your way” “Get the credit YOU deserve.” “It’s YOUR money and you want it now!”

Maybe we simply need to stop and ask a simple question:

Why am I doing ___________________? You fill in the blank.  Is it to get something out of it? Is it primarily to find personal satisfaction? To feel good about myself?

A House of Prayer

Jesus said, “MY HOUSE shall be called a House of Prayer.” You think that might be the problem? You think maybe we’re more focused on asking what will scratch our itch most effectively rather than what God wants?

Maybe before we set out to find that “perfect” church, we put our must-have list aside and seek the face of God so that He will direct us to the place He wants us to serve…rather than be served. It may be in a place that doesn’t check all the boxes. But then, again, it’s not about us?

Maybe we need to stop limiting ourselves to serving where we THINK we should be or where we FEEL we’ll be most blessed and simply say to God, “Here am I, send me.” Not what scratch’s my itch best, but where is the Spirit of God calling me to serve.

Maybe it’s less about your giftedness or passions for a particular area of service and it’s much more to do with your passion for God’s glory and will to be fulfilled in your life. Maybe it’s about you sacrificing what your want to do in order to pour yourself out in what He calls you to do…and maybe you’ve never even considered that thing because you feel you’re too gifted or talented for that.

Maybe you’re just playing around in a den of thieves.

A House of Prayer speaks of real relationship. Church is not just somewhere to “attend,” but a group of people who, together, walk in relationship with God, serving as His hands, His feet, mouth, etc.

So, now

 rather than pursuing God for personal gain at the expense of personal relationship with Him, I’m pursuing God Himself because HE IS ENOUGH; He is the prize and the blessing, regardless of what I’m doing.

…rather than pursuing personal satisfaction over personal holiness and what makes me feel good at all cost, I’m pursuing personal satisfaction THROUGH personal holiness and what brings God glory at all cost.

…rather than focusing on taking over giving, I’m focusing on giving more than taking, understanding that I’ll receive far more than I can ever give.

Jesus’ passion was and still is the glory of God. That is what led Him to the cross to die in our place so that God’s wrath against sin could be satisfied and He could rightly redeem for Himself a people. Is God’s glory YOUR passion, too?

Are you focused on God’s will for you and where He wants you to be and what He wants you to do and how much He wants you to give? Or is it all about you’re glory and what you can get and how happy you can be and how many toys you can collect?

As we move through Passion Week towards Easter Sunday, I’d like to ask you to consider where your own passions lie? Are you honoring God’s holiness in a House of Prayer, or have you found a comfortable home among a den of thieves?

Have You Met My Friend? His Name is Todd.

todd_field2 Did you get to meet my friend? Some of you did. Others never had the pleasure.  His name is Todd.

Todd is a dear friend of mine with some of the most amazing talent I’ve ever personally experienced.  A singer-songwriter with a gift for identifying the most important things in life and putting them to music, Todd can have you laughing one second and crying the next.

On May 14th of last year, Todd MacDonald moved to his permanent residence to be at home with Jesus.  He had fought a long, hard battle with cancer and finally got to go home.  I’ve never experienced any more grace in one person under trying difficulties than I did in Todd.  He demonstrated for me what happens when God’s kids are called to suffer.

When Todd first called me to tell me about his cancer, I marveled at how he was dealing with it with such strength and courage. When I mentioned to him how I was struggling with the news though he seemed so strong, his words were, “David, it’s all the grace of God and right now and I’m the one who needs it”.  I began to truly understand the nature of God’s provision.

Todd was in the middle of a recording project when he first got sick.  Several of us encouraged him to finish that since the future was so uncertain and his diagnosis seemed so bleak.  He did and it’s an incredible work called Pilgrims Here.

toddmacdonald3What many of us didn’t know was that he had written an additional twelve songs that he completed shortly before his death.  That album was only recently finished and released called World Full of Wonder.

Soon after Todd’s death, his dad sent out a message letting us know of the surprise album. In part, it read:

In May of 2012, before Todd became too sick to continue working on his CD, he was able to complete 12 original vocals with acoustic. In our long stay with him in Nashville, Donna and I continually witnessed a few things about Todd. He was totally aware of what his future held and his faith never wavered. He knew he was just a “Pilgrim Here” and rejoiced in that. He was more concerned about the suffering family and friends would go through after his passing. Typical Todd! He was obsessed with the completion of his CD. So much so, that he would not leave Nashville for his mother’s home until forced to do so. His earthly works were not yet complete; the CD had to be finished!

Recalling my last phone conversation with him, his voice being so weak and frail, I’m amazed at the strength of his voice in these recordings and the depth of his faith and thinking while walking through such a painful and challenging time.  I can only think that it’s an even greater revelation of the grace of God at work in his life.  Especially poignant to me is the amazing message he left for his family and friends, “Don’t Cry For Me.”

I would love for you to share in this incredible work.  If you would, take a few minutes and at least sample some of the songs he has left us.  I know you’ll be encouraged by them.  If you decide to purchase some of the songs or all of the album, the proceeds will be put into a trust to benefit Christian ministries.  As his friend, I will be honored for you both to listen and to take part in sharing his music with your friends.

I believe that God is not done with the music of Todd MacDonald, but instead, has orchestrated this in a way that the ministry He gave Todd will long outlast the years Todd was given on this earth.  I find it a little more than ironic that Todd’s favorite Christian artist is Keith Green, an amazing singer-songwriter whose music continues to reach millions after his own death at an early age (and who I often thought about when facing the prospects of Todd’s death).

So, check it out and if you do, please feel free to leave your thoughts in the comments section below.  Also, if you decide to purchase any of the music, I’d love to know which ones you got. Thanks!

P.S. I miss you, my friend.

A Reasonable Response

In the opening of Isaiah, God says something that, to me, is astounding.  He calls the readers to do something that sounds, well, unreasonable.  He says, “Come now, let us reason together.”  Crazy, right?  No, think about it:  The sovereign Lord of all that is, who created by the power of His Word, who controls all that ever was, who speaks and no one can respond, who, with the power of a thought can build up or destroy, whose ways are higher and thoughts deeper than anything that could compare, calls us to reason with Him.

Be Reasonable

Here’s the backstory: The Father has just laid out a grievance against Judah, that they have come to Him with acts of worship, but filthy hands and hearts.  Rhetorically, He has asked them where they got such an idea.  Do you think I like this?  Has anyone told you to do this and act this way towards me?  Do you think I’m stupid?  Did I say that I like for you to make a mockery of worship? (Yeah, a little bit of paraphrasing there). He then tells them what He wants them to do (which we’ll get to in a minute) then calls for them to be reasonable in their response.  Look at how He lays this out (so easily a baby could just about reason through this):

1. Your sins are disgusting   —->  they’ll be cleansed like snow.

2. If you’re willing and obedient  —->  I’ll bless your socks off.

3. If you refuse and rebel  —->  you’ll lose your socks. (look how strongly the Lord states this:  “you shall be eaten by the sword.” Gives the idea of complete consumption/destruction, no?).

4. I said it. That’s it. No other options. (“…the mouth of the Lord has spoken.”)

Simple, right?  So, the reasonable response is……?  Of course, any reasonable person would do what God says.  OK, so…..do we?  Do you? 

What God Said

Isaiah 1: 6-7 tells us what we’re to do that, in doing so, will lead to the blessings of God:

1.  Wash yourselves; make yourselves clean. Remove the evil of your deeds from before my eyes; cease to do evil. 

2. Learn to do good. (personal experience – it is a process.)

3. Seek justice.

4. Correct oppression; bring justice to the fatherless, plead the widow’s cause.

So this is what God said. Now, what did He mean?

In summary, He tells us to separate ourselves from sin (repent) and do works in keeping with repentance. These were the words of John the Baptist in Matthew 3:8

How does it work?  Simple.  In our context (A.D.), it is coming to terms with the blood sacrifice of Jesus on the cross, who, having made peace with the Father on our behalf (that is, since He was pure and had no need to have His own sins purified, He could, in perfection, stand in and trade His purity for our impurity by dying the death we deserved, bearing the penalty of sin for us, absorbing the wrath of God towards sin so we don’t have to eternally and then rising from the dead so that Death is defeated forever), and repenting. That’s the “Gospel” or Good News in a nutshell.  In my opinion, when you think of what’s at stake and what is gained, “good news” is an understatement!

The repenting part is the application of Christ’s pardon on our lives. If I don’t repent, I don’t get the benefit.  It’s like getting a coupon for a free meal at a restaurant:  Somebody is paying for that meal, though I get it for free. However, I actually need to redeem the coupon in order to receive the meal.  Repentance (that involves not only being sorrowful over sin, but actually turning away from that sin and believing what Christ has done) is that act of faith where I believe “the meal” has been paid for and is mine for the enjoying.

Now the rest is the outflow of what has flowed in.  Christ has given me salvation, called me to Himself, broken me over my sin, applied the ointment of healing through forgiveness as I repent, and sealed my soul for eternity with Him. Now, if that is real, I see the world differently:

  • I see injustice and I want to fix it.
  • I see people hurting and I want to help them.
  • I see people broken and I want to heal them.
  • I see people lonely and I want to comfort them.
  • I see people treated badly and I want to defend them.

Though I may have been blinded to these things before, being absorbed by my selfishness, empty religion, or short-sightedness, now Christ has given my His own eyes. I begin to see the world as He sees it and want to doing something about it. This is a natural process brought about by the indwelling Spirit of God (note: many people do these things who are not followers of Christ…keep reading).  

So, a couple of questions:

1.  What is your attitude towards sin?

2.  What is your relation to Jesus?

3.  What is the condition of your soul?

4.  How do you see the world?

5.  What are you doing about it?

Doing “justice” for the sake of justice may be noble (and many people are doing just that), but if not prompted as a natural result of what Christ has done in your life, it is ultimately meaningless.  You can make a hungry person full for a while but they’ll hunger again.  Empowered by the Holy Spirit of God, however, will change the world (and you) both now and for eternity.

If you’d like to explore this Good News further, shoot me a message.

Where Is Your Faith?

Last night, during Worship Out Loud at The Gathering, I spoke on Luke 8:22-25.  Here are the thoughts on that passage that led to that talk.

Jesus gave His disciples a command: “Get into the boat and let’s go to the other side of the lake.” They obeyed. First step of a good disciple…when you’re told to do something, you do it. These guys were called and they responded. In doing so, when you respond to a call and actually do what you’re told, you are expressing some level of trust in the Master that He knows what He’s doing and will take care of you. Otherwise, you probably wouldn’t get in the boat. On the other hand, most of these guys knew the water. If there was ever a place they felt “in control,” it would be in a boat on the water (particularly Peter, Andrew, James and John who were fishermen). Of course, all that changes when a storm blows in!

Jesus has fallen asleep before the storm arises so it would appear that He is both unaware and, largely, absent the problem. How often does it feel that way? God has called you to do something and then left you alone in the trouble? (Here’s a hint at the Truth in spite of sometimes feeling abandoned: Joshua 1: 5,9 and Hebrews 13:5)

As the boat begins to take on water, desperation sets in as the danger closes in on catastrophic. The disciples do exactly what they should have done…just in the wrong way. They went to Jesus calling out “Master, Master…!” That was right of them to go to Jesus in this difficulty, but it was wrong in their attitude. It was not so much, “Jesus, we need you to deliver us,” it was more along the lines of “Jesus we’re going down!” This was not approaching Him as the one from whom salvation and deliverance is coming but a faithless act of panic.

Jesus responded in spite of their failure. He stood and calmed the storm. Jesus does not require our strength to deliver us to our appointed destination. He is compassionate and brings about His own purpose, but that doesn’t stop Him from using this as a teachable moment, asking them, “Where is your faith?”

So, where is my faith? Do I trust Him to complete in me what He has begun (Phil. 1:6) or when things go bad, do I declare in my thoughts, attitudes or actions that I’m going down! Do I come to Jesus with full certainty that He WILL calm the storm because of His purpose and compassion or am I simply calling out “Oh, God!” as I am certain I’m headed for a hard fall?

The disciples responded, asking each other in fear or awe of His power who this was that even the waves and winds obey His command. When someone like that has called and equipped me, who commands even the elements and they obey, is there really anything that should cause me fear other than the magnitude and extent of His own power?

Where is my faith?

The Depths of the Cross

As we enter into this week before Easter, called Passion Week, I read what I believe is one of, if not the most profound and rich sections of Oswald Chambers’ famous devotional, My Utmost for His Highest.  Living in a world where misguided terrorists regularly commit suicide, killing not only themselves but countless others along with them in a vain attempt to become “martyrs” for Allah, Chambers puts the death of Christ in perspective, standing in stark contrast not only to those mass murderers, but even those who willingly give their lives for others and the cause of Christ:

Never associate the idea of martyrdom with the Cross of Christ. It was the supreme triumph, and it shook the very foundations of hell. There is nothing in time or eternity more absolutely certain and irrefutable than what Jesus Christ accomplished on the Cross— He made it possible for the entire human race to be brought back into a right-standing relationship with God. He made redemption the foundation of human life; that is, He made a way for every person to have fellowship with God.

As you turn your attention towards Easter Sunday, I encourage to read through and think about the depth of meaning in the cross of Christ as is communicated in this Chambers classic, The Collision of God and Sin.

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