Month: March 2015

Tuesday Devotional: Ezekiel 37

bible

Read Ezekiel 37:15-28 here.

From the beginning, God has desired two things for people: that we be united, and that we be with him.  God recognized from the beginning that life is far more fruitful when we work together as one.  He recognized that the heart of man is incomplete and unfulfilled in isolation. With a message that echoes throughout the entire Bible, Jesus prayed that we would be one, as God is one, in a reference to the triune experience.  God also realized that life’s daily obstacles are impossible for us to navigate without a guiding light, a path to follow or a voice to listen to.  From the beginning God communicated to his people that not only do they need to work as one, but they need to be “with him.”  Only in his presence would his people find the way that leads to prosperity of the spirit and safety for the soul.  However, as frequently as he communicated this message of “oneness” to his people, his people refused to listen and fragmented their human relationships as well as their spiritual one with their one and only God.  Likewise, as much as God advised them on the value of being one with him alone, for their own well being, his people continued to follow the idols of their hearts and reaped the destruction brought on by their choices.  The irony is that despite the continual neglect of his message, God’s patience with his people increased. More than that, in the end he proactively became “God With Us” in the form of the despised, rejected and crucified Emmanuel: Jesus Christ.  The life of Jesus Christ is more than simply good news.  It is THE news.  Jesus Christ represents the extreme limits of how far God’s love is willing to stretch, if only to be united with his children as he created them to be.

 

 

ASK: Ecclesiastes 4

This update is from a recent meeting of ASK Daegu. Each member contributed something to the message that follows. We pray that our group encourages you in the same way that it encouraged all of us.

Read Ecclesiastes 4 here.

“For whom am I toiling,” he asked, “and why am I depriving myself of enjoyment?”

Why do we do this to ourselves?  Why do we live in a way that isolates us?  Why do we live in a way that causes division?  Why do we live in a way that serves ourselves, all the while fostering the suffering and oppression of others?

From the beginning, the lie of Satan– that we were created not to submit to God but to escape his oppressive presence and in turn be gods unto ourselves– has successfully deprived people of the enjoyment they were created to have, and led them into a life of oppression, toil and friendlessness.  In the position of God we assume the roles of creator and judge.  From this lofty and isolated throne we cast out judgment that only we can meet and create a world grounded in the criticism of what others do and the envy of what they have that we do not.  As God and therefore, Creator, we are left to our own power and will to create for ourselves “joy.”  The lie is that we can.  The truth is that, as a result of sin, our hearts are created to be fulfilled by God alone, and are hopelessly weak and depleted when fed by anything but him.

One goal is achieved and another, slightly higher, appears.  One good day is overshadowed by the new day, which presents the same (or even more) obstacles than the last, poised to thwart yesterday’s satisfaction.  But the persistent, relentless push of this lie convinces us that joy can be be attained, that the problem does not rest in the self but in the distraction of others and that their presence interferes with our attainment of true happiness.

When we take this place of counterfeit deity, the true nature of God is entirely beyond our reach.  The triune God of creation has always known fellowship. He can profess being in His very nature, love.  As creations made in His image, we were created, not only for fellowship with our creator, but also with one another through the love of the Father.  This fellowship is where “joy” is found, the joy that God has always desired for us.  This joy neither feeds the self, nor divides the whole.  This joy does not create toil, oppression or friendlessness, as the lie of Satan ultimately will.  This joy found in the Father and in the gospel of Jesus Christ promises peace, freedom and love.  We, as humans, have never demonstrated that we can hold the place of God.  Why do we do this to ourselves?

Thursday Reflection Series: Candles, Cakes, and Prayers

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Some of my fondest childhood memories are of birthday parties.  Birthday parties were always exciting and joyful.  A birthday party was an isolated moment in time where, especially for the person whose birthday it was. Everything seemed to go just right.  On that one day you could eat all of the foods you ever dreamed of eating, you could play the games you wanted to play, and people would literally personally deliver you gifts.  For most of us this is the closest we would ever get to living like royalty.  In the middle of all of this impossible-becoming-possible birthday magic, we find one of the most central birthday traditions.  At the right moment, all activity built to a suspenseful crescendo, the all-important cake was finally presented to all of the awaiting guests and partygoers.

The ideal birthday cake would incorporate the passions, hobbies and personality of the recipient, carefully represented and etched out in the cake’s decoration. The cake would be a dream come true.  It’s no surprise that the core of the birthday cake tradition was intricately connected to dreams coming true.

Before the cutting and after the candle-lighting, the important moment arrived: the moment to make a wish and blow out the magic candles. This was the final step, before the entire party could proceed.  There seemed to be a holy, almost spiritual, reverence for this moment. Time stood still and breathing ceased, if only for a brief moment. There was a sense that all those present put some small hope in the chance that a dream might actually come true.  It’s easy, given the atmosphere of a birthday party, to almost give into the idea that if so many impossible things could be made possible already, why would it be unreasonable to think that one more thing would press the limits of this magical day?

As children, there is a true hope that blowing out birthday candles will lead to a miracle.  As a child this was not joke, fantasy or ritual.  As children, up until a certain point, we believed.

As we got older and the “magic” of birthdays and birthday parties was replaced by the somber realization that a birthday merely symbolized aging, the belief in the candles disappeared completely.  We began to see that we do not live in a world where dreams are fulfilled, that miracles are not commonplace.  Like children losing faith in birthday wishes, as we grow up,our faith in promises beyond reason is likewise dampened.

It is from a similar place that people today, Christian and non-Christian, view prayer.  For many, praying is nothing more than making birthday wishes via candles, nothing more than a silly superstition.

In this reflection series we will take a closer look at why many people have equated prayer with birthday wishes.  We’ll approach this discussion in two parts: three statements on the nature of doubt regarding prayer and three contrasting statements on the Biblical approach to prayer of trust and belief.

 

Three reasons why people associate praying to God in the same light as wishing on candles are:

 

Prayers spoken but not heard

Prayers spoken but not believed

Prayers spoken but not answered.

 

On the opposing side, three reasons why people believe in the power of praying to God are:

 

Prayers heard before spoken

Prayers that believe in what is spoken

Prayer answered in ways unspoken.

Join us on Thursdays as we reflect on prayer!

ASK: Joshua 3

This update is from a recent meeting of ASK Daegu. Each member contributed something to the message that follows. We pray that our group encourages you in the same way that it encouraged all of us.

Read Joshua 3 here.

Faith in Jesus that requires physical miracles as a condition of belief is neither scriptural nor sustainable.  If we overlook the miracle of a life truly transformed by the word of God, and fix our eyes on whether or not a person’s physical obstacles are either cured or not, we overlook the Gospel of Jesus, and we limit faith in Jesus to the physical world where regardless of a miraculous healing, sin continues to reign and condemn.

However, faith in Jesus that does not take the miraculous promises of the Gospel seriously is just as unscriptural and unsustainable.  Faith in Jesus without experience of a miraculous transformation has not submitted to the authority of Jesus as Lord.  To believe in Jesus is to acknowledge the miraculous.  Belief in Jesus alongside unbelief in miracles is impossible.

While our faith should not be built entirely on miracles, miracles do build our faith.  Blind faith has never seen.  And to see in the Gospel of Jesus is to acknowledge something beyond belief and reasonable explanation yet undoubtedly real.  Faith that has witnessed these things inevitably develops, in a reality where the impossible has in fact become possible through Jesus Christ.

As Christians, how much to we believe that the miraculous is still present in our world?  Do we believe that the supernatural is locked within the pages of the Bible? Do we believe that the supernatural life of the disciples is not one for us to inherit, but exists merely to inspire us?  From such positions of uncertainty and doubt it is no surprise that the Christian Church is often viewed as worldly and weak.  If we doubt the miraculous, we prevent ourselves from asking for the miraculous, andprevent the miraculous from entering this world.

Miracles are not to entertain us but to achieve certain objectives: to increase our faith in Jesus, our awareness of God’s holiness, awareness of our own sin, and ultimately to bring the Kingdom of Heaven to Earth.  While it can be tempting to hear a message about miracles in the present age and immediately pray for a physical miracle, the miraculous cannot exist without the recognition of sin.  The petition for miracles without the confession and consecration of a heart reveals a dangerous misunderstanding of miracles.  The most important miracle was Jesus, and Jesus came to address and pay the debt of our sin.  Therefore, to ask for a miracle without acknowledging the authority and sacrifice of Jesus is a dangerous misunderstanding of miracles.

Miracles do and will occur.  However, a heart that prays for miracles but does not desire the forgiveness of Jesus, does not praise Jesus for his sacrifice, is a heart that does not seek the will of a Holy God, but is still imprisoned by the temptations of a sinful world.

Christians should pray for the miraculous with confident belief in the impossible becoming possible.  However, we must guard our hearts against the temptation to separate Jesus’ death from His miracles, creating a chasm between his will and our own which could ultimately separate us from His presence entirely.

Tuesday Devotional: Lamentations 1

bibleRead Lamentations 1 here.

In a world that gets faster every day, where we meet in person less and less frequently, we can’t help but realize the quality of conversations and relationships have begun to suffer at the hands of our obsession with speed and convenience.  The word “friend” has been reduced to any person you encounter, digitally or otherwise.  The word “love” has been reduced to something we say about anything from cheese to our spouse.  Relationships have likewise been reduced to a series of relatively short-lived, predictable conversations, where little to nothing real is ever shared.

If you listened in on some of these empty conversations, you might come to believe that no one is suffering or experiencing setbacks, because “it’s all good.”  We are willing in these relationships to keep things positive even at the expense of overlooking the hard times we are experiencing.  The truth is that all of us are struggling in some way or another, and all of us are looking for answers.  The world tells us that keeping the hard times to ourselves is usually the best option. The God of the Bible takes a different approach to our suffering.  God not only knows that we suffer, but he understands that getting grief and pain out of our system is integral in moving toward resolution.

In times of trouble a true friend will not just give you any advice, but will simply sit with you and listen.  In these moments, when the thoughts of our hearts are out in the open, we can view them in the same way a detective lays evidence out and begins to connect the dots.  God has the human heart down to a science. He knows that only after we confront the realities of our distress can we speak our minds, whether in frustration, anger, confusion or pain, in order to find the connections, and finally find a way out.

“The Judge” Sermon Video

The latest sermon video for the sermon titled, “The Judge,” is now available on the Sermon Video page.  Enjoy!

(Correction: During the sermon I refer to the “has” tense as past-perfect when in actuality the correct tense is present-perfect.  The point made about Jesus’ offer for us in the present and not in the past or in the future remains unchanged but my wife and I apologize for the mistake and hope it didn’t cause any confusion.)