God

Does God Have Any Work for Us to Do Here?

The following is a real story about real people who had real faith and a reliance on God that is contagious. It is about people who are willing to admit the Bible means what it says and that God keeps his promises. It is about the ways in which God moves in the world to accomplish his will in ways that are beyond our comprehension. It's the story of ten kids and three adults from the distant land of Texas. But ultimately it is a story about the power and goodness of God.

This last Wednesday seemed at first to be just another Wednesday. It was a little busier than usual and so I had made plans to adjust my normal Wednesday schedule. Typically on Wednesday at noon I meet with a number of other pastors in town to pray for our churches and for our community. It has been a great experience and the ways in which we are already seeing God work has been inspiring. But there was no way I could go this week. I was behind in my school work, had a number of big assignments bearing down on me, and just couldn't make the time. God in his wisdom had other plans, great plans.

About half an hour before our weekly prayer meeting I logged into my school email to respond to another email that I had needed to address only to find an extremely gracious extension from our professor concerning the papers that were overshadowing everything else. After a moment of silence, a verbal shout of celebration, and a brief prayer thanking God for allowing this to happen I decided to go to the weekly prayer meeting. My week (and my life) would never be the same.

As I pulled into the parking lot of the 1st Christian Church in Chandler I saw a church bus with a trailer behind it. "Belton Church of Christ". Odd I thought. I had been at the building that morning (which is not common since my office is at home) and no one had come by. I went in and what happened from that moment on Wednesday at noon through even this present moment has been a series of events in which God has been the obvious orchestrator.

That afternoon I met thirteen people from the Belton Church of Christ who were on a spring break mission trip. "To Chandler???" was my first question. The answer surprised me, "We are on a mission trip to wherever God sends us to do whatever God has for us."

Later I heard the story of their journey from Belton, Texas to Chandler, Oklahoma. (I won't tell you that here. Go read it for yourself.) They immediately asked the pastors and church leaders who had gathered if God had any work for them to do in Chandler, OK. Wednesday they scraped a house that was being restored and helped move bricks for a church project at First Christian. The events of Thursday were the most transformative for me.

Thursday morning began with a mighty breakfast at our house with the whole group. The joy and love for one another was obvious. Their desire to be soaked in prayer and worship were apparent. Their confidence in that God was leading them to do exactly what he had for them to do was inspiring. After breakfast they embarked on what they deemed "the reason we went on this trip and why we came to Chandler" which was to do some work at the new medical clinic that is being created south of town at Forest Baptist Church. (To keep up with the progress of the clinic follow then on Facebook here.) This little church has had its share of struggles and challenges and they have this big, bold vision for the ways in which God can be glorified and people served in the name of Jesus through this medical clinic. I was thrilled to join them Thursday for their work there. Pastor Jeff and I have begun to develop a relationship that transcends our differences in a beautiful way. And that God would send a group of kids from our religious tradition to serve and encourage another church (not that Forest Baptist was the only one affected or impacted by these kids at all!!) in another tradition is exactly what we should expect from people who are led by the Holy Spirit. This clinic will be of immense value and importance in our community.

Thursday evening the group joined us for a meal and our Dwelling in the Word time. The text that we spent some time in together was from 2 Corinthians 2:14-17:

14 But thanks be to God, who always leads us as captives in Christ’s triumphal procession and uses us to spread the aroma of the knowledge of him everywhere. 15 For we are to God the pleasing aroma of Christ among those who are being saved and those who are perishing. 16 To the one we are an aroma that brings death; to the other, an aroma that brings life. And who is equal to such a task? 17 Unlike so many, we do not peddle the word of God for profit. On the contrary, in Christ we speak before God with sincerity, as those sent from God. (NIV)

Together we talked about the ways in which this text spoke to our lives. We talked about the nature of being an "aroma", of the implications that we are people who are "being saved" and that "we speak before God with sincerity, as those sent from God." So many powerful things about the ways in which God is at work in our lives. We concluded the night with a time of singing and prayer. It was powerful to say the least.

Friday morning after some more time of serving another church in our community this group headed back home to share the stories of the ways in which God worked to provide and to guide this group of thirteen who went only knowing and believing that God would send them exactly when and where he wanted.

And you know what, that is exactly what God did.

There is so much more that could (and probably should) be told about this story. But what is important for me to share are some of the things that I have learned about God and his work in the world as a result of God making space for us to serve his Kingdom with these brothers and sisters.

These friends have caused me to think more clearly about some texts in Scripture. I "understand" them, they were living them out.

WHAT I LEARNED FROM THESE SPIRIT-LED BROTHERS AND SISTERS...

(1) God is serious about his people working together across lines of tradition in order to accomplish things that give glory to God and invite others into the Kingdom.

   38 “Teacher,” said John, “we saw someone driving out demons in your name and we told him to stop, because he was not one of us.”

   39 “Do not stop him,” Jesus said. “For no one who does a miracle in my name can in the next moment say anything bad about me, 40 for whoever is not against us is for us. 41 Truly I tell you, anyone who gives you a cup of water in my name because you belong to the Messiah will certainly not lose their reward. (Mark 9:38-41, NIV)

(2) When people understand that they are sent by God to express his love and concern for the world they will find places that were already prepared for them to serve.

    1 After this the Lord appointed seventy-two others and sent them two by two ahead of him to every town and place where he was about to go. 2 He told them, “The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field. 3 Go! I am sending you out like lambs among wolves. 4 Do not take a purse or bag or sandals; and do not greet anyone on the road.

   5 “When you enter a house, first say, ‘Peace to this house.’ 6 If someone who promotes peace is there, your peace will rest on them; if not, it will return to you. 7 Stay there, eating and drinking whatever they give you, for the worker deserves his wages. Do not move around from house to house.

   8 “When you enter a town and are welcomed, eat what is offered to you. 9 Heal the sick who are there and tell them, ‘The kingdom of God has come near to you.’ 10 But when you enter a town and are not welcomed, go into its streets and say, 11 ‘Even the dust of your town we wipe from our feet as a warning to you. Yet be sure of this: The kingdom of God has come near.’ 12 I tell you, it will be more bearable on that day for Sodom than for that town.

   13 “Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the miracles that were performed in you had been performed in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago, sitting in sackcloth and ashes. 14 But it will be more bearable for Tyre and Sidon at the judgment than for you. 15 And you, Capernaum, will you be lifted to the heavens? No, you will go down to Hades.

   16 “Whoever listens to you listens to me; whoever rejects you rejects me; but whoever rejects me rejects him who sent me.” (Luke 10:1-16, NIV)

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8 For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— 9 not by works, so that no one can boast. 10 For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do. (Ephesians 2:8-10, NIV)

(3) That when God's people pray, God responds.

5 “And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. 6 But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you. 7 And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words. 8 Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.

 
 9 “This, then, is how you should pray:

   “‘Our Father in heaven,
     hallowed be your name,
10  your kingdom come,
     your will be done,
          on earth as it is in heaven.
11 Give us today our daily bread.
12 And forgive us our debts,
          as we also have forgiven our debtors.
13 And lead us not into temptation,
          but deliver us from the evil one.
(Matthew 6:5-13, NIV)

There is infinitely more that could (and should) be said about what this visit from our brothers and sisters, directed by God from Texas means for our community. Part of the reason I stop here though is because this story is still unfolding. Their impact has just begun in churches throughout our community, in their story that will run in this week's county newspaper, in the house they worked on, the clinic they invested in, and the community garden they kickstarted. Only time will tell the depth and breadth of the fruit that will come from a group of thirteen who followed the Spirit of God wherever and to whomever he led them.

QUESTION: DOES GOD HAVE ANY WORK FOR US (YOU AND I AND ALL WHO WEAR THE NAME OF JESUS CHRIST) TO HERE (WHEREVER THAT MAY BE)?

LINK: BELTON CHURCH OF CHRIST SEEK AND FOLLOW 2012 BLOG

SERMON: Resurrection and Death

This is the sermon I preached last week at the Central Church of Christ where I serve as the preaching minister. It was the second in a series (the first was not recorded) about the resurrection and how it changes our view. The first week was about resurrection and suffering. This sermon covered resurrection and death with two primary theses:

(1) Resurrection changes the way we experience death.

(2) Resurrection changes the way we think about causing death.

I hope you will listen, engage, and interact with what I think are some really important (and controversial) implications of the resurrection for the way we think about death.

This next Sunday we will continue the series by looking at Resurrection and Mission and finally on Easter we will look at Resurrection and Salvation.

If I can get all the kinks worked out I will begin to post sermons here in video format very soon.

What to do with the Old Testament...

Tim Spivey had an interesting post the other day called What Good is the Old Testament? His primary question was simple: How do you view the Old Testament?

The question that I want to tackle (very briefly and somewhat tenatively) is a hunch that I have on how we might honor the Old Testament as Scripture and yet avoid some of the problems that have been created and experienced by other types of interpretation. Ultimately, this is a very sensitive theologial and hermeneutical issue for many of us in Churches of Christ.

My working hunch is this: What if instead of doing a hermeneutical dance with the Old Testament (keep the moral law, discard the ceremonial law), or just functionally throwing it away altogether (yeah, that's the OLD Testament), what if we were to read the Old Testament as Narrative.

Allow me to explain. I'm not saying that we only pay attention to the stories. (You know, ignore Leviticus altogether and focus on bears mauling kids and hills of foreskins.) I'm saying that we look at the Old Testament to discern what God is doing and what we can learn about God and His mission in the world. So for example, instead of simply reading the story of Hannah as a nice story about God giving a barren woman a baby who just happened to be Samuel we would read it as a narrative about the character and mission of God. In doing so, we would come to recognize that this story is not so much about a desperate, barren woman (although it certainly is about that), but more than that it is about a God who is sovereign over what seems irreversible. It tells us about a God who is at work in the world to turn the structures of the powers and principalities on their heads. It is about a God who raises up his "anointed" to put things back to the way they were always intended to be. So instead of this being a nice lesson about praying with emotion and sincerity without a mediator (although that is certainly here) we instead learn something about the nature and mission of God which transcends which part of the book it is from. 

The same might be for the ceremonial law. What can we learn from rules and regulations about menstrual cycles, mold in the house, and dietary restrictions? We learn about a God who is serious about the implications of living together as God's representatives in the world. We learn that there is no area in life from which God and the reality of being his people is removed. We learn that the way we set ourselves apart from the culture in which we live, for their sake, is important to God and therefore important to us.

What do we do with the Old Testament? Maybe instead of looking for things that do or do not apply we need to understand that it is the story of God and of his people. Therefore, it is OUR story as well.

Luke Timothy Johnson on Sin, Suffering, and Scripture

This is from an essay in Johnson's book Living Gospel that I am reading for school. This is some heavy and important stuff that enables us to have some hard and crucial conversations about the nature of suffering. Consider what he says:

...It is nevertheless important that those of us sufficiently free from pain at the moment to think at all should think hard and well about suffering, for it falls into one of those fundamental categories which, when we get wrong, we also go wrong. And I think there is a lot of bad thinking in our world today about suffering, which actually adds to people's pain.

I have in mind primarily the contemporary heresy that more or less identifies suffering and evil. This is a dreadful error, first of all because it makes evil a cosmological rather then a moral category, with the unitended consequence that suffering is trivialized and evil is made banal. It also deprives suffering of any positive value. A reality that is actually deeply ambiguous and polyvalent is reduced to something simply negative and is thereby distorted. ...

The easy equation between suffering and evil results in part, I think, from a failure adequately to formulate what we actually mean by suffering. ... Let us think of suffering as the pain of a system in disequillibrium. ...To feel pain, then, requires life. But to be alive means also always to be in disequillibrium, for change is the single constant of mortal life. Therefore all living things suffer as a consequence of existence. ...

...When pain is inflicted on another in order to make the organism sick or damaged, or in order to bruise another's heart, or in order to confuse another's mind, then it is legitimate and even necessary to speak of evil. To cause needless suffering is to do evil. But the evil resides in the intent to do harm, not in the suffering itself, which is a natural function of all living beings.

It is critical to observe, however, that systems also fall into disequillibrium -- and therefore experience pain -- from positive causes. Bodies that grow in size experience pain -- ask gangly adolescents and bodybuilders -- and bodies that give birth experience enormous pain. The cost of physical life itself is suffering. Likewise, a soul that grows in compassion does so through pain. And all learning involves pain, a truth so obvious the ancient Greeks coined the motto, mathein pathein, 'to learn is to suffer'; a contemporary rendering is the one used by athletes, 'no pain, no gain'.

...It is our contemporary culture's tragedy to have lost any sense of suffering as a positive dimension of human existence. ... We consider the equation between evil and suffering so self-evident that we make avoiding suffering the equal of fighting evil. ...

...It is important to note that the New Testament's perspective on suffering -- and therefore also our perspective -- is not shaped by an infusion of a new philosophy, but by a new experience of God in Jesus Christ that enabled human thought to reach a point it had not before. Three aspects of this deserve emphasis. First, we see in Jesus' ministry and, above all, in his death and resurrection, a mode of suffering that is life-giving. Second, in Jesus and the sending of the Holy Spirit we see the self-revelation of God's own inner life. Third, what we have learned of God in Jesus enables us to think about human suffering in terms of creation rather than simply in terms of destruction.

...He [Jesus] not only experiences what all other humans experience of pain and loss and grief, he reaches out to the pain of others and participates in it.

...We seek to live even as God has shown us God's own life in Christ. We therefore do not avoid suffering as evil, we do narcotize ourselves against pain, we do not seek to hold our lives securely as a system in perfect balance. Rather, we recognize that stress and suffering are not only intrinsic to all life, they are entries into the deepest mysteries of life itself. In the name and in the power of Jesus, we therefore embrace the suffering that comes to us as the opportunity for transfiguration, as the path towards transformation into that self-emptying giving and being fillied again ever more richly that is God's own life.

What do you think? Is it dangerous or even wrong to equate evil and suffering? Is Johnson onto something important here? How might our day-to-day lives and our understanding of God's work in our lives be different if we understood suffering in this way?

Certainly some important things to consider.

Suffering for the Sake of the World...

We have been in a series I've entitled Kids Stories for Adults at Central, and this last week we talked about Daniel in the Lion's Den. What is the real message behind this story that we somehow seem to forget to read or tell when we are adults? A little background might be helpful...

The story itself is from Daniel chapter six, but the context is greater than that. Judah has been carried off into captivity into Babylon. The best and brightest young men have been taken in order that they might be assimilated into Babylonian culture and lead ultimately to the disolving of Israel in the sea of Babylonian culture and religion. Daniel is one of those men. He along with others (we know them as Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego) begin their training. God honors the integrity of these men and their exclusive committment to him. He blesses them in excelling above all the others in this attempt to remove their cultural and religious identity. These men remain steadfast.

In chapter 2 Nebuchadnezzar has a dream and no one can interpret it except Daniel, who does so only in the context of the only true God who enables him to understand and interpret the dream. Daniel is promoted to an extremely important and influential position.

The other three men (Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego) also of immense character have a dilemna arise in chapter 3. They can worship the idol that Nebuchadnezzar has set up or face the fiery furnace. They choose to stay faithful to the One who has always been faithful to them. As we know the story ends not in their demise, but instead their deliverance.

In chapter 6 Daniel is one of the top men in the entire nation and is a man of untouchable integrity. Scripture says, "Now Daniel so distinguished himself among the administrators and the satraps by his exceptional qualities that the king planned to set him over the while kingdom. At this, the administrators and the satraps tried to find grounds for charges against Daniel in his conduct of government affairs, but they were unable to do so. They could find no corruption in him, because he was trustworthy and neither corrupt nor negligent. Finally these men said, 'We will never find any basis for charges against this man Daniel unless it has something to do with the law of his God.'" (Daniel 6:3-5, TNIV). The trap is set, and Daniel unwavering in his integrity and committment to the One True God continues in his faithfulness to YHWH no matter the consequences.

Daniel is eventually thrown into the lion's den presumably to his horrific demise. The king, whose arrogance in legislating that all people pray to him is sick with anxiety at what he has been fooled into doing. The next morning, after a sleepless night, he returns to the lion's den to see if somehow Daniel has survived (ironically in answer to the king's prayer, "May your God, whom you serve continually, rescue you!" (6:16)). God has in fact delivered Daniel from the mouths' of the lions.

But back to our purpose: What does this text have to do with suffering for the sake of the world?

When we teach this story to our kids we often tell them some of the following things:

  • If you are innocent God will protect you
  • God wants us to be obedient even when others want us to disobey
  • Praying to God when you are in trouble is a good thing

These are all truths, but it is my contention that this is not the primary truth of this text (and the preceeding context). Look at the response of the kings to those whom they have caused to suffer for their unwillingess to be disobedient to YHWH, the One True God:

Surely your God is the God of gods and the Lord of kings and a revealer of mysteries, for you were able to reveal this mystery. (Daniel 2:47, TNIV)

 

Praise be to the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, who has sent his angel and rescued his servants! They trusted in him and defied the king's command and were willing to give up their lives rather than serve or worship any god except their own God. Therefore I decree that the people of any nation or language who say anything against the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego be cut into pieces and their houses be turned into piles of rubble, for no other gods can save in this way. (Daniel 3:28-29, TNIV)

 

At the end of that time, I, Nebuchadnezzar, raised my eyes toward heaven, and my sanity was restored. Then I praised the Most High; I honored and glorified him who lives forever.

His dominion is an eternal dominion;
   his kingdom endures from generation to generation.
All the peoples of the earth
   are regarded as nothing.
He does as he pleases
   with the powers of heaven
   and the peoples of the earth.
No one can hold back his hand
   or say to him: "What have you done?"

At the same time that my sanity was restored, my honor and splendor were returned to me fo tthe glory of my kingdom. My advisers and nobles sought me out, and I was restored to my throne and became even greater than before. Now I, Nebuchadnezzar, praise and exalt and glorify the King of heaven, because everything he does is right and all his ways are just. And those who walk in pride he is able to humble. (Daniel 4:34-37, TNIV)

 

Then King Darius wrote to all the nations and people of every language in all the earth:

May you prosper greatly!

I issue a decree that in every part of my kingdom people must fear and reverence the God of Daniel.

For he is the living God
   and he endures forever;
his kingdom will not be destroyed,
   his dominion will never end.
He rescues and he saves;
   he performs signs and wonders
   in the heavens and on the earth.
He has rescued Daniel
   from the power of the lions. 
(Daniel 6:25-27, TNIV)

So what does it meant to suffer for the sake of the world?

Three implications come to mind.

(1) Suffering shapes us increasingly into the image of Jesus.
Paul writes, "Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into thsi grace in which we now stand. And we boast in the hope of the glory of God. Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God's love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us." (Romans 5:1-5, TNIV)

(2) Our suffering may be the means by which someone comes to know the One True God.
This is seen all throughout these early chapters of Daniel. But it can be found elsewhere in Scripture. Jesus' suffering on the cross gave the Roman soldier an insight into just exactly who Jesus was (Luke 23:47). The stories of early Christian martyrs have done the same. (For example, the inspiring story of Perpetua.)

(3) Suffering for the sake of the world means a willingness to do so openly. It means that we struggle and wrestle with suffering not in silence and privacy, but in order that others may see God working in and through us.
This means that our openess to God in these difficult times is also matched by a willingness to let the situation serve as a witness to the faithfulness and mercy of God in our lives and the lives of those watching.