The Fall

While God was satisfied with the good world he had created, He was very satisfied after the creation of man and woman. Perfect harmony between man and God, with man and woman, and with nature. That’s a picture of the Hebrew word “Shalom.” But, sin entered the world when Adam and Eve freely chose to eat the forbidden fruit. Looks can be deceiving, and our senses are not often helpful in determining what is good, true, and beautiful. That fateful decision reverberated throughout creation, causing disharmony in all the aforementioned relationships.

In the 4th-5th centuries, St. Augustine, the Bishop of Hippo (Northern Africa), argued, from personal experience, what Paul claims in Ephesians 2: this fall into sin left him, and leaves all of us, spiritually dead. We need someone outside of us to graciously come and rescue us. We can’t naturally reason our way to faith in God.

You probably remember the deadly predicament of the soccer team from Thailand trapped in underground caves. Their coach led them into a labyrinth of caves during the rainy season and soon the team found themselves trapped deep underneath the earth. They could not rescue or reason themselves out of their situation. They were essentially dead men walking, without hope – unless somehow, someone, someway, could make his way into the caves and lead them out.

The first Adam led us in to that cave of death and despair. But the cave was not too deep for Jesus, nor were the riches of heaven too much to leave behind and arrive in poverty. The second Adam, Jesus, came to lead us out.

Amazingly there were no casualties among the boys in the caves. But one man did volunteer for the rescue mission, and freely paid the ultimate price. Like that man, Jesus volunteered for this rescue mission, compelled by love, despite the great personal cost to himself. In the end, he considered the horrendous cost to be worth it comparedto the gain. The “gain” was losing none that the Father had given to Him (John 6:39). While Adam’s sin brought death, Jesus death brought life.

Hallelujah what a Savior! We’re not too far lost, too dead, too confused, too self-righteous for His rescue. Even that person that you’re thinking of right now. Even him or her. No one is! If the caves of sin were not too deep to keep Jesus from entering in, remember that neither are your falls, doubts, secret struggles, or obvious weaknesses!

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Simeon My Way

Before I jump back into Harbor’s reading plan for the New Year, I’ve been reflecting a good bit on Simeon’s reaction when he comes across the infant-yes Ricky Bobby, the cute little 8 lb baby Jesus. Here’s the passage in Luke 2.

 And he came in the Spirit into the temple, and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to do for him according to the custom of the Law, 28 he took him up in his arms and blessed God and said,

29 “Lord, now you are letting your servant[e] depart in peace,
    according to your word;
30 for my eyes have seen your salvation
31     that you have prepared in the presence of all peoples,
32 a light for revelation to the Gentiles,
    and for glory to your people Israel.”

Simeon had been told that he would witness this new Savior first hand before he died. So at the end of his life, when he finally gets to meet this cute little Savior, how does he respond? I mean, he really would not live to see all of the benefits the Savior would bring to him, his countrymen, and the world. And yet Jesus this snippet of Jesus was plenty. He rejoiced. How cool is that?

Today we see so much of what Jesus became, with his life, death, resurrection, and His church moving forward to all parts of the globe. And yet we haven’t seen ALL that He will do. There is still a future component, of which we will most likely not be alive to witness firsthand: Jesus’ return to renew all things. But even now, we, like Simeon can rejoice for what is to come, not just what has come to pass.

Why is this? Because the past, present, future of “salvation” is so tied up in the person of Jesus, that to experience him now, means that all parts of our salvation (freedom from sin’s punishment/power/presence) bring us joy today. Just like with Simeon. Our past, present, future are tied together in His past/present/future.

What brings us peace? Is it a promotion, a relationship, a success? No! We know those things never deliver, but Jesus never fails. If our concept of salvation revolves around Jesus, not Jesus so-I-can-get-what-I-really-want, then we can expect interactions with Jesus in weekly worship, bible reading, community groups, to be joy filled experiences.

Who is salvation for? It is for the Jew AND Gentile. It is for the racially/radically excluded people to be racially/radically included in God’s people. Salvation is not simply for us, but for others. When we think of salvation primarily in personal terms, it becomes self-absorbed and misses Jesus. And thus misses joy. When we think of salvation primarily in terms of what it brings us, and not others who are yet to believe, it misses Jesus. He came for the near and the far off. The religious and the irreligious. The “good” and the “bad.” The rich and the poor. It is good news for those inside the church and the offer extends to those outside the church. It’s good news for the individual and good news for the community.  Do we see both and, or either or?

If Simeon had a snippet of Jesus, then we have the whole picture. How much more joy and peace is there in store for us today? We can depart in peace and we can live in peace, not looking for anything/anyone else to save and satisfy us than this Savior. He’s that good.

God’s Patience is Not a Bad Thing

“God’s Patience Is Not A Bad Thing” – This is an excerpt from Harbor Community Church’s Devotional. The full PDF version can be found here.  My answers are provided in italics. Just use them after you think of an answer for yourself.

Wednesday, December 4th II Peter 3:1-9

Other suggested readings: Psalms 148, 149; Isaiah 5:1-7; Luke 7:28-35

On some two lane highways, there are signs that declare “Patience pays, 4 lanes in ¼ mile.’ These signs alert the driver not to rush to the judgment of passing the slow car in front of him/her. Instead, it will be safer to do so in a little while when another lane is added. Only a 20 or so years removed from Jesus’ resurrection, many were becoming impatient with Jesus’ return. Since he hadn’t returned yet, they lost patience, and rushed to a rash judgment: he isn’t coming back ya’ll! Peter reminds us to stay patient and not to rush to bad decisions based on impatient faith.

1.) What does Peter warn against? Scoffers who come and follow their own evil desires

2.) What are the scoffers saying? That the world is the same as it always was.

3.) Are they right in their assertions? No! Name some events which prove they are wrong. Creation, Flood, Exodus, God redeeming a people for himself through Covenants, Jesus and miracles, resurrection.

4.) To what should we appeal when false assertions are made? The words spoken in the past by the Holy prophets and the commands given by Jesus through his prophets; THE BIBLE.

5.) Their assertions are based upon observation of the world, without the aid of the scriptures. They “deliberately forget” (vs. 5). Their main argument is time: nothing has changed over time. But is time a good argument for our Lord Jesus not coming back? His concept of time and ours is not the same. A day is like a thousand years and a thousand years is like a day. God doesn’t see time like we see it.

6.) How should we interpret his not coming back for 2000 years? He is patient allowing more people to come to repentance. Over 400 years occurred between the two Testaments. That’s a long time, but God didn’t forget. He’s never late, but always right on time.

7.) When have you been angry with God because he seemed to slow to respond? Be specific and discuss/reflect

Application:

  • Confess that we are often like the scoffers and very impatient with God
  • To prepare yourself for Christmas, turn from your impatience and remember a time when God has been patient with you.

Advent at Harbor 2017

I don’t think I’ve posted anything in close to six months but am excited to break the blog silence with something so near to my heart: Advent.

Advent comes from a Latin word meaning “coming.” Each year, for 4 weeks leading up to Christmas Eve-though some traditions go for 6 weeks-many churches throughout the centuries have joyously celebrated Jesus’ first coming (his birth) while also leaving space to long for and remember His promise to return to Earth and finish what he started.

Advent helps us balance the joy and celebration of all that Jesus has done for us and in our world, but also reminds us of what He has yet to do. Let us not forget the penultimate verse in the bible:  “Come, Lord Jesus.”

Advent helps us to live in the healthy tension of honesty and hope, thanksgiving and longing, weeping with those who weep and rejoicing with those who rejoice. This intentional time helps us keep our eyes on Jesus when everything around us screams, “Look at me,” and vies for our time and affections.

At Harbor we’ll be celebrating Advent this season through a variety of means.

1.) Devotionals: I’ve written some short daily devotionals designed for singles or couples to get you into God’s Word for about 10 minutes each day. Each week of devotions centers around a corresponding sermon/candle theme of hope, faithfulness, peace, joy. Even if you rarely ever read the bible, would you commit to read and reflect from Dec 3rd-25th? We also have short devotionals which parents can do with their children. Kristy has done a great job picking some solid ones out for us. I can’t wait to start.

2.) Sermon series called “Close Encounters” in which we’ll see 4 Old Testament personal “God encounters” with Abraham/Sarah, Jacob, Moses, and Joshua, and how we can encounter Jesus in a fresh way this season.

3.) Decor: We’ll be adding some more visuals to worship each successive Sunday as an anticipatory buildup to Christmas Eve. We have four different Harbor artists contributing pieces to help stimulate our imaginations.

4.) Candle readings: Each week we’ll be getting folks fairly new to Harbor up front with a responsive reading from the prophecies about Jesus in Isaiah. Each week we’ll see a new promise unfold, while lighting the candles of Hope, Faithfulness, Peace, and then Joy.

Please take advantage of these means to help you celebrate and anticipate each Sunday, and each day of Advent.

On leaving, goodbyes, and answered prayer

Just last week, Amy and I re-watched the latter part of The Office Season 7. If you’re not familiar with the show, the boss and main character Michael Scott, bids farewell to his work “family” to start a new life in Colorado with his fiancee. It’s really kind of a sad episode, mainly because in all his quirkiness, immaturity, insensitivity, and insecurity, he really was a good boss who loved his employees and got the most out of them. I felt the same way! Because he wanted to avoid the difficulty of goodbyes, he penned Friday as his last day while Thursday afternoon plane tickets remained hidden in his pockets.

I didn’t lose a Michael Scott per se, but an influential mentor in my life and at Harbor just moved away from us. And, that rascal pulled a Michael Scott-esque type exit. Jeanne was sick and so their supposed penultimate Sunday proved to be their last. Though it wasn’t planned this way, I would be surprised if Larry would have written the script any differently!

Church folks move away, and that has always been quite sad for me. Yet I know, it will bring a great deal of happiness to others (in their case family) as well as their new church family. Strangely enough, or perhaps more appropriately, Larry will continue to run Pro Presenter for a church plant which meets in a YMCA. Sound familiar? That church prayed for such a person. So our loss is their gain, and another church gets a good one. Or rather a good two.

Making some people happy will always make others sad. That’s the deal with love: you will always have to love some people less, and some people more. I get it. The same thing was true for us when we left great friends and a great church in West Virginia.

And of course I’ll miss Jeanne, who proved to be a great mentor to my wife Amy, among the many things she did for our family/church in the course of their time at Harbor. It was really her first mentor since college, so for her I’m incredibly grateful.

One last little anecdote. Larry and Jeanne came to Harbor’s final core group training, the one where we read names of people we had been praying for  (many of whom eventually did come to Harbor and stay). Each person read about five, and Larry actually read his own name (we didn’t use last names). Too funny. Sometimes, in the strange providence of God, we  we can become answers to our own prayers without realizing it.

Fortunately for me, he ALWAYS checks email. I can still send questions his way.

In the mean time, I’ll continue to pray for more visitors, more members, more people plugged in, and more volunteers. Without volunteers, we simply can’t get this  job done. I’m thankful for all of you who give of your time, talent, treasure to labor alongside each other in order to see this work grow, bless, serve, and one day, multiply.

Lord, please send us more workers, for the harvest is plentiful.

 

What the Blacklist can teach us about Predestination

I’m never able to preach everything that I’d like to preach on a Sunday morning. I know that some folks might not believe me, but I actually edit out a ton of stuff on Saturdays. I promise. And not only that, I just can’t mention everything which I’d like to when covering large portions of scripture as we’ve been doing on Sunday mornings through our “Footloosed” series in Acts.

A few weeks ago, I was unable to get to properly cover this verse in Acts 13:48.

 And when the Gentiles heard this, they began rejoicing and glorifying the word of the Lord, and as many as were appointed to eternal life believed.

The NIV, New King James, and ESV all translate the word “appointed.”

What this teaches us is that many heard the gospel message, but only some believed. Why? I can’t see any other way to interpret this than God had already chosen them to believe.

But what about those who didn’t believe? Did they simply not believe, because God had not chosen them? No.

“When the Jews saw the crowds, they were filled with jealousy. They began to contradict what Paul was saying and heaped abuse on him. Then Paul and Barnabas answered them boldly: “We had to speak the word of God to you first. Since you reject it and do not consider yourselves worthy of eternal life, we now turn to the Gentiles.”  Acts 13:45-46

We are told that they rejected the message not because they weren’t appointed for life but because “they did not consider themselves worthy of eternal life.” Left to our own devices we will not choose Jesus. In C.S. Lewis The Great Divorce he imagines an after-life conversation betwixt a Christian in heaven and one who has recently passed on. Just as the Jews did in Acts 13, the liberal priest still chooses to reject Jesus as THE answer.

These great mysteries cannot be approached in that way. If there were such a thing (there is no need to interrupt, my dear boy) quite frankly, I should not be interested in it. It would be of no religious significance. God, for me, is something purely spiritual. The spirit of sweetness and light and tolerance— and, er, service, Dick, service. We mustn’t forget that, you know.’

C.S. Lewis, who as far as I know does not believe in Predestination, actually draws out the logical conclusion of Reformed thought. Unless the heart is changed, it will never choose life but remain hardened. Even when proven otherwise. Something must happen for him to believe.

Now you might think that would make one arrogant, to believe in such a doctrine. And honestly, for many, it has. So I get why many people do reject the doctrine up front. I don’t blame you.

But would you be open to considering that the opposite doctrine could also have the same result?

In the show The Blacklist, there is a very elusive character who seems to fly under the radar of any place he goes. Finally the FBI (I believe) catches him. The unit director then begins to boast in his own abilities. We found him. The main character on the show quickly retorts, “If you found him, it is because he wanted to be found by you.”

This “being found because he wanted to be found” belief was intended to humble them, not make them feel prouder of what they had accomplished. This concept, the humility it can produce and the glory which can then be given to God, is the main reason why I would commend folks to not simply thrust aside this doctrine.

Everyone does have to make a choice whether to put faith or not put faith in Jesus. But consider that there might be a reason that you “chose” Him and someone else hasn’t. Can you chalk that up to your spirituality, your foresight, long range planning, wisdom? Or perhaps you found him because He wanted you to find him….?

Regardless whether or not you hold to this doctrine, the fruit of what we believe must lead us to love. If Reformed Theology doesn’t make you more humble, than you are definitely living inconsistently with it’s purpose (bring all Glory to God), and drawing illogical conclusions. In the end, we are ultimately not to be known by our doctrine but by our love for one another (John 13:35). And our motivation to love is because he first loved us, even while we were yet enemies (Romans 5:8).

In the end, where ever we land on this controversial doctrine, let us love well, and be very charitable to others with theological differences. If we look to the Son, we are all on the same team (John 6:40).

“I’m glad you came:” Coming to worship FOR someone else

You may or may not be familiar with the British boy band The Wanted (I had no idea who they were, just familiar with the song), but there is a familiar sentiment echoed in the chorus on their hit song, “I’m glad you came.” Whether in a party, club, or worship service, there is familiarity that doesn’t bring contempt. In fact, just the mere presence of someone familiar, or even familial, can bring comfort to the weary soul. Not just when you join “forces” or rather voices in song, but afterwards.

At the request of a member who has been unable to attend worship for some time due to health reasons, we have decided to live stream the services through the Facebook Live feature. After 3 weeks, and an engineer who purchased, placed, and positioned the correct apparatus for my Iphone, I think we have most of the ins and outs nailed down. I love this possibility for those who can’t make it to worship due to sickness or travel.

I’m a pastor, so obviously I highly encourage all Christians to find a place to worship on Sundays (or Sat services). I’ve yet to meet one who doesn’t. I’ve written of many reasons why I believe putting yourself in the path of grace on a weekly basis is important, but one such elusive reason seems to have hit me like a foul ball. Your presence in worship could be just as vital for someone else faith as it was for your own.  

Let me explain. After worship concluded a few weeks ago, it was business as usual: people chatting, kids bouncing balls (we meet in a gym), folks stacking chairs. But in one corner of the gym, I noticed a circle of people huddled together praying. It was our missions team praying over our plans for the new fishing ministry, asking for guidance and blessing.

A homeless man came to church that week because we had given him a gas card to look for work. One of our leaders wasn’t at worship, so I simply passed this gentlemen on to another more equipped than I to discern the need. Another leader soon joined in the corner by the pool.

This past week a gal had a really rough week and another dear sister came with hugs and a listening ear.

Sometimes you may not feel like coming to worship, but another may be very glad you came. Have you considered that you’re not coming simply for yourself. Maybe it’s your kids, or maybe the kids or parents of another? A single, a widow or widower? Your availability is all that it takes for you to play a major role in someone’s life that day or that week. Maybe they needed your story more than mine, or more than his, or hers?

On Sundays when the only thing stopping you is “I don’t really feel like it,” would you do your brothers and sisters in the faith a solid, and consider someone may need my singing, hands, ears, tears, or my prayers? Consider that someone may say to you in one way or another, “I’m glad you came.” At the very least, when you are able to come, you’ll mindset will move from consumer of grace to a conduit of grace as the service concludes.