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.

Advertisement

The Long View

This was not what Joseph expected his life to be like. The favorite son of a wealthy man, things were supposed to come easy. He even dreamed that his brothers would bow down to him. He was voted most likely to succeed. And now here he sits in prison. Waiting. Let’s back up. Genesis 39-40.

Joseph is the eldest son of Jacob’s most loved wife, Rachel. And Jacob made it painfully clear that Joseph was his favorite, even giving Joseph a multi-colored tunic to distinguish his place of honor in the family. The LORD gave Joseph a series of dreams confirming that he would one day have prominence within the family, a prominence that would be recognized by all. He proves to be the faithful, obedient son going beyond Jacob’s express directions to find his brothers. His reward for obedience? Hijacked by his brothers and sold into slavery to traders on their way to Egypt. Not what he expected.

In Egypt, Joseph is sold to Potiphar, the captain of Pharaoh’s bodyguard. Joseph once again proves to be faithful and obedient, now as a slave. And we’re told that God blesses Potiphar on account of Joseph, and Joseph finds favor with him. He works hard for his master, and Potiphar prospers. His reward for obedience? Falsely accused by Potiphar’s wife of attempted rape…thrown into prison, awaiting punishment. Not what he expected, but God protects his life.

In prison, Joseph once again distinguishes himself as faithful and obedient, now as a prisoner. And God blesses the jailer on account of Joseph, and Joseph once again finds favor with his master. His reward for obedience? Forgotten and left for another two years in prison. Definitely not what he expected. But in every circumstance the one thing the reader can’t miss is: God’s presence, provision and protection of Joseph. He has not been left alone. And although making the right decision seems to have yielded the wrong consequence these three times, Joseph held on to his integrity. He continued to trust God. Even when life didn’t turn out the way he expected…in fact the exact opposite. Instead of ruling, he was both a prisoner and a slave seemingly forgotten. But God had not forgotten him.

That’s the lesson for us…for me. It would have been easy for Joseph to give up, to blame God, to choose a different path; but he did not waver, and suffering prepared Joseph to be the leader that God desired him to be…a deliverer who would rescue his people. It also strikes me that Joseph was not content to just sit and wait for his destiny to be fulfilled, he was faithful in the situations that God put him in. He gave himself fully to serve, and God rewarded him for it.

I believe that God has a purpose for each one of us. Some will realize it sooner than others…Abraham waited twenty-five years, Moses forty…and some will never realize it because of the choices they’ve made along the way. But what God calls us to is the long view, to be faithful in the circumstances He’s placed us in right now, so that we are ready when the moment of destiny comes. I pray that He finds us faithful my friends.

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.

Stowaway

A stowaway is a person who hides aboard a vehicle of some sort (boat, train, plain, etc.) in order to gain free passage. Images of immigrants hiding in ships traveling to the new world or of Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn train-hopping come to mind. In most cases there is likely no ill intent predetermined, but occasionally the stowaway has nothing good planned. Welcome to Genesis 6-9.

Up to this point in Genesis, we’ve seen a number of different episodes in the story that Moses is telling for the benefit of the children of Israel coming out of Egypt. Creation. Genesis 1.26-28. Dominion. Imago dei. Work. Marriage. Fall. Judgment. Genesis 3.15. Hope. Curse. Fig leaves vs. animal skins. Cain vs. Abel. Seed of the serpent vs. seed of the woman. Sons of God and the daughters of men. [See previous posts]

And now we come to the second major judgment on mankind resulting from the disappearance of the seed of the woman (godly line of Seth, those who call on the name of the LORD) and the increased violence on the earth. Adam was told to be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth (Gen. 1). The idea was that, as God’s representative, Adam would rule over the earth on God’s behalf as a benevolent governor. But instead of the imago dei and altruistic rule increasing, violence has filled the earth and only one man has found favor with God…Noah. Because of violence and the inclination of men’s hearts only toward evil continually, God finally says, “Enough!” And He determines to destroy the earth with the flood. But similar to His initial judgment, God’s mercy shines forth in saving Noah and his family and representatives of the creatures of the earth.

Why does the earth suffer for man’s sin? Both the curse on the ground in Genesis 3 and the flood account in Genesis 6-9 make it clear that all of creation is under punishment. But why? Because man, as God’s caretaker, is given dominion over creation, and creation is therefore tied to man somehow. When man fell, creation fell. When man is finally redeemed, creation will be redeemed as well. Paul says in Romans 8, “For the anxious longing of the creation waits eagerly for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of Him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself also will be set free from its slavery to corruption into the freedom of the glory of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation groans and suffers the pains of childbirth together until now.”

With the flood, the earth once again suffered the repercussions of man’s sin. In Genesis 7-8 we get a description of the de-creation of the earth and its re-creation after the flood. But curiously enough, although Noah will be physically delivered through the flood, spiritual deliverance is another story.  There was a stowaway on the boat with the most wicked of intentions…sin! We see it in God’s pronouncement of the covenant after Noah leaves the ark when He says once again, “The intent of the hearts of men are only evil continually.” We see it in the sacrifices that Noah offers when he set up an altar – a reminder of Genesis 3.15 and the death of the innocent for the guilty. We see it in the echoes of the garden in Noah’s vineyard.

Sin cannot be defeated by physical judgment. It needs a spiritual remedy. Noah is our first candidate for the Genesis 3.15 Deliverer, and although he starts out with great promise (Lamech’s pronouncement over him and God’s assessment of him), in the end he’s not the guy. So we are left to look for another…One who will deliver like Moses; but this One will take the flood of God’s wrath on Himself and provide for the deliverance of all those who will believe in Him. He will provide the ultimate solution, final salvation – both physical and spiritual for those who are His kingdom citizens, and He will crush the head of the serpent once and for all destroying sin, death and the enemy.

So where are you? The story of the flood reminds us that God is serious about sin. And although He is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in lovingkindness…He is also a God who will ultimately judge. Are you a kingdom citizen?

Until next time…stay salty.

Through the Looking Glass

“Genesis 3.15 is the key to the entire Bible,” I heard myself say again for the hundredth time (slight exaggeration)  with a group that I’m taking through the book of Genesis. It’s become so much a part of my schtick that I find myself referring to it almost weekly in the two other books I’m taking groups through – Luke and Acts. It’s been amazing seeing the connections. After all, the Genesis 3.15 Seed of the woman is Jesus, so should I expect anything less?

Anyway, we spent time yesterday going through Genesis 4-6.9, focusing primarily on the genealogies and the sons of God/daughters of men reference at the beginning of 6. Seeing the fig leaves, garment of skins, Cain’s sacrifice of fruit, Abel’s sacrifice of meat, the line of Cain and the line of Seth, and the sons of God and the daughters of men through the prism of Genesis 3.15 brings both clarity and cohesion to what could be, and often is, interpreted as a disjointed section of Scripture.

God judges the serpent for his part in the fall. In the midst of his judgment, God says, “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your seed and her seed. He will bruise you on the head, but you will bruise Him on the heel.” A couple of things to note: constant warfare between those who follow God and those who follow satan, and the death of the innocent in delivering the guilty.The heel crushing is more than a flesh wound…it’s a kill shot. Adam and Eve respond to their sin with fig leaves, while God illustrates Genesis 3.15 by providing animal skins – a sacrifice of blood (the innocent for the guilty). Cain follows in his parents’ example before the blood offering by bringing fruit. But Abel mirrors God’s example bringing firstlings of the flock and fat portions. Cain proves to be a seed of the serpent, while Abel represents the seed of the woman; and death is sadly an apt example of the enmity between the two.

Seth replaces Abel. In Cain’s genealogy, Moses highlights the very earthy accomplishments of his line. These guys are famous from a worldly perspective – lots of “first of’s”. But Seth’s progeny are distinguished by their calling on the name of the Lord. They have a heavenly focus. Like Cain, his line will represent the seed of the serpent, while Seth and his crew represent the seed of the woman. Which brings us to Genesis 6.

This passage presents quite a challenge for most Bible students. Who are the sons of God? And what does Moses mean by daughters of men? Where do the Nephilim fit in? And what about the mighty men of old, the men of renown? If we parachute into this passage without regard to the preceding context of Genesis 1-5, then we are left with word studies and ancient myths. And this becomes one more story in a string of stories that Moses is telling to the ancient Israelites rather than one story with different vignettes. Whatever conclusion you draw about the identities of the aforementioned groups, the balance of the chapter makes it clear that God holds man culpable. I believe it’s because those who call on the name of the Lord begin to disappear as they intermarry with those who don’t (no such thing as missionary dating!). And the result is increasing violence (Am I my brother’s keeper?) which leads to the destruction of the earth by the flood. But we have a potential Genesis 3.15 candidate in Noah…

I’m always aware of the danger of reading my own thoughts into Scripture. And having a text through which you evaluate the whole is dangerous, but if Genesis 3.15 is pointing us ultimately to Jesus, and He is the focus of Scripture…He’s the Word made flesh, then maybe I’m not too far off.

Until next time…stay salty.

Incredible Me

 

“Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.” Has there ever been a more un-true statement? Ask any kid who’s been picked on by a bully at school, or any athlete that has been berated by a coach, or any spouse that has been belittled by her mate. They will tell you. Words hurt. And they hurt bad. Personally I would rather have the sticks and stones.

Now imagine that you are a part of a people group that has been subjugated for, oh say, 400 years. The culture around you worships a plethora of gods from the sun, moon and stars, to cattle, to crocodiles and everything in between, making your value to society at large, your worth as an individual, somewhere below the creepy-crawling things. Everything around you screams “Worthless, good-for-nothing, loser.” Your job day in and day out is to build the tombs of the Pharaohs. And then a guy named Moses dares to bring a spark of hope…

Some friends and I are beginning a journey through the book of Genesis. The whole book sets the stage for the story of man’s beginnings, his fall in the garden and God’s reckless pursuit of him to bring about his redemption. Yesterday we tackled chapter 1. I love chapter 1. It’s poetic in its symmetry, and I counted three primary takeaways: God is, God’s Word is magical/powerful, and man is God’s prized creation, created to rule the world in His behalf. But I think the most significant thing for me was the beautifully amazing fact that God created us in His image. Let that sink in… We have infinite value because we alone of all His creatures have been made in His image. So the next time you hear words that hurt, or the next time you are tempted to say words that hurt…remember that the imago dei, although tarnished through sin, is still what gives each of us inestimable worth. Enough that God was willing to send His only Son on a rescue mission that cost Him His life that He might lead the way back to God the Father.

Until next time…stay salty.