Wisdom from the Wilderness

March 25, 2020

Do you feel like you may be in the wilderness right now? Quarantines; viruses; isolation; uncertainty–all combined can certainly make us feel like we are on a wilderness wandering.

Of course, there was a group in history that actually was stuck in the wlderness. Scripture uses it as a watershed event–a crucial part of the biblical narrative and not just for Israel. Numerous wilderness lessons abound. Perhaps now is a perfect time to revisit some of them.

  • The Call to Trust is Primary. From the start with their backs to the Red Sea, God called Israel to explicitly trust in him. Theirs was a journey to establish the kind of trust that would accomplish the task of nation-building. Israel was never more Israel when they actually processed, understood and acted in faith on this. Often though, they did not exhibit this kind of trust and suffered as a result. But God delivered them and delivered on his promises anyway. The call to trust is still primary. Christ’s ministry only reinforced this need (John 14:1). If we can learn to fully embrace trust then we can largely eliminate worry, doubt and everything else that robs us of the joy of God’s promises. Especially now–let’s trust God with all we are.
  • God is Always Near. Israel had God in their sights–literally–both day and night (Exodus 13:21). They experienced Sinai first-hand. They witnessed Moses’s makeover after being with God. God was near. They saw it and felt it. We are equally assured that God is an “ever present help in our time of need’ (Psalm 46:1). The apostle Paul told a group of skeptics, that he is not far from any of us (Acts 17:27). This is why we can trust! Even if we are isolated in quarantine, we are never alone. Just as he saw Israel through, he will see us through as well.
  • Always Push Toward the Promise. The wilderness was merely a temporary challenge. The Promise Land made every one of those challenges worth it. Some in Israel lost sight of this promise; lacked trust; forgot that God was near; grew faithless and stopped pushing toward that promise. This is one reason we know their story–why it is embedded in biblical narrative–so we can learn better. No matter what comes let’s “press on toward the goal” to borrow Paul’s phrase (Philippians 3:14). Let’s never allow whatever wilderness we face to defeat trust in us. We have our own promised place to realize (John 14 again).

No one wants to feel lost in a barren wilderness or face uncertain times, dealing with an unknown virus. If there is anything we can gain from the wilderness story, it is that no matter what looms ahead of us–it must be engaged with a ferocious sense of faith and trust. God will see us through.


We Will Understand It All By And By

March 18, 2020

Last Sunday at Levy–for our first live-stream only worship due to COVID-19, I presented a message from Romans 8, centering around verse 18 which states:

I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us. 

Then this week I discovered an old article I had written also based in this text which I had totally forgotten (funny how God works like that). I am not sure when I wrote it, but it does demonstrate how, as long as we are in the world we will have trouble (to paraphrase Christ). In it I reference the old hymn, “Farther Along.” So, I thought I would share that article here.

Tempted and tried we are oft made to wonder why it should be thus all the day long. 

This song lyric echoes the thought many of us are having currently. With all of the world turmoil increasing daily and all of the domestic problems escalating, many do wonder. In some ways it has always been this way and always will be. The early church struggled through persecution and frustration to never-the-less expand the kingdom. Some gave their lives as a result. I am sure they likely wondered why things were so then, only now to understand better. One day we will have a broader understanding as well. As for now we are called to have faith–faith to trust in and rely on the blessings of God. Some of these blessings are shared with us in Romans 8:16-39. Blessings that are guaranteed to help us overcome and understand. If not now then by and by. Here is what we have in Christ:

  • Adoption–“The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children.” Think of that! We are the sons and daughters of God. He has adopted us (see also Ephesians 1:5) and put us into his family with our brother Christ. No matter how tough our world may get–no one can take this away.
  • Inheritance–“heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ.” We share equally with Christ in all of the vast treasure of heaven. Unfortunately, because of the fallen world, suffering is included, but just for now. This is how we can endure through the suffering because we know one day God has something new and much better in store.
  • Future Glory–“I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.” That wonderful verse again. It is the by and by part, which enables us to maybe understand a tad bit more. Whatever hardships we face now are minimal compared to this glory (see also 2 Corinthians 4:16-18). Hope is found here–real hope–that should serve as an anchor for us to hold on to and endure. God has something renewing planned for his entire creation–including us and it will be glorious.
  • Victory–“Now in all these things we are more than conquerors.” In Christ we have heavenly resources that nothing can stop–not a war, not a recession, (not a virus!), not anything! Nothing will separate us from the love of God and the glory awaiting us in him.

Now with all of this in mind we can begin to view world events and domestic problems differently. God is still in control (vs 28). In him we have steadfast hope. And while things may not be as we like, don’t worry. We will understand it all by and by.

When we see Jesus coming in glory. When he comes from his home in the sky. Then we shall meet him in that bright mansion. We’ll understand it all by and by. 

 

 

 


The Kingdom Response

December 4, 2017

The Kingdom Revolution #11

Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God—this is your spiritual act of worship. Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will. (Romans 12:1-2)

Revolutions typically bring about the unexpected. Think about this definition of revolution: “a sudden, complete or marked change in something.” Being “transformed by the renewing of your mind” definitely fits into this definition. Jesus certainly lived it out. His resurrection literally changed everything and following him—as his disciple while living out his revolutionary teaching will make us over completely his image. This then empowers us to go out to “test and approve” the will of God in our lives—demonstrating the sudden, complete and marked change the kingdom has made within us.

And one way to very noticeably demonstrate this transformation is in how we react and respond to circumstances around us—particularly when those circumstances are not so favorable.

Good and Evil

Since the fall in the garden the story of mankind has played out amid the tension between good and evil. We conform to the “pattern of the world” when evil triumphs over good in our lives. Everyday we deal with some type of temptation. We all know the struggle—a struggle we would surely lose if not for Christ. The revolution he started overcame the enemy (1 Corinthians 15:58). Christ in us is greater than he “who is in the world” (1 John 4:4).

Having thus been made over and empowered by his grace and through his presence, we are to continue to carry out the revolutionary tactics of not repaying “anyone evil for evil,” but overcoming evil with good. This is the divine guidance of Paul, which frames our text of study in Romans 12:17-21.

There are several layers to unpack connected to this teaching and it all has to do with our kingdom witness to the world. They, indeed, are watching. They are interested to see if our actions match our teachings—especially when we face evil hostility. How will we react? What will be our response?

I believe this set of teaching to be very critical to our living out the kingdom revolution. Like in the Corinthian lawsuit situation—our natural inclination is not to turn the other cheek, but to retaliate in kind and hurt those who seek to harm us. Yet, this is not part of the revolution of Christ. When we conform to the pattern of the world in this manner it completely undermines our ability to be revolutionaries—to bring about that marked and complete change in Christ. Returning evil for evil only perpetuates evil and changes nothing. It entrenches the damage evil does and passes it along. In Christ there is a revolutionary alternative.

The Kingdom Response

As Paul details it in this text:

  • Stop the vicious circle of evil by overcoming it with good. Don’t allow evil’s influence to warp our perspective and guide our thinking. Actually internalize the values of the kingdom to the point that they become our nature—our first response. So that when evil happens we can naturally respond with the grace and goodness of God. It takes that eternal outlook guiding us to not get lost in the momentary situation, but it is what fuels the revolution. It is Jesus stopping evil by overcoming it on the cross. It is us speaking blessings back to those who curse us. It is not responding like the world responds.
  • Doing what is right in the eyes of everyone. This speaks to our kingdom witness; to actually living out what we proclaim; to being that revolutionary in front of all. Hypocrisy undermines any attempt at revolutionizing a culture for Christ.
  • Not seeking revenge. All of these are tied together in this text. Doing right means a different response to evil. We do not strike back; we do not seek vengeance; we simply do not respond in any violent or threatening way. We leave all of that up to God who ultimately will bring justice to all. Instead we do the unexpected—the revolutionary.
  • Bless our enemies. Once more we see the influence of Christ’s Sermon on the Mount in Paul’s teaching. He also quotes Proverbs 25:21-22 to fortify his point. Instead of seeking to destroy our enemies, we offer them food and drink—revolutionary indeed! Again, nowhere else outside of the kingdom of God will this idea be found. Why? Because it is how evil is overcome by good; how the kingdom of God can make over the destructive world; and how we can demonstrate the response of God’s kingdom to evil to bring about positive change. The imagery from the Proverb demonstrates it vividly. The kingdom response to evil can generate a response of its own—an uncomfortable and perhaps even painful response like coals burning on our head—which then can give our enemies pause. It is a kingdom statement that can radically reverse the natural order of things even to the point of changing an enemy into a friend—and into a friend of Christ.

Contextually it is not difficult to see why Paul taught this to the Romans. Due to their infighting and judgmental attitudes toward one another, they were not consistently responding the kingdom way. It was time for them to do so—just as it is for us.

 

It is Not Okay

 

It is never right to return evil for evil. Period. No amount of justification can make it so. It is always the kingdom way to do what is right in all circumstances—overcoming evil with good. It is not impossible to do. It flows out of the transformation—the complete and marked change Christ creates within us. It can happen through his power and strength radically making us over as kingdom revolutionaries. Once made over we can discern the good and pleasing will of God in all situations—even the challenging ones—and put into practice his revolutionary teachings. Such is our calling as kingdom revolutionaries.


Four Ways to Protest–Kingdom Style

September 25, 2017

 

protest clip

Jesus was not overtly political, but his teachings were dangerously subversive to existing cultural, social and political norms. His enemies easily recognized it—so much so they colluded to kill him.

He leaves then a legacy of protest in the form of his kingdom teachings. It is not, however about taking knees, political posturing, engaging in social media warfare, patriotism or lack thereof.

What he taught was radical, revolutionary, and scandalous even—it eventually changed an empire.

Want to protest? Want to really make a kingdom difference? Really want to change the world for the better and shake power bases to their core? Forget about boycotting. Try this:

  • Identify first with the kingdom. Not with a sports team; not with a political party; not even a nation—with the kingdom of God. Seek it first. Treasure above all else citizenship in the kingdom for which Christ died. Put behind you the old way of identification and be made completely new in your thinking—new goals, new priorities, new ways to relate to others. Let go of the anger and replace it with grace. Let go of the bitterness and let grace abound. Protest loudly through the quiet gentleness and mercy of Christ.
  • Love your enemies. Really. Stop yelling at them—if even on social media. Stop escalating the fury. Just stop. Step back. Turn the other cheek. Pray for those who you dislike. Disarm those who oppose  you with the love and compassion of God. It is a quite subversive and potentially transformational protest. Jesus did it willingly on the cross and it changed the world forever.
  • Go the extra mile. Jesus meant it literally when he spoke it. He still does. Don’t return evil for evil; shout for shout; anger for anger; or hate for hate. Give back what is completely unexpected and then some—an extra mile’s worth of blessings. Protest the kingdom way and do it willingly, joyfully, in the name of Jesus and for his sake—making the teaching about Christ that much more attractive in the process.
  • Be faithful unto death. Don’t ever quit protesting. Don’t give up. Be salt and light. Don’t grow discouraged. Our citizenship in God’s kingdom trumps all! The Spirit of God empowers. Our life here is but a vapor. Bigger and better things are in store. It does not matter our nationality; the colors of our flags; what political party is in power; Jesus just wants to find faith when he comes. And faith is the victory!

The original kingdom protesters changed an entire, brutal, ungodly empire without political power, social media, ballots or bullets. They were the poor, the meek, the pure, the persecuted, the hungry and the thirsty who stood up to tyranny, injustice, sin, corruption, persecution, hatred, bigotry, and hardship of every kind by simply faithfully living out the kingdom of God. It was a protest of the humble and helpless that was empowered by the scandal of a cross. It was the protest of the kingdom and it changed everything.

Could that happen again?

(Bible verses referenced include: Matthew 5-7; Luke 18:10; Ephesians 4:20-5:1; Philippians 3:20; Titus 2:9-10; James 4:14; Revelation 2:10; 21:1-4)

 


The Cross is Enough

October 21, 2015

It is not my goodness. I have none. I am just a filthy rag.

It is not my ability to keep a law or perform good deeds. I consistently fall short at rule keeping.

It is not my mastery of morality. At this I am a failure. My flesh is weak.

It is not my winning personality; good looks; athletic prowess; charisma or intelligence. Those are all fleeting, inconsistent and limited.

It is not my expert homiletic or exegetical skills. These remind me of what I do not know.

It is not my church and our ability to produce a welcoming atmosphere or quality worship. Another church nearby likely offers something even more appealing.

It is not even the Bible. Yes, it is divine, inspired, and living. It contains the will of God. It is to be heard and heeded, but as essential as the Bible is to our faith–it is not enough.

It is the cross. The old, rugged, bloodstained, despised, and awful cross of Jesus—it is enough.

As Mercy Me sings in their amazing song (check out the entire song below):

No matter the bumps
No matter the bruises
No matter the scars
Still the truth is
The cross has made
The cross has made you flawless
No matter the hurt
Or how deep the wound is
No matter the pain
Still the truth is
The cross has made
The cross has made you flawless

The proclamation of the cross pleases God. The Apostle Paul whose goal was to “preach Christ and him crucified” had this to say:

For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.*

The power of God to save; to make whole; to transform; to give hope; to heal wounded hearts; to persevere; to vanquish guilt; to discover worth; to mend brokenness; to make you flawless.

By God’s grace the cross is enough.

Praise God the cross is enough.

*To see the entire context of these scripture references read 1 Corinthians 1:18-2:5.