The power of All

6 05 2017

One of the cool things about learning original languages is how it impacts reading the Bible.  Hebrews 1:3 is often translated “sustaining all things by his powerful word.”

When I read “all things,” I naturally limit my thinking to…things.  In fact, the ESV translates “all things” as “universe” which for me means the physical world.  The original Greek simply says “all.”  As I was reading the passage and looking at the Greek, it struck me how powerful the idea of “all” can be.

Limiting my thinking to “stuff” or “things” misses the complexity of life.  We live in a physical reality but we also believe there is a spiritual reality and our minds can take us all over the place.

When I see Jesus Christ in his proper place as sustaining “all,” it is truly profound.  We know from Genesis God spoke to create the physical world.  The rest of Hebrews 1:3 shows Jesus sitting down in the spiritual world.  Paul tells us in 2 Corinthians 10:5 to “take every thought captive” putting my wandering mind in it’s place.  “All” shifts the focus from things swirling around in my world to seeing God’s larger world.

“All” puts a lot of things in perspective.

I hope this thought will cause you to also pause and reflect like it did for me.  We serve an amazing God who truly has the big picture and sustains all.





Theology of Rest

22 12 2016

I hope you are getting an opportunity to enjoy the Christmas Season.  As you (hopefully) get some time off work or school, I invite you to consider your theology of rest.

What do I mean?  Theology is simply how we talk about God.  How we talk about God shapes our beliefs and guides how we live our lives.

You probably find yourself in one of two groups.  First, you are mature in your faith and have thought about theology.  Second, you see theology as something for the pastor.  You understand God is important but you really don’t think about theology.  But like I said, it is simply the way we talk about God and how that impacts how we live.  Welcome to theology!

I believe rest is a part of our conversation about God.  Rest has to be more than just distracting ourselves or sleeping in.  Rest that involves God should bring peace.  It should provide rest for our mind, body and most importantly our soul.

When I read the Old Testament, I see a system of rest built into the community.  There was a day of rest each week, festivals that included rest and even a year of rest for the land.  I don’t think it was because God had some vacation bug.  I think God wants something deeper in our relationship.  God also knows we have a tendency to get consumed by life and don’t take the time to enjoy our relationship with God or those around us.  Fast forward to today and I see the Church wearing itself out.  Sunday comes every week and someone has to work in Children’s Ministry.  Those who volunteer often work full time jobs and are trying to balance families and other commitments.  Many people just give up or burn out.

There are some simple principles that can guide us in developing our theology or rest.  A great starting point is a verse found in Hebrews 4:9; “So then, there remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God.”  There is a whole lot packed around that verse that I encourage you to dig into.  I am just giving you a starting point.

True rest begins in our relationship with God.  Do we have peace in that relationship?  When we have peace, everything else falls into place.  From that place of peace, we can look at our relationship with others specifically why we serve.  Do we serve because of the relationships or the need to feel we have accomplished something?  Next, we can look at our time of worship.  Is it about honoring God with God leading or is it about our needs and comfort?  Finally, there is the practical element of resting, in other words having a day off and even having intentional seasons of rest.

Each one of these elements has a lot more to it.  I would encourage you to wrestle with them and consider how you look at rest and your relationship with God.  To help I have put together a quick survey you can take.  Hopefully it will prompt some self-reflection and more importantly an opportunity to engage God in an honest conversation about rest.  Remember Jesus is the Prince of Peace.  It will start with him and ends with true rest for your soul.

Self-reflection on Rest

In my relationship with God I have:

Peace                                           No peace

10—9—8—7—6—5—4—3—2—1—0

Serving is more about:

Relationships                           Programs/Accomplishments

10—9—8—7—6—5—4—3—2—1—0

 

When I worship, I am focused on:

Honoring God                            My needs

10—9—8—7—6—5—4—3—2—1—0

God’s leading                           My comfort

10—9—8—7—6—5—4—3—2—1—0

 

I have a day of rest each week

Every week                                 Never

10—9—8—7—6—5—4—3—2—1—0

 

How long ago was my last true vacation?

__Within the last month

__Within the last 3 months

__6 months

__Year

__What’s a vacation?

Do I build in breaks (sabbaticals) in how I serve?  Yes / No

What does that look like?

As a result of answering these questions what do I need to do?

I wish you all a Merry Christmas!!!





The Tale of Two Crowds

1 04 2015

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times…

That is the opening line of “A Tale of Two Cities” written by Charles Dickens in the 1850s. It was about the two very different worlds of the rich and the poor during the time leading up to the French Revolution and the brutality of those two worlds colliding.

The idea of two different worlds colliding is what it feels like in the week leading up to Easter. Palm Sunday shows one crowd praising Jesus.  Then, just a few short days later another crowd is shouting for his death.

When Matthew tells the story of Palm Sunday, he mentions a prophecy told in Zechariah 9:9. It is a great reminder that God’s plan will never be swayed by the crowd. Events were unfolding according to God’s will to redeem humanity.  (Matthew’s account is found in Matthew 21:1-11)

While God may be unchanging, we are very easily swayed by the crowd. If you ever read social science experiments you will see that under the right conditions we can be made to do almost anything. It is kind of scary. Just last year Facebook got in some hot water when it was revealed that they had been manipulating news feeds to see how it would impact people’s posting habits.

That leads to our second crowd. Mark 15:11-15 tells us that the people who shouted “crucify him” had been stirred up by the religious leaders. Even though Pilate knew they were being manipulated, he went along with it and satisfied the crowd’s insistence to kill Jesus.

It is a stark reminder we live in a fallen world. We actively and passively rebel against God and we can be lead down that path very easily. Of course, we always believe it will not happen to us.

That is what Peter thought. In Mark 14:29-31 he said even if everyone else deserted Jesus he would not. I believe Peter had very good intentions but as we watch the story unfold those good intentions fail. He falls asleep when Jesus needed him to pray (Mark 14:33-40). He got violent (John 18:10) and he denied him when the pressure was on (Mark 14:66-72).

Peter is just like you and me. We often have good intentions but in the pressures of life we find ourselves defeated just as Peter did.

Luke 22:31-32 gives us more insight into what happened with Peter. Jesus warns him that Satan wanted to shift Peter like wheat. Jesus also told him that he had prayed for him. What an amazing picture! Jesus praying for Peter.

On this side of the Easter story the picture becomes even more amazing. Hebrews describes Jesus serving as our mediator (8:6, 9:15, and 12:24).  Paul will remind Timothy of that reality in 1Timothy 2:5. We have access to God in a profound and powerful way. WOW!

This is what we are celebrating on Easter. Jesus did the work to restore our relationship with His Father conquering both sin and death.

My prayer for each of us is that we will pause and reflect on the significance of Easter. It will require facing our part in crucifying him. It will also be an opportunity to celebrate the one who was not swayed by the crowds but instead focused on his Father’s Will and extends an invitation to us for a new life and the privilege of being in His crowd.





Mercy and God’s desire

2 02 2012

Most people will agree that having discipline in your life is good such as exercising regularly or skipping dessert from time to time.  There are also spiritual disciplines that have been practiced throughout the centuries such as fasting or serving that help us grow spiritually.  One of my spiritual disciplines is to continually read through the Bible.  Last year I read through the New Testament and this year I am reading through the Old Testament.  One of the reasons it is called discipline is because you have to power through those times when you don’t have the desire to do it.  That is me when I get to the second half of Exodus.  It goes into incredible detail about the Tabernacle which was the place of worship the Israelites were told to build before entering the Promise Land.  I grit my teeth and power through how wide something is suppose to be and what type of material is suppose to be used.  However, this time God honored my discipline with some insight.

In Exodus 25:17 one of the ways to translate the Hebrew word used to describe the lid for the Ark of the Covenant is “the mercy seat.”  Those who are not familiar with the Tabernacle, the Ark of the Covenant was placed in the holiest place.  Please don’t miss that in the very first place of worship God directed to be built was the picture of mercy in the most sacred area.

When I thought about it, it made perfect sense. The author of Hebrews said in 4:16, “Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.” We know as we continue to read Hebrews the Tabernacle was a picture of what was happening in Heaven (Hebrews 8 and 9). God’s desire has always been to give mercy.

We like mercy for ourselves but we have to be honest; we are not too excited about mercy for other people. One of my favorite passages capturing this comes from the book of Jonah. Jonah had been sent to tell the people of Nineveh God was about to execute judgment on their city because of their sins. The people’s response was remorse and they repented. God’s response; mercy. Jonah’s response; pouting.

Jonah 4:1-3 says “But Jonah was greatly displeased and became angry.  He prayed to the LORD, ‘O LORD, is this not what I said when I was still at home? That is why I was so quick to flee to Tarshish.  I knew that you are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abounding in love, a God who relents from sending calamity.  Now, O LORD, take away my life, for it is better for me to die than to live.’”

Hmmm, does it strike anyone else as funny to think someone would be mad at God for being gracious, compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in love?  However, that could easily be me when someone receives grace and mercy when I believe they deserve to be punished.  I am really glad I am not God.

Is God holy?  Yes.  Does God desire to give mercy?  Yes.  The Tabernacle acknowledged these two aspects of God.  God is holy and in the midst of that holiness is mercy.  Mercy invites us to a relationship with God.  God wants us to come close and have confidence as we approach him.

How do we apply this?  First, we have to look at our own relationship with God.  If you view God as distant and just waiting to pounce when you make a mistake, I hope you will reevaluate your view.  I hope you can grasp that God’s desire is to give mercy.  This does not mean we do whatever we want.  That would be disregarding his holiness.  It means God starts with the desire to give grace and mercy.  There is more depth to this and I would recommend talking with someone you respect who is mature in their faith to help explore this.  Second, we need to really look at how we are treating the people around us.  Is our desire to give mercy?  Is our hope that we can extend grace and be compassionate?  If we can make it our desire, then we will be in step with God.  Someone else can pout about how we are slow to get angry and we seem to be gracious and compassionate to the people around us.  Yeah, I would find it funny if people were complaining about that.

PS.  This devotional came as a result of practicing a spiritual discipline in my life.  I would encourage you to look at practicing spiritual disciplines in your life.  If that is a new concept for you, talk with someone you respect and let them help you.





Good Model Great Reminder

1 12 2011

I like looking at models. They help you get a better understanding of whatever object they represent. Then when you see the real thing, you have a better appreciation of it. One of the classic tasks engineering students have to do is build a model of a bridge. It is small but they get to see the basic principles at work. Their small bridge is tested. If they missed something the only thing damaged is pride and some Popsicle sticks. If they got it right they can have a better understand of the bridge they will walk on when they go back to their dorm room.

The author of Hebrews tells us that the Old Testament tabernacle was a model of something much larger. As I was looking at one of the passages from Hebrews an insight leaped out to me that I wanted to pass along. I want us to look at the sacrificial system in the Old Testament and see if we can pull some larger truths out of that model.

If you study the sacrificial system, there were three principles that stood out to me.

1. The expectation was you only took the best to be your offering. It would be the first born from your flocks. It could not have any defects at all. It would be the first fruits from whatever you harvested. In other words, it would be costly.

2. This was not a private affair. You had to go to the temple. The priest had to be involved. You could not just go into your backyard and have a private ceremony. Your sacrifice would happen in the community.

3. The focus was on both the holiness of God and the holiness of the people. When you sinned against another person, you had to pay restitution but you also had to sacrifice to God because ultimately you sinned against God. It was a reminder your sin damaged your relationships with both God and others.

This system would have created a longing for God’s mercy. It would have created a hunger for an ultimate sacrifice that would take away sin once and for all.

The amazing thing was to reflect and see there is very practical application of the sacrificial system on our understanding of sin.

1. Sin is costly. It takes the best from us. When I am caught up in sin, I have to take my focus off good things. I become distracted. I become ineffective. My best energy is not available to encourage and support the people around me. I am lost in my own world. I don’t care about the needs of my wife; I only care about my own needs. I miss opportunities to connect with my kids because I am distracted. Friends around me who need help are left to face their issues alone because I have my own issues to deal with. Sin costs us.

2. Sin is a community affair. When I sin, it doesn’t just impact me. If I look at pornography all by myself even if I was single, there is still an impact. Women become objects instead of human. My desires and fantasies cloud my ability to honor anyone I am with. Private sins seep out and poison my relationships. Anger, bitterness, deceitfulness all become the way I manage my life. I start to assume the worst of the people around me because they must secretly be doing the same thing I am doing. Sin is never isolated. It hurts everyone.

3. Sin offends God. When I lose my temper and take it out on someone, I not only hurt that person. I hurt God. God is the one who manages anger. God leads me in way to properly express anger. When I am out of control, I am telling God he is an idiot and has no idea how to deal with the situation I am in. I sin against God. I not only need to apologize to the person, I need to seek God’s forgiveness as well.

Sin creates a longing for God’s mercy. It creates a hunger for an ultimate sacrifice that would take away sin once and for all.

The old covenant with the sacrificial system helped me understand my sin.

The new covenant established by Jesus Christ deals with my sin.

This is what the author of Hebrews was getting at. In chapter 10 he tells us:

“But those sacrifices are an annual reminder of sins, because it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins.” (Verses 3 and 4)

“Then he said, ‘Here I am, I have come to do your will.’ He sets aside the first to establish the second. And by that will, we have been made holy through the sacrifice of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.” (Verses 9 and 10)

We can actually be holy.

Now my best really can be given to God.

Now I can look for opportunities to serve the people around me and really make a difference.

Now I can be in right relationship with God and you.

That longing for God’s mercy is fulfilled. That hunger for a sacrifice that can truly cover my sin is met.

It is an incredibly powerful truth. My life can be transformed into something amazing. This last Sunday we lit the first candle of Advent, it was the candle of hope. Because of this truth we can have hope.

Where are you at?

Are you trapped by some issue that is stopping you from being who you want to be? Are you seeing a sin in your life that is costing you and hurting both you and the people around you? Are you feeling convicted because you see that you have also sinned against God? I have some great news. Acknowledge the sacrifice Jesus made for you and talk with someone you trust about what that means.

If you were like me and humbled by the reminder of what Jesus has done for us and the hope we have, take some time to say thank you. I hope it continues to build your excitement as we prepare to celebrate what the Christmas season is truly about.

God bless,

Chaps