ON WORSHIP: a summary

I love to watch the sunset from atop Blevins Gap in South Huntsville, & I know that others here hike those trails because I’ve seen the Instagram stories! But, have you ever wondered why are we so moved by a beautiful sunset? Or how many of you have ever stood at the edge of the Grand Canyon and actually felt significant in comparison? 

If you’re like me, you arrogantly marched to the canyon’s edge, then dropped to your knees to cling to the earth. It is beauty of that magnitude that just inspires awe. Yet even beauty like this doesn’t fulfill. First, we are awestruck, but eventually we find ourselves looking for the next hit of adrenaline. We book a trip to another natural wonder we’ve not experienced yet..& we will be awed, then again we will forget.

The excitement of seeing the Grand Canyon wears off – I look back at old pictures & I’m unable to connect with more than just a fraction of that initial impact. I don’t feel that same fear… it’s just a vague memory of a feeling I had. 

It’s like when your favorite new record releases – the one we’ve waited on for weeks – eventually it loses its edge, and we are waiting on another that we’ve heard is coming out next month. How fickle! If I seek fulfillment and joy in music, I will always be disappointed.

You will never be fully satisfied with your friendships. That fishing or hunting trip, or your gaming platform, or even that new sports car cannot give you ongoing happiness. 

Here’s a bomb for Christians, since we tend to make a big deal about marriage; you will never be wholly fulfilled in your marriage – & if you TRY to find ultimate fullfillment there, you will likely find yourself profoundly disappointed.

Your soulmate was never meant to fulfill you. But someone is.

And when I was feeling pretty insignificant and small when looking over this ‘grand canyon’, there’s more: if you went to your nearest beach and began to count individual grains of sand, and continued until you had counted every single grain of sand on every beach on Earth, it wouldn’t even come close to equaling the number of stars in the universe. Yet God made, named, and sustains each and every one of them.

I was listening to a podcasted lecture not long ago about quantum physics… did you know that if you truly quantify all that makes up an atom – you know, atoms, the things we’re made of – it’s almost entirely empty space. Man, that’ll make you believe in a God – I’m almost entirely nothing, BUT YET I’M HERE…standing before you! It makes one feel incredibly small, & like a walking miracle, all at the same time.

You are one single person, living in an average city, in an average-sized state, located in a relatively larger country, on an average sized planet, circling a fairly insignificant star, floating in space with 150+ billion other stars in a small corner of our average little galaxy, which is only one of among 150+ billion others. Even still, the God – who created, named, and sustained every star – strangely enough, cares about you. That is your Heavenly Father! Can a God so powerful, who is yet concerned with even the death of a sparrow, not take care of you?

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Ruth 1:6-21; Eyes wide Open

Ruth 1:6-21…just a little back-story; Ruth tells a story based in one of the darker period’s in the history of God’s people, running parallel with the book of Judges; so a reminder of what this era looks like, Judges 21:25 reflects on it: “In those days there was no king in Israel; every man did what was right in his own eyes.

Yet, in spite of this, one of my favorite Bible commenters, Tim Mackie, a professor at Western Seminary & co-founder of the Bible Project, states that “Ruth calls us to reflect upon how God is involved in the day-to-day joys & hardships of our lives.” And I think that’s a solid take…let’s jump in.

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Love is the Evidence

Dear friends, let us love one another, because love is from God, and everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. The one who does not love does not know God, because God is love.

Confession – this is going to be ground zero for us today, because the rest of this passage unpacks those two lines.

Dear friends, let us love one another…

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Love lights the Path

Beloved, I am writing you no new commandment, but an old commandment that you had from the beginning. The old commandment is the word that you have heard.At the same time, it is a new commandment that I am writing to you, which is true in him and in you, because the darkness is passing away and the true light is already shining.

That’s a peculiar place to start, don’t you think? 

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I believe in the Resurrection

As a former Atheist, I did quite a lot of study before I was convinced that Jesus had not only existed, but that the resurrection was the most logical explanation of what could be historically known about Jesus’ death and the origins of the early church. From this research I compiled what I – at one time – thought of expanding into a book: an account of what I know about Jesus and why it points to Jesus being raised from the dead. Since writing this over 20 years ago, I repost it annually in my blog. I hope this challenges or strengthens your faith… Happy Easter/Resurrection day!
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Daniel 8: Greatly Disturbed & not Understanding

In the third year of King Belshazzar’s reign, a vision appeared to me, Daniel, after the one that had appeared to me earlier.“ – Daniel 8:1

If you’ve never read the book of Daniel, let me encourage you to do so. As this verse points out, there’s a lot of context to this prophetic word… a lot of time has past since Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach, & Abednego had been taken captive. We’re a long way from the fiery furnace and the lions den. Daniel is fulfilling a significantly different role in this nation at this point, and even these prophetic words build on the ones that come before.

Since this is a huge passage of Scripture, be encouraged to grab your Bible and read Daniel 8 for yourselves. Are you finished? Okay, let’s move on…

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Life after Christmas

Screen Shot 2017-12-28 at 12.12.36 AMWe’ve spent the past few weeks eating sweets, visiting with family, shopping, wrapping & exchanging gifts, on top of planning & executing what are likely the most complex services of the year. Now the hustle & bustle has come to a close of the year: what’s next? Well, the birth of Jesus changed everything, so we should expect our celebration of the holidays to change us, as well.

Life after Christmas is a life lived near to God. I remember as a teenager feeling utterly hopeless & alone, as though no one knew me or could want to know me. But Jesus was God-with-skin-On, born to the lowliest & most common. He didn’t see it as belittling to spend his first days in a feeding trough in a backwoods town which would’ve remained unknown if he hadn’t been born there. Emmanuel – literally “God with Us” – is not ashamed to live among us. God has come near, & it changed EVERYTHING! [Read more…]

Christmas is for “Nobodies” (like us)

And in the same region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with great fear. And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.” And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!” – Luke 2:8-14

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We will not Bow

IMAGINE: our nation suddenly overrun by foreign invaders, & four patriots are taken captive, forced to acculturate & assimilate to life in a place very different from home. What if you were one? How would you feel? How would you respond? In what ways could you adapt to life in this new normal, & in what ways would you maintain your birth identity & heritage?

This is the story of Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. They were taken captive and given a new home, new language, new diet, new education, a new degree of power and wealth, and even offered a new set of gods.  The example they gave us in this situation was one of being “in the world but not of the world.” 

In chapter 3 we jump ahead what most evangelical scholars believe to be a little over 16 years after Daniel’s interpretation of Nebuchadnezzar’s dream in Daniel 2.  But before we read the text, a story from my own life that might help you see the relevance of this passage.

When I started college at Ohio University, a nationally renowned party-school, I was – at best – one month old as a Jesus follower & still had almost everything to figure out about the details of my burgeoning faith. I simply wanted to follow Jesus.
I had requested a double, with non-smoking roommates, but ended up in a quad with three heavy drinkers that smoked two packs a day each.  Nearly every night in my room there was a party – it was a very hard year for me.  My first year of school I was presented with a choice; join in, and fit in, or do not, and stand out as the “weirdo”…I attempted the later, which resulted in me having my things stolen from me, getting locked out of my room regularly (especially while in showering), having my books stapled together, posters burnt off of the walls & my desk drawers filled with shaving cream – the list goes on.  The high road came with much persecution, but that led to a depth of growth I would not have experienced otherwise, and Jesus was with me through it all.  As was the case, on a much grander scale, with Shadrack, Meshack, and Aded-nego.

King Nebuchadnezzar made a golden monument to himself eight stories tall & under the influence of the Chaldeans demanded that whenever a musical instrument was played the whole kingdom would bow & worship the statue. Who assembled to bow at the feet of this idol of gold? These were the political, scholarly, and even moral leadership from every country, political party, & even many popular religions – the cultural elite – the trendsetters of their day. Everyone bowed, but Shadrach, Meshach, & Abednego.
Furious, Nebuchadnezzar called them to himself, demanding a response. They responded, “Nebuchadnezzar, we don’t need to give you an answer to this question. If the God we serve exists, then he can rescue us from the furnace of blazing fire, and he can rescue us from the power of you, the king. 18 But even if he does not rescue us, we want you as king to know that we will not serve your gods or worship the gold statue you set up.”

By this time Nebuchadnezzar has completely looted the Hebrew’s temple, and Daniel’s interpretation of his dream was from sixteen years earlier, and had shown no signs of coming to fruition – here is a man who believes he has defeated YHWH, and thus shown the Hebrew god to be either non-existent, or weak and irrelevant.  He, in essence, says, “you’re so-called god can do nothing for you now, for I am bigger than your god.”  But what is their reply?

To the contrary to the King’s own statement, they boldly declare that the outcome of this event does not hinge on whether God exists, nor on whether he can deliver them – of these things they are absolutely confident.  No – the issue was merely whether or not God willed to deliver them from the flames, and whether or not He did so, they would not bow!  This is a mic-drop response!
No matter what took place, deliverance or not, they knew that God was good, & God was in control.

Now let’s continue;
And these three men, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego fell, bound, into the furnace of blazing fire. Then King Nebuchadnezzar jumped up in alarm. He said to his advisers, “Didn’t we throw three men, bound, into the fire?”“Yes, of course, Your Majesty,” they replied to the king. He exclaimed, “Look! I see four men, not tied, walking around in the fire unharmed; and the fourth looks like a son of the gods.” Nebuchadnezzar then approached the door of the furnace of blazing fire and called, “Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, you servants of the Most High God—come out!” So Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego came out of the fire. When the satraps, prefects, governors, and the king’s advisers gathered around, they saw that the fire had no effect on the bodies of these men: not a hair of their heads was singed, their robes were unaffected, and there was no smell of fire on them.

King Nebuchadnezzar noticed three very unusual things about the situation in which Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego found themselves after he threw them into the furnace; 
– they were unbound, 
– they were unharmed, 
– and another person who looked like the son of a god was with them!  

So — the fourth man in the furnace delivered them from death, broke their bondage, and was with them in the flames…who does that sound like to you?  

As any sane person would, Nebuchadnezzar had an immediate heart-change, proclaiming, “Praise to the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego!”

In what ways does Nebuchadnezzar’s response still stand true today?  God often uses those who go “through the fire” as a witness to God’s work.

What things would the world have you bow down before? What does the world find it unreasonable that you, because of your faith, might refuse to do?  Francis A. Schaeffer said, “…these three young men stood against a total culture, the accepted consensus of their day…”, and furthermore, I might add, they were willing to face the consequences, trusting God with their very lives!  Let that be both a challenge and an example of how we might be in the world, but not of it!

Remember also that choosing to obey is BLESSED.  When you go through the fire because of a Godly decision, when the cultural consensus told you to do otherwise, Christ is there with you in the flames.  It is often our times of trouble that make our experience of Christ deliverance all the more real.

Lastly, you are already in many ways like Daniel, Shadrack, Meshack, & Abednego… you are citizens of a different country… you are citizens of heaven… your ultimate allegiance should lie with God’s Kingdom far above any kingdom of man. Don’t grow to comfortable, for while here, we are like aliens in another land.

So, when faced with a fiery furnace of our own, I pray we all might answer like Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego;
 “Nebuchadnezzar, we don’t need to give you an answer to this question. If the God we serve exists, then he can rescue us from the furnace of blazing fire, and he can rescue us from the power of you, the king. But even if he does not rescue us, we want you as king to know that we will not serve your gods or worship the gold statue you set up”

Oh God, let it be so! Amen…

Countering FEAR with Fact

“And they were on the road, going up to Jerusalem, and Jesus was walking ahead of them. And they were amazed, and those who followed were afraid. And taking the twelve again, he began to tell them what was to happen to him, saying, “See, we are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be delivered over to the chief priests and the scribes, and they will condemn him to death and deliver him over to the Gentiles. And they will mock him and spit on him, and flog him and kill him. And after three days he will rise.” – Mark 10:32-34
Screen Shot 2020-10-15 at 11.40.35 AMOne of my favorite movies is a two-part French film series; Jean de Florette, & Manon des Sources – that translates as “John of the Flowers” & “Manon of the Springs”… they tell a powerful story of personal responsibility & how our actions impact not only ourselves, but the results move away from us in waves, impacting generations to come.
The story goes as such: Cesar Souberyran, years before – away to war – returns to find his love, Florette,  married and with child.  Heartbroken & cynical, he pours his energy into helping his only remaining relative – his Nephew, Ugolin – have the physical comforts he did not.  Through scheming, & even physical violence, his actions lead to an accident that ends of the life of Jean, Florette’s now grown son, and so Cesar & Ugolin take his land. This land has a naturally occurring Spring & they grow very wealthy growing Tulips for market. 
BASICALLY, a man loses the woman he loves, so as revenge he takes what he wants in return – her son’s property.  A few years later, however Ugolin is wealthy & wants to start a family, but falls in love with Jean’s only daughter, Manon, who – seeing the havok Ugolin & his uncle caused for her father, rejected his advances, resulting in Ugolin’s eventual heartbreak & suicide.  Towards the end of the second movie Cesar goes to a local convent to speak to an old friend from his youth.  Sitting together, discussing the “old days”, Cesar asks the nun about the now-deceased Florette, she realizes something tragic; “You never received her letter?  Oh no, this is tragic indeed.”  And Cesar learns for the first time that Jean, the man he murdered out of both jealousy & greed, to provide for his nephew – the results of which led to his nephew’s eventual suicide – Jean was HIS OWN SON.  In trying to take what was “his”, he destroyed everything in his wake – even his own son.
Let me tell you, the moment that fact is revealed it’s like the whole weight of everything Cesar has done comes crushing down on your shoulders – I literally wailed when this part of the story unfolded.  That one little truth changed EVERYTHING.  Not having the whole truth about his situation led him down a troubling, ultimately self-destructive path. 
It really helps having the BIG PICTURE.

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