Exodus 14:14 | Me in My Way

I like to be in control. I avoid organizations that require me to submit to some kind of leadership structure. I would struggle to be part of the Methodist church for example because there are so many decisions that happen outside of the local church leadership and if the local church does not like it then too bad. Now this is not to disparage the Methodist church it is just that I would have a hard time submitting to that authority. This frustration says more about me than it does the church. I like the rugged individual ideals of conservative politics and Americanism. Leave me alone and let me live my life as I see fit. I work in the corporate world and I am much happier when the work space trusts my judgment and gives me freedom to be creative solving problems. I do not last long in a work space where everything is scripted and the script must be followed blindly.

I think I am this way because of a single parent home where the one parent that was at home was always at work. I fixed my own dinner at night (hello frozen dinners). I was responsible to do my homework, or not. I came and went as I pleased. It is only by God’s grace, mercy, and restraining hand that I survived unsupervised as a teenager. I reflect on my desires and personality to come and go as I please because it is contrary to God’s expectation of submission as a central tenant of Christianity. Christians should submit to God’s authority and follow Christ, sometimes blindly because his ways are always the right ways. But I know I am not the only one to struggle with submission. Look at the fledgling nation of Israel marching out of Egypt for God’s glory.

“Fear not, stand firm, and see the salvation of the Lord, which he will work for you today … The Lord will fight for you, and you have only to be silent.” Exodus 14:13-14 ESV

They had just left the devastated Egyptian nation as slaves made free when the people of Israel realized that the King of Egypt had changed his mind and was bringing an army against them to kill and recapture. Israel was afraid and they questioned Moses. I would have done the same. Why did we go this way into a dead end? Why did we not arm ourselves before we left? Maybe we should have waged war before we left? I could solve these problems but no Moses tells them to they have only to “be silent” because the “Lord will fight for you”.

The Lord fights for us in three ways that I have struggled to learn. Can I wait on him? Yes, I want to be silent because I want to submit to the King of King for His Glory.

God fights for us even now in our current problems

31 What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? 32 He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? Romans 8:31-32 ESV

Whatever our worldly issues, whatever our current danger, whatever our failures right at this moment God is bigger. Israel was stuck between the Egyptian army and the Red Sea. They could do nothing to fix the problem. They like peoples of today needed to do nothing more than trust God and yield to his authority. He provided a safe path forward for them and the same is true for those who would put their trust in Him today.

God Secures our Salvation Apart of Works

8 For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, 9 not a result of works, so that no one may boast. 10 For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them. Ephesians 2:8-10 ESV

God is the fighter who not only fights to free Israel but fights to set people free today. God is here to give this gift to freedom and salvation. I don’t need to fight for it I only need to be silent and yield to his plan.

God is the Righteous King and the Future Victory is Secure

12 “Behold, I am coming soon, bringing my recompense with me, to repay each one for what he has done. 13 I am the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end.” 14 Blessed are those who wash their robes, so that they may have the right to the tree of life and that they may enter the city by the gates. Revelation 22:12-14 ESV

Whatever our limitations and struggles here and now Jesus is going to return and set all of it finally and completely right. Those who have waited on God in salvation and daily life will be given the right to the tree of life inside the city gates of the King of Kings. Those who are not submitted to God will be washed away like the Egyptian army.

Do you want to fight for yourself or will you stand down and allow God for fight for you? If you want to yield to the King of Kings then there is life. I pray that I would put aside my failed independent and controlling nature to trust God to fight for me.

Proverbs 30:5 | History Proves the Point

Archaeology is a study of the past based on artifacts found in the present. These artifacts are interpreted based on knowledge of the past and decades of research. There will always be disagreement between scholars studying the artifacts because each scholar brings his or her own bias to the discussion. So the question is does archaeology support the historical narrative presented in the Old Testament?

It is best to answer this question in two parts.

Part One: Archaeology can only be used to help answer questions about the past from what has been found. Just because artifacts of antiquity have not survived or have not yet been discovered does not then automatically invalidate the history as presented by the Bible. For example there is no archaeological evidence to support the Bible’s history of Moses leading the Israelites to freedom. Does that mean that the Biblical narrative is false because no other artifacts have been discovered to support that part of the history? The absence of collaborating evidence does not invalidate the Biblical claim. It only means that Archaeology cannot independently confirm certain Biblical claims.

Part Two: Many artifacts have been found and researched by archaeology that support the Biblical history. Artifacts from non-Biblical sources that when taken as a whole validate what God has already told us about the past.

There is much of the history of the world that has been lost to time. New discoveries are being found and modern understanding of history is always being updated. God however was there and he has given a history that he wanted documented. A history that continues to be proven true.

Every word of God proves true; he is a shield to those who take refuge in him. Proverbs 30:5 ESV

The word God has left us and the story he tells is one where God chases after His creation and restores mankind to Himself. God is not just in the past but he is in the present alive today working in the lives of those who are called by his name, Jesus.

Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, 2 but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world. 3 He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power. After making purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high. Hebrews 1:1-3 ESV

* Revised and Edited. Originally posted July 2013 to Human Effort

Amen. What am I in Agreement with Exactly?

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Amen is a universal word that has been transliterated into other languages like Greek and English. This means that the word being used today to close a prayer or incorporate into worship is the same spoken word that the church fathers of a few thousand years ago used.

Transliteration is not the same as translation. Translation is to take a word like “agua” in Spanish and convert it to the equivalent in English “water”. Water and agua are not the same word when spoken.

Transliteration is the method of keeping the original spoken word, but converting the written version into the alphabet of the target language in a way that the spoken sounds the same or similar. Amen is the English transliteration of the original Hebrew word אָמֵן. The Hebrew is transliterated as ‘amen. The same is true with the Greek to English. ἀμήν is the Greek and the transliteration into English is amēn.

If the Greek word for Amen had been translated we would not have the word Amen we would have the meaning of the word within the context of the passage. That brings us to the question. What does Amen mean anyway?

Here is an example so that the word might be clearly defined. In this example Ezra is working to restore the Israelite community in Jerusalem after the Babylonian exile. Part of that work included reminding the people of God about the Laws given to Moses. To that end he organizes a time to read from the scriptures to the people.

And Ezra opened the book in the sight of all the people, for he was above all the people, and as he opened it all the people stood. And Ezra blessed the Lord, the great God, and all the people answered, “Amen, Amen,” lifting up their hands. And they bowed their heads and worshiped the Lord with their faces to the ground. Nehemiah 8:5-7 ESV

Amen translated from this text means “so be it” or “let it be so”. The people listening to the words Ezra is reading from the book of the law are agreeing with the contents not just to Ezra. They are agreeing with God himself as they bow and worship the Lord in that assembly. Within the context of worship and in relationship to the Creator Amen carries the weight of a promise that what is not possible for man is possible for God. Paul defines it this way.

For all the promises of God find their Yes in [Christ]. That is why it is through him that we utter our Amen to God for his glory. And it is God who establishes us with you in Christ, and has anointed us, and who has also put his seal on us and given us his Spirit in our hearts as a guarantee. 2 Corinthians 1:20-22 ESV

God has promised many things to many people. Paul is telling us here that all those promises are fulfilled in Christ. Abraham was promised descendants as numerous as the stars (Genesis 26:4). That promise is realized in Jesus.

Know then that it is those of faith who are the sons of Abraham. And the Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel beforehand to Abraham, saying, “In you shall all the nations be blessed.” So then, those who are of faith are blessed along with Abraham, the man of faith. Galatians 3:7-9 ESV

When we say Amen Paul is telling us that we are saying “Yes” let it be so to God. The “Yes” is fulfilled in Jesus because he is the final answer, solution, and reason for any hope we have. Through Jesus God has restored the relationship.

Now that we know what Amen means within the context of the Biblical narrative do we continue on in our selfish ambition ignoring God as if he does not exist? Or do we like the Paul agree to the “Yes” in Jesus and trust him as the solution to everything with our Amen?

Revised and Updated: Originally posted on Human Effort April 10th 2013

 

My Prayer for 2016

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At the beginning of the last year I was leading a group of youth at a large two day youth conference. Events like this are stressful for me because I am not a fan of crowds. (I know a youth leader that does not like crowds that is crazy) Plus I am a volunteer with a full time day job. This was the first event I had organized and I felt the weight of planning an organizing this outing. Standing emotionally drained in one of the worship sessions with Kari Jobe on stage singing I started a conversation with God about just how worn out and exhausted I was at that moment. I am grateful to have a relationship with my Creator and I love to serve him as a volunteer in ministry. I know He has drawn me to this point and I know that His work serves an eternal purpose. However I fear drawing close to Him because, well frankly, He asks the impossible and demands to be in control. At this moment standing with thousands of others singing I entered into His presence in a way that is familiar to me but not common. The Holy Spirit was near and God was speaking. As in the past He does not say much but He is always powerful and life altering in these moments before His Holy presence. When Moses went to the top of Mount Sinai and spent time with God He was altered as evidenced by the reaction from the Israelites when he returned to their company (Exodus 34:29-30). What I know from firsthand experience is that it is impossible to come before God and not be altered, moved, changed, or impacted in some unforgettable way. He is too mighty and powerful for there to be any other outcome. So it was for me that day at the conference. God told me that if I thought the previous year was busy and exhausting just wait until I saw what lay ahead for the coming year. I knew it would be true. What lay ahead was an in-law moving into my home, a promotion at work that I did not want, a construction project on the basement of my home for the in-law, a final push to wrap up a master’s degree, The pastor asking me to preach for the first time, all while continuing to be a father and husband, and manage the multiple ministries within the Church that are on my heart. There is no way one person can be outstanding at all of those things. Yet that is what the upcoming year had in store. The Holy Spirit speaking to my heart told me that in order to survive the upcoming year that I needed to step out of the comfort and illusion of control I maintain and trust God to be in control. I started thinking about Peter when he asked if he could leave the boat and walk to Jesus.

28 And Peter answered him, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.” 29 He said, “Come.” So Peter got out of the boat and walked on the water and came to Jesus. Matthew 14:28-29 ESV

I am amazed at Peter’s boldness and rashness of that situation. They were in the middle of the sea, it was night, and there was a raging storm. How could he just step out of the boat into that level of chaos? The boat itself was not a fun place to be at that moment but at least he knew he stood a chance as long at the boat stayed above the water. At that moment that is exactly what I felt in my heart. God drawing me out of the security of the boat. God asking me to let go of the controlling, reserved, and rational nature of who I am. I try my best to not make mistakes. I speak once I have analyzed and understand an issue. I act when I am confident of the outcome. God was drawing me into an out of control situation in the upcoming year and he wanted me to embrace it with a newfound level of faith and trust in Him. God wanted to demonstrate to me that He is in control and I do not need a backup plan. God is in control and I do not need to maintain the illusion of control in order to serve Him where He is at work. As I meditated on this invitation to me from God while standing in a crowd of thousands I started to scheme in my heart about how I could step out of the boat but maintain control. If I was Peter I would have been able to trust Jesus while stepping out onto the water but the rational and prudent thing would have been to tie off rope to the boat and myself before stepping out. Yes that would have worked. So in my head I committed to stepping out in greater faithfulness to trust God would carry me though the year, but I also promised myself in my heart that I would continue to maintain some level of control and in my own strength accomplish what He was calling me to do.

Here I am one year later at writing this letter as a way to sort out where I stand and what this New Year will hold for me. When I reflect back on the last year I know it came about exactly as God told me it would and I know that because I wanted to maintain control that it was equally disastrous to me physically and emotionally. I have always been a relatively healthy person and have lived an active lifestyle but that ended this last year where I gained weight and I stopped exercising. My cholesterol and blood pressure levels are now at unsafe ranges. By the fourth quarter of the year I was emotionally drained and had to pull back from several ministry investments that I believe the Church should be focused on just as the new church year was being launched. And something new I had never experienced before overcame me toward the end of the year. I started having what I can only describe as anxiety or panic attacks. The peak occurred over the Thanksgiving holiday. We were visiting family out of state for the holiday. The day was unseasonably warm and beautiful so we took the children fishing at a local park. The surroundings were calm and peaceful. The park was quiet and calm around this pond. The striking thing to me that day was the contrast to how gorgeous and peaceful that day was on the outside yet internally my chest was constricted and in pain. I was struggling to breathe comfortably. I took a walk on the park paths taking deep breaths trying to relax. I started to reflect on why I was such a mess. My job was out of control were that last promotion had left me consumed with an unreasonable and impossible demands. I had drawn away from spending time listening for God and His vision. I felt as if the ministry at Church was on hold because I had nothing to invest physically or emotionally at that point. This is what keeping control looks like and I was not happy with the results. I was immediately reminded of my encounter with God earlier in the year. I knew this was all on me and that I needed to surrender.

So here I am contemplating the upcoming year. I have been slowly spending time drawing close to God and He in is mercy and grace has restored me in several ways. I am once again emotionally restored with a desire to write and teach. The anxiety attacks are gone. I have lost several pounds and am feeling physically better. However there remains one major task before me. The same request that I cheated one year before. Will I step out of the boat? Will I rest in His control? Will I be irrational and do what the world would say is crazy? I want to. Lord and Father know that I want to. I can’t do any of this that you have called me to on my own. Without you it is not even worth doing. Lord give me the desire and strength to wildly abandon the reasonable safety of the boat. Help me to untie the safety ropes. Father I am yours and I want to move forward in this relationship counting everything else as lost. I struggle to say this but I desire it… Father have your way with me.

 

Jesus is Shockingly Confrontational

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My favorite Biblical view of Jesus is as the Good Shepherd. I think this view of Jesus is less popular and less understood in current western culture due to the fact that more people live in cities and have never had to care for livestock. Shepherds are by nature confrontational and rough people because the sheep they are responsible for have no ability to fend for themselves. The Shepherd must fight for them. David as a youth used his experience as a shepherd to appeal to King Saul for an opportunity to fight Goliath the champion warrior of the opposing army.

33 And Saul said to David, “You are not able to go against this Philistine to fight with him, for you are but a youth, and he has been a man of war from his youth.” 34 But David said to Saul, “Your servant used to keep sheep for his father. And when there came a lion, or a bear, and took a lamb from the flock, 35 I went after him and struck him and delivered it out of his mouth. And if he arose against me, I caught him by his beard and struck him and killed him. 36 Your servant has struck down both lions and bears, and this uncircumcised Philistine shall be like one of them, for he has defied the armies of the living God.” 37 And David said, “The Lord who delivered me from the paw of the lion and from the paw of the bear will deliver me from the hand of this Philistine.” And Saul said to David, “Go, and the Lord be with you!” 1 Samuel 17:33-37 ESV

Jesus like David is a shepherd that will fight for His flock. He does not flee from danger or from the enemy.

 11 I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. 12 He who is a hired hand and not a shepherd, who does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and flees, and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. 13 He flees because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep. 14 I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, John 10:11-14 ESV

Jesus has a powerful love for His sheep because He is the owner not a temporary caregiver, and as owner of the sheep he knows them all. Jesus boldly went to the Cross the source of pain, death, and evil that impact our lives so that He Himself could restore His flock of sheep.

There is one other aspect of being Shepherd we must look at. That is to know that as sheep He is our master. Our role is to go where he leads, and follow His commands. The Shepherd knows where the green fields are at. He knows where the wolf treads. Why then do we obstinately try to forge our own way moving away from the green field and toward the wolf? Jesus demands that we give up our own ambitions. This is a shocking idea to western culture that views self as equal to God able to forge a path and do anything we put our minds to do.

24 And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. Galatians 5:24 ESV

The passions and desires of this life in many cases are selfishness and seeking pleasure at the expense of others. Jesus will confront this in His sheep just as surely as he has confronted the wolf.

20 The young man said to him, “All these I have kept. What do I still lack?” 21 Jesus said to him, “If you would be perfect, go, sell what you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.” 22 When the young man heard this he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions. Matthew 19:20-22 ESV

Jesus shot an arrow right in the heart of an upstanding moral young man who wanted validation that the life he lived was worthy of God. Jesus confronted the man right where this man kept his desires. Money in this case was the one place this man would not follow God and Jesus confronted the root issue.

 24 And he said, “Truly, I say to you, no prophet is acceptable in his hometown. 25 But in truth, I tell you, there were many widows in Israel in the days of Elijah, when the heavens were shut up three years and six months, and a great famine came over all the land, 26 and Elijah was sent to none of them but only to Zarephath, in the land of Sidon, to a woman who was a widow. 27 And there were many lepers in Israel in the time of the prophet Elisha, and none of them was cleansed, but only Naaman the Syrian.” 28 When they heard these things, all in the synagogue were filled with wrath. 29 And they rose up and drove him out of the town and brought him to the brow of the hill on which their town was built, so that they could throw him down the cliff. 30 But passing through their midst, he went away. Luke 4:24-30 ESV

Here Jesus speaking to the self-righteous, religious pillars of the community he confronted them with a terrible truth about their history. God sent prophets to people who were not of Israel to heal and to be comforted because God saw how selfish and evil the people of Israel had become. This confrontation was such an insult that they intended to kill Jesus right then at that moment.

I read another story of Christ being confrontational this week with the release of movie Unbroken the story of Louis Zamperini. Zamperini was a POW in the hands of the Japanese and after he returned home he spent his time thinking of ways to return and kill his main captor. In the book that recounts his life Zamperni tells us that this anger and hate consumed him and it impacted his relationship with family. Years later Zamperini wrote a letter to his captor…

As a result of my prisoner of war experience under your unwarranted and unreasonable punishment, my post-war life became a nightmare. . . . But thanks to a confrontation with God through the evangelist Billy Graham, I committed my life to Christ. Love replaced the hate I had for you. (396–397)

I am amazed to see his word “confrontation” right here. Christ confronted Zamperini and asked him to put away the passions of the flesh. This hate melted into forgiveness and Zamperini placed himself at the mercy and grace of the Good Shepherd. Christ confronts us all asking each of us to surrender to a life in service to Him. If you are His sheep then listen to his confrontational voice, repent of your rebellion, and submit to the mercy and grace of the one who is willing and able to give us life lived in love

Afraid

What is your fear? Snakes, Public speaking, no food for today, stuck in rush hour traffic, persecution because of who you are? There always seems to be something to fear, much of those fears we push away into the back of our mind. Sometimes those fears force themselves into the present and must be dealt with. Why do we fear? Will we lose our life, possessions, or will the result of our fears cause pain of some kind? This life is temporary for everyone. Everyone will die. Is that what we fear the most?

A messenger came and told David, “The hearts of the people of Israel are with Absalom.” Then David said to all his officials who were with him in Jerusalem, “Come! We must flee, or none of us will escape from Absalom. We must leave immediately, or he will move quickly to overtake us and bring ruin on us and put the city to the sword.” 2 Samuel 15:13-14 ESV

King David has a real and immediate fear in 2 Samuel. One of his sons, Absalom, is making an attempt to take over the kingdom by force. The uprising is so effective that David needs to flee Jerusalem to avoid being killed. Can you imagine the fear in such a realization and being forced to run for your life knowing that if you are caught that death waits. Absalom was followed by leaders David trusted and many others betrayed David giving him up for death to make Absalom king. Imagine the anger and helplessness at such a betrayal. How do you respond to a fearful situation?

King David was a sinner just like everyone else, but he also was a man that turned to God in real and genuine ways. Large portions of the Psalms are attributed to him. Scholars believe that Psalm 55 was written by David at this time of betrayal and this Psalm is a great model for us on how to deal with hurts and fear that are a real part of life.

Be Honest with God and yourself about the fear and anxiety.

My heart is in anguish within me; the terrors of death have fallen on me. Fear and trembling have beset me; horror has overwhelmed me. Psalm 55:4-5 ESV

God wants your life to be interlinked with His plans. Humbly ask Him for help and He will show mercy.

As for me, I call to God, and the Lord saves me. Evening, morning and noon I cry out in distress, and he hears my voice. Psalm 55:15-17 ESV

Trust God and what only He can do. Trust Him because as Creator of all things he is worthy of that trust.

Cast your cares on the Lord and he will sustain you; he will never let the righteous be shaken. But you, God, will bring down the wicked into the pit of decay; the bloodthirsty and deceitful will not live out half their days. But as for me, I trust in you. Psalm 55:22-23 ESV

Remember His faithfulness in the past. As we grow in our relationship with God, we will do well to remember His faithfulness in past troubles.

He rescues me unharmed from the battle waged against me, even though many oppose me. God, who is enthroned from of old, who does not change—he will hear them and humble them, because they have no fear of God. Psalms 55:18-19 ESV

God never promises to take away all pain or fear. Even King David a man that God loved still had troubles. This world is cursed because of our sins and as a result death and suffering are ever present. Yet God does promise that if we take refuge in Him he will be our help and sustaining grace.

God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble. Psalm 46:1

Are you ready to shelter in God? Is he not big enough? Is he not strong enough? Is he not just enough? Is he not loving enough? Why then do we still struggle in our own strength trying to do our best that is never good enough? STOP and turn to Him. He has already done all the work preparing for the future when fear will no longer be an issue. Jesus has taken it all on Himself. Turn to Jesus and repent of your rebelliousness. Submit to Him and give him the authority that is due and justified. He will be your strength to face what lies ahead in life and death.