Tag Archives: Believe

Same Story, Different Age

Jonah began by going a day’s journey into the city, proclaiming, “Forty more days and Nineveh will be overthrown.”
Jonah 3:4 (NIV)

One of the things I’ve experienced in my continued and repeated reading through God’s Message is that every time I read through a section it is layered with new meaning simply because I am at a different place in my life journey than I was before. I’d like to think that there is some increased depth of wisdom, knowledge, and maturity to account for it. There are times, however, that simply being in a different place on life’s road experiencing different circumstances and challenges offers the opportunity to see things from a different perspective.

I am once again struck this morning by the foreshadowing in the story of Jonah of the experiences of Paul as recorded in the book of Acts.

Reading the ancient prophets can always feel like a long slog in this chapter-a-day journey. They repeat their messages of warning, judgment, instruction, and encouragement over and over again to God’s people. They perform shocking acts of public performance art as metaphorical word pictures. On and on and on they preach and proclaim, and the people rarely responded. While there were periods of repentance and spiritual renewal, most of the story is about God’s people hard-heartedly refusing to listen to God’s Message.

In Jonah’s story, we have a single prophet who proclaims a simple message of eight words. It doesn’t even name God, provide instruction, or offer encouragement. The entire city of Nineveh, from the least to the greatest, repents and seeks God’s forgiveness. An entire city of non-Jewish, Gentile people who are the key enemy of Israel, respond to one minor prophet who proclaims eight words from God.

In the book of Acts, we read of Paul going from city to city proclaiming Jesus’ message. He always began at the Jewish synagogue. More often than not, his message fell on deaf ears and hard hearts while those who were not “God’s chosen people” received it heartily, just like the Ninevites who heard Jonah’s eight-word sermon.

This morning I find myself reminded of the message we heard this past Sunday. It reminded me that life can often be like a new movie that tells an old story with different players. The Lion King is simply the story of Hamlet in the jungle with animals. In the same way, life often repeats itself. How often today are Jesus’ followers like God’s people in ancient times? Do we sit isolated in our holy huddles choosing to hate, condemn, and cast off any concern for those outside the walls of our church building as we ritualistically repeat God’s message of Jesus dying and returning to Life for all people?

Love God,” Jesus basically said as he boiled down God’s commands, adding, “Love people; All people.” God’s Message in six words. Jonah had eight. Pretty simple, if my ears and heart are open to hearing it, believing it, and living it out.

 

Everyday Miracles and Deep Water Calling

The officer on whose arm the king was leaning said to the man of God, “Look, even if the Lord should open the floodgates of the heavens, could this happen?”

“You will see it with your own eyes,” answered Elisha, “but you will not eat any of it!”
2 Kings 7:2 (NIV)

I listened to a great podcast yesterday while I was in the car. Rob Bell was continuing his series on alternative wisdom and he unpacked an event in Jesus’ life when the religious leaders came and demanded a sign from him. This committee of theological high-brows seemed to want miracles on-demand from Jesus, but Jesus refused to play the game the self-important religious fundamentalists were trying to play. Jesus begins by pointing out that no matter what He did, no matter what signs He might come up with, they would never be satisfied. They didn’t want to believe, nor were they concerned with the bigger picture of why Jesus was there in the first place. Jesus then told the religious authorities they would receive no sign but “the sign of Jonah.”

With that Jesus referred to the ancient prophet who was swallowed by a fish and spent three days and nights buries at sea in the fish’s belly. With this Jesus was foreshadowing the real mission He came to perform, which had little do to with a magical miracle tour. Jesus would be called into the depths just like Jonah; He would descend into death for three days, and come out the other side.

As we make our way through 2 Kings we are reading about a lot of signs and miracles. Both Elijah and Elisha’s stories are littered with stories of the miraculous. There’s no doubt that the scribes and editors who put together this history of the ancient Kings are going to make sure to include these miraculous stories. They are great stories, and they are compelling reads. I have found, however, that it is easy for me to read this stream of miracle stories and forget Jesus’ admonishment to turn a blind eye to the penny-ante miracles for a moment and to consider the sign of Jonah.

I believe in the miraculous. I’ve experienced the miraculous and have  heard the testimony of miracles from others whom I know, trust, and believe. I have never felt comfortable, however, who seem to be in the miracle on-demand business. It seems to me that Jesus was always a bit dismissive of signs and miracles.

This is nothing,” Jesus said to Andrew of his knowing that Andrew was sitting under a tree. “You’ll see more impressive things than this.”

What I’m doing is small potatoes,” Jesus said to the disciples. “You’ll see the same and more by the time I’m done.”

You have no idea how really simple this all is, and what little faith is required for these miracles,” Jesus told his followers.

Jesus was so dismissive of the miraculous that He also was quick to shut down miraculous operations. Not only did He do it with the religious leaders, but He did it with the crowds as well. “You’re following me because I gave you free filet-o-fish sandwiches,” Jesus said to the crowds, “but you’re missing the point. If you want the real food I came to give you you’ll have to eat my flesh and drink my blood.”

In this morning’s chapter, Elisha performed another miracle. In announcing what would happen the King’s captain refused to believe. Elisha announced that the captain’s lack of faith would ensure that he’d see it happen but would miss out on the blessing.

What struck me this morning is that I think it’s quite possible to see and experience the miraculous and miss the point. Jesus performed many signs that the religious leaders witnessed, and yet they came back to him for more. They didn’t want to believe. The crowds followed Jesus fully believing that Jesus could multiply loaves and fish endlessly, but eventually they’d become jaded and demand a change of menu. The miracles were never the point. They are momentary blips on the infinite radar focused on temporal earthly things.

Jesus rolled His eyes and continued to tell us that the miracles were there to point us to deeper things. The real important stuff happens three days and nights buries in the depths. The point is in  torn, sacrificial flesh and spilled blood that accomplishes the miraculous on a cosmic, eternal scale.

I believe in miracles. I believe in shallow, everyday miracles on a small temporal scale and big, “deep water” miracles on the cosmic, eternal scale. I have also come to understand that what Jesus was saying is this:  Never trade the latter for the former.

 

You Gotta Have Heart

“And Moses swore on that day, saying, ‘Surely the land on which your foot has trodden shall be an inheritance for you and your children forever, because you have wholeheartedly followed the Lord my God.’”
Joshua 14:9 (NRSV)

“You gotta have heart,
Miles and miles and miles of heart!”

So go the lyrics of the musical Damn Yankees, a Broadway retelling of the Faust legend set around the hapless Washington Senators baseball team. The song came to mind this morning as I read Caleb’s plea to Joshua, reminding him that he’d “wholeheartedly” followed God.

Caleb had been one of the men chosen by Moses to spy out the land some 45 years earlier. Caleb was all for crossing the Jordan River and taking the land, but his partners gave a fear-producing account of what they saw and the campaign was delayed 40 years. But, for his wholehearted faith, Moses promised Caleb the land they’d spied out as his tribe’s inheritance. In today’s chapter, it’s time for the promise to be fulfilled these many years later.

Two things I’m reminded of this morning as I ponder Caleb’s story:

First: Caleb was rewarded for his heart – not his military prowess, his  perfect execution of God’s commands, his moral standing, his financial generosity, his intellect, his social savvy, or his popularity. As I journey through God’s Message I find, time and time again, God’s desire is for our hearts. If He has my whole heart, everything else will flow from there.

Second: Sometimes the fulfillment of God’s promises and purposes are a long time in coming. Caleb waited 45 years for his promised inheritance. David was anointed king when he was a kid, but didn’t see the promised fulfilled until he was 40.  Abraham and Sarah were in their 90’s before God miraculously produced their promised offspring. In a culture of instant gratification, I so easily get impatient and lose faith. It’s good to be reminded that God’s promises can take a long time to be fulfilled. Those with heart never stop trusting in that fulfillment.

By the way, and speaking of being wholehearted in having faith: The Cubs are 5-1!

Everybody sing!

“You’ve gotta have hope
Mustn’t sit around and mope
Nothin’s half as bad as it may appear
Wait’ll next year and hope”

chapter a day banner 2015

 

Be Strong and Courageous

“I hereby command you: Be strong and courageous; do not be frightened or dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.”
Joshua 1:9 (NRSV)

Wendy and I drove home from the lake yesterday. It was Sunday morning and we obviously were not going to make it to worship, so we pulled up the audio of last week’s message from our local group of Jesus’ followers. Tim Heerma did a great job with the message and, at one point, he spoke about fears and how they keep us from doing what we’re supposed to be doing. “If you are focused on your fears,” he said (I’m paraphrasing) “you will bury your talent.” Wendy and I both gave an impromptu, “Wow” at that moment. Tim’s point landed with impact on us.

After listening to the entire message, Wendy and I spent a good bit of time talking. Out of our conversation came the recognition that fear and anxiety are two of evil’s most commonly used (and effective) weapons against any who would endeavor to do what God has purposed. Jesus repeatedly said to his followers “do not be afraid.”

Our discussion then meandered down a conversational path in which Wendy shared some of her current anxieties. “I keep asking God for some assurance,” she said regarding one of the things we’ve felt God purpose for us, “but it’s not coming.” The result, I observed, were questions, doubts, fears, and anxiety about long-term consequences.

We then spent some time having a conversation with God and reminiscing all of the amazing ways we’ve been led right to where we find ourselves on life’s road. We looked back and recounted some of the unbelievable experiences of God’s prompting, guidance and provision that dot the path behind us. We recommitted ourselves to trusting God for whatever was necessary to play out the roles and purposes to which we’ve been called.

Ironically, we begin this morning at the start of the story of Joshua. Joshua and the people of Israel find themselves standing at a crossroads before the River Jordan. God is calling them to cross the river and take possession of the land. Like a coach in the locker room before the big game, God gives the newly appointed leader, Joshua, a much-needed pep-talk. What Joshua has been purposed to do is a huge task that will require generous doses of active faith. The enemy’s defensive strategy comes from a well-worn and effective playbook: fear and anxiety.

Four times God says to Joshua: “Be strong and courageous.” Strength will be required to overcome the onslaught of fear which will be unleashed against him. Courage will be necessary to relinquish the doubts and anxieties that will most assuredly flank the fear.

This morning, I am thinking about Wendy and me standing at our own version of the Jordan River and the purposes to which we, like Joshua, are called. I am recalling all of the fears and anxieties we discussed yesterday. As I read God’s pep-talk to Joshua, I am hearing God whisper: “This is for you, too. It is as much for you as it was for Josh. Be strong and courageous.”

chapter a day banner 2015

Choosing to Believe

source: pictoquotes via Flickr
source: pictoquotes via Flickr

You asked, ‘Who is this that obscures my plans without knowledge?’
    Surely I spoke of things I did not understand,
    things too wonderful for me to know.
Job 42:3 (NIV)

Earlier in our walk through the book of Job I shared some of Wendy’s and my experience with infertility. Many of Job’s questions echoed our own questions during the darkest days of our striving to have a child together. The questions still arise from within us at times, but it happens less frequently the further we get in our journey.

The truth of the matter is that I still don’t understand. I have made peace with the fact that we will never understand on this side of eternity. Some things we will simply never know or comprehend. I can choose to let it eat away at my insides until my existence becomes enveloped in bitterness, madness, or both. That’s not a great way to live.

Wendy was the last of her close group of friends to get married. She was 33 when we wed nine years ago. She shared with me some of her struggles with singleness, and she finally found a place to rest in it. “If God is good,” she told me, “and I believe He is, if God has my best interests in mind, and I believe He does, then I have to trust that there is purpose and a plan for what I’m going through even if I don’t understand it.”

That same logic helped us through our struggles with infertility. I still find myself repeating it from time to time when the scabs on the soul wound begin to itch. As I read today’s epilogue from the story of Job, it seems to me that Job came to the same conclusion, though he used different words. Sometimes you have to choose to believe. That’s called faith. Not only is faith required to believe that God exists, but also to believe that God has a purpose and a plan for me despite my present circumstances.

24/7/365 Worship

Church-of-the-Holy-Spirit-Jihlava2011
This building is called Church-of-the-Holy-Spirit, but the real church of the Holy Spirit is what every believer sees when he/she looks in  a mirror. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Those who were musicians, heads of Levite families, stayed in the rooms of the temple and were exempt from other duties because they were responsible for the work day and night.
1 Chronicles 9:33 (NIV)

For many of us, worship is something that happens one hour on Sunday each week. If you or your local gathering of believers is really whacky, you might add another hour or two by way of a Sunday night, Saturday night, or mid-week worship.

It struck me this morning reading about the host of singers and musicians who literally lived in the temple because they were needed day and night for the continuous worship that took place. The idea of “continuous worship” is foreign to most of us because our brains, experience, and tradition has been to compartmentalize worship into a one or two hour time slot in our week. The threat of this, of course, is that we think of God and/or our faith as something we put into a compartment of time. We take it out once or twice a week, then put it back and forget about it until the calendar and clock tell us it’s time to pull it back out again.

I am reminded this morning of the radical concept that Jesus introduced and which Jesus followers celebrated around the globe just over a week ago on the Sunday we call Pentecost. God’s Holy Spirit was poured out into the hearts of believers. The temple stopped being bricks and mortar and became flesh and blood in the form of any and all who believe. Church was never supposed to be a building we go to once or twice a week. Church was to be the living, breathing, touching, loving, feeling, serving people who believe and follow Jesus. Worship can happen anywhere, anytime, day or night because God isn’t at the church building, God is in me. My body is the temple and I take it with me wherever I go.

Today, I’m reminded once again that my body is a temple of God open for worship 24/7/365.

 

A Very Different Economy

paycheck
paycheck (Photo credit: owaief89)

Chapter-a-Day Genesis 15

And Abram believed the Lord, and the Lord counted him as righteous because of his faith. Genesis 15:6 (NLT)

We live in a world where credit is earned. We work. We put in our time. We show up. We do the job. We are then credited for what we’ve earned. There is usually a direct line connecting our effort to our paycheck. If we do this job we earn this much money. Most of us are even given credit to receive an advance of money we haven’t earned if we want to purchase something for which we don’t have the money right now. If we handle that advance correctly, we earn a higher credit score and the ability to borrow even more money. It is a simple concept. You work to earn an income. You are merited for what you do.

No wonder it is so hard for us to grasp the very different economic system of God’s Kingdom. The verse above is one of the cornerstones of Kingdom Economics. Righteousness in God’s economy is not earned by what we do, but credited for our faith and trust in the Provider [read the fourth chapter of Paul’s letter to the Romans for more explanation]. It’s called grace. It is being given favor that is unearned or unmerited in any way. Our lives and good works are not to be motivated in an effort to earn God’s favor. In Kingdom Economics, our motivation to do good things is out of a sense of gratitude for God’s favor which we have already received and didn’t do anything to earn.

Today, I’m thinking about my life. I don’t want to just understand the concept of grace, but embrace it and live it out in my daily thoughts, words, and actions.