Deception

When was the last time you watched a soap opera?  If you are a fan, you probably relish in the scheming and plotting against each other.  Every episode is filled with these stories.  They never end.  Sadly, real-life can be that way too.  Today’s reading of Genesis 27 is a prime example.  Everyone in the story plays a role.  What’s really amazing to me is that they are supposed to be faithful.  I mean, they are in the Bible.  Shouldn’t they be our role models?  Consider the actions of each character.

    • Rebecca – encourages her son to lie.  She conjures up a scheme that will give him the birthright reserved for the firstborn son, Esau.  
    • Jacob – tricks his father into giving him the first-born blessing
    • Isaac – really?  He has the voice of Jacob but he feels like Esau?  Does that work?  Nobody is that stupid.  I wonder if he didn’t know exactly what was going on – – in fact, Isaac knew, had been told, that Jacob was the chosen one
    • Esau – seemingly innocent but don’t forget that a few chapters ago, he signed everything over to Jacob.

As I read and re-read this passage, I fail to see what we are supposed to learn.  The conclusion of the chapter leaves the family in shambles.  Isaac dies, Esau wants to kill Jacob and Jacob flees for his life.  Just like a soap opera, right?  This, clearly, is the result of their deception.  Their sin.  None of the family put God first.  No member exhibited the faith or behaved according to God’s will.

In my search for something redemptive with this story, I found one thing.  It ends.  The lies, the drama, and the hate.  They stop.  How?  We don’t get much insight into that until Genesis 32.  In short, Jacob finally has it out with God and emerges with a new understanding of who he is.  Jacob develops faith.  The result?  Jacob and Esau reunite.  Peacefully.

I wonder how their stories would have changed if they had followed God sooner.  What if Rebecca would have reassured Jacob that God would honor his promises?  What if Jacob refused to win by deception and called upon God instead?  What if Esau responded with the Love of God instead of hate?

Maybe the hardest part of this story is seeing where we are trying to deceive in our own lives.  Let’s ask God to reveal those things to us.  Our challenge is to surrender them to God and, by faith, give him room to work.  He promises not to fail us.  In fact, he promises that we will prevail.

 

 

The Beginning of the End

Revelation 1

Many people struggle with the book of Revelation.  We complain about the imagery presented as we struggle to convert symbology to reality.  Our attempts are futile.  Rather than gaining assurance, we get fear.  Maybe, it is time that we approach this book differently.  Let’s leave our preconceptions and, more importantly, ourselves behind.  I discovered this as I read through Revelation 1. When I began, my focus was on one thing; myself.    Simply put, I begin worrying about my future.  What will the end-times mean for me?  This inward focus inhibits my ability to see the real message John presents.  Thankfully, God is faithful.  His word exposes my error and helps me correct it (Hebrews 4:12).  Today, as I read Revelation 1, I am reminded that:

    • God is in charge.  He gave Jesus the revelation to bring to us.  He commands angels and sits on a throne.
    • Because he loves us, He freed us from our sins by the blood of Jesus (v6)
    • He is the alpha and omega (v8). He existed before time began and will continue after it ends.

So what does the book of Revelation bring us?  A clear picture of who we are who God is.  Nothing else matters.  In fact, everything in this world will cease.  It will no longer exist.  Except for God.  He will continue.  He will rule and he will love us.  Forever and always.  That is enough for me.  Is that enough for you?

Leaders Teach

Titus 2

Last week, I found myself in a debate about leadership.  The cause in question was about who the leaders are.  Sure, leaders can easily be identified as the ones in charge.  That title, of course, does not necessarily make them leaders.  It might simply make them the boss.  Today, our assigned reading is Titus 2, but I would encourage you to read all three books of Titus.  In them, Paul teaches us about leadership.  In addition to outlining the leadership traits we need to develop as Christ-followers, he also identifies who the leaders are.  In short, Paul determines that everyone who is a Christ-follower is a leader.

Before we get too far, I would like to share with you a definition of leadership that I have adopted.  It comes from the founder of Keller Williams Realty, Gary Keller.  He describes a leader as someone who teaches people how to think so that they can get what they want when they want it.  It’s that first part, that I have come to love.  A leader teaches people how to think.  Paul breaks this down for us in Titus.

First, he encourages us to “promote the kind of living that reflects wholesome teaching.”  The ESV translates wholesome teaching as “sound doctrine.”  For Christ-followers, there is only one source; the Bible.  The foundation of this BibleJournal exercise is built on exactly that.  Our core values include the following.

Second, Paul encourages us to be above reproach.  Specifically, he says, “Show yourself in all respects to be a model of good works, and in your teaching show integrity, dignity, 8 and sound speech that cannot be condemned, so that an opponent may be put to shame, having nothing evil to say about us.”  Titus 2:7-8

Finally, and perhaps most important is the reminder that God’s grace makes it possible.  Godly leadership is simply not possible on our own.  This is a fact that C.S. Lewis understood clearly.  In his book Mere Christianity, he explains it perfectly.

the change which I most need to undergo is a change that my own direct, voluntary efforts cannot bring about. And this applies to my good actions too. How many of them were done for the right motive? How many for fear of public opinion, or a desire to show off? How many from a sort of obstinacy or sense of superiority which, in different circumstances, might equally have led to some very bad act? But I cannot, by direct moral effort, give myself new motives.  After the first few steps in the Christian life we realise that everything which really needs to be done in our souls can be done only by God.

All Christ-followers are called to leadership.  I am blessed beyond measure to be part of this BibleJournal.  A team of leaders that are committed to teaching Biblically, living properly and experiencing God’s grace daily through the perfect sacrifice of Jesus Christ. Godspeed to you all, my brothers and sisters in Christ.

 

Lewis, C. S.. Mere Christianity (C.S. Lewis Signature Classics) (p. 193). HarperCollins. Kindle Edition.

Strength and Weakness

2 Corinthians 12

Sometimes I wonder what my life would look like if God gave me everything I asked for.  Would I turn out like Bruce Nolan in Bruce Almighty, or maybe like the character of Kevin Lomax in The Devil’s Advocate?  I fear that we have all developed our theology from those movies.  Today, thankfully, we get to put Hollywood behind us and look to the Bible.  Through the life of Paul, we see what real character and integrity look like in the face of adversity.

Unlike Paul, we continually misdiagnose our failures and shortcomings.  These often result in empty and hollow feelings, despite our best efforts.  When they persist, we turn to God.  We pray for success.  Sometimes, we demand success.  We want more money. Better relationships, influence prestige, and power; “God’s blessing.” These, however, are the trappings of worldly success.  They are not what God wants for, or from us.  I like the way that Jamin Goggin and Kyle Strobel illustrate this in their book Beloved Dust.  They explain that “we want to believe we can fix our own lives and we want to believe that learning the right technique will save us.  At the heart of idolatries such as these is the desire to have a different god from the God who has given himself to us in Christ Jesus.  It is taking the deep and evil desires of our heart to make ourselves the center of existence, and generating an idea of a god we can serve – a god who will be impressed with us, a god who is on our side, and, maybe most importantly, a god we can control.”

Paul takes the opposite of my position.  His is worship.  Incredibly, this is Paul’s only response to his circumstances.  In fact, he boasts about it.  Now, I might boast about my weakness in order to gain sympathy or even help from someone else.  Not Paul.  He boasts not for any gain of his own, but only so that the name of God can be known to exclaim God’s revelation that “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”

It is time for me to get on with the business of worship for all things in my life.  This life of worship begins with the understanding that my weaknesses, my failures, my shortcomings, adversities, and brokenness that God is looking for.  In fact, all of these have been overcome through the perfect sacrifice of Jesus Christ.  Because of His strength, I can do all things. (Philippians 4:3)

We’ve Got Spirit!

Ring – Ring

“Hello, this is BJ.”  “I’m looking for a spirit filled agent to assist me.  Are you him?”  said the voice on the phone.  I’ll be honest, I didn’t know how to respond.  To buy some time, I said, “it depends upon what you mean by spirit.”  My brain was racing across so many definitions of spirit.  Did he want an agent with spirit?  Like a cheerleader?  “We’ve got spirit, yes we do, we’ve got spirit how ‘bout you?”  Ok, yea. I’ve got spirit.  No, that can’t be it.  Maybe he was looking for a Christian?   If so, I question his method.  That is an odd way to put it.  Why not just ask me if I am a believer?  Because this man was looking for a specific kind of Christian.  He didn’t want someone that was religious, or simply knew the right things to say.  He was looking for someone whose life was shaped by the Holy Spirit.  His follow up to my query was “are you continually full of the Holy Ghost, able to speak in tongues.”  Hmmm…..now I have a problem. I have never spoken in tongues.

Since I have never spoken in tongues, I must reconcile what it means to be filled with the Holy Spirit.  Today, in Acts 2, the Holy Spirit fills the disciples.  The result?  You got it.  They spoke in tongues.  And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance.  Does my failure to speak in tounges mean that I do not have the Holy Spirit?  No.  It simply means that the Spirit has not needed to fill me in that way.  He has, however, filled me in other ways.  Galatians 5 provides additional evidence of the Holy Spirit’s presence in our lives.  “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, and self-control.  Galatians 5:22-23

As I reflected on the conversation, I began to think about Jesus and the Holy Spirit.  Here are a few examples of how Jesus reflected the Spirit’s presence.

Love – Matthew 20:28  “just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

Joy – Luke 10:21 (ESV) In that same hour he rejoiced in the Holy Spirit and said, “I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that you have hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to little children; yes, Father, for such was your gracious will.

Peace –Mark 4:39 (ESV) And he awoke and rebuked the wind and said to the sea, “Peace! Be still!” And the wind ceased, and there was a great calm

Patience – Jesus is incredibly patient with Thomas’ unbelief John 20:27 (ESV) Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here, and see my hands; and put out your hand, and place it in my side. Do not disbelieve, but believe.”

Kindness – Matthew 11:28-29 (ESV) Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls

 GoodnessThis is a great tribute to the goodness of Jesus https://youtu.be/ESmuG_5MOiw

 Gentleness – Matthew 19:13-14 (ESV) Then children were brought to him that he might lay his hands on them and pray. The disciples rebuked the people, 14 but Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of heaven.”

Self-Control – Jesus is tempted by the Devil Matthew 4:1-11 Then Jesus said to him, “Be gone, Satan! For it is written,“‘You shall worship the Lord your God and him only shall you serve.’”

Clearly, the Holy Spirit has powerful effects on our lives.  I can see why the man on the phone wanted an agent that was filled with the Spirit.  Thankfully, because Jesus went before us, these gifts are freely given to those that ask.  What shall we do?

“Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. 39 For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself.” Acts 2:38-39 (ESV)

Tested, Proven, Perfected

I am fully enthralled with the story of Peter’s denial.  Today, in Mark 14, we see both the warning that Jesus gives him and Peter’s vehement denial.  These two statements are extreme opposites.  In verse 31, Peter  “said emphatically, If I must die with you, I will not deny you.’”  Contrast that statement with verse 71 where Peter  “invokes a curse on himself and swears, I do not know this man of whom you speak.”  How could Peter so fully believe that he would follow Jesus, at all cost, and, at the same time invoke a curse on himself trying to denounce him?  Clearly, Peter did not understand what he was capable of.  Are we all so fallible?  If so, how do I know what I really believe?
The answer, unfortunately, is that we don’t know.  Seriously, until our beliefs are put to the test, we do not know how we will respond.  My fear, of course, is that I will fail as Peter did.  But why?  Why do I fear failing when, failure is the very thing that leads to success.? That was certainly true for Peter.  After failing the test, Peter broke down and cried.  In that moment, Peter knew himself better than he ever had.  More importantly, he came face to face with the gulf between who he was and who God created him to be.  He fully understood that if he was to be whole again, he would need God to make him so.  I can only imagine how difficult the next few days were for Peter.  Jesus was dead, and he failed.  What hope was there?

God leads into the dark night those whom He desires to purify from all these imperfections so that He may bring them farther onward. ~Saint John of the Cross

I am sure that through this test,  God planned to help Peter become who he was created to be.  Throughout the test, Peter was 100% responsible for his response.  He got to choose what was next.  In the end, Peter could not deny the changes that Jesus had made in his heart.  He was a different man.  While his heart may have reflected sorrow and shame, he was not far from worship.  It shows in his excitement to be reunited with Jesus in John 21:8.  It was this contrition of heart that led him to a full victory in John 21:15-20.

As I learn about Peter in this passage,  I find myself reflecting on how God has and is testing my faith.  I can see times of failure and, like Peter, experienced a dark night of the soul.  Maybe you are experiencing a test of faith right now. I am comforted to know that victory is ours if we choose it.  We choose it by acknowledging that Jesus is our savior and our Lord.  When we do, He promises that we will become “perfect and complete, lacking nothing” (James 1:4).  That is who God created us to be.

Diamonds, Hawk Nelson

Saint John of the Cross. The Dark Night of the Soul (annotated) (Kindle Location 151). Kindle Edition.

Reunited

Luke 15

If you have been around the church for any period of time, it’s likely that you have heard the parable of the lost sheep, the lost coin and, of course, the lost son.  These are powerful stories that allow us to experience God.  That’s right, Jesus reveals God’s character, generosity and love through them.

First, we see that God is relentless in his quest for relationship with us.  Consider for a moment that you are that lost sheep, or coin or wandering son.  God will stop at nothing to regain our trust, attention and love.  While we may attempt to pause our relationship with God, or even hide from him, rest assured that it is not possible.  The parable of the lost coin explains it clearly.  The old woman will not stop until she finds it.  Neither, will God stop seeking you.

Second, God is not seeking us for vengeance.  He wants to give us love.  Note the word “rejoice” in the parables.  If God is going to rejoice with us, he must be giving us first a full measure of grace.  As I recount my own failings, I find myself questioning how forgiveness is even possible.  Why would a sovereign, all-powerful God want to rejoice and celebrate with me?  The simple answer is revealed again in these stories.  It is his love for each of us.

There is no greater evidence of God’s love than his own son.  It is his death on a cross that assures our salvation.  No, that is not a story or a parable.  It is real life.  He died, was buried and rose again so that we can live, reunited with Him.  Now is the time to rejoice with him and with each other.

According To Your Faith

Mark 2

Today’s reading has me thinking about paralysis.  Miriam Webster defines it as being powerless or ineffective.  Today’s story illustrates Jesus miraculous healing of a man that is physically paralyzed.  I picture him lying in a bed, or on a stretcher immobilized, unable to move at all.  I imagine him thinking about things that he would like to do with his life and wonderful things that he wants to experience.  I’m sure the doctors told him its impossible to change.  Those words led only to disappointment and depression.  Yet, something inside of him was still alive.  I think the same is true for us.  No, most of us don’t deal with physical paralysis, but we do struggle with mental paralysis.  think back to the definition.  Where in your life are you powerless and ineffective?

When we are honest, there are many things that we feel powerless over.  I’ll bet that careers, finances and families are among the top answers for that.  We know that our powerlessness is not right.  Intuitively, we know that something is wrong.  That’s why we continually reach for solutions.  Hopefully, we seek out something positive like a book, a friend or a support group.  Unfortunately, we often seek out less beneficial options like a bottle, a pill or isolation.  I wonder how long the paralytic in today’s story sought options like that?  My guess is that he did so continually, until he heard of this man named Jesus.  At that moment, he knew that nothing else would satisfy.

Little did he know the obstacles he would encounter when seeking out Jesus.  In fact, he was completely blocked.  The crowd was so thick and Jesus’ room was so full that not one more body could fit nearby.  And, so it is with us.  The instant we listen to that still, small voice telling us that a better life awaits, obstacles appear.  Maybe it’s an old habit, or perhaps the people we are surrounded with.  Truth is, there are so many things that will block our path of Jesus.  But, like the paralytic, we must find a way.  If we really believe that still, small voice, we will do whatever it takes.  The paralytic found himself on top of the house, being lowered next to Jesus through the roof!  Yes, that sounds extreme.  I believe with all my heart that if we really want to discover the life Jesus has waiting for us, we too must take a seemingly impossible risk.  Ironically, the risk isn’t what we think it is.  The risk is not about blindly taking a leap and hoping things work out.  The risk is about evidence.  Evidence of our faith.

Verse 5 shows us exactly how it worked.  It says, “when Jesus saw their faith.”  Do you know what that means?  It means the actions they took were the evidence of their belief that Jesus was who he said he was.  This happens over and over in the Bible.  Check out Matthew 9:27-31, for example.  Jesus miraculously heals two blind men and cites their faith (v29) for the victory.  My friends, this is not different for us.  The only thing left to evaluate is ourselves.  What actions are we taking that suggest Jesus is our answer to everything?  That is the evidence of our faith.

Father give us a clear picture of who you created us to be.  allow us a glimpse of what our life would look like if given over fully to you and provide us with the courage we need to act accordingly.  Your will be done.

 

 

On The Line

What is the most dangerous thing you have ever done?  When I asked myself that question, I had a hard time answering.  Truth is, riding my bike with no hands is probably it.  In modern-day America, we simply don’t face danger.  Occasionally, we may face danger that will put our reputation or popularity on the line, but never our lives.  That reality makes it a little harder for me to appreciate the risk that Queen Esther takes today in Esther 4.  In short, she is informed that the only way to save the Jewish people from certain death was to go and risk her own life before the king.

Not long before this challenge was given her, Esther was the chosen one.  Everything was going right for her.  Her beauty and loyalty earned her high place with the king.  That is until her cousin, Mordecai came to her with this special challenge.  She must go before the king and ask him to save the Jewish people.  This task, she knew, could easily result in death.  This is the part that has me wondering.  What would I really put on the line for God?

The reason we may never know the answer to that question is that we have an amazing ability to dodge the question.  Seriously, when something challenging comes up, we look for simpler ways through it.  Maybe there is an option that will satisfy everyone without going to such an extreme.  If not another solution, we simply avoid the question all together.  Life goes on.  Or does it?

Among the most captivating verses in this passage is verse 14.  Mordecai explained that there is a cost for silence.  In fact, the cost is extremely personal.  He explains that God’s plan to save the Jews will succeed.  He will prevail, with or without her.  Additionally, if she chooses “without her,” she will die anyway.  So will all of her family.  Ouch!

I’ll be honest.   When I compare my commitment and faithfulness to Esther’s, I feel like a wimp.  Like Esther,  I cannot justify my silence when I know God is calling me to more.  Thankfully, unlike queen Esther, our lives are not on the line.  Or, are they?

 

 

Dangerous Calling

Ezekiel 2-3

I don’t have much understanding of prophets.  They are far too mystical for me to understand.  Most of the time, I think of crystal balls, tarot cards and Ouija boards.  In our culture, these things are shrouded in secrecy and darkness.  There are at least two reasons I do not go near them or the people that interpret them. The first is skepticism.  What makes them so important that they can see the future?  If I could get over my skepticism, I would be confronted with fear.  You see, when our future is predicted, our sense of control disappears.  We must endure the future without choices.  I have to consider the pain and suffering that will come along with it.  It’s hopeless.  I want nothing to do with it!

My definition of prophets helps me.  Wait a minute. Maybe that’s not the right way to say it.  My perspective of prophets might be preventing me from fully realizing my calling as a Christ-follower.  How does that work?  Read through God’s calling in Ezekiel 2:3.  It reads, “And he said to me, ‘Son of man, I send you to the people of Israel, to nations of rebels, who have rebelled against me. They and their fathers have transgressed against me to this very day.”  God wants Ezekiel to rebuke them.  Now, imagine that God said that to you.  I’m guessing that your response is similar to mine.  “No, way!”  Why not?  Because my reputation, my friendships and my very life are at stake.  What will people think of me when they hear me talking like that?  Guess what?  It doesn’t matter.  God continues with Ezekiel saying, “whether they hear or refuse to hear” Ezekiel 3:11 (ESV).  These words are important to us because I believe that God may be calling us to be prophets.

No, God may not endow us with powers like Elijah or the ability to determine future events.  We need to think about prophets differently.  I would like to share something I learned from A.W. Tozer.  He helps me fix my picture of prophets and how we fit in.  In his book Tozer on Christian Leadership,  he describes today’s prophet as someone who interprets the present.  This calling requires discernment to understand current events and the ability to translate God’s position on them.  Unfortunately, I think most Christians cut ourselves short.  God may be wanting to bestow this gift of prophecy on us, but our refusal to surrender to Him inhibits the spirit from working.  What would it look like if we fully sought him and surrendered?   Maybe, you are like me, worried that He might call you to be something more.

It’s time to retire my old definition of prophet and replace it with God’s truth. Jesus Christ does not remove control from me.  He restores control to me.  Because of Jesus’ sacrifice, my future is secure. Abundance, peace and love are mine.  Forever and always.  If you believe that, it is worth considering what a prophet looks like.  I’m sure that we have been given the command, just as Ezekiel was given the command.

Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”  Matthew 28:19-20 (ESV)