Tuesday, October 30, 2012

A few things I've learned about the kingdom

As introducing the kingdom as already but not yet here on earth, it is very easy to be confused. It's a concept that many of us out there accept without giving a reason or having an understand of what Jesus meant when talking about His kingdom. I'd love to say that I have a lot of answers to the mystery of the kingdom of God, but I don't... Between a few books and studies, and the Kingdom Advance Conference,I have learned some things over the last year or so though:

1) Jesus initiated His kingdom with His first coming. Jesus' time here on earth signified the beginning of the end for the rebellion of this earth. Jesus uses His time here giving us glances and glimpses of what the kingdom will be like. When he raises from the dead, when he he heals the sick, when he feeds the hungry... These are all foretaste of what life in His kingdom will be. Much like the manna from heaven falling to the Israelites in the wilderness, these acts are to appetize us for what is to come in our promised land. These moments of pure holiness are not meant to satisfy and quench the whole world, as the kingdom in its complete splendor will, but rather to motivate us for the beauty that awaits us after going through the pain of this life.

2) The kingdom, having not been fully consecrated, shows us that there is still time and work to be done. The earth's people, still actively rebelling against our creator, through intent and deed, are evidence that this world is still broken. Sin is still the major influence over the people of today. If the kingdom were already here in full, there would be no sickness, pain, death, or anything that does not glorify God. This alone should be enough motivation to get up and join together as Christians, not as Baptists, and Methodists, and AG, and, and, and... but as the body of a living Christ.

3) it is not by anything, any effort or doing of any person, no matter how many, that the kingdom will be consecrated... we can not do anything to defeat the rebellion. But, if we, as the body of Christ, submit and surrender our entire will to the power of Jesus within each of us, through the Holy Spirit, we can become the tools of His righteousness. Through His power we can be used as builders of the kingdom. By obeying His call and command, we can stand against the rebellion, we can love as Christ loves, and we can advance the kingdom, until it is a completed work. Then, all the sad things of life, the pain, sickness, hunger, death, and destruction will be tossed into the lake of fire with their father Satan. The last of the old will pass away, and the new earth will come forward.

We need to recognize what Jesus started, allow Him to work through us to continue it, and look ahead to its completion through Him... we need to live as though we believe.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

God hated Esau

I am often confused when I read the Old Testament. One particular story from way back towards the beginning that would always make my brain wrinkle was Jacob and Esau. Mainly the line that tells us that God loved Jacob, but Esau He hated. As I have worked through this story over the years, I have began to better understand God. It is a story that shows the truth of who God truly is, it should shatter the belief that is growing in popularity that because God is love, then no one will have to spend eternity in Hell. This belief is charged by people who want to say that a loving God could never send anyone to Hell, that we all must be given a final chance to accept our place in Heaven. To paraphrase a little Francis Chan here, I wish this were true, I wish I could sit back and believe that each and every person's eternity were not at stake. But the scriptures are clear that there is a Heaven and a Hell, and it is made clear for us that there are people headed to both. 

As we furthered our study in Ian Thomas' The Saving Life of Christ this week, we were again introduced to the story of Jacob and Esau. We were challenged with answering some pretty tough questions, and in the end gained a valuable understanding of God. The question that sits at the front of my mind this morning was this, Why did God hate Esau?

I was initially struck by the fact that this was not the question I usually think of, I usually get stuck on the Did God hate Esau? In itself the question that our pastor posed was convicting for this reason: I had missed the very point of the story, it is never about "if" God hates Esau... God says He does... its about why. We, or more specifically I, think that the Bible is so mysterious and I must do some deep, deep thinking in order to understand what its really saying. What I realized at the posing of this question is that sometimes, God is very clear in His word. Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated. So, why did God hate Esau?

We were charged, in our small group, to come up with a condensed, to the point argument to place before the class to show why God hated Esau, and why He loved Jacob. Those who know me have probably figured out by now that I am not condensed, and rarely am I to the point. I have learned along the path of my life that if I talk long enough, I can usually convince someone I am right. (thats a whole different post)
So, as discussion ranged at our table from this specific story of Esau despising his birthright, to the New Testament and the words of Jesus, we developed a very lengthy, very solid answer... or at least a very disorganized idea of what we knew to be a great answer. My proclivity to talk alot, and I mean alot, landed me as my groups spokesperson, and somehow, our answer came together as  the first small group to present our case:

Why did God hate Esau, but love Jacob?
To steal the words of Major Thomas, Esau was Satan incarnate. Although he was, by the standards of the world around him, a great man... a man's man... Esau had become full of pride, he rejected his birthright from God, stating that he had no need of God. He did not want anyone to dictate how his life was going to flow, where he should go, or what his future would hold. Esau, by the guidance of his own flesh, turned and rejected God. We learn later that this is the only unforgivable sin in existence, the failure to recognize our own need of God and our dependence of Him. God, being God, and ultimately just, and right, had no choice because of His hate of unrepentant sin, but to hate Esau. Jacob, on the other hand, was a scum. He was a liar, a cheat, and a twister... just as his name means. He was a weakling, tied to his mom's apron and by all standards of the world, a useless piece of dirt. He conned his way into the birthright of Esau, and deceived his brother. But, Jacob was different. He hit a point at which he realized his need for God. Jacob approached God and told Him what he was, honestly and truly seeking forgiveness. Jacob had come to realize his own filth and unworthiness of the birthright he had stolen. His repentance was pure and his desire to allow God to change the path of his life was honest... we learn later in scripture that God delights in the honest heart of a pure seeker. God had to love Jacob. So much so, that God does not just tell Jacob that its all ok, He changes Jacob's name to Israel. Just as Paul teaches us, when we come to God with open repentance and a desire to allow God's power to change us, the old life passes away and we are a new creature. 

Thats about as condensed as I can really get on such a topic, and it bears noting, as Pastor Derek did, that in order to truly understand what all of this means, we must strengthen our understanding of God. We must not confuse our own belief of what hate and love are for their true meaning. Hate is simply an intense, emotional dislike. It is not associated with action, or even anger. Godly love is an act of the will for the benefit of someone other than ourselves. God had a strong, emotional dislike for Esau because of the choices he made, but God would still act for the benefit of Esau, allowing him, time and again, opportunities to make things right. God had the same strong, emotional dislike for the choices that Jacob had been making. But when, out of His love, God offered Jacob another chance to make things right, Jacob chose to lay down his useless existence and to pick up God's purpose and power. 

God is all encompassing, and in Him we find grace, mercy, love, and forgiveness... but just as much, we find work, judgement, punishment, and hate. These are the same attributes we find in each one of us, and if we truly search ourselves, we will find that they are greatly out of balance. If we will submit our will over to the power and perfection of Jesus Christ, allow Him to be our Lord, and if we will make that choice to surrender daily to His will, He will work through us to put these qualities into their rightful place. It is through that submission of will, that dying daily, that allows us to follow Him, and allows Him to work through us to complete the good work He has already begun.

If you are sitting there this morning, and happen to read through this, have you ever felt like God hates you? If you say no, I'm going to think you are a liar. I know there are times that God hates me. If thats where you are this morning, do yourself a favor, pray. Ask God why... be open and ready for His response. Ask with a desire and willingness to allow God to work through you to make it right. Know that there is nothing that you can do to fix it, to make it right, to be forgiven. Your forgiveness is already available, your victory over the weight and wages of your sins has already been won... all you have to do is accept it. Pray to God, as Jacob did, call yourself by your own name, seek with an open and honest heart. God promises that if we seek Him in this way, He will allow us to find Him. If you are unsure how to go about this process, I suggest finding a local church this morning... they're everywhere (if you haven't noticed). They should exist to help us in these times. If you are anywhere nearby, I shamelessly plug First Baptist Nixa... please don't go any further in your life feeling the hatred of God upon you, move forward in repentance and love. Allow God to remove that burden from your shoulders, and to wrap you (as is His deepest longing) in His love. God's love is unconditional, and unending. It exists in perfect balance with His wrath, we choose where we sit on that scale.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Defining a miracle

Shared this story this evening with my fellow men during our meeting and discussion of the second chapter of Samson and the Pirate Monks, thought I might as well type it out and get it posted... for those who are around and have talked to me about this, you've heard it before for those who haven't I hope it might be some encouragement... When we first learned that my mom was sick, having been diagnosed with stage IV ovarian cancer (just as so many women in her family had been before her), I was not where I needed to be in my relationship with God. I had drifted into a comfortable place of living my compartmentalized Christianity. I was who I needed to be based on who was around me, and I put very little thought into growing or maturing in my relationship with Jesus. Mom's diagnosis and ultimate prognosis woke me up and sent me searching through scripture in a renewed way. I defaulted into a mode of life that reflected my truly immature Christian self. I searched for scriptures to make me feel better and prayed prayers designed for me to get what I want. I often fall into this pattern of thinking that I can manipulate God into giving me what I want, I am apparently that clever... So, one night, around 2AM, my phone rang... mom was headed to ICU, a pulmonary embolus had attempted to end her fight right there. My prayers intensified in earnest, and I pleaded for God to heal my mom... in the still, powerful silence of one of these moments God revealed something to me that has changed my life forever... I am perfectly free to ask of God to perform a miracle as I had been, but I had no right to define the miracle. Beggars can't be choosers... I was encouraged and comforted in that moment as God laid out before me the train of thinking to show that if I was truly willing to accept that God is God and He alone is God, then I could take solace in knowing that He would heal my mom, but I had to accept the fact that her complete and total healing was going to be on God's terms. It is not for me to decide what, how, or when that healing would take place, but it was enough to know that it would. My prayers changed after that, I was able to much more easily pray for God's will to be done, and even pray that I might get to bear witness to her healing while she was still on this earth... but I also began praying that no matter the how, when, where of her healing, that there would be no doubt in the end that it was only by the power, grace, and love of God that her healing would ever be possible. I prayed that anyone who witnessed her time remaining would be unable to doubt that it was God alone who made it all possible. God was faithful, as He always is, my mom has been fully, completely, eternally healed and is alive in full glorification with our Lord and Savior. God gifted us 4 years more than she ever should have had (from a medical point of view), including getting to be at my daughter's first birthday party. God even granted her something that most of us only wish we could have, she got to say when... at the point that the cancer was over running her, she got the chance to say that she was done playing by the rules of this disease, she was going to finish her life by her rules. In her last few moments, surrounded by her family, in the home she and my dad built to raise that family, God answered my selfish prayer. I had continuously prayed to see her healing on this earth. Again, teaching me that He is in control, God granted me that desire, just not as I expected it. Though I might be the only person who saw this happen, I will remember it the rest of my life, at the moment my mom passed from this life, she looked into my eyes and smiled. The image of it is burned in my mind... in that split second, God allowed me to see my mom, not as the diseased, decimated, broken body she had become, but her face looked younger, I could see the long, curly hair she once wore proudly, her bright eyes and her unforgettable smile. Its how I will always remember her, and its how God always saw her. I came away from my mom's death with a deeper understanding and a strong encouragement... I learned that I cannot place God into a box and confine Him by my own desires and understanding. I learned that sometimes I have to get out of the way and let God be God, and simply worship Him. I don't get to define for God what His miracles are, I just have to be paying attention to see those that happen around me. We can petition God for anything, but we have to be willing to understand that His answer may not be what we were looking for, but that does not make it wrong. If we are willing to accept that God is perfect, and therefore His decisions are right, then we have to accept that He gets to define the miracle. When we allow Him to define the miracle, we get to bear witness to amazing, powerful, beautiful things.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

I don't know

In discussion of Saving Life of Christ last night, I was reminded of many teachings and thoughts that have been shared with me before. I am encouraged by this change I have been seeing in my life lately. It seems as though in many situations, my first thoughts and reactions have been pulling out a scripture, or a sermon, or some other study I have done. I find myself in conversations with people of varying beliefs, and there being answers to questions... It's an exciting thing, as I have been feeling God working in me and through me, maturing me as a follower, but it us also a frightening thing. I am learning that there are times that the right answer to a question can sometimes be, "I don't know."
In the past, that answer would make me feel weak, and I'll-equipped to engage in conversation and discussion about belief, and life in general. But God has blessed me over the last year or so with a deepening understanding of who He is, and who I am. He has taught me to grasp the idea of it being ok to admit that sometimes all I know us that I simply don't know, and being able to admit that, openly and honestly can be the strongest statement we can make to an honest, curious seeker.
The lost world we live in is tired of Christians who act as though they have no questions or struggles in day to day life... tired of those of us who answer questions by simply stating a book, chapter, verse and look at them with condemnation when we have to explain the reference. What they want is honesty, and the ability to say that life is friggen messy, and it doesn't make sense all the time. We need to be honest with people in order to engage, and love them. Without that vulnerability and desire to have raw, honest relationships, we can not hope to reach our communities who desperately need us.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012


We know that in everything God works for the good of those who love him. (Romans 8:28 NCV)

Among the "good" church-going Christians of this country, you will often find this verse listed as a favorite. It's a great verse to give us hope and understanding and encourage us that in times of confusion and chaos, God has a plan. I count myself among those who have come to this verse to help when things get tough.
Here's the rub though, many times people will throw this verse around trying to make themselves or others feel better about a situation that they don't like. They will use it for an excuse, or to almost blame God for things happening... Saying things like, "I don't understand why _____ is happening, but I guess God has a plan, I know he works all things for good, so I guess I just have to accept it." Ifs often that we want to lop off the end of verses, especially verses that have a qualifier attached. In the case of the often abused Romans 8:28, we lose "of those who love God." I think that at times we drop the ending because we figure its a no-brainer... of course we love God, so of course He is working things for our good. But is that really what this verse is saying?
Among the words that our pastor uses often, the phrase "scripture defines scripture" ranks pretty high on my list. It has helped me many times as I read through God's word. He also helps us, as his church, to understand that the Bible, in its entirety, from beginning to end, not in part, but the whole, is true, infallible, and perfect. Verses, taken out of context, with their words twisted, inflections and stresses changed, can be used to create entirely new ideas and whole religious practice and belief structures are often based on this type if false teaching... it is also the most common tactic of Satan to lure us away from a right understanding of God.
I say all of this to get to a story, and I think there is a point...

I was recently turned down for a job, a shift in careers that seemed truly perfect. Better hours, more money, growth potential, and a way to impact my patients in a much different way. I first applied for the position a few months ago, and was initially rejected. I went on and continued looking for other opportunities, applied for other jobs, trusting that God would open some doors. I then found a position that sounded intriguing, a leadership position in the same office as the other job. I sent my résumé, and waited. One day a couple weeks later I received a call to let me know they were hiring an internal candidate for that job, but they wanted to interview me for a different position... the job I was initially rejected from months before. Romans 8:28 flashed in my head. Everything went smoothly, interviewed, and waited... everyone assumed I was moving on, including my current supervisors, it's was too perfect. Romans 8:28 in action... It couldn't be stopped... until last Friday, a call let me know that, to their surprise, they had received a couple of unbelievably good applicants for the position and they were going to move ahead with them. Romans 8:28... shattered.

Except not... a couple of things happened as I went to God in prayer following that phone call, the biggest was the conviction I felt when I asked God what more I could have done to deserve the job. When I pleaded to know how this was to my good. What I got back was a sense of needing to (again) reevaluate my understanding of scripture.
We know that in everything God works for the good of those who love him. (Romans 8:28 NCV)

The first thing was to focus on the qualifier that we so often drop from the verse, "of those who LOVE GOD." How does the Bible define love in this sense? How do we know if we love God enough for Him to work things out for good? At the instant that I quoted Romans 8:28 to God (note: never quite scripture to God unless you are ready for a response) He responded with John 14:15 & 24
“If you love me, you will obey my commands." (John 14:15 NCV)
Those who do not love me do not obey my teaching. This teaching that you hear is not really mine; it is from my Father, who sent me. (John 14:24 NCV)

Ouch... God responded

My brain put it together as:
We know that in everything God works for the good of those who obey the commands of Jesus, and anyone who does not obey the teachings of Christ does not love God because those teachings come from God. Therefore if you do not obey the teachings and commandments of Jesus, you are not living within the will of God. However, if you will surrender, and die daily (as Christ commands is necessary to follow and obey His teachings) then you will be aligned with the work that God is doing. Because God is working all things for good for those who fit His definition of love, we can trust that if we are submitted to His living through us, as Jesus teaches, that God will complete His good work through us.

Romans 8:28 is a promise that the will of God is for the advancement of His kingdom and a better understanding of His glory among His people. Those who are submitted to His will are vessels of His work that will lead to that good... It is not a promise that we will get the job we want, or the car we think we need, or win the lottery if we just love God enough.

The love of a child

When I get home from work, it takes less than a second for my hand to hit the doorknob before my daughter starts running into the kitchen, excitedly yelling "Daddy!!" Its as though all she has wanted all day long was for me to be home. All she wants is for me to pick her up, give her a big hug and then play with her. Its really hard to resist, but after spending the previous 12+ hours in the ICU, I need a shower and fresh clothes before I go touching anything! One day this past week, I got out of the shower, grabbed some dinner and had a seat on the couch... this little lady crawled up onto my lap, and cuddled in, just wanting to be close to me. She didn't want or need anything from me, just closeness. After I finished my dinner, she hopped down, grabbed her bag of blocks, sat down and said, "Now, daddy play blocks with me." It was an evening of pure, simple, love. No agenda, no manipulation, no worldly corruption... pure, simple, child like love. I am long-convinced that of the many blessings that come with having a child (or in my case, children) is the easy and evident snapshot of love. And not just any love, but the love that exists between parent and child and, at its best, how it mimics the love of God to His children. But in this case, the example of the love that His children should have for Him. Jesus tells us to be child-like. Not in a sense of immaturity, but in a sense of purity. When we feel God's presence near us, when He is rattling the doorknob, we should run excitedly to Him. When we ask to be, and plead to be in His arms, we need to understand that there are times we must simply wait, and that there is a reason. When we are in His presence, sometimes we should just sit with Him, sometimes we should play. Never with an agenda, never with a manipulative heart, never by the standard of our world... we should delight in His presence. Our requests should be pure and centered on our desire to be closer to God, and to want to be active with Him. Its not possible to put into words the feelings of reciprocal love between parents and children. To try would be a disservice, and would fall immensely far from the truth. It is something that can only be experienced by those who are actively taking part in the relationship. The beauty of the love is in its simplicity and completeness, it depends on nothing outside of itself. It is sustaining, unending, and perfect. It is not without struggles, pain, discipline, and heartache. We accept that those hard times come, and through them, we grow in the depth of this love. I pray that my life would reflect a love of God that is anywhere near as pure as the love my children have for me. I pray the same for anyone who happens to read this... there is a God that longs for you to experience His love. No one on this earth can put into words the depth and beauty of that love, only you can experience it for yourself. Seek it out.

Monday, October 8, 2012


We often talk about, or hear others talk about, milestones... mile-markers that can be looked back on through our life in an attempt to measure growth. It's often a tactic we, as Christians, will employ in order to make it easier to see how God has worked in our lives and changed us, how He has worked through us from the moment of our redemption through our acceptance of Jesus, and how our spiritual life has matured. It's a wonderful practice, and a great encouragement in the times that God feels distant, or we find ourselves struggling.
Yesterday, as I was thinking over the first chapter of Nate Larkin's Samson and the Pirate Monks, I noticed something else though... the same milestones and markers are there in our descent to sin. As Larkin details his own dealings with lust and sexual sin, he shows the moments that decisions are made and deceptive schemes are hatched. His own experience is so readily transposed no matter the nature of one's sin and at the moment of brutal honesty in looking at our own sin, we easily recognize the stops we made along the way. In the same way that you do not become a mature Christian overnight, you also do not become an adulterer. It is a pattern of action and thoughts... choices made at certain stops along the path. The difference between a person growing in the love of God, and one struggling in the grip of sin is very small... It is, or should be, humbling to remember, as we look on others who are struggling that the only thing different between the two is a simple choice. I could have chosen differently, at numerous stops along my path, and I shudder to think what my life would look like today. By the grace of God, and only by His actions through me am I who I am. And even still, I am a moment by moment choice away from headed straight down the same path. It's my prayer that by knowing and recognizing both the milestones along the upward slope and the downward slope and by relying on the love of God, that I can continue living in a pattern of obedience, and growth.