Provisions by Rain instead of by River

When we read of the journey of God’s people out of slavery in Egypt, the first thing most folks  marvel at is their lack of faith. I sure do. At times, they even mention how it would be nice to head back into slavery so they could eat vegetables (Numbers 11:5). Hmmm….I can’t imagine missing vegetables that much…..But its more than vegetables I think-to be honest they also missed the Tilapia as well-it’s the certainty of veggies. What I mean is that in Egypt, they had a constant water source. A little river called the Nile provided all the water needed to maintain a pretty aggressive agrarian advantage.

In Israel, folks had the Jordan River. Unfortunately it provided next to nothing in regards to irrigation. So they had to rely upon rain from above. 

Now when God’s people finally arrived in Israel, and conquered the land, there wasn’t much talk about going back to Egypt. Instead of wanting to give up, they chased after the fertility god Baal. Either give up or get or another god who could do the trick. Or they could rely upon God to provide for them in the midst of uncertainty. They had to pray for rain. What? Yep, they really didn’t have to do that before. If Egypt had rain gods, they weren’t ones you’d have on speed dial. Now they had to actually pray for rain.

After being down here in FL a week, and having worshiped in a great church this Sunday, it really hit home the fact that I’m no longer have a Nile. I came from land which offered a proverbial Nile, flowing with friends for us, friends for our kids, a great church where I served. It provided a certainty that wasn’t wrong in any sense, but it was a certainty we felt called to leave behind. 

Again, Florida is not the promised land, just as WV wasn’t Egypt. We are extremely excited to have been called back to the area where we feel is really home for us. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed being back and have been thankful everyday for this opportunity to plant a church here. But for our family, and for many who will take the step of faith and join us on this journey, we have no Nile. We won’t be able to see a church right away. We won’t be able to see now what will become of this church plant 2-3 years down the road. We won’t know exactly from where all of our friends, or kids’ friends will come. We won’t know what children’s ministry, and youth group will look like, now.

And so we will be left with only one option: looking up to the heavens, from whence our help comes (Psalm 121). Those things which we could see before, have been veiled for us this season. But that doesn’t mean anything other than God is offering us an opportunity to trust Him for what we can’t see. Things we normally didn’t have to trust him for, we are having to do so now.

It is scary. But it is also pretty cool. Just two nights ago, Connar really wanted to meet some new friends. He had friends galore in WV. We didn’t pray too much for that. But now in FL, we prayed for exactly that. And in one hour, we had an invitation to the beach from a family with a 5 year old. 

I know things won’t always be answered so quickly. And even though it is hard to not have the certainty of a river, it is pretty cool when you see God provide for things you would normally not have prayed for. In the end, there just might be more joy in timely rain than the steady flow of a river. I can’t say for certain because I’m not there yet. But I can only imagine. 

Not everyone is called to leave and start or join a new church plant. In fact, most probably aren’t. But those who support and leave just may find God answering prayers for things they never thought they’d be praying for. And consequently they may just receive more joy in the “ordinary” invitations and opportunities which come by rain instead of by river.

How home inspections point us to the gospel

Today Satan, aka, the Home Inspector came into our home to discern everything that could possibly be/could go wrong with our house. Home inspectors walk through, (and this time the guy walked through with our potential buyer) and keep meticulous notes that can and will be used against the current homeowner. 

What is so hard for me, as I write this, is to think about all of the little things (or big ones) that the inspector can use against me. Because of his findings, I could lose a buyer or lose a lot of money. His judgments, even though they can often be flat out incorrect (as our last inspector proved), can cause great damage. And because they have real potential to harm, such inspections can prove quite frightening. Although I’m thankful that the Lord has brought much peace to me in this crazy time (today I also had to buy a new AC unit for our FL house), the inspector’s judgment is real. It has real consequences, and therefore can elicit real fear.

But I was encouraged by the gospel last night in our CD group. We looked at Romans 8:1-17, and particularly in the context of confrontation. Either in giving or receiving confrontation, the gospel offers so much in the way of this. There are simply no “home inspections” for the Christian. There is no outside judgment that will hold sway over the Just Judge of all the Earth. 

Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives life has set you free from the law of sin and death. For what the law was powerless to do because it was weakened by the flesh, God did by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh to be a sin offering. And so he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fully met in us, who do not live according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.

Because the righteous requirements of the law have been met, I don’t have to consider criticism as if it were coming from home inspector. Whether the home inspector has a point or not, the fact that he writes something in his report, now puts me on the defensive. I have to contend or defend. There are no perfect houses, and so as soon as I let him in my house, I have a target on my back.

However, while there are no perfect people, there are Christians who have been declared perfect and therefore no longer subject to shame or deductions. And because they are no longer subject to punishment, they no longer should have any fear of others’ home-inspector-like opinions. And judgments.

14 For those who are led by the Spirit of God are the children of God. 15 The Spirit you received does not make you slaves, so that you live in fear again; rather, the Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship.

We don’t have to fear critique, which is meant to help. We don’t have to fear judgments or punishment or check-lists, which are meant to harm and hurt. We don’t have to fear confrontation, which is meant to help. 

Most of the times we treat those who lovingly confront us or offer helpful critique like home inspectors. But in reality, there are no more home inspections for us. We are set. Jesus took the home inspection for us, on our behalf, so the requirements of the law would be met in us. 

Loving confrontation is a beautiful thing. It says, “Stop choosing death when Jesus offers life.” Loving confrontation does not come to another as a home inspector with a check-list, but a humble fellow sinner that by God’s grace has noticed sin in our lives. He or she cares that we’re stuffing our face with mud-pies, when we can have apple pies in the shade.

If we/I can begin to look at critique and confrontation, and even at times simple disagreement from God’s Romans 8 perspective over us, we’ll save ourselves the “need” to defend, contend, and pretend. Believing this takes a lot of work, but whoever said believing the gospel was for the faint of heart. Not Jesus.

Lessons from Lions not named Aslan

I like good stories. Most people do. And when they are true, that makes those stories only that much better. Relevant magazine reported a story of a young Ethiopian gal abducted from her home and forced to marry some crazy dude from another village.

The girl, who had been missing for a week, was the captive of seven men who had beat her and intended to marry her. But before they could seriously harm her, three lions appeared and—holy moly, can you even believe it?—stood guard over the girl until she was found by police. Government authorities suspect that the girl’s crying reminded the lions of mewing cubs and they took her under their incredible golden paws until they were certain she was safe.“They stood guard until we found her and then they just left her like a gift and went back into the forest,” Sgt. Wondimu Wedajo said. “If the lions had not come to her rescue, then it could have been much worse. Often these young girls are raped and severely beaten to force them to accept the marriage.”

This story is quite amazing, and amazing for a number of reasons.

First of all, Lions and humans are literally enemies. 

Despite a recent crackdown, hunters kill the animals for their skins, which can fetch $1,000. Williams estimates that only 1,000 Ethiopian lions remain in the wild. 

There obviously aren’t many lions left because people have killed them. You wouldn’t be surprised for Lions to return the favor. And obviously they have. While The Grey depicted inaccurate repeated wolf on human predations (glad for the opportunity to use that word!), The Ghost and the Darkness actually told the true story of two lions regularly killing numerous railroad workers in Africa.

Next, because there aren’t too many lions left, what are the “chances,” of lions, much less three friendly lions, happening upon this crying gal?

Here are some more thoughts on this amazing story.

1.) My parents visited South Africa and learned of another group of three lions killing prey and bringing it to their crippled brother lion to eat. These top notch predators didn’t not actually believe in “survival of the fittest.” Darwin must have been ticked. So these Ethiopian trio of lions are not the first “thoughtful” (can we say that in regards to animals?) lions out there. Who knows how many of them are forgetting what they are supposed to do, and are saving rather than killing?

2.) Obviously this is amazing because wild animals, outside of dolphins don’t tend to intervene and protect folks. The wolf will always chase the lamb. And so will the lion, although at this point I’m beginning to hold that with less certainty. Regardless, this present order of things will not always be present. And that is God’s present to us, and to Himself, for His glory. The old order will pass away and the new will come. Indeed in Revelation 21:5, at the onset of this completed heavenly order coming down to earth we see John explain 

He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!” Then he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.”

The newness has already begun, and will be completed one day. In addition, Paul also reminds us in II Cor 5:17

 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!

The ministry of Jesus through his life/death/resurrection and his concomitant ministry through His disciples is evidence that the new order has already broken into to the old order. Now we experience the overlap. But such an intrusion from of this “new creation” should encourage us that things will not always be the way they are. The devastation of bombing and accidental explosions is not the way things will one day be. While I’m still hesitant to allow my 2 1/2 year old to go up and pet a lion the way he would a big yellow lab, I recognize that day is coming. Indeed, there is evidence even now, albeit small, that the new order of things has already impacted even the animal world. I think these two trios of lions “testify” to the presence of this new order, again in seed form, having already broken through.

Not as free as a bird: Reflections on a dove stuck in my garage

This weekend a bird flew into our garage. That’s OK with me. I’m happy for birds to come and go as they please. As long as they go. But this one stayed for a while. Both garage doors were up, but he kept flying around in circles and continued to come back to where the garage doors lay when they are in the up position. It didn’t make sense. He kept trying and trying and trying, but would not fly low enough to go free. And then he just gave up. After I discerned him to be out of the garage, he showed up again the next day when the property appraiser showed up (I’m assuming wildlife ups the home value a bit, right?). Again he did the same thing. It flew around in a circle, but never low enough to actually fly out of the garage. He was stuck yet again.
Then the property appraiser led me to the real identity of the bird. What I had thought was a pigeon was in fact a dove. And then it all made sense. I confess I don’t know much about doves, but the word on the street is that they fly erratically. They don’t fly straight, but are pretty much all over the place. Silly and senseless. They don’t go from here to there, but from here to there and then back to here. This bird ended up going nowhere, flying all over the place, but never to the right place (the huge opening), and so ended up in the wrong place. 

It reminded me of the story of Jonah, at least a little bit.

Jonah’s name means “dove.” That’s no accident. Jonah is all over the place. He heads to Spain but ends up near northern Iraq, the very place he was trying to avoid. In some ways, Jonah was like that bird. Even though he may have sensed and tasted some sort of faux freedom, all he was ultimately doing was flying all over the garage. It seemed like freedom but in the end, it was slavery.

I really wanted this bird to experience the freedom a bird should experience. The freedom that a bird is created for: to fly in the sky. Birds aren’t made for garages. But this bird just didn’t get it. Just like Jonah. And it kind of made me sad (I’m not a dove hunter). Freedom awaited it, but freedom it refused. It wasn’t a free bird. Just like Jonah. 

Freedom for the bird is flying where it has been created to go. Freedom for man/woman is not absent of restraint but presence of opportunity. Now that’s not all that freedom is, but I think that’s the part that James brings to the conversation.
But whoever looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues in it—not forgetting what they have heard, but doing it—they will be blessed in what they do. 

Properly understood in the context of belief in the gospel, the law offers freedom, not slavery. Slavery is flying around senseless in a garage like a dove, but freedom is following Jesus experiencing the life he designed for us.

And it was also a good reminder to consider non-Christians like doves trapped in a garage. While not dismissing their culpability, I should be quick to remember how sorry I felt for this silly and senseless bird. Many people are flying around in circles going nowhere, not tasting true freedom. May we be saddened before we become angry with them. Sadness leads to prayer and moving towards them in love. Anger leads to judgment and separation.

Gospel Lessons from Home Depot: Somebody pays for it

The other day our lead pastor Barret Jordan used an illustration of an ethical dilemma he confronted while at Home Depot. He needed a very cheap part to fix his dishwasher, but that part only came in a superfluous pack with many different parts. As as an employee helped Barret think through his options, he came up with the idea to simply open the large pack with a knife and remove the smaller part. Merry Christmas.

Since Barret reasoned (and I think rightly so) that the employee didn’t have the authority to do such a thing, he simply waited for him to disappear and proceeded to buy the now otherwise unsellable superfluous dishwasher pack.

Some folks may have questioned whether or not taking this small piece really would have constituted stealing. And I really don’t want to get into that so much per se. Instead I want to consider the “cost” of this whole matter.

The point I want to consider is that someone has to pay for the dishwasher pack. If it is ripped and missing a part, then it no longer constitutes a full set comprising all of the needed parts. To take one part out of it, and leave it back on the shelf, does not then go back in time and erase that dishwasher pack from existence. It is now unsellable and so someone IS paying for it.

Either Barret pays for it, that employee pays for it, or Home Depot pays for it. Since it would have never sold, Home Depot would have paid for it. Now I’m no Home Depot apologist, particularly after the lack of help I received when I bought the wrong thermostat (costly mistake indeed!) and had to buy another one three months later. But any store that is hiring  80,000 will hopefully make a small dent into the economy.

Regardless, the point is that someone has to pay for that action. That’s why, unless the employee had authority to do this, it was right for Barret to buy the whole pack instead of walking out with the “free” part.

This the same answer we essentially give when someone asks, “Can’t God just ignore sin, and not make that big of a deal about it?” Well you could you go in a number of different ways, but consider this Home Depot illustration as a starting point. Someone has to pay for sin. The perfect world that was created has been broken by man’s sin. God, the Holy, Infinite, Wise, Wonderful, Loving Creator has been deemed replaceable. We can’t go back in time and erase that truth anymore than we can go back in time and erase that dishwasher pack from existence. Fellowship, shalom, harmony, holiness, has been broken. Someone has to pay for it. That’s just all there is to it. The question is who will it be?

Much of the world is like the unauthorized employee: “Just don’t worry about sin. It’s not a big deal, and no one will think it’s a big deal. Do whatever is most convenient and comfortable.”

But either man could pay for it, or God could pay for it. Either man does pay for it by God’s wrath remaining on him now and forever in Hell, or God has paid for it on behalf of those who will believe and rest upon His Son. Wrath either falls on man or it falls on Jesus at the cross. Those are the only options. Someone pays for sin.

Unlike the unauthorized employee, the hired hand, Jesus lays down his life for his sheep (those who believe in Him). When someone accused Jesus of playing the part of the unauthorized employee, we see this dialog in Mark 2:7-12

7 “Why does this man speak like that? He is blaspheming! Who can forgive sins but God alone?” And immediately Jesus, perceiving in his spirit that they thus questioned within themselves, said to them, “Why do you question these things in your hearts? Which is easier, to say to the paralytic, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Rise, take up your bed and walk’? 10 But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins”—he said to the paralytic— 11 “I say to you, rise, pick up your bed, and go home.” 12 And he rose and immediately picked up his bed and went out before them all, so that they were all amazed and glorified God, saying, “We never saw anything like this!”

Someone pays. Only one can actually afford to pay, so let us repent and rest upon his effort and not our own.

Don’t cry for me Argentina or Jerusalem

In reading through Zechariah 7 for my devotions (you’ll never hear me use the word “quiet time,” b/c that’s what my 3 year has to do when he doesn’t take a nap), I came across a challenging passage. 
It sounds innocent enough. 
2 Now the people of Bethel had sent Sharezer and Regem-melech and their men to entreat the favor of the LORD,  3 saying to the priests of the house of the LORD of hosts and the prophets, “Should I weep and abstain in the fifth month, as I have done for so many years?” 
But there really is something missing. It is like someone saying, “Lord, should I try to be sad and go through the outward emotions of looking like I’m sad because of my sins and the sins of my nation? Because I really am just bummed about missing my favorite restaurant and hangout places back home. Should I keep going through the motions of repentance without real repentance?”
Because that’s what was happening. Keep in mind, many of the same things that caused Israel to ‘get the boot,’ continued to happen. That’s why these lofty promises of a restoration of the temple (the rebuilt Temple was NOT nearly as cool as before) and the kingship never go anywhere. We don’t hear much about this new potential king Zerubbabel until Jesus’ genealogy. 
5 When you fasted and mourned in the fifth month and in the seventh, for these seventy years, was it for me that you fasted?
The Lord says that they were not fasting and weeping because of their sins. Some were probably bummed about the consequences of their sin: living in foreign land. Some of them had actually become quite comfortable there and enjoyed the foreign food and ladies.
It’s a good reminder to all of us that we can be sad over the consequences of our sin, without ever demonstrating true repentance: sadness over the fact that we’ve chosen death over life, empty wells (Jer 2:32) over the spring of living water (John 4:10-11).  For instance we can be sad over the relational consequences of yelling at our kids, kicking our dogs, belittling our spouses, not loving neighbors: loneliness, lack of intimacy, divorce, people not being there when we need them. But being sad about the consequences is not the same as truly grieving the sin.
What’s the difference? God says, “was it for me that you fasted these 70 years?” In other words, their idolatry and injustice was an affront to God Himself in addition to an oppressing His people. As David reminds us in Psalm 51, any sin done against another person made in the image of God is first and foremost a sin against God. It was He whom they had sinned, and it was to Him whom they were to first repent. But they hadn’t as evidenced by continuing in the pattern of injustice (Zech 7:9-10).
In regards to parenting, some things hit me then and now: do I grieve my sins against my kids and wife as though I’ve sinned against God? And when my kids disrespect me, do I grieve the fact that they’ve disrespected me only? Or do I grieve, concern myself, pray for the fact that they’re really disrespecting God as a Father? If I can grieve the sin as against God first and foremost, I don’t have to take it as personally. Instead of responding quickly or harshly, I then have the opportunity to bring the gospel to bear on the heart. After all, our sins are an affront against a Holy, but also LOVING Heavenly Father. It is out of respect and love for Him that I hope my kids will respect me, and not the other way around. Particularly when I’m hard to respect.

Anyhow, just some thoughts I had while reading Zechariah.