July 28, 2010

All This and More

Ok, my Bible searching skills are clearly a little rusty today. I very much wanted to write about the time when Jesus tells his disciples that they will do all the works that he did--and more.

But I clearly do not remember the phrase used in the NIV because I just tried a whole lotta searches and... nuthin.

I know it's in there... but I can't take any more time to search, so please take my word for it (or comment with the exact passage if you know it!)

But it is true... Jesus told his disciples that they would do the miracles he did... and then some. Why the "and then some?" He's not saying the disciples are better than him, is he? Nope, not at all. But I believe Jesus knows, to some extent at least by this time, that he will be leaving the earth and returning to the Father, and so the only people who will remain to do the miracles are... the disciples. So of course God will use them to do His good works of breaking through with the Kingdom (ie miracles).

Now, here's the important question... do you think that Jesus spoke those words only to the disciples? Or do you think that he spoke those words to all peoples who followed him?

Did you answer yes? I answered yes. Do you know what that means? That means that God expects us to do miracles (with His power, not ours) right now! Today! He has given us the authority given to Jesus to cast out evil spirits, to heal the sick, to restore sight to the blind... in Jesus' name, with God's power, through the Holy Spirit.

Chew on that one for a minute.

I wrote yesterday at my other blog about a miracle that happened in my life. This was an instance when God kinda swooped in and did the work without human help--although I know prayer was involved. But have there been times when miracles have happened through the hands of other people? Yes! I haven't seen many limbs regrown or people back from the dead (ok I haven't seen any) but God gave us the ability to do this!

If you google "Miracles" you will find stories of contemporary people who have experienced life-altering moves of God. And yet, in my life I don't hear too many first-hand stories of this. Why not??? What is holding us back??

I think this post is just the first of many, because I am very interested in the Power of God and how He wants us to tap into it, in order to do miracles, so that He may be praised. So perhaps it's ok that I feel disjointed today, because I think as a culture we're a little disjointed when it comes to an awareness of the ability we have to ask God for amazing things. I hope this changes. I hope to develop the faith that we need to move mountains. I hope you do, too. Then we can all blog about the miracles that God is doing in our lives, each and every day.

July 22, 2010

Return to Me

I have swept away your offenses like a cloud,
your sins like the morning mist.
Return to me,
for I have redeemed you.
              - Isaiah 44:22

You know, when I typed in "return to me" to my Bible search, I expected a few certain verses. But this one was new to me. "Return to me, for I have redeemed you." Wow. 

This verse spoke to me because I immediately thought about what we do when we're in the wrong and we know it. You know, let's say you're 17 and your parents tell you not to go out driving past curfew, certainly not with 8 other kids in the car, and definitely not faster than the speed limit. And of course you do. And, because you can't see past the other 3 people in the front seat and you're going 65 mph on a back road, you blow a stop sign and get sideswiped by someone you didn't even see coming.

What do you do? 

Well, I'm gonna think that one of your first thoughts is that you are going to leave home. Immediately. Without even going home to pack. Why? Because you just know how much trouble you're going to be in when your parents find out. And wouldn't living on the streets be better than the shame and punishment you would find at home?

That might be a bit of a hyperbole, but I firmly believe there are people in the world right now living in terrible conditions because they were too afraid/stubborn/rebellious to deal with something in their lives, and they figured that leaving home would be the best thing to do. Or put it this way--perhaps someone hasn't left home, but they've abandoned their family by crawling inside a fifth of vodka every night. Or by going to girlie shows. Or having an affair with the gardner. 

In each of those ways they've "left" what God has described as a well-balanced life, haven't they? And what happens when they realize the inability of these behaviors to fulfill their desires? Guilt, shame... and often a jump even deeper into that life. Why? Because once you're into a bad habit, a destructive lifestyle, the voice in your head tends to be one that vacillates between justifying what you're doing, and calling you a reject, a loser, a whore.

There's nothing that says redemption in those words.

So we hide from ourselves, we hide from God, and we keep doing what we know we shouldn't.

And I'm not just talking about someone who lives a life of drug-dealing or prostitution. We each are doing something in our lives right now that God would like us to stop doing. I can almost guarantee that. I know the habits I have. I know that I eat through my emotions, and mask my real feelings with sugar. And even as I reach for the ice cream I'll think "this is wrong, you don't need the calories, you're not even hungry." Followed by "Hey, it's my ice cream. I can do whatever I want." And then, after I've made my way halfway through the bowl: "You're such a fat loser. Look at you eating all that crap. No wonder no one loves you. You may as well go eat the rest of it now."

Yeah, welcome to my world. But I didn't put this there to get your sympathy; rather to show you that there are times that all of us will leave what we know is right. And the devil, he likes that. You will be assigned a demon to sit on your shoulder and whisper those horrible, untrue words into your ear until you begin to believe it and say it yourself. 

What then are we to do?

"Return to me," God says, "For I have redeemed you."

It's so crazy. We're the ones who left. We're the ones who messed up. And here God is saying "I know, but I got this. Someone has to pay, so I sent my Son to die. It's ok though, because He's stronger than the devil, and he'll come back to life. Jesus will return to me, and through him, so can you."

But... why?

I know, I know, we shouldn't question it, right? But when you've been listening to the lies of the enemy, you need some truth to clear your head. So read the next verse of Isaiah:

Sing for joy, O heavens, for the LORD has done this;
shout aloud, O earth beneath.
Burst into song, you mountains,
you forests and all your trees,
for the LORD has redeemed Jacob,
he displays his glory in Israel.
              -Isaiah 44:23

What a beautiful verse. Sing for joy for the LORD has redeemed you. And why? Because "he displays his glory in Israel." 

God redeemed you to display His glory IN you. He loves you so much that when He created you, it was with the express purpose of showing His glory in you and through you. And even though we have walked away from Him, He calls to us to return, so that He can continue the good work He started in us. 

Do we deserve it? Of course we don't. But given the option of staying in a downward spiral towards death and destruction, or returning to the One who created us, and receiving His redemption, which sounds better?

And I'm not gonna lie--it won't be perfect right away. God can and will heal people miraculously of addictions, but if that doesn't happen to you, don't despair. Just put your hope in Him and carry on every day, knowing you are getting closer to it. I certainly haven't gotten over my food issues (granted I don't know that I've fully returned to God on this yet) but He has given me some mastery over my eating habits. I'm 6 pounds lighter to prove it. :)

July 15, 2010

Sermon #2

Hi there! In case you haven't noticed, it's been about 2 months since I've posted here. Amazing how time gets away from you when you A) get a computer virus and have to fix the laptop and get a new modem and B) get completely out of the habit of getting up early.

So in an attempt to kickstart my morning habit again, I'm going to give you the second sermon I gave in my leadership class, which I would have posted about the time that I got the virus. It is a bit lengthy I know--remember this wasn't written to be a blog post but rather a 12-minute sermon. But I like the idea of putting this out there. Remember too that I gave this sermon right in the middle of the Stanley Cup playoffs. :)

Are You Prepared for the Day of the Lord?

Imagine two hockey players. They’re both on the same team. The team has done very well, and is in the finals for the Stanley cup. The are clearly both very excited, and they are each preparing for the games in different ways.

The first player, we’ll call him Jim, showed up early every day for practice. He worked out in the weight room, ate healthy food, went to bed on time, and in general followed all of the directions that his coach and his trainers gave him.

The second player, let’s call him Bob, grew a beard. Now, I don’t want you to think that I have an issue with any real hockey team that happens to be growing beards. This is an illustration. But Bob was a little bit confused. You see, he had heard all of the superstitions about how important it was as a team to grow a beard, and to not wash his socks, and to wear the same jersey every game, and to put his left skate on before the right one. He still went to practice, but he spent just as much time focusing on all of these superstitions as he did on honing his skill.

Which player do you think will do the best in the game? I’ve got to say Jim is a little more prepared for the big game, isn’t he? He has kept his focus on what is good, and important about hockey, and Bob, well, you could almost say that Bob was worshiping at some rather interesting altars, couldn’t you? He didn’t have faith in the right way to act as a hockey player, and spent time instead trying to satiate these images he had in his head of rituals that would suddenly bestow winning skills on him.

So, what does this mean to us? None of us are professional hockey players. We are, however, in a similar situation. Where Jim and Bob were preparing for the final game, we must prepare, in a way for our final game—the day that we meet with God. So my question for you today is: Are you prepared for the Day of the Lord?

“The Day of the Lord” is a phrase that has been used throughout the Bible and in much biblical commentary. There is a very strong end-times connotation to it, from our perspective, because it speaks to the day when Christ will return. It speaks to the rule of God on earth. It speaks to a day when we will all stand before God and account for our actions. Pretty fun stuff, huh?

But The Day of the Lord was not just a new testament theory. The Day of the Lord was known to the Jews of the Old Testament, because remember they were looking forward to the coming of the messiah, who we know as Jesus Christ.

But the problem is that no one knew when he was coming.

And the problem is that the Kingdoms of Judah and Israel were experiencing some peaceful, prosperous times. And what happens when humans, fallen, broken humans, experience peaceful, prosperous times? They often get complacent. They begin to develop a feeling of entitlement. And they begin to assume that The Day of the Lord is when the party gets started, when all the heathens and enemies of Yaweh get smited by the wrath of God, and when the earth will finally belong to the Chosen ones at last.

And then comes Amos. Amos was a prophet during the reigns of Uzziah of Judah, and Jeroboam the 2nd of Israel. Amos stepped up and said “you know, I don’t think you quite get what this Day of the Lord is about.”  Listen to what he says in Amos 5: 18-24, speaking on behalf of God:

“Woe to you who long
       for the day of the LORD!
       Why do you long for the day of the LORD ?
       That day will be darkness, not light.
 19 It will be as though a man fled from a lion
       only to meet a bear,
       as though he entered his house
       and rested his hand on the wall
       only to have a snake bite him.
 20 Will not the day of the LORD be darkness, not light—
       pitch-dark, without a ray of brightness?
 21 "I hate, I despise your religious feasts;
       I cannot stand your assemblies.
 22 Even though you bring me burnt offerings and grain offerings,
       I will not accept them.
       Though you bring choice fellowship offerings,
       I will have no regard for them.
 23 Away with the noise of your songs!
       I will not listen to the music of your harps.
 24 But let justice roll on like a river,
       righteousness like a never-failing stream!”

I be there were some Israelites who thought “Woe?? Woe to us?? What the heck are you talking about? Why would God be angry with us? Look, we’re doing the offerings, we’re singing the songs, we’re doing everything you told us to do!!”

But the problem, alas, is that the Jews were doing more than that. While they gave offerings to God, they also gave offerings to idols. Amos continues to say:

“ You have lifted up the shrine of your king, the pedestal of your idols, the star of your god—which you made for yourselves.”

Woah. That kinda explains things a little more—to me at least. What is it the children of God were doing? They were creating their own gods, and worshipping them as well. It’s almost as if they were hedging their bets. Almost as if, like Bob the hockey player, they said “Ok, I’ll do what I’m supposed to do, but I’m not entirely sure it’s going to work, so I’m going to do all this other stuff too, because I heard that will ensure that I have a good life.”

So what were the children of God doing to prepare for the Day of the Lord? They were ignoring God’s commandments. What good is singing and sacrifice when there is no justice? What good is giving a tenth of what you have to the temple and then walking past the sick, the poor, and the down on their luck on your way home to spend the other 90%?

Does this sound perhaps like Christians today? Do we as a group worship God, lift up his name, give him our offerings, and then play the lotto, cut corners, steal paper from the office because we “don’t get paid enough,” and ignore our neighbor who actually has less than us? Do we sometimes expect more from others than we require of ourselves? Do we get upset when someone isn’t on time and yet we’re always late? Do we speak ill of someone who hurt us instead of going directly to them to resolve the issue? Do we make idols for ourselves? Idols called Greed, Entitlement, and Pride?

I have to say this sounds sometimes like me. So what do we do? What do we do to prepare for the Day of the Lord, when Jesus returns and we are called to give that account of our lives? Yes we are saved through the blood of the lamb, but aren’t we supposed to do more with our lives than just “get ours” ?

Well we’re in luck, because the Bible answers this question for us. We are told many, many things. Love the Lord Your God with all your heart and all your soul and all your strength. Love your neighbor as yourself. And, one of my favorite verses in the Old Testament, Micah 6:8:

       He has showed you, O man, what is good.
       And what does the LORD require of you?
       To act justly and to love mercy
       and to walk humbly with your God.

It’s about how we act that we prepare for the coming of the Lord. It’s how we treat God, how we treat ourselves, and how we treat others, that prepares us for The Day of the Lord.

And the great thing is that God gets our hearts. He knows that we aren’t going to be perfect. The trick, however, is to keep ourselves from making those idols. The trick is to not be like Bob, trying to find a shortcut through to a better life. The trick is to be more like Jim, to learn the “right” way to live, and to do our absolute best to live that way. To be humble when we mess up, and to try again.

And I’ll leave you with one more illustration, from one of my favorite movies, G.I. Jane. This is a fictional story about a woman who was in the Navy Seals program, the hardest program in the entire armed forces. She and her crew were on a training mission outside Lybia, when they were suddenly brought together and told that a satellite had fallen into the desert, and the combat unit that had been sent to retrieve it needed help out. So these people, who were still in training, were told “we need you to do the right thing, to step up and help these people who need us, because there’s no one else.” “If for one second, the Captian told the Command Master Chief” your people aren’t ready for any reason, you tell me now.” And the Master Chief said “we’re ready.” He then turned to his crew, told them what was going on, and said “ok, who’s not ready.”

No one raised their hands. They weren’t “ready” by the standards of training and examinations and titles. But they were needed. And they stepped up. And they got that other team out of there.

So I guess my only question for you today is “What are you doing to be prepared for the Day of the Lord?” When you are called upon to help the lost, the last and the least, do you? Do you study the Bible daily in order to learn more about how God wants us to live? Or do you try to find the shortcut? Do you try to find that one song, that one ritual which will “make” God give you an abundant life?

God is looking at us right now, people. There are others in need out there. And his Command Master Chief is asking us: “who’s not ready?”