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Saturday, August 23, 2014

Dealing with Change

     This week I started a new job with a new company.  For me, this is a huge change since I have previously been with the same company for almost 7 years.  It hasn't been a matter of just learning a new computer system, but even a new method of doing therapy, new people to call when you have a problem, new policies, new office space, new computer systems.  It is a lot to take it all at once.  Even though everyone has been really nice and supportive in this process.
       One of the things that has helped me is to remember how God has seen me through other changes and tests.  There have been obstacles greater than this in the past and God moved them or helped me navigate through it before.  It reminds me of the story in Joshua 4 where God leads the people of Israel across the Jordan.  The Jordan actually parted much like the Red Sea.  And after it was over, God told them to gather 12 stones (representing the twelve tribes of Israel) and to place them in a visible place where they could be reminded and teach their children about God's provisions and miracles.
        God does this often in the Old and New Testament.  Many of the holidays of the Jewish people have symbols to remind the people of the trials that they went through and that God saw them through.  Now, we have the Bible and the written word to remind us of what God has done.  I think that is why it is so important to read it.  Because life can get overwhelming at times.  We have to remember that God isn't overwhelmed by our trials.  He can see you through just like he has in the past.
        When I was a chaplain at WakeMed Hospital in Raleigh, one of my fears was that there would be just one medical emergency or trauma one after another and I would be the only chaplain there.  How would I be able to deal with that by myself.  Then, my last 24 hour on call, we have 5 trauma calls within 90 minutes.  That almost never happens, but it was a tough night.  But, I dealt with each family and survived the experience.  Not only survived it, but did pretty well.  I'm reminded of that sometimes that God can see you through more than you think.

Sunday, August 3, 2014

Making Disciples

"You then, my son, be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus. 2 And the things you have heard me say in the presence of many witnesses entrust to reliable people who will also be qualified to teach others." 2 Timothy 2:1-2

     This morning at Green Street Baptist Church pastor Brandon Ware talked about this passage in his sermon series on how we are sent to make disciples.  He stated that the agenda for the church "involves multiplication of disciples."  Paul was encouraging this in the above passage in 2 Timothy when he told Timothy to entrust what he had heard to other reliable people.  It is the process of multiplication by each disciple in turn discipling others.
      I do believe that it is one of the premises of scripture that we are to share what God says to us.  It is not meant to be something that we keep to ourselves.  This profits both us and others.  It helps us to solidify in our hearts and minds what we have learned by sharing it with others.  It also helps others to grow by learning from us.  We become a bigger part of kingdom growth when we do this.  This is best done not in a classroom, but one to one, during our daily lives as we get opportunities.
      I'm not knocking Sunday School or other formal classes.  I just wondered as I sat in church if the church would look any different from a program perspective or even from the viewpoint of how the church operates day in and day out if we really believed that one to one discipleship was the best means for disciples to be made.  I've been a believer for 31 years and I can't remember too many times that one person discipled me in a one to one manner.  It seems to me that we have institutionalize the church to the extent that we believe only the people up at the front have a right to make disciples or to teach others.
     Perhaps this has to do with the idea of the separation between clergy and laity that has been such a strong part of the church over the last 1,500 years.  Because the subtle message of sitting in a congregation is that God is moving up there and we are all spectators.  If we truly believe that discipleship best happens when one person sits down with one person and mentors and disciples them then why does the church look so much like a spectator sport instead of a discussion?
    Jesus says in Matthew 28:18-20, NIV
Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”
    From this we can see that Jesus told his disciples to go and make disciples.  The word disciple is a follower or learner.  It is someone who sits at the feet of and then goes and shares what he or she has learned.  The disciples ate with Jesus and were with him 24/7.  They saw how he handled stressful people and situations.  They saw his mercy and his patience firsthand.  They watched how the gospel is to be lived out.  He invested 3 years of his earthly life to them and spent an awful lot of time with them.  So much so, that John said that all the world would probably not be able to hold all the books if all of it were written down. 
     This seems to confirm for me that the act of making disciples is not an act that can be caught and multipled in a classroom setting alone.  Young believers need other more mature believers to help them to learn how this thing called the christian life is to be lived out.  It seems like the "how to" of the christian faith is more caught that taught.  Or maybe it is taught by how it is absorbed by watching someone more mature live out their faith.  This is harder than teaching a scripture passage in a classroom because it demands for the older believer to live out what he or she says and to be a good example.
     I think this may give many people pause about taking up the act of discipling another person.  Because they realize that if someone were to witness the way they live they would see the flaws in it.  The times when we do not always do what we say.  The times when we do not rise up to the occasion.  So, instead of sharing what we know, we don't do anything.  We hesitate because guilt or shame at some things in the past keep us from doing what we know.  I think this is a mistake because we also grow as believer in the process of mentoring someone else.  I think that shame or sense of "not being good enough" keeps a lot of believers from doing what God wants to do.  Let's leave it up to the big guys with the degrees.  Instead of truly believing the great commission was written to you and me as well and to those who pastor churches or lead evangelistic missions.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

El Roi: The God Who Sees

As Hagar is out in the wilderness by a spring of water it says  in Genesis 16:7 that the angel of the Lord came to her and asked her what she was doing out there.  Hagar mentioned that she was fleeing from Sarai.  The angel of the Lord told her to return to Sarai and that God was going to bless Hagar with a multitude of her people.  She was to name her son Ishmael or “God hears”.
    Hagar responded to what the angel of the Lord said by saying “Thou art a God who sees.”  We were listening to the pastor explain this verse today in church.  He talked about how Sarai could have had Hagar killed for running away from her since she was her servant.  He also mentioned how many of us are like Sarai and instead of waiting on God and his timing we try to help God by doing our own thing and devising our own plan.  It wasn’t a part of God’s original plan to involve Hagar at all. 
    I take some comfort In these verses because due to my own impatience, I can often act the way that Sarai did and try to “give God a hand”.  I get impatient with waiting on His timing and rush ahead.  You notice in Genesis 16 that neither Sarai nor Abram asked God what he thought or prayed.  They simply took matters into their own hands.  And now over several thousand years later the description of Ishmael and his descendants are still true today and Israel still has problems due to this decision that Sarai made.
    I also take comfort in the fact that God sees me exactly where I am.  It is possible that at this moment in Hagar’s life nobody else knew where she was or why she was there.  God didn’t ask Hagar questions because he needed to know something.  Rather he wanted to talk to her about why she was there and where she was going.   Sometimes when people sin they can find themselves in strange places and circumstances.   But, whether it is Jonah in the stomach of a whale or Hagar in the desert you can’t go somewhere where God is not.

Psalm 139:11-12 “If I say, “Surely the darkness will overwhelm me, And the light around me will be night. Even the darkness is not dark to  Thee. And the night is as bright as the day, Darkness and light are alike to Thee.”

     When I say that he knows me where I am, I mean more than mere physical location. Sometimes my emotions get so mixed up that I don’t particularly understand how I am feeling.  There is  a status update on facebook that says, “It’s complicated”.   Quite frankly, I feel this a lot.  Life is sometimes complicated.  I’m glad in those times when my emotions and thoughts are mixed and confusing that God sees and really he does understand, far better than I do.  He understands because he has always been with me and always sees me and always has his eye upon me.  He knows my thoughts before they occur. 

    So, even when I blow it completely this doesn’t come as a surprise to God.  Nor does it mean that because I had a “Sarai moment” that God is going to give up on me.   If we learn nothing by looking at the prophets such as Moses or Abram or Sarai we should learn that God can do extraordinary things through the lives of people who were very normal and sometimes got things horribly wrong.  I’m glad for that because that is often where I am.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Bloody Hands, Nervous Sheep

     I have been continuing on with my reading about how the Jewish faith and Christian faith relate to each other.  One of the issues that the author Athol Dickson talks about in his book that I mentioned in an earlier post is the paradox of grace verses works.  In other words, what is the purpose of the law.  Is following the law enough to save us?  While the Jewish tradition seems to have a concept called "returning" where a person turns from their sin and begins to walk in a new direction.  The christian issue also requires a turning.  It does appear to me that the Jewish tradition has a more optimistic view of human nature since the Jewish faith seems to believe that we start off in life neutral or good and seem to reject the idea of a sinful nature.
     Dickson makes a good point that I have to remember that I have nothing that I have done or could do to give God anything.  Even our good deeds are like filthy rags to God.  Imagine, wrapping up some old rags and giving them in a nicely decorated box with a ribbon on it as a gift to someone.  They would probably think it was a joke.  Nobody does this.  We don't see filthy rags as a gift.  The actual word for filthy in the Bible is a word for human or animal waste.  I don't want that kind of present.
      Scripture makes it clear that I cannot and do not earn my way to heaven.  This is the purpose of the law.  Imagine going into the temple with an animal that you helped raise and putting your hand on its head before the priest.  You confess your sins on the head of this animal you helped raise and then kill it.  Its blood is poured out at the base of the altar and then it is cut up and sacrificed.  You leave the temple empty handed, tired for the work of confession and then no sooner are you almost home and then you have an unkind thought, attitude or action that requires forgiveness.  Your hands are still stained with blood from the first animal and then you have to go get another one.  If your like me, pretty soon this become repetitive until the altar and temple are a bloody mess, with animals already cut up and waiting for room on the altar to be burned.  Pretty soon you come to the idea that if I am going to be forgiven then I need a savior because this is a bloody, stinking mess.  The blood is running off the altar, down the steps, out the door and down the hill.  I have created a river of blood trying to atone for my own sins.  At some point, I stop and realize that it is hopeless.
       You walk away with bloody hands and nervous sheep in the hills.  They are wondering how much longer they could possibly have to live.  This is the true picture of what the law should have done.  It makes me realize my hopeless situation and hopefully points me to Christ. Galatians 3:24.
        It makes me realize that sin makes my life a bloody mess. 
        In Isaiah 53:4-5 it says,

        "Surely our griefs He Himself bore, And our sorrows He carried; Yet we ourselves esteemed Him stricken. Smitten of God, and afflicted. But He was pierced through for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities; The chastening for our well-being fell upon Him. and by His scourging we are healed."

        And despite how cute and beautiful some crosses are.  It should make me realize that Jesus became a bloody mess for me on the cross.  It was far from beautiful in that sense.  But, there is no way that I could have pulled myself out of that mire on my own.  There is no gift that I can give God to impress him.  There is no amount of work that I can do to make up for the wrongs already done.  I cannot add anything to the cross of Christ.
        I want to add that this doesn't mean that works has no place at all.  It all comes down to motive.  In other words, most of the religions of the world work in order to please God.  In order to try and turn God from his anger and please Him.  But, in the Christian faith, I work because I love God and want to please him.  My motive is not fear, but it is love.  It isn't to try and earn God's approval, but out of gratitude. 

Sunday, June 8, 2014

Paradox in the Bible

    I've been reading over the last week, a book by Athol Dickson called "The Gospel According to Moses: What my Jewish friends taught me about Jesus."  In it, the author speaks about his time in what he calls Chever Torah, where he meets with Jewish people and a rabbi to discuss the Torah.  It sounds more like a discussion group where ideas can be discussed.  In this group, the author comes to understand the Bible and its background in new ways.  One thing that he mentioned that really struck me which I hadn't seen before was how many paradoxes are in the Bible.  I will mention some of the ones the author mentions and some that I thought about about.  I wonder if you see any others?
1. The Paradox of Fertility- so many of the promises of God start out with a woman who was barren.  Think about it, John the Baptist mother, Samuel's mother, Sarah, Rebekah, Rachel.  Yet, from these wombs the promises of God come forth. What do you suppose God is telling us through that.
2. The Paradox of Obedience- In one instance, Abraham is commanded by God to sacrifice Isaac.  To commit murder by sacrificing him.  He has to disobey one law to obey the command of God.  To his credit, Abraham doesn't hesitate.
3. The Paradox of Promise- The Israelites spend forty years crossing the desert only to find the promise land occupied by the Canaanites.  It is a gift, yet they have to pick up their swords and destroy another people to obtain it.
4. The Paradox of Omnipresence- God is said to be everywhere.  He sees all things and is present everywhere at the same time.  Yet, the Bible also speaks of God being distinctly present at some times more than others.  For example, when God appears on Mt.Sinai in the cloud or the Mount of Transfiguration. 
5. The Paradox of Free Will vs. Being Chosen- Maybe one of the more difficult ones that I could think of.  How we both have free will and yet are chosen by God.  This has led to a lot of debate over the years and for some to not be very evangelistic since if someone is going to be saved regardless than why work hard to make it happen.  How to reconcile these two things together which are both affirmed in the Bible.
6. The Paradox of Lost vs. Saved.  In order to find my life, the Bible says that I must lose it.  That I must be willing to follow Jesus and to give it away to others.  Matthew 10:39  and then maybe the most significant of all
7. The Paradox of the Life Giver- Here we see Jesus, the author of life and all that exists having to die on a cross. The one who did no wrong, in order to save others from death.  The greatest paradox of all, God in a grave.
Can you think of others?
I would welcome your thoughts.
If you get a chance to read the whole book by Athol Dickson I would recommend it.  He is a deep thinker and it will enrich your life.