Wednesday, March 31, 2010

He's the Same!

Last week I was in a class and there was some scripture that was presented. One was from the the Koran and the other was from the Old Testament of the Bible. The question was presented as to whether they were scripture from the same God. The argument was that the verse from the Koran was very similar in feeling as many Old Testament Bible verses. The verse from the Koran spoke of the wrath of God being poured out and read something like Jeremiah 25:31 which says,

“His cry of judgment will reach the ends of the earth, for the Lord will bring his case against all the nations. He will judge all the people of the earth, slaughtering the wicked with the sword. I, the Lord, have spoken!”

The Old Testament verse is unimportant, except that it dealt with God's love. The comment was made about the belief that the Old Testament is the portrayal of God's wrath, anger and justice and the New Testament is the portrayal of God's love and mercy. First let me put out there that the God of the Bible and the God of any other religion are not the same. Without accepting Jesus Christ as God, it cannot be God. With that said, I get so frustrated with the theory that the Old Testament holds one half God's character and the New Testament hold the other half. If you read the Bible, I mean really seek God in it, you cannot miss the fact that God is the same from Genesis to Revelation.

Yes the Old Testament is a reflection of God's wrath, justice and anger, but it is also riddled with God's true desire to be Israel's God and to pour out His love and mercy on them. So many times throughout the OT God pleads with His people to return to Him, so many times He promises to restore them, so many times He gives them the chance to turn from their evil ways. So many times He says stuff like “I - yes, I alone - will blot out your sins for my own sake and will never think of them again.” Isaiah 43:25 or “And you will live in Israel, the land I gave your ancestors long ago. You will be my people, and I will be your God.” Ezekiel 36:28. These are undoubtedly signs of God's love and mercy.

On the other side of that, the NT is a reflection of God's love and mercy, but the NT also holds the greatest display of God's wrath and justice. Read about the crucifixion in any of the four Gospels (Matt 27:34-44, Mark 15:21-32, Luke 23:26-43 or John 19:16b-27), and you'll see God's wrath poured out. But you'll notice that His wrath was not poured out on His people. Instead it was poured out on His son, Jesus Christ. Romans 3:24-26 says,

Yet God, with undeserved kindness, declares that we are righteous. He did this through Christ Jesus when he freed us from the penalty for our sins. For God presented Jesus as the sacrifice for sin. People are made right with God when they believe that Jesus sacrificed his life, shedding his blood. This sacrifice shows that God was being fair when he held back and did not punish those who sinned in times past, for he was looking ahead and including them in what he would do in this present time. God did this to demonstrate his righteousness, for he himself is fair and just, and he declares sinners to be right in his sight when they believe in Jesus.

Here's the bottom line...the OT and NT are not two halves of the same God. God is unchanging throughout the Bible. He continually displays a desire to love and restore us to Him, and yes some times that means He disciplined His people (sometimes pretty harshly), and He still does today. But the difference is this, He saved up His greatest outpouring of wrath and justice for that moment when His son hung on that cross, beaten, bruised and broken. He withheld the full force of His wrath from us, knowing we were not capable of baring it and instead poured it out on the most precious part of Himself. And He did it for no other reason than because He loves us. That's it...He Love Us!

Knowing He's the Same,

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

You Feed Them!

This morning during my devotional time I was reading in Luke and noticed something I hadn’t gotten before.  I was specifically reading the story about Jesus feeding the 5000, found in Luke 9:10-17.  As I read I came to verse 12 which says,

Late in the afternoon the twelve disciples came to him and said, “Send the crowds away to the nearby villages and farms, so they can find food and lodging for the night. There is nothing to eat here in this remote place.”

Then I read Jesus’ response in verse 13.  It smacked me right in the face.  Verse 13 reads: But Jesus said, You feed them. 

Most of us know the rest of the story involves the disciples collecting a few fish and loaves of bread, in which Christ blesses them and everyone was able to eat their fill, with a lot left over.  That part is amazing and I’ll address that in a minute, but today (for me) the main point of the story was not (as it has been in the past) that Jesus can do a lot with a little.  Or that even a little faith can be multiplied, or that Christ can do the miraculous.  All those are true and I assume others have learned so many other things from that story, but today the message in this story lies in three words found in verse 13 – YOU FEED THEM.

After reading those words I thought back to all the times that I (or someone I’ve seen or known) have come across or had a need brought to me and my first instinct was to send them away to somewhere or someone that could help them.  I so easily identify with the 12 that said “send the crowds away.”  Unfortunately, I think this is the church's response more often than not and that's not ok.

I’m not saying that it is the churches responsibility to actually feed EVERYONE who is hungry (although we should be trying to make a substantial dent in the number of people that are), but I am saying that it is our responsibility to “feed” those that are hungry for Christ (regardless of whether they know they are or not).  What God spoke into my heart today is that those 5000 were out in a "remote place" because they knew that Jesus was there.  They may not have understood why at the time (some may have), but they knew that they needed to be in His presence no matter what, even if it meant not having any food with them.

Instead of sending them away, we should be ushering them to His feet.  When we do that Christ will not leave it to us to figure out how to feed them.  He will provide the sustenance they need, just as He did with His disciples on that day.  It is our job to know and understand where the provision comes from, then to lead people to Him, not send them from Him.  We have to KNOW that Christ is our provider and through our seeking Him out, He will ensure we are fully equipped to handle feeding our 5000.  We also need to understand that He doesn't simply provide "just enough".  He overflows our baskets and expects us to serve beyond the 5000 in front of us.

I'll Feed Them,

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Love Him, Love Him, Love Him

Just want to preface this by saying this will be a blog of quotes, for the simple reason that they all fit together so beautifully.

I just recently read Gene Edwards' book, The Divine Romance. First let me say...AMAZING book. This book will challenge everything you think you know about how and how much God loves you and will turn on it's ear the feeble understanding you have about what it means to love God back.

The book is written as a play and is told mainly from the view point of the angels. One of the most impacting moments in the book, for me anyway, is after God meets with Moses on Mt. Sinai and tell him that He will be Israel's God and they will be His people. He tell Moses to tell His people that the ONLY thing He requires of them is that they love Him. Later God walks through the Israelite camp and overhears people talking about how they will give their money and obedience to God, and how the will worship, praise and serve Him. God let's out a groan of sorrow and says,

“I did not require of you
your wealth nor coins of gold.
What need have I of these?
I did not ask of you
that you serve me.
Do I, the Mighty One,
need to be waited upon?
Neither did I ask you
your worship nor your prayers
nor even your obedience.”

“I have asked but this of you,
that you love me...
love me...
love me...”

So that was the beginning of my wrecking. I began to ask how and started trying to figure out God's love and what that exchange should look like. I knew God wanted our love, but to consider that fact that everything else is unimportant, even prayer, was crazy to me.

After The Divine Romance, I read a book by Brennan Manning called The Furious Longing of God. I bought them at the same time and little did I know it would be a great follow up book. It gives a very real and applicable approach to what God's love looks like in our life and how to reflect His love. (Let me throw a disclaimer out...I don't depend on Christian books for my understanding of the things of God, I read my Bible everyday and that is my sole source of truth.)

With that said, Manning, in speaking of God's love, warns us “to stay alert and aware, especially of God smiling at our silliness.”

Just prior to that he quotes, Ephesians 3:17-19 which says,

“Then Christ will make his home in your hearts as you trust in him. Your roots will grow down into God’s love and keep you strong. And may you have the power to understand, as all God’s people should, how wide, how long, how high, and how deep his love is. May you experience the love of Christ, though it is too great to understand fully. Then you will be made complete with all the fullness of life and power that comes from God.” This confused me, because if we “have the power to fully understand” then how is it “too great to understand”?

Here's what I think it is, one of the things that God thinks is silly and smiles at us about is our attempts to not only beautify His love with our words, but also our attempts to make it understandable. The truth is, nothing we can say can convey the beauty or depth of God's love. What it ends up being is that we are but silly little children running around trying to learn the unlearnable things of God. God simply wants us to be still and know His love, but not in the intellectual/cognitive sense, but know it in a way that we experience it. Edwards says that while God loves us continually, He wants us to love Him with, abandoned, innocent, unbridled passion.”

The bottom line is that God wants nothing more than our love. The other stuff flows out of that love. Our worship, obedience, prayer, tithe should all be byproducts of our intense love for Him, not our obligation to Him. Just as Eve was built out of Adam's side to be his counterpart and reflect his love back to him, we, as The Church, are built out of God's side and made to be His counterpart and reflect his love back to Him. So how do we do it? First through spending time with Him. Consumption of His word (that 66 book love letter He wrote YOU called the Bible) and prayer are how you spend time with Him. The other is through loving others. The great commandment...Love you God, with all you heart, soul, mind and strength and love you neighbor as yourself. That means spending time with and loving other believers in gospel community. Jesus did say, “So now I am giving you a new commandment: Love each other. Just as I have loved you, you should love each other. Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples.” ~ John 13:34-35

I love Him,

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Perpetually Broken

I’ve had this post saved in draft since September last year, but I never really felt right about posting it. A couple days ago it came back around when I got the opportunity to talk to one of my discipleship partners about it. So, I started feeling like it was time to finish and post it, then we talked about it in Life Group last night and that confirmed it. So, here it is…

Over the last year and a half I’ve really began to understand just how important brokenness is. Christ's is a ministry of suffering, there is no way around that. If we choose to share in Christ's glory, Romans 8:17 says we must, not should, share in His [Christ's] suffering. Brokenness doesn't necessarily involve suffering as we understand it. But brokenness is the key to so much in God's Kingdom. God desires us to come to Him with a broken spirit. Psalm 51:17 says, “The sacrifice you desire is a broken spirit. You will not reject a broken and repentant heart, O God.” I've come to understand, through experience, that brokenness is where God teaches you. I've said it in a blog before, while God is present both on the mountain and in the valley, His purpose is in the valley (this is a spin off of something that my friend Thomas – his blog HERE – and I have talked about in the past). God uses the valleys, or the wilderness, to purify us, to teach us, to grow us and move us toward the promise He holds for us. While brokenness is vital to growing in Christ and becoming the person that God desires us to be, it's importance isn't the point of this post.

As I walked in and out of my various seasons of brokenness, I began to realize that God seemed to talk to me and direct my steps more as I was walking through the valleys. Not that He didn't when things were good, but there was, what seemed like, continuous interaction throughout the actual suffering. Once the season of brokenness lifted, there seemed to be a decrease in the amount of communication between God and I. I now realize that God became more silent to allow me to implement the stuff He had taught me. In doing so I was able to realize His purpose in that suffering and it helped me grow in faith and holiness. However, at that time I began to actually long for the days of suffering because I desired to hear from God. I began to look for opportunities that could be considered brokenness or suffering. Many times I would look at a circumstance that was less than desirable and call it suffering and brokenness. I was trying to live this life of brokenness that was fully based on my outside circumstance. In essence I believed that if I remained perpetually broken, then my connection to God would be more constant. I was fabricating this false brokenness hoping that it was the kind of brokenness God wanted, but in reality I spent more time trying to be “broken” than actually trying to seek Him more and use what He had taught me though that season.

God doesn't require the type of suffering or brokenness that comes from outside circumstances. Of course as Psalm 119:71 points out, that suffering is good for us and He does use it to teach us, lead us and even discipline us, but I don't know that He is looking for circumstances to define the brokenness that He desires. He desires our hearts to break for the things that break His, He desires our spirits to constantly long for more of Him. David is a beautiful example of what brokenness before God should look like. Even though he was a king and could have, and did, literally anything he desired, his spirit was always in agony because he desired to be closer to God, to know Him more. Through the Psalms David praises God, but he is constantly tormented by the thought of God abandoning him. He wanted God that bad and the thought of losing Him caused David to live in this constant state of suffering and brokenness.

Early Christian monks used to fabricate suffering in the form of physical punishment to their bodies, such as whipping themselves or banging their heads against wooden boards. They used this self inflicted suffering as proof of their piety. I think we often still do that, only we've traded in the whips and wooden boards for late bills and jobs we hate, but endure. That is not to say that God is not or will not use that suffering to teach us, but (and I know I have) we can often use that stuff as our evidence of suffering. Unfortunately, when used this way, instead of driving us toward God, as suffering for the sake of the cross should, these things cause God to decrease and us to increase as the focus of concern. This is backwards and only serve to drive a wedge between us and God's presence.

I also figured out that brokenness and suffering are not mutually exclusive. You can be high on the mountain and still have a heart that is constantly broken by the desire to know God more, to be with Him more and to want what He wants. I thirst for God and to thirst for God is one thing, but to desire to always thirst for Him is a whole other level of brokenness that I've not achieved and can't imagine what it would even be like. The bottom line is this: God does desire us to come to Him broken, but He doesn't want it to be fabricated out of the circumstances of life. He desires it to be a genuine suffering for the sake of Christ and a brokenness caused by a deep longing to be close to Him always. It's a longing that doesn't cripple you (because the truth can't completely achieve that fullness here on earth), but drives you ever toward Him at a furious pace.