Friday, May 21, 2010

Acts 3-4: God-Power versus Education

I'm a huge fan of education, of learning, of study, of memorization, of books. I'm in Irvine, traveling with Duane, and I brought six books with me to Panera. Just in case.

At the same time, some things can't be learned by reading or study.

In this passage, we see Peter and John heal a lame man. And then Peter speaks to the crowd, linking together Old Testament passages with the life of Christ. He speaks boldly, logically, passionately, and people respond, they repent, and they begin declaring the resurrection of Jesus.

The boldness of Peter and John really freaks out the religious leaders and so Peter and John go to prison.

Acts 4:13 tells us that the leaders "realized that [Peter and John] were unschooled, ordinary men . . . [who] had been with Jesus."

Peter and John speak with power because they are filled with the Holy Spirit, because they've spent time with Jesus. It doesn't hurt that the healed man is standing right there with them.

Something just occurred to me.
We can study for the sake of education.
Or we can spend time with Jesus by spending time in his Word. Seeking him. And studying. Worshiping him. Talking to him.

It's not quite the same thing.
One is educational, and the other is transformative.
One makes us smarter, and the other fills us with power.

Acts 2: What if . . .

If you know me well, you know I'm suspicious of wild, crazy stories about God. Let's just say that I've been around too many wild, crazy people who told stories about God and whose lives just didn't match their stories.

That doesn't mean that I don't WANT God to do amazing, unbelievable things.
I WANT to see friends and family experience miraculous healing.
I WANT to hear people speak in tongues and have someone from another country understand.
I WANT to experience the miraculous.
I WANT to be filled with awe.

I just want it to be real.

But what if . . .

What if I was in church and heard a violent blowing wind?
What if I saw "tongues of fire" light on people's heads?
What if I heard the people around me speaking in words I didn't understand?
What if I encountered relatively uneducated people explaining God to me--in a way that totally blew me away?

Would I believe it?
Would I be filled with awe?
Would I back away because it was so weird?

I don't know.
I believe in all these things.
I believe they happened in Acts 2.
I believe they can happen now.

I don't chase the miraculous; I would rather rather seek God.
But what if . . .

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Acts 1-2: The New Kingdom

A few days ago we finished Second Kings, the temple had been dismantled, the land had been conquered, and the once dominant kingdom had been destroyed. One glimmer of hope remained--the King of Judah, a descendant of David, had been released from prison and was allowed to eat with the king of Babylon.

As the people, descendants of Abraham, returned to Israel, they waited and hoped for the arrival of the Messiah, who would conquer the invading forces and restore the kingdom to the glory days of David and Solomon.

And then Jesus is born. He heals. He feeds multitudes. He brings the dead to life. And religious leaders and the masses begin to think he just might be the Messiah. Which leads to his crucifixion.

And so as we begin the book of Acts, the disciples ask him, "So is this it? Are you going to restore the kingdom now?"

The thing is, God was always about establishing a kingdom, a group of people, who would worship him and love him and serve him.

And no matter what kind of government the people of Israel had, whether it was Moses, Joshua, the judges, Samuel, or kings, they kept getting sidetracked. They disobeyed the commandments, they put other things ahead of God, they bowed down to idols.

And so Jesus, the Messiah, the promised one, of David's kingly line, came to earth not to establish an earthly kingdom, but to establish the kingdom of God in our hearts.

Earthly kingdoms will always fail as kings get more interested in power than in serving the one who is greater than them, as men and women get distracted, and as they begin serving other gods.

Acts tells the story of the beginnings of this new kingdom, the development of the church, the arrival of the promised Holy Spirit. It gives us a glimpse of God's new plan, to bring salvation not only to Abraham's descendants, but to the entire world.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Back in the Cave

I spent a little time in the cave yesterday. New reason. For those of us whose who "hide" in order to cope with sadness, difficult news, challenges, disappointments, fear, relational issues, and anything else we don't want to deal with, caves are quite appealing.

The thing is, nothing ever changes while I'm hiding out in caves. Inevitably, I have to step into daylight and take some action.

Sometimes that means making changes in the way I live. Sometimes that means making phone calls, writing papers for school, asking questions, meeting people.

Sometimes, though, I hide out in caves because something is going in the life of someone I love, and I can't fix whatever that person is struggling with. That's why I hunkered down in the cave yesterday. I really don't want to deal with this.

I woke up at 1:00 this morning. I tossed and turned and prayed and thought about caves and decided to go downstairs. Sometimes watching T.V. helps me fall back asleep.

Instead of turning on the T.V. I began to pray and to think about the prophets in the Old Testament. Especially Elijah, who prompted my cave analogy.

Sometimes there's nothing we can do to change situations.
Sometimes those situations seem impossibly hopeless.
Sometimes only intervention by God will change anything.

And there's the dilemma. I guess it's always the dilemma.
I don't trust God.
I don't trust him to step in, to speak to people, to call to them, to reveal himself to them.

And so when I'm up against a wall, and when I can't do anything, I think the situation is hopeless.

The ancient prophets wept. And mourned. And turned to God.
They prayed. A lot.
They fasted.
They listened.

Because only intervention by God could change anything.
So I'm asking myself:
Do I really believe prayer makes a difference to God?
Do I really believe fasting makes a difference?
Do I really believe God will intervene?
Do I really trust God?

And finally:
Am I willing to invest in focused prayer and fasting?

I'm curious about your experiences with prayer and fasting and trusting God for the impossible.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

First and Second Kings: The End

First Kings begins with Solomon, the King of Israel, asking God for wisdom, setting out to rule God's people, setting out to build a temple for the Lord God Almighty. Second Kings, which is originally part of the same literary text, ends with Solomon's temple being dismantled. In between, Solomon turns his back on God, the kingdom is divided, the people war against one another, and finally, surrounding kings take the people into captivity.

The End.

Solomon's golden reign, filled with peace and prosperity, ends tragically.
David's line is destroyed.
Hope is lost.

But God's faithfulness, his compassion, and his promises never fail.
He is all-powerful.
He can do the impossible.

We see his power most clearly when no human possibilities remain.
We don't need a Savior when we can save ourselves, or when we don't even need saving.

David's line is not lost.
We know that.
We know that Jesus, the Son of God, comes from the line of David.

He is that Messiah, first promised in Genesis.
He is that King who will reign forever on David's throne.

We know that, but the people of Israel don't.
They can't see into the future the way we can look into the past.
They can have faith in God's promises. Or not.

And we can have faith in God's promises. Or not.
We can look into the past and see God's faithfulness to the people of Israel.
We can look into the past and see God's faithfulness to people in our spiritual community.
And, if we have walked with God long enough, we can look into the past see God's faithfulness in our own lives.

And then we can trust him with today. Or not.

As an aside, it is important to study Scripture and learn God's character, to identify his promises. If we don't know them, if we don't know God, it's very hard to have faith, and it's very hard to trust.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

The Cave and Other Metaphors

There are rules about mixing metaphors, about using more than one to tell a story. In general, I agree with those rules. For example, simultaneously comparing a life experience to baseball, football, and childrearing is bound to result in confusion.

However, this is my story and I have decided to break the rules because honestly I don't know how to tell my story without these metaphors. These are the metaphors that help me understand and make sense of my life.

About a week ago I found out that the School of Ministry at Newbreak would close, and that my job would end.  The news wasn't unexpected, but essentially sent me spinning. (What am I going to do?  I'm finishing school.  I'm interning at State.  It will be really hard to find a new job. What if God doesn't take care of us?)

Spinning generally makes me want to hide, shut down, isolate, quit.

After I quit crying, I went home and watched television. We've got a DVR so I had a lot of choices. House Hunters. Moving Up. Law and Order--all three franchises. If I'm watching TV, I'm not thinking about the future, and if I'm not thinking about the future, I'm not crying, and even if I'm not terribly happy, I'm also not sad.

It occurred to me that maybe it would be better to pray, to read the Bible, to write down my feelings, but honestly, I preferred to watch TV.

On Saturday, I emerged from my hiding place, where I was only accessible to my family, and I started to get caught up on my Bible reading.

I picked up where I had left off in the Garden to City plan.

The Cave

1 Kings 19 - After the event on the mountain, where God totally comes through for Elijah and destroys the prophets of Baal, after the people declare that they will serve the Lord, Ahab and Jezebel vow to assassinate Elijah, and he gets scared and runs.

Elijah knows God's power, but he still freaks out and runs for his life. He has seen God move, raise children from the dead, multiply provisions, create fire. Even after God meets him under the broom tree, feeds him, and gives him strength for a long journey, he still questions God. And he goes to the cave and hides.

I have seen God move. I have seen his power. He has blessed us, provided for us more than once and rescued us from our mistakes multiple times. And I still question his power, his intentions. Will he come through again? Surely not. I don't deserve it.

And so I hide in the cave. Watch TV.

The Lifeboat

About a year ago Amanda sent me an Evotional from Mark Batterson. Paul is a prisoner on his way to Rome, and his ship encounters a terrible storm. Everyone is petrified, but an angel of the Lord appears to Paul and tells him it's all okay. Everyone will be saved, but they have to stay on the boat. A few sailors decide to take matters into their own hands by getting into the lifeboat, but Paul warns them they will die if they do that. Ultimately, the ship leaders cut the ropes to the lifeboat.

Batterson writes: "If I know anything about human nature I know this: we like backup plans. We all want a lifeboat. But there are moments in life when you have to cut the lines to the lifeboat. And the very thing that seems the riskiest is actually the safest and what seems the safest is actually the riskiest. The thing that could cost your life ends up saving your life and the thing that could save your life ends up costing your life."

The blog spoke to both Amanda and me because both of us have lifeboats we hold on to, backup plans to rescue us, take care of our needs. At the end of the day, though, it is God who saves us. We talked back and forth because we both knew we would need to cut the ropes sooner or later.

I knew then that my job was my lifeboat.

I told her that I wasn't ready to cut my lifeboat. It wasn't time. Apparently it's time now, and the rope is being cut for me. I don't know what will happen next. I don't think I've had an angel of the Lord meet me and tell me not to be afraid. Then again, I'm hiding in the cave and when God asks me why I'm there, I turn up the television a little louder.

Walking on Water
At the women's retreat, Teresa spoke about Peter and the storm and walking on water. About trusting God, looking at Jesus instead of the storms. And then she had us write something on a rock, something that God was asking us to step out of. Or onto. Or something. I don't know exactly. I wasn't listening very well because I knew exactly what God was speaking to me about.

And I so sat in my seat and cried.
Trusting God.
Here's where the metaphors get all mixed up.

Getting out of seemingly safe boats and walking on water is hard. What if I sink? After all, walking on water is impossible.

I'm not ready to cut the rope to my lifeboat.
And so I stay close to the cave.

God is good. He loves us. We can trust him. I can trust him. I know these things so why am I scared?

Life is an adventure. (new metaphor without a story) What if I make a mistake? What if God doesn't come through?

The first few verses of Psalm 37 remind me not to fret, to trust God, to commit all my ways to him, to delight in him.

And then verses 23-24 remind me to step out in faith.
"If the Lord delights in a man's way, he makes his steps firm; though he stumble, he will not fall, for the Lord upholds him with his hand."

I may stumble, I may make mistakes, I may doubt, but if I keep my eyes on the Lord, he will watch over me and hold me up.

Monday, May 3, 2010

1 Kings 8-11: The Slow Fade

Every time I read about Solomon and his wealth and his wisdom, about the peace and prosperity of the Golden Age of Israel, I wonder what happened. How did it all go so bad so fast?

I was thinking about this and wondering what to write for this blog, and then Sarah Northup sang "Slow Fade" from Casting Crowns during the offering at church yesterday, and it made sense.

Here's the chorus:

It's a slow fade when you give yourself away
It's a slow fade when black and white have turned to gray
Thoughts invade, choices are made, a price will be paid
When you give yourself away
People never crumble in a day
It's a slow fade, it's a slow fade

Solomon didn't wake up one morning and suddenly decide not to serve the one living God, and God didn't reject him after one single transgression. This was a process, little things that pulled him farther and farther away from the heart of God.

But what started it?

Was it when purchased so much gold and other materials from Hiram, king of Tyre, that he had to pay him with the land God had given the people of Israel.

Was it when he built a the greatest throne in all the known world, and all the world's kings came to him and paid him homage.

Was it the decision to marry women who worshiped other gods?

Regardless, it was a series of choices, and choices made as a result of those choices that led to his ultimate separation from God.

Maybe Solomon thought God didn't care that he made sacrifices to other gods. I mean, nothing happened at first. But in the end, God came to Solomon and said, I will take the kingdom away from your son and give to Jeroboam, who serves me with his whole heart. For the sake of your father David, this won't happen until after your death, and also for the sake of David, I'll leave your descendants one tribe, the tribe of Judah.

It's rather telling that Solomon didn't mourn his sin, and he didn't repent. Instead, he sent men to kill Jeroboam, and Jeroboam fled to Egypt.

Yes, it's a slow fade.
"So we must listen very carefully to the truth we have heard, or we may drift away from it." (Hebrews 2:1 NLT)