Mission Impossible

Have you ever been asked to do something so seemingly outrageous and beyond your ability that you’re only option was to pray? Abraham’s servant (Let’s call him Eliezer.) can relate. In Genesis 24, Abraham requests that his most trusted servant, Eliezer, take an oath to find a wife for his son Isaac among Abraham’s relatives back in Paddan Aram. In an age before google maps and on-board navigation, finding the area where Abraham’s relatives lived would be difficult enough, but add to that the likelihood that once said maiden is found that she would be willing to leave her family and travel to a distant country to marry a man she’s never met, and you really do have an impossible mission.

But Eliezer heads out anyway. As the journey begins, he prays that the LORD would be merciful to his master Abraham and grant him (Eliezer) success on his quest. He asks for an unusual sign to designate the chosen mate, (not unlike what Gideon asked for hundreds of years later with the fleece) which was that the woman to whom he asked a drink of water would in turn offer to water his camels as well. To us that may not sound like a remarkable request, but given the fact that watering the camels could have been a very arduous task requiring several hours worth of work, the willingness of a young maiden to undertake it would indeed be noteworthy.

Lo and behold Rebekah shows up. She offers not only to get Eliezer a drink, but also to water his camels as well! He dares to hope. Then he finds out that she is a relative of Abraham’s! Looks like success. But now comes the tricky part where he needs to ask Rebekah (and permission from her brother Laban and mother Bethuel) to return with him. Will she do it? Without hesitation, Rebekah says, “I will go with him.” Much like Abraham’s willingness to leave his family and go, now Rebekah will do the same thing. Eliezer is so blown away by the LORD’s hand at work, that he repeats the story several times in the narrative, and the faithfulness of God is on display.

My wife questioned whether asking for a sign is evidence of a lack of faith…good question. But I believe that the willingness to follow God and do what He wanted motivated Eliezer to request a sign. The same is true for us. The next time we are given an impossible mission, and our our desire is to follow where God is leading, but it doesn’t seem clear, may we ask for a sign, for clear direction for the path ahead. And then let’s celebrate God’s faithfulness in directing our steps.

Until next time…stay salty.

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Thanksgiving

It’s Thanksgiving Day. A day around the world we set aside to observe God’s gracious provision in our lives. When I think about what I’m thankful for, my family immediately comes to mind. God has blessed me with an amazing wife and three incredibly gifted sons, each one outstanding in his own way. I can’t imagine life without any one of them. I definitely can’t imagine choosing to give them up, which makes me wonder at Abraham’s willingness to obey God when He asks him to make the ultimate sacrifice…

Genesis 22. Abraham waited approximately 25 years between the time God first promised him that he would be the father of many nations and the time that Isaac, the son of promise was born. Along the way, Abraham’s faith journey has been sporadic at best. Up to this point in the story we have not seen the paragon of faith that he ultimately will become. We’ve seen a man struggling to realize what God has promised him. Pharaoh. Hagar. Ishmael. Abimelech. And now finally Isaac, Abraham and Sarah’s son, is born. God has worked a miracle, bringing life out of Sarah’s dead womb.

The fulfillment of what God has covenanted is within view. Then God makes a heart-stopping request. “Take now your son, your only son, whom you love, Isaac, and sacrifice him on the mountain which I will show you.” It must have taken his breath away, but Abraham does not hesitate. Surprising after the roller-coaster ride of his spiritual pilgrimage. But his faith has somehow grown and solidified with the birth of his son, and now he was willing to trust that God will somehow still fulfill His promise, even if Isaac is killed. Hebrews gives us some insight – Abraham believed God was able to raise Isaac even from the dead. So Abraham was able to see beyond the physical to the spiritual, that physical death was not the end of the story. For those who trust in the Lord, death is merely a transition. And although Abraham was willing to be obedient, God spared Isaac and stayed Abraham’s hand. God was testing to see whether or not Abraham would trust in Him…whether his hope was in God or in the promise of God. And Abraham passed.

I wonder if I could have trusted God in that moment. So often I fear that my hope is in the blessings of God rather than in God Himself. I cling so tightly to the things of this world and the good gifts that He’s given me that many times they can become idols that keep me from Him. I pray that God would give me the courage to trust Him no matter the circumstance; and the desire for Him, and Him alone. Hope you had a great Thanksgiving.

Until next time…stay salty.

The Next Chapter

Last night we finished the book of Acts. After a harrowing boat ride, Paul finally arrives in Rome. Along the way he ministers not only to sailors and military personnel, but also to the island inhabitants of Malta. The gospel continues to spread. And in Rome he meets with the Jews living there to discuss the charges against him. He presents the hope of the gospel fulfilled in Jesus, but the group rejects the message. Once again he turns to the Gentiles.

Several themes came up as we talked last night. We clearly see God at work expanding His kingdom, directing both individuals and the church. The gospel spreads from Jerusalem to Rome, and the church, which began as a Jewish body, quickly incorporates all nations in fulfillment of Genesis 12 (that through Abraham all the nations of the world would be blessed). Opposition grows but the church overcomes. The resurrection is the primary emphasis of the speeches given by major characters in the story like Peter, Stephen and Paul.

The narrative ends with the obvious questions: What happened to Paul? What’s the rest of the story? Luke leaves room for us to add our own chapter. The story of the church and the expansion of God’s kingdom is not finished yet. The story continues still today. But I wonder what those early believers would think of this chapter. Would they recognize the church they fought so hard to establish? When I read about the way that they loved and sacrificed and engaged their culture, I really wonder.

Discussing Hitchens’ book, God Is Not Great, with some friends I realized what a stinging indictment his book is against Christianity. The fact that he could lump all of Christendom into the same category of the other world religions so easily, shows that the church as a whole is failing at its job to be salt and light. That an atheist who has had as much contact with Christians as Hitchens did throughout his life is unable to caveat his statements about Christianity because he saw something different about the believers he encountered is telling.

Luke ends the book of Acts with the statement, “Boldly and without hindrance he (Paul) preached the kingdom of God and taught about the Lord Jesus Christ.” I wonder how boldly we are preaching the kingdom of God and teaching about Jesus through both word and action to a world that so desperately needs to hear…

Until next time…stay salty.

 

Misunderstood

Some friends of mine and I are getting together tomorrow evening to discuss Christopher Hitchens’ book, God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything. I must admit, it’s been a very difficult read. Many times I’ve wanted to throw the book away, but I’ve persevered through it. Far from shaking my faith, it’s helped me to see Christianity through the eyes of a devout atheist and examine again why it is that I believe what I believe. It’s not because the evidence is so overwhelming from an earthly perspective. Both Christian apologists and secular humanists look at the same evidence from the world around us and come up with very different conclusions about the existence or non-existence of God. Brilliant men on both sides have thundered against one another for centuries. Ultimately it’s not a matter of having the right, incontrovertible evidence. The only reason I believe what the Bible says is that the Spirit of God has confirmed that the Word of God is true. Without that, I would be as lost as the next guy.

Hitchens lumps all belief systems into the same category. For him, there really is no difference between Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Mormonism, Buddhism or any other -ism. All are man-made, and all are primitive attempts to either manipulate the masses or explain the world around us. Some of what he says is absolutely true of organized religion. It is poisonous. Even Christianity at times has slipped from its biblical moorings. But the people of God from the very beginning have been called to a different way of life. Hitchens accuses religion for setting up impossible standards, but then punishing folks for their inability to uphold those standards. Christianity is no different. Jesus calls us to an impossible life…but it’s His life. The strength to walk in that life is not natural, but super-natural. It is only by the Spirit’s power. But that’s what sets Christianity apart – it’s not a matter of keeping rules, but of following a Person and being empowered by a Person to do that. Hitchens doesn’t understand that.

Hitchens also attacks the creation account (“myth” as he calls it), missing Moses’ purpose in including it in the book of Genesis. One of Hitchens’ favorite names for us humans is “mammal”. For him it’s a reminder of our place in the cosmos. We are one of many species that happen to inhabit this rock called Earth that formed over billions of years. There really is no purpose or meaning in life. We live and die just like the rest of creation. And it’s to a group of people who would have heard a very similar condemnation that Moses writes. The creation account in Genesis 1 highlights the unique and exalted place that man (and woman) have over His creation. We are created in His image and likeness. The imago dei is still present, although marred through the fall. But we await the day when our bodies will be resurrected and made new, and all of creation will be redeemed.

Hitchens book is a tough read and not for the faint of heart. Lots of areas to interact with (I’ve just scratched the surface). But it is a good reminder that the wisdom of God is foolishness to man, and that following Jesus puts us at odds with the world around us. Welcome to the minority. Welcome to the community of the misunderstood.

Until next time…stay salty.

On trial

Ever gotten in trouble for something you didn’t do? I have. I was in the second grade. It was early Monday morning. After breakfast, Dad began, “Son, I heard that some kids were throwing rocks (it was gravel) at each other yesterday evening at church and hit several cars. Do you know anything about it?” “No, Dad,” was my immediate response. “Are you sure, because someone said that they saw you out there with them?” I replied a little more apprehensively this time, “I saw the kids, but I wasn’t throwing rocks.” “Son, I think you’re lying to me.” Growing terror now, “No, Dad, I wasn’t throwing rocks!” Several swats later with tears streaming down my face, just as my dad was starting to believe me, “Yes, Dad, I threw rocks, too.” Three more swats for lying. To this day, I still don’t think I threw rocks, but I wanted to bring an end to the spanking.

Acts 24-26, Paul can relate to being falsely accused. Three different trials, three different Gentile authorities, three declarations of innocence (at least of anything worthy of death). With Felix, the Jewish leaders bring in the big guns, the lawyer Tertullus. Quickly Paul goes from being accused of bringing a Gentile into the Temple precincts to being accused of starting riots, introducing a new religion to the empire and desecrating the Temple. A guilty verdict on any one of the three charges could easily mean the death penalty. Rome did not tolerate insurrectionists, introducing a new religion was a capital offense, and the Romans had given the Jews permission to kill any Gentile who violated the Temple. It looks like Paul is in big trouble, but you wouldn’t suspect that from his cool demeanor (unlike this scared 7 year old boy). Instead he calmly addresses the court, refuting the charges of insurrection and of defiling the Temple. And then he spends a great deal of time explaining that the primary issue was Jesus, as it had always been. He was on trial for the hope of the resurrection…a hope that he shared with his Jewish brethren. Since the time of Abraham and the beginnings of the Jewish nation and even all the way back to Adam, the people of God had been looking for the Genesis 3:15 Seed of the Woman, the Messiah, the Davidic King who would crush the head of the serpent and redeem all of creation along with every person who believes. Paul said Jesus was and is the Guy…He is the First of the Resurrected, the Jews disagreed. That was the crux of the argument. Although Felix informally dismisses the charges against Paul, he nevertheless keeps Paul in prison for the next two years, frequently visiting him, hoping to receive a bribe, but instead receiving the gospel, which cuts him to the quick.

At the end of Felix’s term, Festus takes over as governor. Festus is ready to clean up Felix’s mess and so looks into the charges against Paul. There doesn’t seem to be anything to the charges, but in an effort to please the Jews, he asks Paul if he is willing to be tried in Jerusalem. Paul, knowing that Jerusalem would be a death sentence, appeals to Caesar. Festus acquiesces. King Agrippa happens to be in town, and aware of his intimate knowledge of the Jews, Festus asks him to hear Paul’s case. Agrippa agrees, and Paul defends himself yet again. This time he describes his life before conversion, his conversion experience on the Damascus road, and his commission to preach the gospel to both Jew and Gentile. At the conclusion of his defense, he is once again declared innocent, but as he has appealed to Caesar, Paul now must go to Rome.

It’s easy to blow past these three chapters on the way to finish the book of Acts, and I even considered not writing on them; but I was struck with the similarity between Paul’s experience and Jesus’ experience with the mock trials and declarations of innocence from Gentile authorities and the vitriolic hatred and rejection by those who do not believe. Jesus said the same would happen to those who follow Him. So what about you? Are you ready to be falsely accused, to be misunderstood, to be mistreated and persecuted and rejected for the sake of the Name? I have a feeling that those times are not far off my friend. But may we face those times with courage and grace, fiercely trusting in Jesus and leaning into the Holy Spirit for the strength to finish well, proclaiming the gospel until our time on earth is done.

Until next time…stay salty.

Grass is greener?!?

I had it all. Wealth. Power. Influence. A beautiful wife and two loving daughters. Status in the community. What happened? How did I get here. It’s all gone. Everything destroyed in a few heartbeats. Now I’m destitute. Living in a cave with my two daughters. I can’t even bear to look at them since I found out that they are both carrying my sons?!? How did that happen? I’m so confused. Maybe we should back up.

I have always had a close relationship with my uncle. He’s really been more of a dad to me, especially since my father died. When he announced that he was moving away because of a vision he had received, it didn’t take me long to sign up. It sounded like a great adventure…going, we knew not where, to follow God. And He promised Uncle Abe some amazing things…lots of real estate, lots of kids, something about blessing. And I was going to be a part of it. Really cool stuff.

When we finally arrived in the land that would one day be ours, there was a famine, so we decided to head down to Egypt. Very questionable move. When we left, our pockets were a lot fatter, and we had an abundance of livestock and slaves who came with us; but Uncle Abe and Aunt Sarai weren’t talking. Not sure what happened, but I know they were split up for a time while we were there. Anyway, when we returned to the land, there wasn’t room for Uncle Abe and I to keep our possessions together. He gave me the option of choosing the region that I wanted. What an uncle! There really wasn’t much of a decision to make from a shepherding perspective…the valley of Sodom was so much more lush and well-watered than the remainder of the land. I hesitated only because I didn’t know if I should leave Uncle Abe with the leftovers, but I did. And things went down hill from there.

Sodom was a booming town, and I was making a killing off of selling livestock. It didn’t take long until I moved the headquarters of the operation into the city. Not long afterwards, I got caught up in the civil war that had ravaged the area and found myself in captivity. But Uncle Abe came to the rescue. What an uncle! You would have thought I would have learned my lesson and moved back with him, but I settled back into Sodom. Elections were coming, and I had a good chance (especially after Abe’s rescue) of being elected to city council. Think of the doors that would open. And it did.

The beginning of the end. Two men came to town. They wanted to stay in the city square, but I heard rumors about what happens to visitors who stay out in the open. I couldn’t let that happen on my watch. I invited the guys in and literally all hell broke loose. They began talking about judgment and fire coming down and the end of life as we knew it. I was to uproot my family and convince my daughters’ fiancées to escape with us. It all happened so fast. And then we were running for our lives. The smell of burning sulfur was in the air. The anguished cries of the dying. And then my wife stopped running, and slowly turned around. And then she was gone…turned into a pillar of salt. I was in shock when my daughters and I finally made it to the cave in the mountains which has now become our home. When my eldest daughter suggested that I have some wine, I readily agreed. Oddly enough, the next night my younger daughter suggested the same thing. Apparently they had conspired together in an attempt to preserve our family line…

Now it feels like my life is over. I can’t help but think about what could have been. I would trade it all to go back. The wealth. The power. The status. I thought there would be more time. More time to impact my community for the LORD. More time to spend with my wife. Time to see my grandkids grow up. And now that time is gone.

What about you? How are you spending your time? Don’t waste your life like I did.

Your friend, Lot. Until next time…stay salty.