Unbelievable Peace

Advent 2013…Peace: Isaiah 40.1-11

As I reflected on this passage, the season of peace is one of the most stressful times of the year for most of us. Gifts to be bought, family to entertain, parties to be attended, too much food to be eaten, painful memories to be relived… we, like the exiled Jews, feel beat down, abused, worn out. We proclaim a peace that we desperately long to experience for ourselves.

I shared a tweet this past week, “The peace the world offers is a peace of avoidance, a peace of denial, a temporary, fragile peace…don’t you long for something more?” It reminds me of what Hezekiah said when Isaiah revealed that the Babylonians would come and ransack Jerusalem… “The word of the LORD which you have spoken is good.” For he a thought, “For there will be peace and truth in my days.”

The peace of Hezekiah is too often the only peace we know…fleeting, empty, selfish. We get so distracted by trying to maintain our own peace now.  If I can make it through the holidays, If I can make it to payday, I can retire when…, if I can get my kids through college,  if I can keep my spouse happy.  A peace like Hezekiah’s – “at least I’ll know peace”. The only problem is, maintaining peace is hard work.  If you find yourself always trying to keep the peace, know that you don’t have it.

But the peace that the coming Davidic King would bring is as everlasting/eternal as the word of the LORD, never fading, never failing. Isaiah paints a landscape where all war has ended.  Peace has been established.  And that is true, our peace has come.  Our peace is here – here and now, in this moment, today. And our peace is coming, advancing every moment, we are anticipating our bridegroom. And again, to be clear, Jesus is the Davidic King who came to bring that peace. It is the peace of the kingdom…peace with God and peace with our neighbor.

The relationship between peace with God and peace with men parallels the relationship between loving God and loving your neighbor. You can only love people when you are loving God. When you are loving God, you can’t help but love people. We saw that in the Sermon on the Mount where Jesus said that loving your neighbor as yourself is the law and the prophets. So also, you can only be at peace with people when you are at peace with God. When you are at peace with God, you can’t help but be at peace with people.

Where is our peace today?  As I read these verses, Isaiah seems to offer comfort to the Jewish refugees returning from Babylon by reminding them who they were, or maybe better, whose they were.  They were God’s – the Lords’ – The Lord God’s – Zion – Jerusalem.  When people under Babylonian captivity, in the distant future, would read these words, they would recall whose they were.  The present realities of suffering could not be ignored, but neither could the fact that they were God’s chosen people whom He loved, whom He had made a covenant with.  I think that is our comfort.  We are His.  He chose us, died for us, lives for us.  Paul prayed that his readers might know peace by understanding the depths of God’s love for them.

This story challenges us to pursue true peace…the peace of the kingdom. Knowing that we have peace with God frees us up to pursue peace with others. And as we learn to live more and more fully in God’s perfect peace, then we experience more and more fully peace with others.

My prayer for us this week is that we might more fully realize Unbelievable Peace because we have an Unbelievable Savior.

Until next time…stay salty.

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Loving God, Loving Others

Matthew 22.34 But when the Pharisees heard that Jesus had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered themselves together. 35One of them, a lawyer, asked Him a question, testing Him, 36“Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” 37And He said to him, “‘YOU SHALL LOVE THE LORD YOUR GOD WITH ALL YOUR HEART, AND WITH ALL YOUR SOUL, AND WITH ALL YOUR MIND.’ 38This is the great and b foremost commandment. 39The second is like it, ‘YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF.’ 40On these two commandments depend the whole Law and the Prophets.”

As I reflected on this passage, I wondered why loving God was considered the great commandment, I mean why must we be told to love God. Doesn’t that come naturally, or shouldn’t it? And if not, why doesn’t it? And why is it so hard to love other people?

And as I talked to some friends of mine this week about this passage, it hit me why I must be told…no scratch that…commanded to love God with all that I am. Genesis 3. You see in Genesis 1 & 2 we have this beautiful story of creation, where all of the universe is the work of a benevolent Creator who lovingly fashions a world that He describes as good, even very good. He makes a man and woman, our first parents, in His own image from dust of the ground and breathes into their nostrils the breath of life, and they become living beings. And He gives them charge over all the earth. Think of it. A perfect world with no death, no corruption, no hatred, no ugliness of any kind. A perfect relationship with God and with each other.

Enter the serpent in Genesis 3. Through deceit and manipulation he convinces our first parents that being image bearers is not enough. Having dominion over the earth is not enough. No, they really want to be their own gods. And they fall for the lies of the enemy and forgetting the benevolence of their loving Creator and not being content to simply be image bearers and stewards of creation, they seek to be their own gods. And all of creation suffers the repercussions of their betrayal as perfection becomes deeply marred and the image of God tainted. Sin enters the world and death through sin. And now the love of God is no longer innate, love of self would become predominate and competition with others a part of the legacy of the fall.

So what was once natural…loving God and loving people…has become very unnatural. And frankly, impossible, given our fallen state. But even in the midst of our rebellion, God provided for our redemption…hope for a way back. It was a risky proposition. It would cost Him everything. His own Son would have to die, but in so doing He would redeem the world that He had made, and so He gave them the promise of Genesis 3:15, the Head-Crushing, Seed of the Woman, who would one day ride into Jerusalem on a donkey, cleanse the temple, face down the political and religious elite, be beaten and crucified, then buried; three days later He would rise from the dead and ascend to the right hand of the Father awaiting the day when He would once again ride into Jerusalem, this time on a white horse… In the meantime, having accomplished redemption and having provided the way back to the Father, His Spirit is at work building His kingdom, rescuing one person at a time.

As I thought about my own life, examples of my failure to love God as evidenced by my failure to love others are multiplied. It’s evident in my selfish attitude toward my family (just ask them). It’s obvious when I look down on others or begin to judge their motives, which happens more often than I would care to admit. It’s plain to see when I’m too busy to be interrupted. But there are flashes of obedience when I see the pain of others and my heart is broken. When I become angry at the injustices done to others. When I share the gospel because I know that it’s the only hope that we have.

But what about you? Where are challenged to love others more? Are you spending time with the Lord, seeking to love Him with all that you are?

This story challenges us not to be like the Pharisees who have made the love of God a game of trivial pursuit, who have made loving others an optional exercise, but to be more like our Savior who made loving God and loving people central, who demonstrated His love for His Father by loving us who were made in His image.

My prayer for us is that we would grow in our love and devotion to God and that that would become evident as we look for opportunities with our classmates, with our neighbors, with our friends, with our family, with our co-workers to love others in very real and practical ways, to point them to the hope we have in Jesus, so that we might make loving God and loving people central.

Until next time…stay salty.

You can listened to an mp3 of this sermon online at: http://www.centralchristian.org.

 

Rattlin’ Cages

Some folks would swear I ask questions just to rattle cages. And…they’re right. When it comes to digging in to God’s Word, I’ve found that most, if not all, of us approach it with blinders on. Our preconceived notions of what a particular passage says based on what we’ve heard from this or that preacher or teacher clouds our ability to really see the Word for ourselves, and therefore we miss so much of the beauty and wonder, the mystery and sometimes mystical nature of the Bible. So I like to challenge folks to think outside the box, to take God’s Word at face value and dare to believe.

Revelation 11. Two witnesses show up. John has taken us back to the beginning of the tribulation. The first time through he used a wide-angle lens to capture the effects of the seal and trumpet judgments on a global scale. And now he zooms in on the events taking place in Jerusalem. During the breaking of the seals and the beginning of the trumpets, these two guys are prophesying in the city, calling down fire, shutting up the sky, turning water to blood, all for one purpose…to bring the Jewish nation to repentance. The two appear to be unstoppable until the beast shows up and slays them both and leaves their dead bodies in the streets of Jerusalem for 3 1/2 days. Then the two witnesses or caught up to heaven and a severe earthquake takes place…and the people repent. Israel becomes a believing nation once again.

Revelation 12. Using imagery from Joseph’s dream, John describes converted Israel as the mother of Messiah. Strong allusions to Genesis 3.15 permeate this section as the dragon, the serpent of old, who is the devil and satan seeks to devour the child (aka Seed of the woman). Being unsuccessful, he pursues the rest of her offspring (aka seed of the woman). A battle is waged in heaven and the dragon is cast out. (When does this occur? How does satan have access to heaven? Notice particularly that he is described as the accuser of the brethren who accuses them before God day and night.) Knowing he only has a short time, satan begins to persecute the Jews in earnest, attempting to wipe them completely out.

The Christian life is definitely a battlefield. That is nowhere more apparent than in the shocking scenes from the book of Revelation. The hero of the book is the overcomer, who we find defined in this last chapter…they overcame by the blood of the lamb and the word of their testimony and they did not love their lives even unto death. Overcoming by the blood of the lamb and the word of our testimony can be difficult enough, but not loving our lives even unto death…that’s all together different. My prayer is that God gives us the courage and the insight to live our lives in such a way that we do fear death, that we see beyond the physical to the spiritual world, and that we lay hold of that which is life indeed, each one realizing what it means to be a knight of faith.

Until next time…stay salty.

Something old, something new

Not again. The visions come back more vivid and haunting each time. It was hard enough seeing Nebuchadnezzar’s vision of the statue.  Now I’m starting round 4 of my own visions of the future and kingdoms to come. And each vision adds more detail and yet becomes more obscure, more opaque. I’m frightened, puzzled and perplexed. I know God’s in control of the events unfolding on the world’s stage, but these visions terrify me!

Daniel 11. This is now Daniel’s 4th pass through the prophetic events of the coming Gentile kingdoms. This time in Daniel’s prophecy there is a combination of events that are now historical for us (still future for Daniel) and events that are still yet to come. Without a scorecard or a grasp of Ancient History, it’s difficult to follow what’s going on in this chapter. The first 35 verses are historical for us. Verses 36-45 appear to be still future. The first section narrows in pretty quickly to the civil wars between the Seleucids (North – Syria) and the Ptolemies (South – Egypt) post Alexander’s death in 333 B.C. Each dynasty has approximately 5 kings, and the political intrigue surrounding their reigns is summed up by Daniel (- approximately 200-300 years before the events take place!). These two warring factions are targeted because their battleground was primarily in Palestine, directly impacting the Jews in Jerusalem. The king of most interest is the final “king of the North” listed in this section, the Seleucid sovereign Antiochus IV (Epiphanes). He was the one who wreaked havoc on the Jews, forcing Hellenization on them and setting up the abomination of desolation (altar of Zeus in the temple). He will be the prototype for the future king spoken of in 36-45, the antichrist.

But why do we care? All this future stuff has to do with Israel and the Jews, right? So why do I, as a Gentile believer, care about what happens to the Jews? Because of Genesis 12. God promises Abraham that through him all the nations of the world would be blessed. Blessing comes through the nation of Israel. They are the root. They are the mother of Messiah from Revelation 12. We care about this stuff because our future is interwoven with theirs. We rise and fall with them in the end. If they don’t win, we don’t win. And if God is not faithful to Israel in the end, why do we think He will be faithful to us?

Until next time…stay salty.

Continued amazement

The seventy years of Babylonian captivity had finally ended (somewhat). The decree had gone out to rebuild the temple and folks were headed back to Jerusalem. It was a hopeful time, yet Daniel was distressed. Once again he was plagued by future visions of conflict, so he fasted and mourned and waited. And then…he showed up. Daniel said, “I lifted my eyes and looked, and behold, there was a certain man dressed in linen, whose waist was girded with a belt of pure gold of Uphaz. His body also was like beryl, his face had the appearance of lightning, his eyes were like flaming torches, his arms and feet like the gleam of polished bronze, and the sound of his words like the sound of a tumult.” Not like any man I’ve ever seen. And then we find out, that this “man” had been opposed by the prince of Persia for twenty-one days until the “man” called Michael for help. The “man”, or better, angel came to strengthen Daniel for understanding the revelation that would follow…and then he was back off to fight the prince of Persia while the prince of Greece prepared to come.

Daniel 10. Spiritual warfare. This is probably the clearest reference that we have to spiritual conflict in the OT. Angels fighting demons. The fate of the ancient world in the balance…sounds like it would make for a great movie. But this is no movie. What was happening to Daniel was real. And the spiritual conflict is no less real today, although we’ve convinced ourselves it doesn’t exist. In some ways, I think it’s easier to believe in God than the devil…most are functioning atheists when it comes to the dark side and its minions. And I believe that’s why many of us are defeated and enslaved by sin so easily. Not fun to think about, but…the good news is, greater is He who is in you…if you have trusted in Jesus. He’s already defeated the strong man and plundered his house. And now we wait, as Daniel did, for His return.

Until next time…stay salty.

Terrifying Encounter

Three years I spent with Him. Three years of amazing, jaw-dropping ministry, seeing everything from the dead being raised to demons being cast out, the lame walking, the blind seeing, the sick healed, the feeding of a great multitude, Him walking on the water…and then, the beatings, the mocking, the persecution, the flogging, the crucifixion, His death…and then His resurrection, His commission, His ascension. It was an incredible three years. And even afterwards with Peter and the guys in Jerusalem, seeing the gospel spread out to the Gentiles, the death of my brother James… I wrote down my experiences, telling the story of Jesus. The most amazing thing to me was His love for me. I never got over it. I spent some time in Ephesus and wrote a few letters to the flock there. But after a lifetime of ministry, nothing prepared me for that encounter…

Revelation 1. John the disciple whom Jesus loved thought he had seen it all, and as he begins his account of Revelation, he is reminded of Jesus’ sacrifice and His great love. He also exhorts his readers, reminding them that they had been called to be a kingdom of priests, the same charge that Moses had given to the children of Israel in Exodus 19. So far, so good. And then John sees Jesus…and falls like a dead man. Here’s how John describes the scene: “Then I turned to see the voice that was speaking with me. And having turned I saw seven golden lampstands; and in the middle of the lampstands I saw one like a son of man, clothed in a robe reaching to the feet, and girded across His chest with a golden sash. His head and His hair were white like white wool, like snow; and His eyes were like a flame of fire. His feet were like burnished bronze, when it has been made to glow in a furnace, and His voice was like the sound of many waters. In His right hand He held seven stars, and out of His mouth came a sharp two-edged sword; and His face was like the sun shining in its strength.” This was not the carpenter from Galilee…This was the All Powerful Son of God, and John was terrified. And from this opening chapter in the book, there is no doubt who this story is about and who is in control!

Revelation is one of my favorite books to walk through. It would be easy to conclude that a book that deals predominantly with future things has little value for us today, but that could not be further from the truth. Revelation is the consummation of the story that began in Genesis. It is the conclusion of the cosmic battle between good and evil that has be waged for millennia. And we care who wins because our fate is tied up with the people of God throughout the ages. I hope you can journey with us through this terribly wonderful book!

Until next time…stay salty.

Dark Days Ahead

The outlook was not good. Not good at all. The kingdom of the ram was challenging enough as it crushed all opposition. But on the horizon, the kingdom of the goat. It quickly gained momentum as it devoured the ram’s kingdom, finally defeating the ram itself thus making it officially the time of the goat. But shortly after establishing his throne, the goat-king died and his kingdom was divided up among his four generals. And while there was some coherence to the kingdom, there was also much infighting, until another king arose. He came to power through political intrigue, killing his predecessor and ascending the throne. After defeating his counterpart in the region to the south, he set his sights on the Beautiful Land. It would be a jewel in his crown and provide a buffer zone between his kingdom and that of the emerging kingdom of the beast. He set himself up as the king of the Beautiful Land, trampled underfoot its citizens and defiled their place of worship, forcing them to take part in his apostasy on pain of death. Only then he would be killed, but not by human agency… then Daniel awoke. Daniel 8.

The vision in itself was terrifying to Daniel and unintelligible. It occurred to him while he was still living in Babylon a short time before the kingdom was overthrown by the Persians. We are told that the vision relates to the next two kingdoms during the Times of the Gentiles, namely Medo-Persia (the ram) and Greece (the goat), and from world history we can piece together with surprising accuracy the vision that was so confounding to Daniel. We know the first goat-king as Alexander the Great who defeated the Persians and then died shortly afterwards. His kingdom was divided between his four generals. The four generals became kings of their respective regions while maintaining the overall kingdom of Greece. There was a great deal of infighting among each of these dynasties as they sought to expand their individual domains. After a time, a king rose up in the Seleucid dynasty, and, killing his predecessor, he ascended the throne. That king was Antiochus Epiphanies. After defeating Ptolemy VI and taking over Egypt, he set his sights on Jerusalem. He attacked the city and set himself up as king. He set up an altar to Zeus in the temple and forced the Israelites to offer swine on the altar and eat its flesh…a thing that was abhorrent to the Jews. This prompted the Maccabean revolt led by Judas Maccabees. Antiochus was forced out of Jerusalem and died a short time later as a madman (making prophetic the title given him by the Jews, Antiochus Epimanes “Madman”).

This vision of Daniel’s is different than the two before (statue and beasts). Each of those ended with God setting up an eternal kingdom, but here all Daniel sees is the people of God being trampled and killed. It sure looked like they were losing. It troubled him. It should trouble us. During this time when we live in the shadow of the fourth kingdom, we shouldn’t expect to see God’s people winning from a human perspective. In fact, it looks like they chose the wrong side. But the story doesn’t end there…

Until next time…stay salty.