Thursday, February 19, 2015
A Repeat: "The Absence of God, He is Here!"
CSB Psalm 139:1-12 For the choir director. A Davidic psalm. "LORD, You have searched me and known me. You know when I sit down and when I stand up; You understand my thoughts from far away. You observe my travels and my rest; You are aware of all my ways. Before a word is on my tongue, You know all about it, LORD. You have encircled me; You have placed Your hand on me. This extraordinary knowledge is beyond me. It is lofty; I am unable to reach it. Where can I go to escape Your Spirit? Where can I flee from Your presence? If I go up to heaven, You are there; if I make my bed in Sheol, You are there. If I live at the eastern horizon or settle at the western limits, even there Your hand will lead me; Your right hand will hold on to me. If I say, 'Surely the darkness will hide me, and the light around me will become night'-- even the darkness is not dark to You. The night shines like the day; darkness and light are alike to You."
Our fear of God’s omnipresence causes us to turn off a switch in our minds and hearts that helps us to ignore this fascinating (and sometimes frightening) reality. We pretend he isn’t there. We even ignore his obvious appearances. We ignore the God of all, then we say that we didn’t know he was there.“It is difficult to undo our own damage, and to recall to our presence that which we have asked to leave. It is hard to desecrate a grove and change your mind. The very holy mountains are keeping mum. We doused the burning bush and cannot rekindle it; we are lighting matches in vain under every green tree.“What have we been doing all these centuries but trying to call God back to the mountain, or, failing that, raise a peep out of anything that isn’t us? What is the difference between a cathedral and a physics lab? Are they not both saying: ‘Hello?’ We spy on whales and on interstellar radio objects; we starve ourselves and pray till we’re blue.” From Teaching a Stone to Talk by Annie Dillard
“. . . If God is present at every point in space, if we cannot go where he is not, cannot even conceive of a place where he is not, why then has not that Presence become the one universally celebrated fact of the world? The patriarch Jacob, ‘in waste howling wilderness,’ gave the answer to that question. He saw a vision of God and cried out in wonder. ‘Surely the Lord is in this place; and I knew it not.’ Jacob had never been for one small division of a moment outside of the circle of that all-pervading Presence. But he knew it not. That was his trouble, and it is ours. People do not know if God is here. What a difference it would make if they knew.” From The Pursuit of God by A. W. Tozer
Friday, January 30, 2015
Sad Anniversary, I hope we never forget--The Holocaust
"They are not distinguished from other men by any unusual skill in finding truth nor any virginal ardour to pursue her. Indeed, it would be strange if they were: a perservering devotion to truth, a nice of intellectual honour, cannot be long maintained without the aid of sentiment . . . It is not excess of thought but defect of fertile and generous emotion that marks them out. Their heads are no bigger than the ordinary: it is the atrophy of the chest beneath that makes them seem so." (C. S. Lewis, The Abolition of Man, New York, NY: HarperCollins Publishers, 2001, p. 25).
These oppressors, these people were not less human than the rest of us, they just acted as people without that emotion that makes our "better angels" show up instead of the "brutes" in each of us. They became the "elites" who judged other races in humanity as mere brutish nature to be studied. They were Social Darwinists who wanted to keep their race pure, and who ultimately participated in that which Lewis deems "the abolition of man." They were people like us. In many ways we hate to admit, they were us. As one survivor records the event of his liberation:
"The full record of the pseudo-medical experimentations came to light. Prisoners had been used as laboratory animals, without the humane restrictions placed on vivisection. Hannah Arendt suggested that `the camp was itself a vast laboratory in which the Nazis proved that there is no limit to human depravity.' For it was remembered that these experiments were not planned or conducted by identifiable psychopaths. They were performed or supervised by professional scientists, trained in what had been once considered peerless universities and medical schools. Reverend Franklin Littell called them `technically competent barbarians.' Indeed the procedures had the full approval and cooperation of Berlin's Institute of Hygiene." (Sachar, Abram L. The Redemption of the Unwanted. New York: St. Martin's/Marek, 1983, pp. 8-10)
Let us remember with sadness the number of innocents lost and the reality of our own potentially brutish nature. Let us not forget that without grace, we are all irredeemably lost. Could Dachau or Auschwitz (or the others) happen again? Only if humans let it, only if we deny once again our own humanity and treat our fellow humans as mere animals. Yes, it can happen again. Let's pray that it doesn't. Let's make sure it doesn't.
This topic is heavy and sad. I don't apologize for that, but I do want to put the weight down now. Thanks for reading.
Tuesday, December 23, 2014
No Reputation: The "Gift" of Christmas
“Christ Jesus . . . made himself nothing.“He made himself nothing, he emptied himself—-the great kenosis. He made himself no reputation, no image.“I can recall my father shaking his head and repeating over and over to himself, ‘If only I knew what this meant. There is something powerful here. If I only understood it.’ Maybe that is why this Scripture has glued itself to my mind and equally disturbs me. Reputation is so important to me. I want to be seen with the right people, remembered in the right light, advertised with my name spelled right, live in the right neighborhood, drive the right kind of car, wear the right kind of clothing. But Jesus made himself of no reputation.”
Friday, December 12, 2014
My Annual Christmas Post--the Mystery of Christmas
Since I started this blog about 10 years ago, I have posted a piece I wrote around Christmas 2003. It kind of sums up for me what is the "Mystery of Christmas" as I meditated on the Incarnation and its implications for humanity (and perhaps for God as well!). The very idea of God becoming "one of us among us" (Immanuel) still fascinates and overwhelms me. God, the creator of all things, humbled himself, became of no reputation, and entered his own creation so as to renew and to redeem us (and, ultimately, to do these things for all of creation as well). God, the Creator of all things, became flesh so that he might be the perfect sacrifice for our sins. The God who never knew death would die for us. The God who never knew sin would become sin for us. What amazing love! Thanks be to God for his inexpressible gift! As you celebrate the first advent of our Lord Jesus Christ, I hope you enjoy this rerun. Feel free to make comments if you'd like.
A little over 2000 years ago, a tiny child was born in some pretty bleak conditions. Oh, he wasn’t the only one born in a bad state. In fact, in some ways, he was one of the lucky ones. He and his mother actually survived childbirth and thrived. Still, this story is unique and amazing on several levels.
First, this child would literally change the way time is reckoned in the world. His life and abilities would so impress generations of others that a brand new movement would be created, one that would radically change the very face of the earth (sometimes for good, sometimes not). His name would become recognized among the names of the greatest of humans, yet he never forgot his humble beginnings or lost a sense of who he was.
The second thing about this child is tied to the first in that this baby, this helpless lad full of spittle and mush, was born as the very Son of God. When Mary held his little head to her breast, he drank human milk. Yet, he was (and is) the God of the universe. Can you picture this simply ridiculous yet somehow poetic scene? God, who calls the stars by name, pressed to the human breast for sustenance. Humble yet awesome, is how some folks would no doubt recall this child.
A little over 2000 years ago, God proposed that the only remedy for the human condition of sin would be if he humbled himself, stepped out of eternity and into human flesh, and suckled at Mary’s breast in preparation for the greatest, most impressive conversion of all. God, in Mary’s arms, toddling around Joseph’s home, learning to talk, learning to walk, tasting and touching things with human hands! As the Psalmist says in Psalm 139, “Such knowledge is too wonderful for us, we cannot contain it!”
God knew that the only way to redeem us was if he did it himself. Haven’t you ever had that thought? You know, the one where you say, “If I want something done right, I’ll just have to do it myself?” Imagine God having that thought about bringing us to proper relationship with him. Imagine again that the only way he knew he could do that is if he came to earth as a baby. Think of it—-how vulnerable the almighty God was at that moment, how paradoxical that the God of all creation had to learn to walk! And why did he put himself in this situation? Out of his divine sense of justice and righteousness, out of his inexpressible love for each of us he acted in this manner.
God humbled himself. In a sense, he took on our insanity so that we may be sane. He became flesh so that we might walk in his Spirit. He became sin that we might be righteous. He became poor so that we might be rich. He who had the reputation of Creator became a humble servant with no reputation. He became a toddling, dribbling, helpless babe so that we could become mature humans in the image of the almighty Son of God. What wondrous love! What humility and service! How then can anything he asks of us be too difficult?
Lord, in this Christmas season, remind us of your sacrifice and love so that we might be a light shining in darkness to others. Teach us to live a life of humble service like your Son did on our behalf so many years ago. As we celebrate the babe in the manger, may the glory he revealed in his life shine through us towards others that they may know God. May the grace of God and the peace of Christ rule in our families and our lives.
Thanks for reading!
Merry Christmas! May you know the blessings of the God who humbled himself and served!
Wednesday, November 12, 2014
Some thoughts today . . . Community, Truth, Humility.
We speak of truth and lovely things, but transparency and honesty can sometimes be messy. It is fine, though, God doesn't mind messy.
If Jesus is truth, then why are we so quick to lie to each other as Christians? Are we really that concerned with how we "look" to others?
Too often I compare myself to others whose situation is no better--without Christ, they are also nothing. Jesus is the Model to imitate.
Church should be community, and community is sometimes messy. Unity only comes when we humble ourselves and serve others.
Unity is not uniformity. My brother/sister may look quite different, but our unity is based on what Jesus has done and the example he set.
Come to grips then with this truth--you are not God, but you need God. The only way God fills your need is by Jesus, his Incarnate Word.
If you find a substitute to fill your void, you will always have "less-than-God." This idol will always fail. It cannot do anything less.
God became one of us to reach us. He served humbly, what more can he ask of us? To love one another calls for humble service. It is enough.
Thanks for reading!
Thursday, October 09, 2014
Responsible Christian Freedom: August 10 Sermon
About a month ago I was asked to preach on 1 Corinthians 10 at my church, Gospel Community Church. Our pastor, Andrew, has been doing a series on 1 Corinthians called "Healthy Christian, Healthy Church." The link above will take you to the audio for this sermon (while there you can search for the rest of the series if you'd like). Below are my notes for the sermon. I hope they are a blessing to you!
1 Corinthians 10:23-11:1
Coming off the heels of a discussion concerning the Lord’s Supper/Communion in contrast to the ritual eating of meat sacrificed to idols in the pagan temples, Paul uses the idea of “meat sacrificed to idols” to round out his discussion of Christian freedom. Just as eating in a pagan temple involves a “communion” or “agreement” with demons, so eating the Lord’s Supper (bread and wine) involves a “communion” or “agreement” with the crucifixion and resurrection of our Lord. In other words, there is a corporate and public aspect of faith as well as some communal implications of behavior in a public setting. Now, in the last section of ch. 10, Paul returns to the idea of being careful about how our behavior affects others. He does this in the context of a private meal or in the context of table fellowship at home. ()
So, Paul reminds us that "With great freedom comes great responsibility!" We cannot expect to live the life of Christian freedom if we continue to live selfishly. When we place confidence in self, we are bound to fall. When we place confidence in Christ, we have a chance to stand and be free. Selfishness and arrogance lead to death, humility and service lead to life. .
Principle 2 (10:25-27): Accept others as they are, and let God make the change. In this section Paul essentially says that if you find yourself in a social setting with unbelievers, eat and enjoy whatever they put before you. No interrogation is needed, just eat what they offer and thank God for the good food. The principle is this: When dealing with unbelievers, don’t try to fix them. Don’t put up walls to the relationship, but build a relational bridge that allows the opportunity to tell them the gospel. Live the love of Christ and it will be easier to share it (cf. 2 Cor 5—love invigorates us—it gives life and the power to love others, it makes us representatives or ambassadors for God). .
Remember, "With great freedom comes great responsibility." We cannot expect to draw non-Christians to God if we don’t know any. We must be relational, we must serve them as Christ served us. Paul calls us to be free in seeking to share the grace of God with those who do not know him yet.
Principle 3 (10:28-30): We are free, but we should NOT be selfish ( ). Be careful that your liberty doesn’t become a trap or an offense. Be discerning in your relationships with others. Remember, it may be permissible, but that doesn’t mean it is helpful or edifying. After telling the Corinthians that they can eat whatever an unbeliever places before them (“Everything is permissible”), Paul now offers an exception (“But not everything is helpful or builds up”). The context here may refer to both believers and unbelievers, but the point is the same. Accept people as they are without interrogation. If they offer information, work with it and act with discretion (“A healthy Christian is a cautious Christian”).
If someone invites you for a meal, don’t ask where the meat came from. If they tell you, “This meat is dedicated to a god other than Jesus,” then politely refuse to eat it. If they volunteer this information, then there is an issue. Be careful, don’t let your liberty become a trap or become an offense. Christian freedom requires us to make wise choices based on the situation in which we find ourselves or based on the needs of those around us. As stated earlier, we must look out for the good of others. Avoid living carelessly or flaunting your liberty (e.g., alcohol) without regards for how it may affect others. You can do the right thing and still cause hurt. Being “right” is not the issue, being “righteous” is. To be “righteous” means to act like Jesus.
"With great freedom comes great responsibility!" If we are made free in Christ then we have much more to consider than our personal happiness, fulfillment, or freedom. Just because we have a right to do something that does not mean that we should do it. Sometimes the greatest freedom is expressed by not exercising it (cf. Phil 2:5-11). We are free to serve, but to serve requires us to put our personal “freedoms” or “expectations” aside so as to meet the needs of others. To lay down your life for a friend is a good thing, to be willing to do it for an enemy is a “God” thing (Ephesians 4). .
Principle 4 (10:31-11:1): .
What does it mean to do all things for God’s “glory”? “Glory” in the Bible has beauty and danger. God's glory can bless you, but it can also wreck your life. “Glory” is honor.
In creation, Adam and Eve were clothed with God’s glory (Psalm 2), but when they sinned they exchanged that glory for leaves and ultimately for animal skins (cf. Romans 1). Remember Moses and the burning bush, cleft of the rock, and his experience “glory”? The Jews (freshly rescued from Egypt) saw that glory on Mt. Sinai when God gave Moses the Law. It was frightening, weighty, overwhelming. They didn’t want to get too close.
Oswald Chambers: "We have a tendency to look for wonder in our experience, and we mistake heroic actions for real heroes. It's one thing to go through a crisis grandly, yet quite another to go through every day glorifying God when there is no witness, no limelight, and no one paying even the remotest attention to us. . . . The true test of a saint's life is not success but faithfulness on the human level of life. We tend to set up success in Christian work as our purpose, but our purpose should be to display the glory of God in human life, to live a life 'hidden with Christ in God' in our everyday human conditions (Colossians 3:3). Our human relationships are the very conditions in which the ideal life of God should be exhibited. . . . Beware of posing as a profound person--God became a baby."
When Solomon built a temple for God, God's glory showed up and was so heavy that the people couldn’t even move to worship. They were overwhelmed. In Ezekiel, this “glory” of God is seen leaving the temple. In John’s Gospel, refers to an event when Gentiles came looking for Jesus. Jesus says, “Now is the hour for the Son of Man to be glorified.” He then predicts his own death and resurrection and the fruit of those events. He also encourages his followers to participate in God’s glory by laying down their lives to be like him.
Jesus’ humility is God’s greatest glory (Phil 2). If we want to glorify God in all we do, then we must learn to walk in humility as Christ walked in humility. If we intend to bring people to salvation, we cannot get them there by pride or arrogance. We will always be judged by others, so we ought to avoid unnecessary offenses that would cause them to judge us unfavorably. The offense of the cross is enough, we shouldn’t compound it by having bad breath. Col 3:17 “And whatever you do, in word or in deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him.”
“Become un-spectacular/give no offense/do not cause anyone to stumble” (v.32) The word picture is of someone trying to get a look at God, but they can’t see God because you keep stepping in front of their line of sight so that it is blocked by your presence. Sometimes we need to get out of the way. The path of humility is the path of life. The love of Christ obligates us (and ought to compel us) to be humble servants to bring God’s life to others (2 Cor 5). Paul says that his goal is to see people “saved,” or to see them brought into a proper relationship with God through Jesus. He further invites them to imitate his life as he imitates Jesus’ life.
Can we say the same thing as Paul? Are we living so that others can know God through us? Would we want others to imitate us? Again, Paul reminds us that in order to do this we must put the needs of others first, and there is no greater need than salvation. "With great freedom comes great responsibility!" .
. Notice the people who seem overwhelmed, angry, distant, sad, or those who look wounded. You can’t serve them if you can’t see them. Pay attention. Listen. Love. Serve.
. Be considerate. Put others before yourself. Hold the door for someone. Help someone unload their car. Let someone go ahead of you in line. Be considerate of the person behind you in a line, or the person waiting for your parking space, or the person walking behind you. Treat those who wait on your table with respect, tip them well. Listen carefully to the person who is sharing their story. Weep with those who weep, rejoice with those who rejoice. Maybe there is an act of kindness you’ve been putting off. Just do it. Serve those who simply cannot pay you back! Be willing to be inconvenienced so that someone else can be served!
. Develop the habit of asking, “How might this decision or action have an impact on others?”
. Don’t be shy. Your story of what God has done matters. God saved you, and he may use your story to bring life to someone else. Be bold!
Live free, serve others, be imitators of Christ.
Live your Christian freedom responsibly!
Thanks for reading!