The Thing about Secrets…

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The Thing about Secrets…

2 Kings 17:7–20

This occurred because the people of Israel had sinned against the Lord their God, who had brought them up out of the land of Egypt from under the hand of Pharaoh king of Egypt. They had worshiped other gods and walked in the customs of the nations whom the Lord drove out before the people of Israel, and in the customs that the kings of Israel had introduced. The people of Israel secretly did things that were not right against the Lord their God. They built for themselves high places at all their towns, from watchtower to fortified city; they set up for themselves pillars and sacred poles on every high hill and under every green tree; there they made offerings on all the high places, as the nations did whom the Lord carried away before them. They did wicked things, provoking the Lord to anger; they served idols, of which the Lord had said to them, “You shall not do this.” Yet the Lord warned Israel and Judah by every prophet and every seer, saying, “Turn from your evil ways and keep my commandments and my statutes, in accordance with all the law that I commanded your ancestors and that I sent to you by my servants the prophets.” They would not listen but were stubborn, as their ancestors had been, who did not believe in the Lord their God. They despised his statutes, and his covenant that he made with their ancestors, and the warnings that he gave them. They went after false idols and became false; they followed the nations that were around them, concerning whom the Lord had commanded them that they should not do as they did. They rejected all the commandments of the Lord their God and made for themselves cast images of two calves; they made a sacred pole, worshiped all the host of heaven, and served Baal. They made their sons and their daughters pass through fire; they used divination and augury; and they sold themselves to do evil in the sight of the Lord, provoking him to anger. Therefore the Lord was very angry with Israel and removed them out of his sight; none was left but the tribe of Judah alone.

Judah also did not keep the commandments of the Lord their God but walked in the customs that Israel had introduced. The Lord rejected all the descendants of Israel; he punished them and gave them into the hand of plunderers, until he had banished them from his presence.

John 6:25–35

When they found him on the other side of the sea, they said to him, “Rabbi, when did you come here?” Jesus answered them, “Very truly, I tell you, you are looking for me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves. Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures for eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you. For it is on him that God the Father has set his seal.” Then they said to him, “What must we do to perform the works of God?” Jesus answered them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.” So they said to him, “What sign are you going to give us then, so that we may see it and believe you? What work are you performing? Our ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness; as it is written, ‘He gave them bread from heaven to eat.’ ” Then Jesus said to them, “Very truly, I tell you, it was not Moses who gave you the bread from heaven, but it is my Father who gives you the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is that which comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.” They said to him, “Sir, give us this bread always.”

Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.

The thing about secrets is… they don’t stay hidden. Tweet: The thing about secrets is... they don't stay hidden.

Time and life have a way of unraveling our conspiracies, setting the truth free. In fact, I believe that the best kept secrets are ones with a very specific plan to reveal the truth to certain people, at certain times. How many people have kept a secret for the majority of their lifetime, only to have it publicly shared upon their death. These post-mortem confessions have revealed thousands of hidden heroes and villains throughout history.

We love a good mystery, but the payoff for us occurs when the truth is at last revealed. In fact, our anticipation grows with every truth revealed. The question, the curiosity, the unknown secret may draw us in, but it will not keep us unless the truth is at last revealed. Cliffhanger stories in books and movies, the ones that end with too many questions, too many secrets left uncovered, are notorious for inciting the rage of audiences. Things can be hidden for a time, but they must eventually come into the light.

Sinning in Secret

Sin often begins in secret. Perhaps our conscience leads us to believe something is wrong, so we try to keep it hidden. Sometimes we are unaware of our own misdeeds and they are kept secret, even from ourselves. It starts small, but accumulates over time as we begin to realize that, once we start, we can’t stop. Habits form. Our expectations change. We become unsatisfied with what we have and want more, so we take what is not ours, harm relationships, and despise others from afar.

We become addicts. There is a lot of shame connected with that word, but, depending upon whatever sin is connected with it, we may or may not realize we have an addiction. People who are addicted to idolatry today are not called addicts, they are called fanatics or groupies, and they simply spend their time and energy worshipping a sports team or performer. They are not seen as being shameful, perhaps just a bit overcommitted to one cause. When we become fanatics of our own family, we are called devoted and we wear that name with pride. Yet loving something more than God is still a sin, and we will keep it in the dark, often by avoiding talking about God at all.

Sometimes we are forced into sin. Children are sold into sexual slavery every day. They are used to transport and sell drugs. We have used children all throughout history to get our own way, oppressing them into becoming sinners themselves, under our authority. I think God probably judges that a bit differently than when we go off sinning of our own initiative… however, that sin marks those children and often shapes them into becoming oppressors themselves later in life, addicted to their own sin and destroying the lives of others. At some point, everyone has to take responsibility for their own actions.

That leads us to the next type of sinner: the one who won’t stop. Addicts are the ones who have no power to stop sinning. Yet there are others who simply enjoy their sin too much and choose not to stop. This is us when we just don’t care enough. We want our way, regardless of what it will cost others. I think the best example of this is not the wealthy man abusing his servants (something that seems distant from ourselves) but the grumpy customer abusing her waitress, never satisfied with her order. Those who verbally insult and attack customer service people, treating them as less than human would fall under this category, as Jesus taught us that we are not to only love God, but also to “love our neighbor as ourselves.” Complainers quickly become abusers of others and without gratitude, there is no grace present.

Seeking in Secret

Secrets are not inherently sinful though, they are simply meant to be temporary. Many good things begin in secret. Some of the followers of Jesus began by seeking Him in secret. Nicodemus, for example came to Jesus at night, when others would not find them, and learned about the Kingdom of God. Jesus Himself described His kingdom, almost as something invisible. It was a secret. Not a secret He was trying to hide from the world though… it was a secret He was trying to reveal.

Yet even in the revealing of this secret, Jesus took care that it was not passed like gossip in the street market. He shared about the coming kingdom in parables that invited people in, but made them have to do some seeking themselves. They had to work to discover the mystery of Jesus.

Some people did not want to have to do any seeking. They just wanted to be protected, healed, and fed. They wanted the miracles without the teaching and definitely without any commitment on their part. Their secret was that they believed in Jesus, but they did not believe in His Kingdom or His mission… and they wanted to keep that secret as long as possible.

Those who sought him during the day were sometimes looking for a quick fix to the problems they faced in life or sometimes just to fit in with the crowds around them. Those who sought him in secret were taking a risk and were looking for the truth about Jesus and the Kingdom He was bringing with Him.

How to seek

Aren’t we supposed to be open in sharing our faith with others? Yes, but there is a difference in sharing your doubts and questions and sharing what you have learned from Jesus. Sometimes we get the two mixed up and we are very public with our doubts, instead of taking them to Jesus in private prayer… and we are too timid with the testimony we have when Jesus makes a difference in our lives. As Jesus said himself,

“Whatever you have said in the dark will be heard in the light, and what you have whispered behind closed doors will be shouted from the housetops for all to hear!”

How then do we seek God?

First, we need to get out of our personal darkness. We cannot seek God and hide from Him at the same time. That is not a limit on God’s ability, it is a limit of ourselves. Either we want to be found by God, or we do not. We have to decide for ourselves first.

Second, we need to seek the light of Christ. Disappointment with the results of Modern (18th-19th century) philosophy led many 20th century thinkers to conclude that anything could be true except Jesus. Having a bias against something is just as bad as having a prejudice towards something. It’s the flip side of the same coin. You cannot call yourself open-minded and refuse to seek Christ on principle. Tweet: You cannot call yourself open-minded and refuse to seek Christ on principle.

Does this mean you cannot find truth anywhere other than Christ? No. But Jesus Christ is the ultimate expression of God insomuch that all truth resonates in Him and all lies are exposed by Him. Because He is the Truth1, He can act as the ultimate filter of what is true and what is false. We however, will miss out on that benefit if we refuse to seek Him.

What secrets do you fear coming to light?

What can you do to bring Christ into those secret places in order to set you free?

  1. John 14:6

Fear That Makes Us Forget

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Fear That Makes Us Forget

Exodus 33:1–6

The Command to Leave Sinai

The Lord said to Moses, “Go, leave this place, you and the people whom you have brought up out of the land of Egypt, and go to the land of which I swore to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, saying, ‘To your descendants I will give it.’ I will send an angel before you, and I will drive out the Canaanites, the Amorites, the Hittites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites. Go up to a land flowing with milk and honey; but I will not go up among you, or I would consume you on the way, for you are a stiff-necked people.”

When the people heard these harsh words, they mourned, and no one put on ornaments. For the Lord had said to Moses, “Say to the Israelites, ‘You are a stiff-necked people; if for a single moment I should go up among you, I would consume you. So now take off your ornaments, and I will decide what to do to you.’ ” Therefore the Israelites stripped themselves of their ornaments, from Mount Horeb onward.

Philippians 3:13–4:1

Beloved, I do not consider that I have made it my own; but this one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus. Let those of us then who are mature be of the same mind; and if you think differently about anything, this too God will reveal to you. Only let us hold fast to what we have attained.

Brothers and sisters, join in imitating me, and observe those who live according to the example you have in us. For many live as enemies of the cross of Christ; I have often told you of them, and now I tell you even with tears. Their end is destruction; their god is the belly; and their glory is in their shame; their minds are set on earthly things. But our citizenship is in heaven, and it is from there that we are expecting a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ. He will transform the body of our humiliation that it may be conformed to the body of his glory, by the power that also enables him to make all things subject to himself. 4 Therefore, my brothers and sisters, whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, stand firm in the Lord in this way, my beloved. “

Fear

When is it right for Christians to fear?

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With all the literature and Christian media out in the world that teaches us not to be afraid, and all of the media that strives to incite fear within us, it can be difficult to understand the relationship with fear that God intends us to have.

To begin with, we need to admit that fear is not inherently bad. It is a natural response to preserve life (typically our own). Here, natural does not automatically imply of the flesh or sinful. It means, God created us this way. One could argue that there was no fear until sin entered into the Garden of Eden, but you don’t find any eating (especially of meat), clothes, or even much communication between man and woman until after the fall. Basing the absence of fear on one passage here is a little shaky.

It becomes even more tenuous when faced with the number of times God Himself commands us to fear… usually Himself. But this is not really fear, it is actually a command to love, you might think. I’m not so sure. There are separate commands to love God, and these commands actually use the word translated as love as opposed to a separate word used for fear. Why use two separate words if you mean the same thing? Because fear is not a sin. It is not inherently wrong.

If I had to sum up what holy fear is, it would be the fear that keeps us humbly obedient to God. Let’s say we are on a cruise ship out in the middle of the ocean. Some of us can swim very well. Others cannot swim at all. Even those who are willing to dive into the ocean will keep to the water closest to the ship because they know, without the safety of that ship, they will eventually tire and drown. Or they might get eaten by sharks… who knows! Either way, fear keeps everyone connected to their source of life and safety. It is the same with God. Fear keeps us connected or at least close by Him. It prevents us from wandering off down wrong paths, on our own.

When is it wrong to fear?

Just because God commands us to fear Him, does not mean we should fear everything else too. Many forms of idolatry, in certain cases even the literal worship of idols was motivated by fear. I would suggest that much of the religious sacrifice of humans and infants, both in ancient times and today, was and is motivated by the fear of something other than God. Abortion is a social issue that is riddled with feelings of fear – both for those for and those against it.

There is a difference between fearing actual danger and simply fearing discomfort. Some people would rather die early than face the discomfort of getting a serious medical exam. Some people take their own lives rather than face the discomfort of shame. Have I blamed all the popular social evils on fear yet? Some people would rather join in with racist groups and propaganda rather than face the discomfort of losing friends and family, and possibly being persecuted themselves, for the sake of standing up for what is right. Some would rather fight because trying to reason makes them feel too vulnerable.1

Doing the right thing, following God’s will is often not the most comfortable or convenient choice. There would be no reason for salvation, redemption, and empowerment by the Holy Spirit if following God was easy. Most of the time, it feels more like the path less travelled. How do you tell the difference between holy fear about danger and faithless fear around discomfort?

Forgetting

Some of the answer is going to always be intuitive. Danger and discomfort are subjective concepts… not everything is dangerous for everyone all the time. Choosing whether something is dangerous or merely discomforting is not the difficult part. Being honest with ourselves about why we made that choice is where we sometimes get into trouble.

You see, the experience of fear sometimes makes us forget things accidentally. Put another way, the source of our fear distracts us from remembering certain things. Sometimes, they are things like appointments. A few days ago a pipe burst in my bathroom, flooding the room and pouring down into the basement. In all the excitement (and fear of plumbing bills) I completely forgot choir practice that evening, well after the plumbing problem was solved. The experience of fear caused me to forget. Sometimes this happens in more drastic ways, such as when people awake to a house on fire and get clear out into the street before remembering that they have children inside. Fear makes us forget.

Sometimes, under the oppression of fear, we intentionally forget things, or choose not to remember them. Many Christians, when faced with open hostility to their faith, intentionally forget the warning that Jesus gave us when he said:

“If anyone is ashamed of me and my message in these adulterous and sinful days, the Son of Man will be ashamed of that person when he returns in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.” – Mark 8:28 NLT

We just don’t want to think about it, when we fear we might be in danger. We choose to stay back instead of stepping up in obedience. We choose to let fear lead us instead of walking by faith.

Remembering

Memory works both ways. Sometimes we accidentally forget. Other times we accidentally remember. We have moments when we get a chill, or we suddenly feel warm. We get goose pimples and shake, and many other symptoms that sometimes seem like the oncoming of illness… yet we know that is not it. We know that we have been in the presence of God, because He has reminded us of Himself, and sometimes a specific thing He has done.

Those moments, when God spontaneously enters our lives and reminds us, are powerful and important. Yet God does not intend to lead us around on a short leash of divine interventions. Intentional times, set aside to remember God’s love and power in our lives are not only more efficient… they are commanded. Indeed, the Last Supper, the Institution of Holy Communion, was given to us as a command to remember the mighty works of God in our world and in our lives.

Taking time each day to intentionally remember God is a way of choosing to go forward, choosing to let faith lead. We lose our reasons to fear when we let faith lead us, specifically our faith that God will be there for us every place He leads us. It is not faith in ourselves and getting our own way, it is a faith that wherever God commands us to go, He will be our guide and provider.

This is where Faith connects to Love. John tells us, there is no fear in love. We may begin our journey following God out of fear, because we are afraid of life without Him. As we grow however, we begin to follow Him out of love for what He has done and is doing in our lives.

What fears distract you today?

What love do you need to remember to help you choose faith?

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  1. That says something right there!

The Warning

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The Warning

Exodus 32:15–35

Then Moses turned and went down from the mountain, carrying the two tablets of the covenant in his hands, tablets that were written on both sides, written on the front and on the back. The tablets were the work of God, and the writing was the writing of God, engraved upon the tablets. When Joshua heard the noise of the people as they shouted, he said to Moses, “There is a noise of war in the camp.” But he said,

“It is not the sound made by victors,

or the sound made by losers;

it is the sound of revelers that I hear.”

As soon as he came near the camp and saw the calf and the dancing, Moses’ anger burned hot, and he threw the tablets from his hands and broke them at the foot of the mountain. He took the calf that they had made, burned it with fire, ground it to powder, scattered it on the water, and made the Israelites drink it.

Moses said to Aaron, “What did this people do to you that you have brought so great a sin upon them?” And Aaron said, “Do not let the anger of my lord burn hot; you know the people, that they are bent on evil. They said to me, ‘Make us gods, who shall go before us; as for this Moses, the man who brought us up out of the land of Egypt, we do not know what has become of him.’ So I said to them, ‘Whoever has gold, take it off’; so they gave it to me, and I threw it into the fire, and out came this calf!”

When Moses saw that the people were running wild (for Aaron had let them run wild, to the derision of their enemies), then Moses stood in the gate of the camp, and said, “Who is on the Lord’s side? Come to me!” And all the sons of Levi gathered around him. He said to them, “Thus says the Lord, the God of Israel, ‘Put your sword on your side, each of you! Go back and forth from gate to gate throughout the camp, and each of you kill your brother, your friend, and your neighbor.’ ” The sons of Levi did as Moses commanded, and about three thousand of the people fell on that day. Moses said, “Today you have ordained yourselves for the service of the Lord, each one at the cost of a son or a brother, and so have brought a blessing on yourselves this day.”

On the next day Moses said to the people, “You have sinned a great sin. But now I will go up to the Lord; perhaps I can make atonement for your sin.” So Moses returned to the Lord and said, “Alas, this people has sinned a great sin; they have made for themselves gods of gold. But now, if you will only forgive their sin—but if not, blot me out of the book that you have written.” But the Lord said to Moses, “Whoever has sinned against me I will blot out of my book. But now go, lead the people to the place about which I have spoken to you; see, my angel shall go in front of you. Nevertheless, when the day comes for punishment, I will punish them for their sin.”

Then the Lord sent a plague on the people, because they made the calf—the one that Aaron made.

Jude 17–25

Warnings and Exhortations

But you, beloved, must remember the predictions of the apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ; for they said to you, “In the last time there will be scoffers, indulging their own ungodly lusts.” It is these worldly people, devoid of the Spirit, who are causing divisions. But you, beloved, build yourselves up on your most holy faith; pray in the Holy Spirit; keep yourselves in the love of God; look forward to the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ that leads to eternal life. And have mercy on some who are wavering; save others by snatching them out of the fire; and have mercy on still others with fear, hating even the tunic defiled by their bodies.

Benediction

Now to him who is able to keep you from falling, and to make you stand without blemish in the presence of his glory with rejoicing, to the only God our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, power, and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen.

Prediction of sin

There are cries of joy and cries of pain, and they are unmistakable. They are universal. But there is another kind of cry too. It is a cry of ecstasy, of revelry, and of wild, unfocused celebration.

Tweet: There are cries of joy and cries of pain, https://ctt.ec/T4p71+ is another kind of cry too ...a cry of ecstasy, revelry, and wild, unfocused celebration.

We all experience temptation, but some of us like the experience more than others. It is one thing to get caught up in the trap of sin. It is another thing altogether to go looking for it. We may be weak and prone to failure, but often we bring trouble upon our own heads simply because we went looking for it. Experiencing failure creates an expectancy that we will fail again… and again… and again. We do not have to live very long before we actually have a harder time imagining ourselves withstanding and getting victory over temptation in our lives. Failure looks more like the reality, and so it becomes.

Where is God in the mess of all this? God knows and prepares for our sin. One of my own personal pitfalls I fell into as a teenager was that the holiness of God was like being clean… which meant God could not get dirty. (Cleanliness is next to Godliness perhaps?). At the time, I thought it was showing reverence to God… separating Him from the common and broken in our world. What I did not realize though was that it was actually limiting Him and forcing Him out of our world. More importantly… it wasn’t true. Genesis 2 shows us in the second creation account that God has no problem getting His hands dirty, quite literally.

Let’s be honest though, our hesitancy to put God and sin in the same room together has nothing to do with dirt. It has to do with guilt and worth and the spiritual stains that mark us. So where is the scripture that shows us that God can handle our sin fullness? Just look at Jesus.

Promise of Holiness

The Jews were waiting for a Messiah and their religious and political interpretations of the Messiah were so intertwined as to be almost indistinguishable. Religious purity was the same as political purity and the Messiah had to be both for them to accept Him. So if you want a good scripture to begin seeing how God handles being in the presence of sinners… start here: Luke 7.

This chapter has one story after another of Jesus coming into contact with different kinds of uncleanness: gentiles, sinners, etc. As it turns out, what it means for God to be Holy means that His Holiness is not threatened by our sin… it overcomes it. In fact, most interactions we have with the holiness of God tends to leave us marked for the better.

God’s holiness changes us, even accidentally. We react to the truth when we come into God’s presence. It gets our attention and often gives us a sense of warning of where not to go. We find forgiveness, grace, consequences, and discipline… often none of it comfortable or convenient, but all of it leading us someplace better.

The Apostle Paul tells us, therefore, we have no excuses. Not because Paul does not understand our natural bent toward sin. We have no excuses because God is able, and willing to help us, if we will only ask. Sometimes, we don’t even have to ask, we just have to be willing to receive it. Whether it comes as a cleansing spirit, purifying us from the inside out, or simply as a warning. We defeat the power of sin on us the same way we do everything else by faith. We keep our eyes on Jesus and follow His lead.

What sin would you predict yourself falling into today?

What promise of God encourages you to trust God to give you victory over that sin?

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Going to the Party

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Going to the Party

Exodus 32:1–14

The Golden Calf1
When the people saw that Moses delayed to come down from the mountain, the people gathered around Aaron, and said to him, “Come, make gods for us, who shall go before us; as for this Moses, the man who brought us up out of the land of Egypt, we do not know what has become of him.” Aaron said to them, “Take off the gold rings that are on the ears of your own wives, your sons, and your daughters, and bring them to me.” So all the people took off the gold rings from their ears, and brought them to Aaron. He took the gold from them, formed it in a mold, and cast an image of a calf; and they said, “These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt!” When Aaron saw this, he built an altar before it; and Aaron made proclamation and said, “Tomorrow shall be a festival to the Lord.” They rose early the next day, and offered burnt offerings and brought sacrifices of well-being; and the people sat down to eat and drink, and rose up to revel.

The Lord said to Moses, “Go down at once! Your people, whom you brought up out of the land of Egypt, have acted perversely; they have been quick to turn aside from the way that I commanded them; they have cast for themselves an image of a calf, and have worshiped it and sacrificed to it, and said, ‘These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt!’ ” The Lord said to Moses, “I have seen this people, how stiff-necked they are. Now let me alone, so that my wrath may burn hot against them and I may consume them; and of you I will make a great nation.”
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But Moses implored the Lord his God, and said, “O Lord, why does your wrath burn hot against your people, whom you brought out of the land of Egypt with great power and with a mighty hand? Why should the Egyptians say, ‘It was with evil intent that he brought them out to kill them in the mountains, and to consume them from the face of the earth’? Turn from your fierce wrath; change your mind and do not bring disaster on your people. Remember Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, your servants, how you swore to them by your own self, saying to them, ‘I will multiply your descendants like the stars of heaven, and all this land that I have promised I will give to your descendants, and they shall inherit it forever.’ ” And the Lord changed his mind about the disaster that he planned to bring on his people.

Matthew 22:1–14

The Parable of the Wedding Banquet2

Once more Jesus spoke to them in parables, saying: “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who gave a wedding banquet for his son. He sent his slaves to call those who had been invited to the wedding banquet, but they would not come. Again he sent other slaves, saying, ‘Tell those who have been invited: Look, I have prepared my dinner, my oxen and my fat calves have been slaughtered, and everything is ready; come to the wedding banquet.’ But they made light of it and went away, one to his farm, another to his business, while the rest seized his slaves, mistreated them, and killed them. The king was enraged. He sent his troops, destroyed those murderers, and burned their city. Then he said to his slaves, ‘The wedding is ready, but those invited were not worthy. Go therefore into the main streets, and invite everyone you find to the wedding banquet.’ Those slaves went out into the streets and gathered all whom they found, both good and bad; so the wedding hall was filled with guests.

“But when the king came in to see the guests, he noticed a man there who was not wearing a wedding robe, and he said to him, ‘Friend, how did you get in here without a wedding robe?’ And he was speechless. Then the king said to the attendants, ‘Bind him hand and foot, and throw him into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’ For many are called, but few are chosen.”

Celebration

What is this journey of faith all about? We’re going to a party! Tweet: What is this journey of faith all about? We're going to a party!

It is not one of those parties that you remember walking in the door and waking up the next morning, and nothing in between. It is not a party where everyone stands around dressed up, bragging about their accomplishments in life. The Bible describes it as a wedding party although it is probably not going to be like any wedding party you have ever been to. We could spend weeks and months digging deeper into what exactly is meant by this wedding, probably chasing down quite a few rabbit-trails on the way… but this much we can take as a foundation: This party is about starting a new life together with God.

How to get there? That is probably the most commonly asked question. From Nicodemus to Billy Graham, and beyond to the great seekers , apologists , and even atheists – everyone wants to know how to get there. So how do we get there?

It’s not about finding a map or going through a series of motions. Traditional weddings were thrown by the groom’s family (the bride brings a dowry to share from her family) and were probably held at the groom’s family home. The groom would build on additional housing on the family land to be the new home for his wife and himself. So, how do we get there? Just like Rebekah in the book of Genesis, we follow our groom back to his home. That’s how we get there.

What will we go through to get there?

The first thing we have to do to get to this wedding party is to leave home. I’m a bit biased, having left home a number of years ago myself and relocating to another state, but it strikes me that the first of many excuses many people give for not following Christ’s call on their life is that they were raised in a good home, in a good family, and don’t want or need to leave that. Sometimes it sounds like (and I know this is not the case) they are claiming they were born Christians and born in heaven already… and for many of them, they expect heaven to just be an extension of their own personal family they had growing up. They are going there to see mom, dad, grandma, and grandpa again.

I contrast that notion with the fact that nearly every follower of God in the Old Testament and follower of Jesus in the New Testament were asked to pack their bags and move out of obedience to God at some point or another. It is rare that I have met a Christian leader who was not called to change jobs or move away from family at one time or another. Our first step toward the wedding party is leaving home.Tweet: Our first step toward the wedding party is leaving home.

Along the way, we learn to trust in God’s provision for us. Without the comforts and control of our home environment, we can find ourselves lost, scared, running out of provisions, not knowing where we are going and not knowing how to get back. Every time my wife and I head out the door, we say “It’s always an adventure.” in the spirit of Bilbo Baggins, The Lord of the Rings. It’s not easy and it is not nearly as comfortable as just sitting at home… but the rewards for that adventure are so much better.

Relationships are forged in the fire, and our trust in God – our faith, is made real when it is put to the test. We may try to test God’s faithfulness all we want, but it will gain us nothing. When God tests our faith though, we find out what it really means to have a relationship with Him. Going through the adventure of life together helps us discover and form new ways of life with Jesus. We begin to practice here on earth the way we will live forever in heaven and in the New Creation. In our relationship with Him we truly become a new creation ourselves. How we get there and what we go through do not matter near as much as how we are changed and prepared for eternal life.

Unholy Celebration

We get into trouble when we get ahead of ourselves. Like Aaron and the Hebrew people who pressured him in Moses’ absence, we are sometimes guilty of starting too early. We are impatient and want to skip to the end. We don’t just want to know the end of the story, we want to be there, missing all the stuff that happens in the middle, especially if we think that there are parts of the journey we won’t like.

Yet we know we cannot really skip to the end. So instead, we end up throwing our own party, instead of following Jesus to His party. That’s the devil’s real deal: –

It’s a trap! We cannot throw a party that brings us any real joy and hope because we are not sources of life… we are just the recipients of it. Even if we gave everything we had away, including our very life, the whole lot would run out before everyone made it to the party. Compared to the riches of Christ, we are all just beggars.

Sometimes we are not trying to replace God, we are just refusing to go further. Enough is enough, and we are tired, sick, sore, and have had our fill of suffering through this journey. As in marriages, there are points throughout the journey where the individuals question whether it is worth it to go forward at all. Some days it just seems easier to quit, to stop where we are, to sit down, and refuse to go another step. Perhaps this is why God commanded us to take breaks in our journey and remember how far He has taken us.

These attitudes and attempts to hijack God’s own celebration are wrong. They fall short, not because several details are off here and there, but because these kinds of parties or decisions are all about me. Jesus summed up the Law as loving God and other, and our attempts at trying to bring the focus of the world around us upon ourselves is not just missing the mark, it is working against God and causing others to stumble.

Holy Celebration

The great wedding celebration we are going to, on the other hand, is all about God. Well, almost entirely. We have a very important role in it. We are getting adopted (or married, depending on your perspective) into a new family. It is just that we are not the host. We are honored guests. Our role is simply to receive with gratitude as we observe the manners of our new home.

If we are meant to receive, what will we get? Our materialistic world is bent on owning things. We have all forgotten the real power of relationships. In loving relationships, mi casa es su casa… what’s mine is yours. We actually gain more through being present in relationships than we could ever acquire by buying, winning, earning, or stealing on our own. This is the lesson the prodigal son learned that his older brother could not grasp. What we get is a relationship with God, an invitation into His family, and because we get that, we get everything.

Something else happens as well. We change. The journey from where we are now, to where God is taking us, changes us and makes us into the kind of people who fit in God’s kingdom. We cannot find our own way to fit, but God can make us fit. That is the ultimate gift we receive. New life. New life that doesn’t break down and quit because it is faulty. New life that only grows brighter with each day we spend with our God. Now that is something to celebrate!


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  1. (Deut 9:6–29)
  2. (Lk 14:15–24)

Consuming Movement

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Consuming Movement

Exodus 24:12–18

The Lord said to Moses, “Come up to me on the mountain, and wait there; and I will give you the tablets of stone, with the law and the commandment, which I have written for their instruction.” So Moses set out with his assistant Joshua, and Moses went up into the mountain of God. To the elders he had said, “Wait here for us, until we come to you again; for Aaron and Hur are with you; whoever has a dispute may go to them.”

Then Moses went up on the mountain, and the cloud covered the mountain. The glory of the Lord settled on Mount Sinai, and the cloud covered it for six days; on the seventh day he called to Moses out of the cloud. Now the appearance of the glory of the Lord was like a devouring fire on the top of the mountain in the sight of the people of Israel. Moses entered the cloud, and went up on the mountain. Moses was on the mountain for forty days and forty nights.

Mark 2:18–22

The Question about Fasting1

Now John’s disciples and the Pharisees were fasting; and people came and said to him, “Why do John’s disciples and the disciples of the Pharisees fast, but your disciples do not fast?” Jesus said to them, “The wedding guests cannot fast while the bridegroom is with them, can they? As long as they have the bridegroom with them, they cannot fast. The days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast on that day.

“No one sews a piece of unshrunk cloth on an old cloak; otherwise, the patch pulls away from it, the new from the old, and a worse tear is made. And no one puts new wine into old wineskins; otherwise, the wine will burst the skins, and the wine is lost, and so are the skins; but one puts new wine into fresh wineskins.”

Food and religion have always been connected through celebrations.

Tweet: Food and religion have always been connected through celebrations.

Every religion I am aware of has faith practices that include special meals and fasting. Perhaps it is the connection food has to the cycle of life and death in our world. If you can imagine back in ancient times when food was hunted and gathered, it was a blessing to be able to find food. It took skill and practice to hunt, but there was always a bit of luck or blessing involved with a good hunt. Every meal was greeted with some measure of gratitude and little was taken for granted.

Food in God’s Kingdom

If you were to read the Old Testament through the lens of a food anthropologist, we find a small thread in the great tapestry that shows a proclivity towards sin as civilization moved from hunter-gatherer, to farming, to urban life. The further the Hebrew people got from raising (or finding) their own food, the further they tended to get from God. Now, we have to be careful not to emphasize that too much, because that is certainly not the main point of the scripture. Claiming so would be tantamount to claiming that the musical Fiddler on the Roof was about Russian politics and had nothing to do with the lives of Jewish women. It misses the forest for a single tree.

It also may be that we have the cause and effect switched. It may mean that the further away from God we get, the less able we are to produce our own food. There are multiple accounts where God’s people are held in check agriculturally and economically to prepare them for a greater work down in their future. This follows the New Testament reinterpretation of the Passover meal as well.

To consume or be consumed

The theology of agriculture is a minor doctrine, even compared with the theology of eating, and there is plenty of room for flexibility. God points this out in Acts 10:9-16 when Peter receives a vision from God that commands him to eat animals that God had previously forbid the Hebrew people to eat in the Old Testament. This change in the law was like moving some stop signs in a four-way stop to bring create a highway intersection with only stops on the side. It would have felt like a major change to the people who had lived there. But the overall law of stopping at stop signs would still be in effect, and the greater law of when you drive, drive on the road would not be changed in the slightest. So it was with the food laws.

Jesus taught that it was not what goes into the mouth that makes someone unclean, but what comes out of it. So perhaps we should focus not on what we consume as a measure of faithfulness in God’s Kingdom, but instead, what consumes us. What so captures our attention, time, money, energy, and lives that we find ourselves taken up and control taken away from us. The people of the scriptures would call these the things we worship. Many are false idols and cause us to stumble in sin instead of following Christ in faith. They ruin and destroy us one day at a time. They hold us back from embracing our true purpose and calling in life. They are the true balls and chains we where that keep us prisoners in our own life, because that place of worship is reserved for God alone.

What consumes you?

Where has God taken away control in your life so He can teach you to rely on His provision?

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  1. (Mt 9:14–17; Lk 5:33–39) 

Leaving the World

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Leaving the World

Exodus 24:9–11

On the Mountain with God

Then Moses and Aaron, Nadab, and Abihu, and seventy of the elders of Israel went up, and they saw the God of Israel. Under his feet there was something like a pavement of sapphire stone, like the very heaven for clearness. God did not lay his hand on the chief men of the people of Israel; also they beheld God, and they ate and drank.

James 4:4–10

Adulterers! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God. Or do you suppose that it is for nothing that the scripture says, “God yearns jealously for the spirit that he has made to dwell in us”? But he gives all the more grace; therefore it says,

“God opposes the proud,

but gives grace to the humble.”
Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Lament and mourn and weep. Let your laughter be turned into mourning and your joy into dejection. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you.

Seeing God

Many claim to wish they could see God.Tweet: Many claim to wish they could see God. They would boldly ask Him questions to His face about why He did this or that. Most often they make these claims from the safety of their own homes. They rarely make these claims in places like churches where they suspect He might really show up. Certainly not in the middle of a worship service, where people are praying, praising, preaching, healing, giving, prophesying, speaking in tongues, etc… the doubters don’t speak up in these places.

Perhaps they are just being polite. But then again, I have met… no, even more, I have been and impolite doubter at times. No, I don’t think it is common courtesy that keeps our questions away from places where we suspect God might show up. I think it is something much more banal. We want to ask the questions but we don’t really want the answers.Tweet: We want to ask the questions but we don't really want the answers.

“Many are invited, but few are chosen.”

This teaching of Jesus is less about predestination and more about our natural human tendencies. (If you want to deny free will, then you can just claim that God puts our fear of Him into us.) Personally, I think it is our own weakness we have due to listening to the lies the world tells about God. We may get angry at God from time to time, but there is a part of us that is also terrified of Him. God comes to us and instead of opening the door to Him, we run out the back door. We are not chosen, because we won’t even show up in His presence. Few people will really seek His presence at all.

Staying with God

When God surprises us showing up in front of us, we often are at a loss for what to do. It is those moments, as we stand there terrified, that we experience some of the best aspects of God. Paul tells us that it is his gentleness that leads us to repentance, not his holiness and power. He is patient with us in our awkwardness, even as we find it terrifying to stay there with Him.

Our old nature fights against us, because it dies in His presence to make room for our new life. That is what is happening to us spiritually when we feel convicted and guilty of our sins. Some of these sins we may have been unaware of, but we find them revealed in the light of God’s presence.

He speaks to us… and we can understand Him clearly. It seems counterintuitive that we could understand the God who created and holds the universe together, but it is true. It is not that we know His language. He speaks to us in ours. He speaks plainly. I have never met a person who told me that God spoke to them and they did not understand it. We may learn deeper levels of those words given to us, but it is always something we can grasp initially. Comprehension is not our problem. Motivation is.

His will goes against our will. Just as our flesh fights and leads us to flee from Him, so does it fight against submission and obedience. The life that is a lie still has claws and teeth and fights to grasp control back away from us. Following our instincts never leads us to a choice. Listening to God always brings us to the choice. Will you leave this world behind and follow God?
Will we submit and obey or run away?

Where do you find God’s presence?

What does God say to you?

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Moving by Standing Still

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Moving by Standing Still

Exodus 24:1–8

The Blood of the Covenant

Then he said to Moses, “Come up to the Lord, you and Aaron, Nadab, and Abihu, and seventy of the elders of Israel, and worship at a distance. Moses alone shall come near the Lord; but the others shall not come near, and the people shall not come up with him.”

Moses came and told the people all the words of the Lord and all the ordinances; and all the people answered with one voice, and said, “All the words that the Lord has spoken we will do.” And Moses wrote down all the words of the Lord. He rose early in the morning, and built an altar at the foot of the mountain, and set up twelve pillars, corresponding to the twelve tribes of Israel. He sent young men of the people of Israel, who offered burnt offerings and sacrificed oxen as offerings of well-being to the Lord. Moses took half of the blood and put it in basins, and half of the blood he dashed against the altar. Then he took the book of the covenant, and read it in the hearing of the people; and they said, “All that the Lord has spoken we will do, and we will be obedient.” Moses took the blood and dashed it on the people, and said, “See the blood of the covenant that the Lord has made with you in accordance with all these words.”

1 Peter 5:1–5, 12–14

Tending the Flock of God

Now as an elder myself and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, as well as one who shares in the glory to be revealed, I exhort the elders among you to tend the flock of God that is in your charge, exercising the oversight, not under compulsion but willingly, as God would have you do it—not for sordid gain but eagerly. Do not lord it over those in your charge, but be examples to the flock. And when the chief shepherd appears, you will win the crown of glory that never fades away. In the same way, you who are younger must accept the authority of the elders. And all of you must clothe yourselves with humility in your dealings with one another, for

“God opposes the proud,

but gives grace to the humble.”

Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God, so that he may exalt you in due time. Cast all your anxiety on him, because he cares for you. Discipline yourselves, keep alert. Like a roaring lion your adversary the devil prowls around, looking for someone to devour. Resist him, steadfast in your faith, for you know that your brothers and sisters in all the world are undergoing the same kinds of suffering. And after you have suffered for a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, support, strengthen, and establish you. To him be the power forever and ever. Amen.

####Final Greetings and Benediction

Through Silvanus, whom I consider a faithful brother, I have written this short letter to encourage you and to testify that this is the true grace of God. Stand fast in it. Your sister church in Babylon, chosen together with you, sends you greetings; and so does my son Mark. Greet one another with a kiss of love.

Peace to all of you who are in Christ.

People Movers

Oftentimes we consider initiative to be the key component of “those who go somewhere in life”. Initiative is important. Sometimes though, initiative becomes its own worst enemy. Sometimes initiative stops itself. Tweet: Sometimes initiative stops itself.

What do I mean by that ridiculous claim? I mean there are at least two things about initiative that generally go unobserved.

1. Initiative is not always entirely self-motivated.

We often define the character of initiative as a person who is a “self-starter”. In reality, these people we see as such often have elaborate systems in place to promote productivity and push them forward in their goals. They have coaches, teammates, parents, spouses, or even just people who challenge them in healthy competition. They only appear to be pushing themselves because we do not see the network of motivators around them.

2. Too much variation in initiatives causes a breakdown of productivity.

A person who focuses on a single goal and takes initiative can outpace many in their field. On the other hand, a person who works a dozen different initiatives at once will appear random and will likely not finish most of those goals. Multiplying our goals either leads us to the experience of taking one step forward and two steps back, or simply giving us too many “squirrel moments”.

This means that, once you get heading in a promising direction, sometimes the best thing you can do is be patient, and stand still until you get there.

Suffering

I’ve only been in a few airports with people movers – those flat conveyer belts that move you from one end of a hall to another. I’ve noticed though, even in those few occasions I’ve been on one, that there are two types of people that ride them. There are those who use them as an opportunity to reserve energy, and let the track take them to their destination, and there are those who march down them at top speed, trying to gain speed from it and add their own. Most people tend to model the latter philosophy of people movers.

Life sometimes becomes a people mover under our feet, taking us wherever life is going. If we are honest, quite a few of us kick back and relax when the mover is taking us up easy street. But when we go down a path a suffering we all become those who run up the conveyer belt. Some of us even start running backwards! Suffering is not something we do standing still.

There is always anxiety in transformation and God is in the business of transforming us and our world. That means, God is always going to make us a little anxious. I believe it is part of why we often rush through prayer with Him. It is not that we are just too busy – that’s a bit ridiculous. What could possibly be more important than being in the presence and communicating with the being that gives us our very breath and loves us unwaveringly? No, I think there is a subconscious worry, or even fear, that sometime in the midst of that prayer, God might actually speak to us.

The saints of scripture all spoke of a God they felt closest to when they were sharing in His suffering. It seemed that there was always suffering of some kind going on. Either people were poor and hungry, sick and exasperated, or being hunted and killed. Shared suffering draws communities together tighter. Running away divides us. You can find people being called into some kind of self-giving service, which often looks like hardship instead of comfort, on nearly every page of the Bible. That alone speaks volumes. Jesus said it plainly:

“If any of you wants to be my follower, you must turn from your selfish ways, take up your cross daily, and follow me.”

Standing firm

We may be willing to follow, but sometimes we wish Jesus would get to the resurrection faster.Tweet: We may be willing to follow, but sometimes we wish Jesus would get to the resurrection faster.

…but think of all the things we would miss if we took out the last week of suffering in Jesus’s life.
Perhaps we would keep the triumphal entry into Jerusalem, but you would lose the casting out merchants in the Temple.
You would lose some of the most powerful parables he told – The Parable of the Vineyard and the Parable of the Wedding Guests.
You would miss Him weeping over Jerusalem and cursing a fig tree.
You would miss the upper room, the Lord’s Supper, the washing of the disciple’s feet.
You would lose the most powerful prayer that Jesus prayed for you and I in John 17.
You would miss the sweat drops of blood in the garden while the disciples slept.
You would miss Judas betraying Jesus and the healing of the servants ear (after Peter chopped it off).
You would miss the trial, the beatings.
You would miss the crucifixion and the seven last words of Christ from the cross.

Everlasting life means very little without the experience of suffering and death. Jesus understood this better than any of us. There is a time to move and there is a time to stand fast and let God move you.

What makes you wish life would move you faster?

What makes you want to put your life on pause?

How do you sense God’s leading in these fast and slow times?

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