Monthly Archives: October 2011
Engage the Word
When Jesus walked the earth, the Bible teaches us that God was walking the earth in human form. So a lot of people think that means God wasn’t in heaven while Jesus was here. But passages like today make it clear that’s not true. In the baptism scene we see or hear Father, Son, and Holy Spirit all at once. New Testament writers never try to “explain” the Trinity (the Three-In-Oneness of God) they simply show and tell us what happened. I won’t attempt to fully explain it. But all three (Father, Son, Holy Spirit) are required to talk about God. Wouldn’t we expect God to be more complex than us?
I have a new friend who’s son was a dual-threat quarterback in high school. He could throw the ball or run effectively on any given down. Now in college, coaches are training him to be a slot receiver. So technically he’ll be a triple threat on special plays! Let’s call him Vince. There’s only one Vince, but inside of him there’s a quarterback, a running back, and a slot receiver! He can’t be all three at once like God, but we get the analogy.
And here’s the point. At all times God is a triple threat. Sin had no chance against a Father who wants to forgive, a Son who’s willing to lay down His human Life, and the Holy Spirit who could pass the Spiritual power of resurrection on to human beings. The first verse you learn is often: “God is love.” For that to be true, the trinity is helpful. Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are like three centers-of-being in God. All three are actively loving each other at all times. All three have equal powers but they subordinate themselves in role and function in order to deliver humanity from our fallen condition.
Jesus had self-imposed human limitations. He had to learn and grow just like us. But when he came up out of that water he realized fully that in some mysterious way he was a powerful part of a triple threat that would overcome sin, death, and hell!
And he went to war against the devil, and ignorance, and fear, injustice, hate, hunger, violence, and sin.
He overcame temptation, put Satan on the run and began preaching the Good News. I don’t know what you’re facing today. But if you take Jesus’ message to heart: “Turn away from your sins, because the Kingdom of heaven is near!…” you’ll find the King is a triple threat to overcome all obstacles; self-inflicted or otherwise. The power to change your life and, through you, your world is nearer than you think!
So what does God want you to do today? Who can you bless? What habit can you break? How could you begin serving your church or neighbor? Have no fear. The three-in-one has got your back!
What a great and fun season it’s been for Lake Central’s Conference Co-Champs football program. Congrats to Spearman and Go LC in the playoffs!
As Engage the Word presses on we meet John (the baptizer), son of Zechariah the priest. His dad was a priest in the temple. But that just wasn’t his style. (Think: Billy Graham’s son smuggling Bibles into Turkey). A bit more brash. Having a bit of a problem with stuffed-shirt bureaucrats and hypocrites. We learned earlier that John was Jesus’ “cousin” through his earthly mother. Quite a pair these two. Born 6 months apart. Probably not your typical play dates when they got together. It says John was filled with the Holy Spirit from birth. Everyone told the story of his father’s vision and the special joy surrounding his birth. He didn’t have a self-esteem problem. More importantly he saw God’s vision for a new kind of Kingdom. One where nobody’s good enough but everybody’s welcome on their knees. Repent! Get right with God because he’s about to show up big time! He was an outsider who wasn’t caught up in the system. This blew everyone’s mind. So they listened. What he said made sense. Lots of people came out. Lots of people repented. John still gave people a hard time and said this better not be for show! “it’s not how wet you get, it’s how straight you walk on land!” (slight paraphrase!) He had spiritual authority and people listened.
But Herod Antipas had power. And he got it the old-fashioned way. His father, Herod the “Great”, paid for it! A weasel of the highest degree, Herod the “Great” was not fully Jewish and had bribed and betrayed his way to earthly power. He completely dismantled the true 2nd Temple and replaced it with a monstrosity larger than Solomon’s, with a nice Roman seal over the entrance. (He also built pagan temples in other towns.) So the true believers who were poor saw themselves excluded more and more from what their religion was becoming: a channel of Roman power and control…
Herod Antipas (the son) took his living brother’s wife. (The two deserved each other.) He had most of the negative qualities of his father and was quite bold in his disobedience to spiritual laws.
So what happens when true spiritual authority meets corrupt earthly power? Herod Antipas couldn’t corrupt John, so he put him in prison. This just made him more heroic to the masses and a continuing embarrassment.
You see, spiritual authority comes from God. You can’t buy it. If you oppose it by running away or trying to silence it, you’re only dealing with the messenger. You can’t avoid God. God is everywhere and will not stop trying to get through to you.
When Herod Antipas had John killed he thought it was the end of his spiritual conviction. But John was just the forerunner, paving the way for the ultimate authority: Jesus. Herod the great had tried to slaughter all the Bethlehem male babies. (Missed by that much.) He eventually allowed a crowd of people to call him a god. And then he got to meet God. Just when he’d finally gotten the ultimate thing he’d been chasing his whole life: god-like power. He forgot that every breath was a gift. (From God). That all earthly power is on loan. (From God). That justice is the reason earthly power exists. (Again, from God). And that all of us one day will answer to…you guessed it, God.
Jesus then returned to his homeland, safe from the power-crazy Herod the Great. But still under the immoral and self-indulgent authority of Herod Antipas, killer of John. John’s followers sensed even more of the same authority in Jesus and quickly followed. Suddenly Herod Antipas had an even bigger problem on his hands. He thought it was John back from the dead to haunt him. But it was God showing up again.
“God called. He wants his power back.”
Jesus went on to be the Messiah who saved the world and ascended to heaven.
In a bitter irony, perhaps the only ruler more corrupt and perverted, Emperor Caligula, banished Herod Antipas to exile. He had to live out his days in obscurity while the Good News about Jesus simply spread to the whole world…
Are you resisting God’s will, God’s way in your life? It’s not worth it. Submit to Him and find lasting peace. Are you struggling under earthly oppression right now? Stay tuned. The last line has not yet been written. God and His true servants are the ones to watch. Commit yourself fully to God’s mission today. It’s Good News for the poor and the poor in Spirit as we shall see…
The Gospel of John says in the first chapter: “And the Word became flesh and ‘dwelt’ among us.” This is a key verse for lots of reasons. But it also may be a clue about when Jesus was born. The word “dwelt” means “pitched his tent”. That’s interesting. Every Fall Jews still celebrate Sukkot, the Festival of Tabernacles or Booths (tents). “live in booths so your descendants will know that I had the Israelites live in booths when I brought them out of Egypt.” (Leviticus 23:42-44) In Chicago, a tent has been on display to honor this tradition. The Exodus was a great event. It was the paradigm for God’s salvation, delivering his people from bondage.
Today’s Engage the Word reading was from Luke 2:1-40. The angel said Mary would miraculously become pregnant and deliver a son named Jesus, whose Kingdom will never end. Jesus means “Yahweh Saves”. Matthew tells us he would “save his people from their sins.” So we’re reading a Christmas story in October! Weird? Not really. If John is giving us a clue, Jesus may have become flesh and pitched his tent during Sukkot! Dwelling among us as a sojourner. One who shared life with us, then gave his life away. One who leads an Exodus out of the bondage of sin! One who saves us from our sins and from ourselves.
There are good reasons to celebrate his arrival at the darkest point in the year, because he was the Light of the World, overcoming the darkness. But it’s not bad to read and celebrate his arrival now, too! How amazing that he became human. Living among our tents. Leading us finally home.
So remember you’re just a sojourner here. The fullness of the Kingdom is yet to come. Let’s draw together as the community of faith. Let’s be disciples. Let’s make disciples who make disciples. He’s still full of grace and truth. Let’s keep sharing the Good News and living toward the Kingdom! Don’t get too comfortable. There’s much to do and we’re not home yet!
Well we’ve reached the midpoint of our Engage the Word journey! I hope you’re enjoying having the Scriptures delivered to your inbox each morning. Much more, I hope you’re doing the Engage the Word loop: PRAY. READ. REFLECT. RESPOND. We can go from droopy-eyed to marching orders in a few minutes. Of course, not every day is a mountain top experience. But every day that begins in the Word of God is better than the best day without it! It’s still literally not too late to catch up by audio. Just go to www.discovernewhope.org and click on the photo of the guy holding a Bible. The page that loads will allow you to sign up for the Journey and listen to audio.
“All Scripture is God-breathed…so that everyone who belongs to God may be proficient, equipped for every good work.” (2 Timothy 3:16-17 NRSV) Do you belong to God? Do you need wisdom? Could you use some encouragement? Do you need to get some “skills”? Engage the Word: Pray. Read. Reflect. Respond. Don’t just get by…come alive! Be a breath of fresh-air to everyone you meet!
Jeremiah 1. Pray. Read. Reflect. Respond.
Follow this the link to a Jeremiah video I made last year to introduce a Jeremiah series. It may help you reflect and get into Friday’s Engage the Word reading! We had fun making it. Traveling from the top of the Willis Tower to the shores of Indiana Dunes!
2 SAMUEL 5:1-7:29
Today David is solidified in his role as king, gets more comfortable living in God’s presence, Honors God above all, and receives a promise.
But receiving the promise is the most important. God blesses his obedient children. How they respond makes or breaks it. Conquerors have come and Gone, but David is still remembered. He took the LORD at His word. God promised to bless his descendants and have one on the throne forever. David repeats it back, claiming the promise. A millennium later Jesus fulfilled those words of promise. Pretty cool, eh?
Promises are God’s commitments to grace in the world. Grace must be received in God’s economy. So what is God wanting to give you that you haven’t received? Forgiveness? Healing? Daily doses of love? Friendship? Service? Sanctifying grace? Baptism/profession of faith? Church membership? Financial blessings from a commitment to stewardship? Sharing your faith with someone who needs it?
Like David you’ll say, “I wanted to bless you, but you have blessed me!” That’s the goodness of God. Receive it today! (then pass it on!)
As I was reading The Daily Office tonight in Jeremiah 36 I was struck once again by Baruch’s crucial role. Jeremiah was given a nearly impossible ministry that would keep him from enjoying a family. But God gave him Baruch. It’s not clear that they spent a lot of time together. But when Jeremiah needed an assistant, Baruch was there. That had to lighten his load. The king tears up and burns your scroll of judgement? No problem, summon your faithful assistant and dictate another with a few new choice lines… I guess it stood out with the advent of Siri, a new digital assistant on Apple’s newest phone. That it’s taken so long to develop this technology, speaks to the challenge of being someone’s assistant. Listening to verbal commands and translating them into written work or obedient action is hard work.
Thank God for Jeremiahs who speak up and boldly proclaim. But thank God also for Baruchs who labor behind the scenes to help deliver these messages… Both serve the true King fully. So are you a Jeremiah? A Baruch? Somewhere in between? How can you use your unique gifts in your faith community or neighborhood to contribute this week?
Engage the Word is a 40 Day journey through key highlights of the Bible. Sign up at www.discovernewhope.org by clicking on the picture of the Bible.
Pray. Read. Reflect. Respond.
Well the people have made their escape from Egypt and seen God work in powerful ways to deliver them. Now they find themselves at the foot of a majestic mountain needing to hear from God. Have you ever gone to God for guidance? Sometimes it’s our last resort. We’ve tried everything else we can think of…maybe God can help. But we’re hoping for a tame sort of gentle help that will fit nicely into our current schedule. But when you ask God to show up, he really does. On this occasion he definitely showed up.
“On the morning of the third day there was thunder and lightning, a thick cloud appeared on the mountain, and a very loud trumpet blast was heard.” (Exodus 19:16)
The LORD knows how to make an entrance, eh? He doesn’t do this very often, but he’s pretty good at it. And human beings are pretty good at freaking out. “…All the people in camp trembled with fear…they said to Moses “you speak to us, we will listen; but we are afraid if God speaks to us, we will die.” When God shows up, really shows up, he doesn’t really fit into our program. But that’s a good thing. If our expectations are aimed at taming God for our own comfort we have a choice to make. Fear and pull back from God, or respect God reverently and draw near, rebuilding our expectations based on a new reality. When God shows up in thunderous ways it’s for a purpose: to get our attention and refocus our vision for life. “Don’t be afraid; God has only come to test you and make you keep on obeying him, so that you will not sin.” He wants a holy respect that keeps us accountable. Why do we resist this? It works well. We let God be God. We know our place: his obedient people. He provides for our needs and shoulders our battles and burdens. We receive his blessings as we trust and obey. He gives us direction and mission in life. We make his mission our mission and find purpose in every moment. It’s not a bad deal. Best of all, it’s what he created us to experience so it just feels right when we just let it happen. Peace and fulfillment. Good stuff. But the people didn’t exactly choose that…they want a go-between. Preferably one that will negotiate a discount. “…the people continued to stand a long way off, and only Moses went near the dark cloud where God was.” Moses again said, “Don’t be afraid.” He’s a good leader. They want a priest who gets peace for them. God wants them to be a kingdom of priests who bless the world.
So what kind of people will we be? Ones who look to God and respectfully draw near; receiving his blessings and taking on his mission? Or, those who remain fearful instead of moving on to faithful? For the wandering Israelites the results are tragic. A whole generation misses out on the biggest blessings God had in mind. And so the same opportunity bounces to you and me: the chance to fear not, draw near, and receive all that God has for us. It’s time to respond…
Connect with Engage the Word at NewHope Community Church Click on the Bible logo and get signed up for daily readings sent to your inbox. Join us on this 40 Day journey through the Bible! Pray. Read. Reflect. Respond.
When God delivered the Israelites from the hand of Pharaoh, it was a mighty act. Pharaoh did not believe it was possible. That’s how it worked. After the plagues, he let the people go, even giving them valuables to support the journey. But then he had a change of mind. He pursued God’s people to the edge of the sea. As they were essentially trapped, panic set-in. “Why did you bring us out here to die in the desert? It was better back in Egypt!,” the people cried. But Moses wasn’t buying it.
“Do not be afraid. Stand firm and you will see the deliverance the LORD will bring you today…the LORD will fight for you; you need only be still.”
Moses was a true leader. On this day his faith was at the forefront of his mind and heart, where it could actually function. He knew that the LORD alone had gotten them this far. He also trusted that God didn’t bring them this far to abandon them now. So, he declared the simple truth that could save all of us considerable stress in life. “Do not be afraid.” Well, fear is a pretty normal response when the army of an empire is about the crush you. “Do not be afraid. Stand firm…” But they saw Pharaoh’s army! “Do not be afraid. Stand firm and you WILL see the deliverance the LORD WILL bring to you today…” But they wondered why Moses or God allowed them to be in this spot. Surely it was poor planning or recklessness! And this is the same mistake we make today.
We think that being in God’s will means no problems. As soon as trouble hits, we’re ready to try something else! When circumstances surprise us, we who testify to being believers can become atheists. We act as if God doesn’t exist or at least doesn’t matter. Our first response is often to try to “figure out” how to fix our problems. But as believers, perhaps our first move should be to look to God. How often do we truly pray first? In a very real way our battle is always the LORD’s. We should never assume that God is surprised just because we are. In the New Testament, Jesus said, “In this world you will have trouble. But take heart, I have overcome the world!”
At that moment, Moses realized why they couldn’t have faith. Because their eyes were fixed on circumstances. But if they would stop fearing and stand firm (both implying trust in God’s power) they would then “see the deliverance the LORD WILL bring. He hasn’t brought it yet. He allowed this to happen, but He has a plan to deliver us. “The LORD will fight for you; you need only be still.” This is a challenge to step up my faith. How about you? In times of challenge our frantic actions cannot deliver us. Freaking out never helps. God understands how tight things are. God has a plan. God WILL deliver us if we stop actively fearing and stand firm, watching Him work. And what wonders they saw…
So the question falls to us. Do we believe? If you’re up against it today, can you make the choice to stop fearing and allow God to help you stand firm? Can you get your eyes off circumstances and keep them fixed on God? Can you look with expectant eyes for His deliverance? Take heart. If you’re a fully devoted follower of Jesus, you’ve got one incredible captain! I’m going to Engage the Word today and let it guide my steps, trusting in God’s plan. I’ll stay on His mission, not getting distracted. I fully intend to see the salvation of my God today! Let’s believe God and experience his deliverance together!