A Life Interrupted [Exodus 3]

We have some pretty good kids. For the most part, they listen well...but there is one thing we need some help with: our kids are proficient interrupters. They don't hesitate to burst into any conversation with whatever 'urgent' thing is on their mind.

God reserves the right to interrupt, and that is exactly what he does in the life of Moses in Exodus 3. Here are some things we can learn from Moses' encounter with the Living God at the burning bush:

1] Moses was dealing with life-long disappointment [Exodus 3:1]. Keep in mind, Moses lived for 40 years as a prince of Egypt before running for his life to live 40 years working for his father-in-law as a shepherd. Moses had settled down, married, and had kids, but he had lost a lot. No longer a prince and orphaned from his Hebrew people, he faced a series of disappointments and saw his hopes and dreams for his people fade away. He wallowed in a sense of person failure for 40 years...until God interrupted. 

2] The LORD called Moses by name [Exodus 3:2-4]. The burning bush caught his attention. How can the Holy Spirit be in a bush and not consume it? How can the Holy Spirit be in Mary's womb and not consumer her? How can the Holy Spirit be in the church and not consume us? Because God performs a miracle which allows Him to come close to us without destroying us. As Moses walked closer, what he heard next stopped him in his tracks. He heard his name. For the first time in 400 years, God spoke and interrupted the silence by calling Moses by name. 

3] Moses met with God [Exodus 3:5-10]. He met a holy God who told him to take off his sandals. He met a compassionate God who had heard the cries of captive Israel. He met a providing God who wanted to lead the Hebrew people back to the Promised Land. He met an imminent God who had come very close. He met a personal God who knew Moses by name and called him to a special purpose. 

4] Moses got hung up on his own self-doubt [Exodus 3:11-15]. Moses responds to what the LORD said with a "...but who am I?..." Remember, he had carried loss his whole life. He had no successes to speak of. He didn't even own his own flocks and worked for his father-in-law. Yikes! But notice God didn't answer Moses' questions with a list of Moses' qualifications. The LORD answered his question with the LORD's qualifications! Because I AM! This will take place because I AM...and your faith in me will be all the proof you will need. 

While it seems like God was absent in Moses' life, the LORD was actually preparing Moses for this special purpose. For 40 years, Moses was trained in the ways of Egypt and the Pharaoh, and for 40 years Moses was trained in leading a herd through the desert. He knew how to talk to Pharaoh, how to find safe passage, how to deal with loneliness, and how to herd sheep that each want to go their own way. The final 40 years of his life, God led Moses into his calling! Moses had been prepared for this his entire life.

That's what God does!

Do we believe the LORD can take our loss, disappointment, history, highs & lows, failures & successes to prepare us for our calling? That's exactly what God did for Moses. Despite our loss and disappointment, God saves anyhow! Do we have the faith to believe God can use and redeem our disappointments to propel us into His mission and purpose?

That's what the interrupting God does. 

From Pauper to Prince [Exodus 2]

When our kids were toddlers, we had friends with a swimming pool. [Isn't it great to have friends with a swimming pool?] We were super cautious parents taking our kids into the pool. We put floats and vests all over them! They could have survived a hurricane on the open seas. Looking back, I'm fairly certain they never actually got wet...just floated on the surface. 

But Moses' mother made a basket of reeds and sent her son down river (a river which flowed to the sea and was filled with crocodiles). Why did she do it? She was so desperate to save her son who was going to die anyhow. God led her to the water. 

[Read Exodus 2]

Scripture teaches us that we are born into poverty (the Bible calls this 'sin'). Just like Moses, we are under the curse of death. As we trust in God, we pass through the waters (baptism) and arise out the other side sons and daughters of God. As I read again this story of Moses in his infancy, it reminded me of the importance of 'going through the waters' and Christian baptism.

1] It's in the water we are buried. [Romans 6:3, 6-7] Essentially, Moses' mom put a dead boy in the water. It was a burial, and her grief was deep and real. When we baptize believers, we immerse them in water. Why? Because it resembles burial. We are buried in Christ...

2] It's in the water we are cleansed. [Hebrews 10:22] My kids often argue whether or not they need a bath, but our noses tell us a different story! We often can smell our own stench. But when essence of your kids lingers behind after they leave, it's time to bathe. It's in the water our guilty conscience and bodies are washed. 

3] It's in the water we are adopted. [Galatians 3:27] I love this one. When we are baptized, we are united with Christ and given a new name and new identity as we are adopted as God's own. 

4] It is in the water we are resurrected. [Romans 6:3-5] Like Moses -- whose name means 'drawn up from the water' -- we are brought out of the water into new life. When we baptize, I always end with these words: "You are buried in Christ and raised into new life." When Moses came up out of the water, death was behind him. He was buried a pauper and raised a prince. 

5] It's in the water we are initiated. [1 Corinthians 12:13] Baptism connects us in committed relationship to the local church and makes us part of the Eternal Church (One Body). Baptism immerses the individual into the community of Christ. You become us.

6] It's in the water we are equipped. [Acts 2:38] Yes, there's a promise of forgiveness, but there's also a promise for the gift of the Holy Spirit who fills us and equips us, which leads to my final point...

7] It's in the water we are ordained. [Mark 1] Jesus wasn't baptized for cleansing or forgiveness; he was baptized to be released into his ministry! When we come up out of the water -- just like Moses -- God sends us out to serve him!

For whatever the reason, Jesus connects our trust in him with the need for baptism. Being washed is important to Jesus (John 13; Mark 16:15-16). Baptism is our confession, and Jesus tells us "Whoever confesses me before men, I will also confess him before my Father" (Matthew 10:32). Max Lucado said, "Baptism separates the tire kickers from the car buyers."

While we don't believe baptism saves you, we do believe trusting Jesus does. And he says going into the water is very important. God is calling us out of death, and He has made a way for our salvation. 

And that is some pretty good news. 

Exodus

I was 16 year old the first time I went to summer camp. I didn't want to go, but by the end of the week, I didn't want to come home. It was an amazing experience, and I wanted to stay there forever. Peter, James, and John had a similar experience when Jesus took them up on the mountain to meet with Elijah and Moses. Peter offered to pitch a few tents so they could linger a little longer. 

That might be what happened to Israel when they went to Egypt to escape famine in Canaan. Seventy Israelites went to Egypt and liked it there. In fact, they prospered there...and never left (kinda like the in-laws who come for a visit and eventually move into the spare room). At first, the Egyptians welcomed them, but after hundreds of years and the Hebrew population boom, the Pharaoh's began resenting then fearing then hating their presence. Their resentment eventually led to genocide. [You can read about that in Exodus 1.]

This part of the story of Israel doesn't get told much. Why did Israel get stuck in Egypt for 430 years? Maybe it was easier to stay than go. 

They got stuck. Egyptian life was so much better than where they had come from. While in Egypt, they had no enemies to contend with, and they prospered there in a strong economy. It was easier for them to carve out a life in Egypt than fight their way back across the desert to reclaim Canaan. We get stuck, too, bogged down by circumstances and crisis and careers. Sometimes we are so focused on surviving that we lose sight of thriving. It's hard to move forward. It's easier to stay put. 

The enemy always tries to cut us off from the promise. Pharaoh didn't invent infanticide. The male child was always under threat in scripture, particularly those who carry the image of God as people of the Covenant. Satan wants to devour those who belong to God so that he can cut off the Covenant. That's exactly what was happening when Pharaoh ordered the death of all Hebrew boys. 

Whereas Genesis ends in crisis, Exodus begins with promise! Genesis tells us how we got into this mess; Exodus tells us how God rescues us. In Exodus, God sets us free!

Here's the message of the mess in Exodus chapter one: God saves anyhow. Israel got into their mess because they desired where they were more than where they were meant to be. They got bogged down and enslaved by the Egyptian lifestyle, eventually to be enslaved by Pharaoh himself. And it was killing them. 

But God saved them anyhow.

It's what He does.

[Psalm 40:1-11]

The Whisperer

Following the death of Solomon, Israel spent many years floundering with a series of mediocre and wicked kings. One particularly bad dude was named Ahab, and as bad as he was, his wife Jezebel was even worse. During this time, God raised up a prophet by the name of Elijah to call Israel back to the Lord. He secured some incredible victories along the way, including the Mount Carmel event -- a must read [1 Kings 18].

Elijah was fearless in chapter 18. Then we read chapter 19. 

When Jezebel found out what had happened on Mount Carmel, she made a death threat against Elijah that sent him running. Elijah wasn't afraid of Ahab or the wicked seers of Baal, but Jezebel got to him. She got in his head, and it lead him on a journey of self-doubt and fear. He was so depressed that he wanted to fall asleep and not wake up again. 

An angel showed up and made him some bread (the original angel food cake), giving him the strength to walk from Judah to Mount Horeb (also known as Mt. Sinai -- the place where Moses met with God!). It was in that special place that the Lord 'passed by'...

There was a terrific wind, a violent earthquake, and a consuming fire...but God didn't show up in any of these forces of nature that usually accompany the presence of God [Revelation 20:11, Job 9:6, Hebrews 12:19]. The Lord, instead, spoke through a whisper. It's really interesting to me that God chose to meet Elijah in the whisper, not in the fury, or chaos, or violent forces of nature.  God carried a big stick but spoke softly.

Elijah was in the middle of tremendous torment. We call it the 'battle of the mind'. He was crippled by fear and manipulated by an enemy that wanted him dead. He was overwhelmed by his own limitations and perceived inadequacies, and it consumed him. Why does the enemy consume us with fear? To keep us from being the kind of parent and partner He has called us to be, to keep us from serving God fully, to squash and destroy the purpose of God for your life. He strategy is to keep you distracted, fearful, condemned. 

I was in my head earlier in the week, sitting on the couch in our living room, probably staring out the window. Coming from his room, my seven year old son stood in front of me and said, "Daddy, fear is a liar." Now I know he was quoting the popular Zach Williams song getting a lot of play on Christian radio at the moment (and he had no idea what was going on in my head), but the Holy Spirit spoke through him to me at that moment. 

God knew what Elijah needed: the voice of the Whisperer -- not violence. Why did God meet Elijah this way? Because He wanted to restore him, renew his mind, tune his ears to His voice, and redirect him back to his mission & calling. The whisper of God can drown out the screaming accusation of the enemy. 

So let's run TO God and know His voice. He is the God who restores. 

Essentials: Forbearance

Alternatively, you could call this message "How to Put Up with Those Who Annoy You in the Church". "Forbearance" is cleaner though, so I'll go with that. Paul always seems to spend a portion of his letters dealing with the in-house drama of each church. We need these reminders in order for us to keep our focus on what's really important.

Let's dig in and see what we can learn so that we can be better together when the inevitable conflict comes:

[Romans 14:1-6] These may seem silly to us, but they were real controversies in the early church. I had never met a vegetarian until I was in college. Where I grew up in the midwest, everyone was a meat-eater unless they were a spoiled child or part of the 'fringe population'. I thought a vegetarian was someone who ate the animals who ate vegetables. These days, vegetarianism & veganism are more mainstream -- but the opinions are still strong. The early church also struggled with when to meet for worship. Saturday? Sunday? What about the Jewish feast days?

I wonder why we get hung up on non-essentials like this? Most likely, it's because we insist that the things that are important to me MUST be important to everyone else. Here's the thing: we can come up with thousands of reasons to not be together, but there's one really big reason for us to be together: Jesus. 

[Romans 14:7-12] Paul reminds us of the reason why we live (hint: it's not for ourselves or our over-inflated view of our own opinions). We live for Jesus. "Whether we live or die, we belong to the Lord." Knowing this keeps us from acting with hostility toward those with whom we disagree. 

Out of curiosity, I watched the recent reboot of the TV show 'Rosanne'. I was amused to see that the first episode addressed the family split between Rosanne (a Trump supporter) and her sister Jackie (a self-proclaimed 'nasty woman' who voted for Jill Stein). Producers did a great job capturing the conflict of our times while integrating a (sort-of) story of reconciliation into the episode. 

I dream of a church of political diversity, rednecks and high-techs, various cultures and races, the old and the young, people for whom nothing matters more than following Jesus while all other considerations are of secondary importance. 

[Romans 14:13-18] Honestly, these verses have helped me focus on what is most important as a pastor. We all have people in our life that enjoy playing the role of perpetual irritant. Too many times, people use their platforms and relationships to irritate and inflame. Paul tells us we won't do this to the people we love -- even if we 'feel strongly' about our opinions on these disputable matters. 

How can I serve the people that I can have serious disagreements with at times? How do we practice oneness in the church in an era when people seem willing to walk away from each other over trivial disagreements? When our 'god' is what we eat, our personal opinions, or our politics, we will be zealous for that 'god'. It tells us a lot about what we are living for. If we'd put as much life and energy into the Gospel as we do our politics, we'd turn the world upside down!

[Romans 14:19-5:4] If we are in Christ, we will not be willing to destroy the work of God because of our personal preferences. If we love one another, we will avoid the opportunity to insult or tear down those who disagree with us on disputable matters. The word is 'forbearance' (to bear with those who you think are weak in their opinions). 

We will not build a church on our personal causes of justice, our strongly held opinions, or our individual biases. We will be a diverse church; we are a diverse church. We will instead hold tightly to the essentials and build on Jesus and the ancient words of Truth from God's Word. 

Take a look at Romans 15:5-6 to wrap this all up. The evidence of the Holy Spirit's work among us isn't that we all have the same opinions and eat hamburgers. It's that we can be diverse (like the Roman church was) and still be united in Christ. I confess there have been many times I've given up on this idea of 'one mind and one voice' in the church...but this little church on Wax Road gives me hope.

The miracle isn't sameness. It's oneness. 

And oneness (unity) in Christ is needed now more than ever.

Essentials: Sincere Love

George Burns said, "Sincerity is everything. If you can fake that, you've got it made." It's hard to tell the difference between sincerity and insincerity, isn't it? In Romans 12:9-21, Paul tells us that love must be 'sincere'. But what does that mean? Does it mean you just really, really mean it? That you feel it deeply from the bottom of your heart?

The word 'sincere' literally means 'without wax'. In pottery making, there's a practice of hiding cracks and flaws in cheap pottery with wax in order to make the piece appear worth more than it actually is. Products without wax were stamped with 'sine cera' on the bottom to show it had not been doctored. 

In Romans 12, Paul tells us what sincere love looks like, the kind of love God has shown to us to rescue us from the wilderness of this world. Here's what it looks like:

1] It loves what is good (12:21). And how do we know what is good? God shows us. Scripture teaches us that in the latter days, it will be difficult to spot the difference between good and evil, so we need to pay close attention to what God tells us in the Bible so we can know the difference -- and do it. If we are possessed by God's love, we will want to do good. Insincere and unreliable love looks after self -- which has its dark effects on others. Sincere love gives and doesn't indulge self. The selfishness of others has never rescued me.

2] It loves those who need it from you (12:10, 13, 15-16). Later in chapter 13, Paul writes about the 'debt of love we owe' because of Jesus. We owe our families our sincere love. We owe the community of believers our love. We owe those who God has put into our lives our love. We are indebted to God for what He has done for us, and the payment on that debt is how we love others. It follows in the footsteps of Jesus and calls us into sacrificial, transformed living and loving. Love like you are indebted to God. 

3] It loves well when you have not been loved well (12:14, 17-20). Check out the words of Jesus in Luke 6:27-36 (and read it slowly, pausing on the implications of each phrase). This is the hardest part of sincere love. We all have stories of not being treated well -- and Jesus is right there with us. And yet he is explicitly clear on how we are to treat those who hurt us. Hint: it's the same way we were treated when we were enemies of God (Romans 5:10). 

Sincere love -- interestingly -- looks like how God loves us. And since God is love, He gets to define what it is: 1) It does the will of God (like Jesus), 2) it loves those who need it (like Jesus), and 3) it even loves the enemy (just like Jesus). Compare that with the fluffy, feely kind of love we tend to look for, and see for yourself what measures up in its sincerity. 

Love what is good. Love those who need it from you. And love well even when you have not been loved well.

That's the kind of love that has saved my life. Watch what happens when we begin to love like this!

Easter Sunday 2018

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Our little, living church felt a little bigger as we came together for worship on Resurrection Day 2018 (April 1st). Thank you to ALL who worked so hard throughout the week to prepare for our Love Feast, our Easter Breakfast, and our Resurrection worship. So many people did their part to make our annual celebrations so good.

A Celebration of Fools

Sunday was Resurrection Sunday, our annual celebration of the resurrection of Jesus Christ! It also happened to fall on April Fool's Day this year, so I couldn't resist bringing the two occasions together as we read 1 Corinthians 4:9-13.

There's something in me that has always embraced April Fool's Day. I own it. It's as though I've been given permission to prank, gag, and kid around for my own personal enjoyment. I thoroughly enjoy practical jokes. On April Fool's Day in 1957, the BBC did a feature program on their show "Panorama" with covered the story of Swiss women harvesting spaghetti from trees and drying the pasta in the sun. The public bought it, and the BBC was inundated with phone calls from the public wanting to know where they could buy their own spaghetti tree and how to plant it. 

But April 1st this year was also Resurrection Sunday. Christians have for a very long time been considered foolish for their belief in Jesus, particularly the cross and resurrection. But Paul embraced the title "Fool". He wasn't insulted by such accusations but was instead willing to cope with looking foolish for Christ. I think to follow Jesus, we have to embrace how foolish it seems to those who do not believe.

Let me explain why I think following Jesus looks so foolish to others:

1] It seems foolish because it is unnatural. Turn the other cheek? Love those who hate you? Do good to your enemy? It seems almost everything Jesus taught us counters what is acceptable in society. It's an unnatural approach to life guided by instincts. Add to that the surrender of the cross, healing the sick, and the resurrection, and Jesus is a mixed bag of very unnatural things. 

2] It seems foolish because the majority reject it. Some say belief in Jesus is unreasonable; some say it's insane and want it diagnosed as a mental illness. The teachings of Jesus are always different from the prevailing opinions and philosophies of the time, and scholars (and others) have always tried to poke holes in Jesus. [1 Corinthians 1:21-24] Go ahead, though. Poke. Prod. Examine. Test. Genuinely search for Truth. Many before us have come to Jesus through reason and a genuine search. Our reason can bring us to Jesus, but we will still have to be foolish enough to then embrace him and follow him. Jesus knew he would be rejected, and he told us we would be rejected, too (and we don't like that idea very much). Jesus always challenges the prevailing wind of the day, so we can expect some level of rejection along the way.

3] It seems foolish because it looks weak. Paul didn't always embrace weakness. He was formerly a Pharisee (a persecuting, zealous & arrogant Pharisee) who was hell-bent on annihilating those he opposed. But then he met the risen Christ and was immediately weakened by the encounter. After he met Jesus, he realized just how weak he really was. It's tough to admit our need for something or someone...but that's a starting point for our relationship with Jesus. We need him. I need him...and if that makes me weak, then I guess I can admit it. 

Believing God and trusting Jesus makes so much more sense when we accept and embrace the foolishness of it all, and I'd rather look foolish in the eyes of those who scoff than I would in the eyes of my Father. 

So here's my Easter confession: I am a stooge, buffoon, clown, idiot, & moron; a nitwit, dimwit, and nincompoop; I am 'one of those suckers born every minute', a bonehead, a clod and dunderhead; I am an ignoramus, imbecile, and simpleton.

And I am in good company.

Christ is risen!

Resurrection Sunday @ CCC

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RESURRECTION SUNDAY at Covington Community Church begins with breakfast at 9am! Come and share a meal before our Discovery Study of Daniel at 10am followed by worship at 11am! Following worship, we'll have a creative activity for the kids (and some goodies for them to take home with them). Come and celebrate the resurrection of Jesus THIS SUNDAY!

Essentials: Transformation

When I go to the hospital sick, I want to walk out those doors on a path toward health. Transformation is a gift. I thank God he doesn't lead us where he found us. We do not have to stay where we've been; that place of brokenness and slavery does not have to hold you forever. 

Being 'transformed' literally means to go beyond your current form. For the believer who trusts in Jesus, we believe God takes us on a journey of transformation. It can be a slow journey, but remember: it only takes 13 hours to build a Toyota, but it takes 6 months to build a Rolls. 

In Romans 12:1-8, Paul uses the phrase 'in view of God's mercy'. God's mercy is a transformative agent. His mercy moves us from where we were to where he wants us to be. Paul wrote about at least three things that are changed (transformed) by the mercy of God:

1] God's mercy transforms how we worship (verse 1). We no longer see our worship as the hour or two we spend 'in church' but instead focus on the life we live 'in Christ'. How we live becomes our worship, In other words, how we live points to Jesus. 

2] God's mercy transforms how we live (verse 2). Paul makes a contrast between being shaped b the natural world we were born into and the life shaped by Jesus who we are re-born into. As God's mercy transforms our mind, we will find both how we think and how we feel being changed. A renewed mind helps us to be able to discern the will of God and renews our commitment to following Jesus. Everything in our lives gets transformed in our relationship with Jesus -- and it all gets infused with his purpose. 

3] God's mercy transforms our community (verse 3-8). How? Because the mercy of God changes the way you see ourselves and others. When we are changed, our community will change! The mercy of God puts your life in proper perspective (no more arrogance as you learn to prefer one another out of love) and teaches you that you are part of something bigger than yourself (the Body of Christ). When you have been transformed by God's mercy, you'll begin to see yourself, others, and your community differently.

The journey of transformation is a life-changing gift from God. We are not trapped in yesterday. We're not stuck in hopelessness. Life can be renewed, and our state of mind can be transformed. 

Essentials: Consider

The owner of a photo studio told the story of a college kid who wanted a copy of the framed glamour shot given to him by his girlfriend. When he took the picture out of its frame to make the copy, he noticed this inscription on the back: "My dearest John. I love you with all my heart. I love you more and more each day. I will love you forever. I am yours for all eternity." It was signed by her and continued with this PS: "If we ever break up, I want this picture back."

Fickle love. 

When we read Romans 11, we see just how fickle Israel's love for God was. If we're honest, we're fickle, too, and that's why Paul tells us not to judge Israel to harshly. When I read the chapter, I kept getting hung up on verse 22: 'Consider the sternness and kindness of God..." So I considered it.

The Lord called a community of people (who were later called Israel) to live in a special relationship with Him. These people would be a light to the world as they trusted in the One True God and lived by faith. God chose to bless these people, but they didn't always return the favor. The Old Testament is full of stories of their faithfulness and faithlessness. There is one point in their story that the prophet Elijah asked God to do away with them all because they turned away from God in favor of the human-eating fertility god Baal.

But God found a remnant -- a small group of faithful people who had not abandoned Him. In Paul's letter to Roman Christians, he tells us that there will always be people who claim to belong to God but who essentially reject everything the Lord has said to them. It was an on-going problem. It was Israel's problem (read Isaiah 5:1-7), and Jesus said it is our problem, too (read John 15:1-9).

We have the same choice Israel had. Are we going to be a community that belongs to Jesus or not? 

We need to consider both the sternness and kindness of God. Considering the sternness of God keeps us from making a lot of foolish choices that lead us away from Jesus. But considering the kindness of God brings us home again when we do. The Old Testament isn't just full of the stories of Israel's failure, but of God's mercy to welcome them back when they realized how far they had fallen. 

Romans 11, Isaiah 5, and John 15 all tell us that the branch that does not remain faithful to God (and becomes unfruitful) will be snipped off. But Paul reminds us that we can be grafted in again when we come home. I wonder if the prodigal son would have returned home if he thought he was going to get a royal beat down? He knew his father's heart.

Mercy.

I think both the sternness of God and kindness of God are both a blessing -- because both let us know we are loved. 

 

Love Feast

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LOVE FEAST is one of our most important and special worship gatherings of our year. We meet each year on the Thursday before Resurrection Sunday to remember the death of Jesus and serve one another as he served us. We sing together, share an exceptional meal, wash one another's feet (read John 13), and hold communion. You are welcome to observe any part of our Love Feast and participate as desired. We will meet Thursday, March 29th at 6:30 pm. Please RSVP at the church office or this Sunday.

Essentials: Qualified

We have a nasty habit of trying to decide who God should be merciful to. We disqualify people all the time based on our feelings. Israel did that when they couldn't accept God would be merciful to their Roman oppressors. We do that when we can't accept God would be merciful to people we don't like. But let's settle it...

Jesus is the only one who has the authority to decide this matter, and Paul says this about it: "Everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord will be saved" (Romans 10:13). We are in the business of disqualifying each other from the blessing of God's grace, but we are reminded in Romans 9 not to call God's mercy and compassion toward others into question. 

Here's a statement of faith that change your day: "God is God, and I am not." In other words, the Lord is sovereign -- and He can do what He pleases. With that in mind, here are a few things that stood out to me in Romans 9:

1] It is not our ancestry that makes us acceptable to God (Romans 9:8). We disqualify people based on our prejudices, but scripture makes it clear that the faces of heaven will be filled with people who don't look like me (check out Revelation 7:9) and all kinds of formerly scandalous sinners who have been redeemed by God's mercy. Israel forgot this at the time of Paul and assumed God's blessing could only come to natural born Jews.

2] It is not our place to tell God what to do (Romans 9:14-15). Isn't it funny how as our kids get older, they start to tell us what to do? As they grow up, their minds develop and they learn to think for themselves. They need little reminders from time to time of who is who. I wonder if that's how a sovereign God feels when we get too big for our britches? Do we know better than God? We get into our biggest messes when we try to live as though we were God.

3] Even wicked rulers are subject to the rule of God (Romans 9:17). Pharaoh gets mention here. Remember, he had enslaved God's people (but they would have starved without him). Empires and rulers rise and fall -- each one of them moving us closer to the return of Jesus. Do we trust in princes or do we trust in a sovereign God?

4] We even try to disqualify ourselves (Romans 9:20). I hear it all the time: "God can't forgive a person like me." What we are really saying is that we cannot forgive ourselves. We get hung up on our past and talk ourselves out of the mercy of God. We are so good at disqualifying ourselves from the blessings of God. Here's the thing: God only shows mercy to inadequate, unqualified, scandalous people! The Spirit of God searched the earth for perfect and well-qualified souls -- and he found only One: Jesus. 

So get over yourself. 

God doesn't rescue perfect people. He doesn't call the best and brightest to serve him. He thinks differently than we do: he has opened his mercy to ALL who would trust in Jesus. We wouldn't do that. 

I started this series "Essentials for the Journey" so we could be more equipped to survive in the wilderness. We've talked about the goodness of the Father, the atonement of Christ, and the gift of the Holy Spirit. But have we surrendered ourselves to all that the Lord has done for us? Or do we still think we are God? If anything, I hope this series has reminded us that we cannot survive in this wilderness on our own. If we want to make it, we need to trust God -- the only One who can qualify us to stand before him or serve him.

God is God -- and I am not.

Essentials: God is for Us

There are some parts of scripture that have been particularly life-saving to me. Romans 8:28-39 is one of those. In verse 31, Paul asks a series of questions: 1] If God is for us, who can be against us? 2] Who can bring a charge against us? 3] Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?

All these questions are about opposition. Paul knew that if you were determined to follow Jesus, you would at times be worn out by all sorts of opposition. It's a part of the Christian life, and we can expect it. Paul faced all kinds of opposition: death threats, suffering, demonic oppression, the struggle with his flesh and weakness, persecution, shipwrecks, etc. The bad news is we fill face opposition. The good news is that nothing can separate us from the love of Christ. 

Who can separate us from the love of Christ? He answers his question in verses 38 & 39.

Death can't. Life can't. I had someone say to me once, "I'm afraid of only two things: life and death." Some of us are afraid of death; others are afraid of life. While our fears can keep us from peace and joy and seize us up, those fears can't take the love of God away from us. In fact, the perfect love of God is intended to drive out fear. [1 John 4:18]

Angels can't. Demons can't.  Paul is talking about the unseen powers. We often feel attacked by unseen forces, and we use terms like 'oppression' and 'attack' to describe our intense spiritual battles. But those unseen powers are created beings, and they do not have the power to take what God has given. They are not powerful enough to take the love of Jesus away from you.

Present can't. Future can't. What has been written in our story and what is not yet written can take God's love away from you when you are in Christ. Some of us struggle with peace over our past; others struggle with peace regarding the future, but to be 'in Christ' is to be in the eternal nature of Christ. Everything past, present and future are in Jesus. We need to learn to let go of our past and rest in the love of God.

Powers can't. These 'seen' powers are those who hold sway over the world, those who have either been given power or who have taken power. These powers can control your life, imprison us, and even kill us. We've seen the abuses that come from oppressive governments, those who own our debt, and societies influential people. These powers can take everything from you...except for the love of God that is found in Jesus.

Heights can't. Depths can't. The best way I can describe 'heights and depths' is in mysterious and astronomical ways. Simply put, there is nothing in the universe that can take God's love away from you when you are in Christ. There's no place we can go where God isn't. I'm almost certain Paul had Psalm 139:7-12 in mind when he wrote these words. Jesus is in those places beyond our understanding, and there's no place we can go to escape the love of God. 

Created things can't. People hold a lot of power and influence over us, but they can't take God's love from us. No created thing can.

"For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord." 

That's a life-saving kind of love. 

 

 

Essentials: Life in the Spirit

I've said it before: I love the wilderness. When I go on vacation, I don't head for overcrowded resorts or big cities. I like the wild and quiet places where I can see wilderness all around me. The more I thought about that this weekend, the more I realized I've never really ever been lost in wilderness. I am usually on a trail or some sort of road which means somebody else has been there before me. It feels like wilderness, but someone else has blazed the trail. 

That sounds like what the Lord has done for us. God is working hard to rescue us from the wilderness. The goodness of the Father, the sacrifice of Jesus, and the gift of the Holy Spirit are all cooperatively working together to guide us through this wilderness.

Romans 8 describes just part of what the Holy Spirit does within the life of the believer who trusts Christ. Here's a glimpse:

1] The HS places us in Christ the moment of our faith (Romans 8:1). Pay close attention to that phrase 'in Christ', because Paul uses it 164 times in his letters. It means being made right with God (justification). Think of it like being attached to Jesus (united with him), like an arm is attached to the body. It indicates a personal relationship that makes our identity immediately different. When God sees you, He sees Jesus! That's why there's no condemnation! He is the God who changes you.

2] The HS lives in us, enabling us to obey God (Romans 8:2-8). Paul admitted in chapter 7 that he struggled with sin, but he reminds us that we are filled with the Holy Spirit who makes obedience possible. The truth is, without the Holy Spirit, it is impossible to do God's will. Years ago when I was teaching high school, I used to do about an hour of team building with my students every day. I used to give the class a nearly impossible task to complete and told them they could use any person in the room as a resource. Very seldom did a class think to use me as a resource. They always tried to do it on their own as I stood back and watched them disintegrate into chaos. The Holy Spirit holds the key for us, our resource for life! He is the God who indwells us.

3] The HS breaks the death grip on you (Romans 8:9-10). I hate snakes. One of the creepiest species to me is the anaconda. The enemy of our soul is like an anaconda -- he puts the squeeze on us until we are dead. Satan always works to undo what God has done. God breathed life into us; the enemy tries to squeeze it out of us. God wants us alive; Satan wants us dead. The Holy Spirit breaks the power of death over us! He is the God who embraces us. 

4] The HS will raise us from the dead into eternal life (Romans 8:11). The New Testament uses phrases like 'security deposit', 'guarantee', and 'seal' to describe how the Holy Spirit marks us as belonging to God until the day of redemption. Every person on earth will be resurrected, but not everyone will be resurrected to eternal life. The Spirit of God brought us up from the dust in the beginning, and He will do it again. He is the God who raises us. 

5] The HS makes our adoption official (Romans 8:14-16). The Holy Spirit acts like the legal agent making our adoption as children of God official. I've stood in courtrooms to go through the legal process of adoption, but have to tell you that those courtroom experiences were just technicalities. Adoption began way ahead of time in my heart. It wasn't just the legal act that made them mine, but the legal process was necessary. That's the work of the Holy Spirit who adopts us into God's family. He is the God who fathers us.

6] The HS guarantees our inheritance (Romans 8:17). My inheritance from my parents included $21 (divided three ways) in my dads wallet plus a mermaid bottle opener. The inheritance we get from Christ isn't the stuff families like to fight over. Our inheritance is the glory of Christ -- the Father taking great delight in us. The glory of Jesus ours -- even if we're stripped away of everything we have on earth through persecution or suffering. No one can take this inheritance from us. He is the God who gives you His best. 

7] The HS helps us in our weakness (Romans 8:26-27). Jesus calls the Holy Spirit our 'Helper'. He even helps us pray when we don't know what to say, translating our prayers to God by reading our hearts. He searches our heart! He knows we are weak -- and he does something about it. He is the God who knows you.

The Father, Son & Holy Spirit are working together to rescue from this wilderness. God does not sit idly back and let us disintegrate without making a concerted effort for rescue. He wants the world to trust Him! He even does for us what we cannot do for ourselves, and He gives us the best of Himself so we can be restored. 

He knows what we need -- and He gives it through Himself.

Welcome, Ibrahim!

Ibrahim arrives Monday, February 26th from his home in Nigeria to begin his year-long training with Montessori in Kent. During this year, we will be his church family. Ibrahim has quite a story, and we look forward to getting to know him and learn from him. Pray for the coming culture shock and his adjustment to America, but pray also for his wife and 8 children who remain in Nigeria this year. 

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