In the Beginning…

Central Christian Church

Genesis 1.1 – 2.3

As I reflected on this passage, I was struck by the disparity between what the world says about the origins of life and what God says, and the implications for the question of purpose. Whether it’s the Egyptians view of a battle between the gods, or the atheistic evolutionary view that we are a cosmic accident…the result of time and chance, the resulting impact on the way we view ourselves, each other and planet earth is the same…negligible, forgettable, expendable.

I shared a tweet this past week, “Genesis presents a better, higher view of the world we live in…a world that reflects the creative genius of its benevolent Creator.” Several years ago, there was a movie that came out called “Contact”. Jodie Foster is the main character. As a little girl, looking through her first telescope, she was blown away by the enormity of the universe…

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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.

Unbelievable Hope

1st Sunday of Advent. Isaiah 11.1-10.

As I reflected on the passage this week, I thought about how often Israel placed their hope in things other than the LORD. Even though they had seen Him do clearly miraculous things like the ten plagues and parting the sea, of leading them with a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night, of providing manna in the wilderness, of conquering enemies more numerous and powerful than them…yet they continually looked to other gods or other kings or to themselves. Running their own universes was leading them to epic failure. That’s what made guys like Abraham, Moses and David so great…their hope was clearly in the LORD, and they trusted Him to deliver them. They knew that only He could save and that only He could bring about all that He had promised concerning them, Israel and the nations.

And Jesus is the hoped for Davidic King who can bring in the true kingdom. Not an earthly kingdom that is destined to crumble and fade away, but an everlasting heavenly kingdom that encompasses both heaven and earth. He is the One who will restore not only Israel, but all of creation. He is the One who provides life…true life that is eternal and reflects perfectly the Creator. He is the One who brings reconciliation so that we can be adopted into God’s family, that we can sons and daughters of the King.

I shared a tweet last week, “Our hope is resurrection…for that all creation awaits.” Israel does not have a corner on the market of hoping in things that only bring disappointment. We, who have seen God work miracles in our own lives, of rescuing us from the kingdom of darkness and transferring us to the kingdom of His beloved Son…we too tend to hope in the things of this world that cannot bring about the desired effect. Our confidence is in our own abilities to make things happen, to provide for ourselves…

As I thought about my own life, I realized how often I set my hope on people or events that only disappoint. I’m too busy trying to create the perfect life here, refusing to admit that the world in its current state is destined for destruction. This world and the things of it are doomed to disappear…yet I sometimes find myself clinging to it as if my life depended on it. I forget that my hope is resurrection…it’s the kingdom life that is available now and lasts into eternity. It’s true peace, joy and love. Not the counterfeit version that this world can only offer. I am a sojourner here.

There is (or should be) a difference between the way the world hopes and the way a believer does. The hope the world is always uncertain, flaky and always ultimately disappoints. For the things hoped for in this present world are doomed to fade away. But the believers hope is a confident anticipation based on the sure promises of God. It does not disappoint.

What about you? What are you hoping in? Who are you hoping in? Is your confidence in people or things that are destined to disappoint? Are you so busy building an earthly kingdom that you have forgotten that as a believer this world, in its present state, is not your home?

My prayer for us this advent season is that we would discover anew our unbelievable Savior so that we might know an unbelievable hope.

Until next time…stay salty.

To hear an mp3 of this sermon, visit us at: http://www.centralchristian.org. You can also follow us on twitter: @mattdumas1969.

Heroes

Everybody wants to be the hero. In fact, I can’t think of anyone who would choose not to be the hero in the story if given the chance. There’s something about our make-up that longs for a battle to fight, a quest to undertake or a damsel to rescue. We might think of Indiana Jones or Iron Man or Jack Reacher, but the success of the Katniss Everdeen in the Hunger Games showed us that even the least likely of characters can be heroic. One of the things we enjoy about heroes is their ability to save the day. Rarely do they die in the process. And if they do, it makes for a very sad tale indeed. But as we continue in the story of Revelation, we find a surprising twist to the plot. The heroes of the story follow the example of the Hero of the Story…they give their lives for the sake of the cause.

Revelation 7-8. After the devastating effects of the seal judgments, John records a brief pause in heaven. First an angel is sent to seal, 144,000 Jews (likely converts during the ministry of the 2 witnesses around the middle of the tribulation) so that they will survive through the end of the tribulation (more on that in a later post). But then we get a celestial view from the end of the tribulation of multitudes of folks from every tribe and tongue and people and nation surrounding the throne and worshiping God and the Lamb. These folks are holding palm branches (a symbol of victory) and wearing white robes…the same robes that were given to the martyrs in the previous chapter. And now we see the full number of their brethren whose faith was forged in the fires of tribulation, who overcame by the blood of the Lamb, the word of their testimony and who did not love their lives even unto death. And these heroes of the story have a front row seat to see the remainder of the drama played out.

And then the trumpets. In the Old Testament, the trumpet was a symbol of war (think of Jericho, Gideon, David…when the trumpet sounded the battle was engaged). And now the trumpets will signal the turn of focus from Israel’s repentance to the judgment on the nations. And we will see destruction that starts with creation and has a ruinous effect on mankind.

So what does this mean for us. John writes the book of Revelation to believers, and repent is a key term. In the midst of a culture that is constantly telling us to give up or give in, John reminds us that the fate of the world truly is at stake. There is a war raging for the souls of men. He wants to shake us out of our complacency and ignite within us a desire, a burning desire, a faith that is worth dying for and so surely is worth living for. A faith that impacts not only the way we live contrary to the culture, but a faith that can transform the culture. Are you with me? Who’s in?

Until next time…stay salty.

 

So long Danny boy!

What a ride! Twelve weeks in the book of Daniel. Terrifying visions, steadfast faith, incredible courage, unwavering commitment, a new chapter. The rules have changed during the Times of the Gentiles. Up is down, and down is up. Doing right brings punishment, while conforming to the world brings comfort. Following God will not be easy, but for those with insight and the courage to persevere, their inheritance is secure. As the divine messenger says, “Those who have insight will shine brightly like the brightness of the expanse of heaven, and those who lead the many to righteousness, like the stars forever and ever.” In the midst of a world seemingly out of control, Daniel is reminded (and reminds us) that God is still in control…”For wisdom and power belong to Him. It is He who changes the times and the epochs; He removes kings and establishes kings; He gives wisdom to wise men And knowledge to men of understanding. It is He who reveals the profound and hidden things; He knows what is in the darkness, And the light dwells with Him.”

A good friend of mine shared a lesson learned from Daniel that has rocked him. He used to ask the “why?” question when it came to suffering. Why, if he was following God, was he having to go through this or that trial. Then he came to expect suffering as part of the life of the believer…he became, as Kierkegaard labels it, a knight of resignation. But Daniel has helped him see that suffering doesn’t have to be faced with resignation…suffering is part and parcel to following Jesus, but that suffering can be faced with hope and even joy…not in the pain itself, but in the identification that we have with Jesus. It doesn’t mean that we won’t grieve. Quite the contrary. We’re called to grieve, but not as those who have no hope. He’s learning what it means to be Kierkegaard’s knight of faith. May God give us the courage and steadfastness of Daniel to face life in the fourth kingdom, and may we do it with an undying hope

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.

Answered Prayer?

Sixty-six years. Daniel had been in captivity for sixty-six years. He had come to Babylon as a young man and now was quite old. Most of his friends were gone…they had died somewhere along the way. Yet Daniel was unwavering in his hope that God would restore the nation. Reading the prophet Jeremiah, he came across the passage where God had mentioned the Jews being in captivity in Babylon for 70 years before judgment came upon the Babylonians. And now the time was near, or so it seemed. So Daniel began to pray, confessing the sins of the nation and asking God to restore them just as Moses had instructed in Deuteronomy. And suddenly an angel appeared, Gabriel in fact. And Daniel’s prayer was answered in a most surprising way.

Daniel 9. First Daniel’s told that 70 7’s had been decreed for his people and the holy city, “to finish the transgression, to make an end of sin, to make atonement for iniquity, to bring in everlasting righteousness, to seal up vision and prophecy and to anoint the most holy place.” It turns out that the 7’s are years, so 70 7’s would be 490 years. According to the following verse, 69 of those 7’s (483 years) would span the time from the rebuilding of the city (time of Nehemiah) to the appearance of the Messiah (Jesus’ triumphal entry). But then Messiah would be cut off by the same folks who would also destroy the city. In the final 7 (tribulation) there would be a covenant made and then broken by a mysterious figure, a prince of these folks, who would then be destroyed.

Good news for Daniel: the righteous rule of God would be established. Bad news: not anytime soon. We are still in the time between the 69th and 70th 7. We’re waiting for the end of transgression and sin, the entrance of everlasting righteousness and the sealing up of prophecy. In some ways these things have been accomplished…in Jesus who is the “Stone cut without hands” and the “Son of Man” who comes up to the Ancient of Days. In His first coming, He made atonement for sin and paved the way for everlasting righteousness for all who believe in Him. But still we wait. We wait for the final revelation of the Son as the White Horse Rider and the ultimate end of sin, death, pain, sorrow, etc. And as we wait, like Daniel, may God find us just as faithful to impact our culture and point others to Him.

Until next time…stay salty.

 

Genesis Musings

I love road trips. I love going new places and seeing new things. I also enjoy going to familiar spots and getting reacquainted. I love the focused conversations and times of quiet reflection. And although the journey can be trying, the destination makes it worthwhile. Genesis has been just such an excursion.

Creation. Fall. Redemption. Blessing. Hope. A Future. Imago dei. Genesis 3.15. The beginning of the Nation. Love. Mercy. Judgment. A familiar story with lots of twists and turns. The revealing of God’s character and man’s purpose. An amazing landscape and a world of possibility. Genesis remains one of my favorite books. One of the biggest takeaways for me this go round is that God is not in a hurry…He will accomplish His purposes in His timing, and He can work through the most unlikely of circumstances and people…Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Judah.

But another challenging learning along the way came from reading Kierkegaard’s Fear and Trembling, where he examines Genesis 22 and Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice Isaac. Kierkegaard contrasts two kinds of knights and two potential approaches that Abraham could have taken to God’s request. The knight of resignation is willing to obey and sacrifice his joy and resign himself to a dismal, joyless existence because that’s what God’s asked him to do. The knight of faith believes the absurd…he is willing to obey, but does so not expecting to give up his joy, but receive it back in fuller measure. Abraham was the latter of the two. Hebrews tells us that Abraham believed the absurd, that he knew that God could bring Isaac back even from the dead…Abraham had no doubt that he would bring Isaac back down the mountain with him. It’s challenged me in my own thinking and my approach to ministry. Am I a knight of faith or resignation? Do I look at obedience as the death of joy, or the door to experiencing joy at an even deeper level? Do I live like a believe that God is for me, and wants what’s good for me (conformity to His Son), even when it may not seem like it at the time?

Coming to the end of a journey is always bittersweet. There are points along the path that all I’m hoping for is to be done, but then there’s that glimpse of something truly amazing that takes my breath away; I wish that the journey would never end. Our next road trip will be the book of Revelation (another favorite).

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.