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The Silence of God

“He put Jesus’ body in a new tomb that he had cut out of rock, and he rolled a very large stone to block the entrance of the tomb.” Matthew 27:60

How quiet it is on Saturday before Easter. How sad it is. How despairing it must have been for those who had seen their teacher, their friend, and their hope die right in front of them. All of creation held its breath to see what would happen next. All of heaven peered toward earth to see how we would respond. And God didn’t move. Not one word; not even a sign. Have you ever been there? You had great expectations that God was up to something big, something life changing, and then… nothing. Have you ever put all of your hopes in a person or in yourself, only to see them come crashing down before you? Then you know how the disciples must have felt. The silence of Saturday is deafening and when it comes in your life it can shake your faith. You wonder where God is. You start to doubt that He really is in control. You begin to doubt his love for you. Does He see you? Does He really know what’s going on? Is He there at all?

All of the disciples had run away scared. They couldn’t believe it. Their leader, their master was dead. He was really dead. It was all over. No hope, nowhere to turn, no plans. On Saturday all they could do was run for their lives and hide out hoping no one would find them. Do you ever think God is silent? Do you ever pray thinking your prayers don’t effect anything? Let Easter Saturday serve as a lesson for every day of the year. God may seem to be silent, but in reality, He’s about to bring about His greatest work. If you ever wonder if He’s at work on your behalf, when you can’t see Him, think about the difference between Saturday and Sunday. Remember, God may seem slow, but He’s never late. He is always at work.

Pray:  Lord, I confess I have not trusted You in Your silence. I want You to work in my time and in ways that don’t require a lot of waiting and wondering. Perhaps I’m not ready for what you truly want to give me that I can’t see yet. You want me to trust you more. I realize that when You are silent is when You will soon do your best work. And when You are silent, I can show my greatest faith and trust in You. I will do that now.

“Who is the LORD that I should obey Him?”

The question Pharaoh asked Moses is the modern question of our day. As we read the Old Testament, we often think that these people are primitive, uneducated, even barbaric. We have a general idea that we are progressively getting smarter and better. We have better medicine, technology, faster transportation; we’re enlightened, educated, modern. But at the heart of the human problem is the problem of the human heart.

The Pharaoh was a highly educated, affluent man. He is the modern man and his question is the question of our day. The entire story of the plagues, and the Exodus, hinges on his question: “Who is the LORD and why should I obey Him?” Exodus 5:2 Our entire story hinges on this question as well. The Pharaoh was not an atheist, but a polytheist. He had no trouble believing in gods, as long as they served him. But to believe in a god that would actually tell him what to do was preposterous. Not unlike most of us today.

Some struggle with God, thinking He is too harsh, judgmental and wrathful. Instead, we fail to see that in His mercy He rescues you from our gods, that will otherwise crush us. It is His mercy, not His wrath that saves us. In His wrath is His mercy. His judgement is mercy. “O LORD, I have heard the report of you, and your work, O LORD, do I fear. In the midst of the years revive it; in the midst of the years make it known; in wrath remember mercy.” Habakkuk 3:2

God’s judgment comes upon those who disregard Him. But even in His warnings of judgment there is mercy. Like the Pharaoh, we need a renewed vision of who God is.

By His grace, through warnings and judgment, God lovingly draws us to Himself. Every plague has a corresponding Egyptian god and what the LORD (Yahweh) is doing is answering Pharaoh’s question with each subsequent plague: “Who is LORD? I am the one, true God and I am greater than your false gods. I will crush them for your good and for my glory.”

Consider: what are the gods we serve in our day? And what corresponding plagues might God bring into our lives so that we would turn to Him and worship Him alone? What plagues might God unleash on us in order to show His supremacy, His place as the LORD, so that He might satisfy our soul’s desire? Just a few examples:

Our gods and the plagues that confront us

Comfort – the plague of inconvenience God will bring discomfort, perhaps Illness, relational struggles that confront us. Like gnats or flies, they may seem small at first, but they destroy our peace and comfort. All of this, so we will turn to Him and find that He alone is our Comfort and Peace.

Control – the plague of chaos The god of control says, “I will control how I live, how I look, how my life goes. I will cover every possible contingency, I will prepare, build an impenetrable wall around me. I will build an emotional wall around me. I will not let anyone in. I will control my environment.” In his famous poem, Invictus, William Henley (an atheist), writes (from a hospital bed), these last two stanzas: “Beyond this place of wrath and tears. Looms but the Horror of the shade, and yet the menace of the years finds, and shall find me, unafraid. It matters not how strait the gate, how charged with punishments the scroll, I am the master of my fate: I am the captain of my soul.” Henley echoes the Pharaoh’s question: “Who is the LORD, that I should obey Him?” Instead, our desire to control our lives results in impotence, disorganization, mismanagement, addictions. It’s why all alcoholics know that the first of the 12 steps to recovery is, “We admitted we were powerless over alcohol—that our lives had become unmanageable.” We must admit that you are NOT in control.

Success – the plague of dissatisfaction Success is never up and to the right always. And even if it is, we are left empty if success has become our functional god. This week, Tom Brady will start in his eighth Super Bowl. He’s won five. Surely, he is the GOAT, the greatest of all time. Brady is handsome, married to a model wife, and worth millions (billions?) of dollars. In a moment of rare vulnerability, on 60 Minutes, in an interview with Steve Kroft, Brady said, “This is what it is- this guy (himself) has it all. But I think, “there has to be more than this.” Kroft asked, “What’s the answer?” Brady responded, “I wish I knew, I wish I knew.” At the pinnacle of success he is plagued with dissatisfaction.

Approval – the plague of rejection Our desire for approval is met with the plague of disapproval, even self-condemnation. For the person who worships the god of approval, rejection is devastating. In a world of social media, the need for approval escalates to devastating results.

How can we discern our idols? Your deepest emotions will point you to your idols, to the gods you worship. Look at your anger, anxiety; what do you think about that makes you worry? What makes you really sad? Most often our anxiety is caused by the thought of losing something we love, something we worship- a god.

But what if God, by His mercy, is drawing us to Him? Paul asks: What if God, although choosing to show his wrath and make his power known, bore with great patience the objects of his wrath- prepared for destruction? What if he did this to make the riches of his glory known to the objects of his mercy, whom he prepared in advance for glory.” Romans 9:22-23

At the cross, God’s unending grace and His inflexible holiness collided and our salvation was made possible. On the Cross He brought mercy for sinners and judgment on sin that came upon Jesus. You and I were spared the ultimate plague of sin’s shame and death.

We find purpose and ultimate satisfaction in GOD alone, through Christ alone. The process that comes as God strips us of our idols is painful. But He does this so that you will turn to Him and rejoice in His presence and praise Him as you discover that He is enough.

 “For our sake He made Him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God.” 2 Corinthians 5:21

In His wrath, He has remembered mercy.

A New Year Revolution: One Thing

So it’s a time for new year’s resolutions, yet studies reveal four out of five of us will not stick to them and a third of us will not get out of January without breaking them. Why can we not stay true to desired changes we long to see in our lives? It’s because a resolution is an intention, a decision to do or not do something. Let’s admit it. We clearly don’t have the power within us to do what we desire to do. Something is working against us. What we need is a revolution.

“Revolution”- from the Latin, revolutio, which means, “a turnaround”- a revolution is “a fundamental change in power or organizational structures that takes place over a relatively short period of time”.

A revolution is an uprising, a mutiny, or insurrection. In spiritual terms a revolution is transformation; it’s a conversion. As you enter into 2018, you need a personal revolution. You need to revolt against all that is not allowing you to flourish, all is keeping you from pursuing God with all your heart. To revolt is to renounce allegiance, to rebel against an authority. Many of us need that attitude in our spiritual lives. In a general sense, we know that putting first things first helps put everything else in it’s place. Most of us know that prioritizing our lives is important, particularly if we want to live balanced lives. But Jesus never talked balance. Jesus talked about an all-out pursuit of one thing. He said: “But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.” Matthew 6:33 If you don’t have one thing that you’re all about, you will be distracted by a million other things. And what constantly distracts you will eventually define you. You must realize the power of a singular focus in your life. The apostle Paul understood this concept, and if you do, it will revolutionize your life.

“Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me.  Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.” Philippians 3:12-14

A New Year Revolution

1. A holy discontent (v. 12) “not that I have already obtained all this.” You must have a desire for more, a desire to change, and not stay where you are. This is the first and most critical piece of the equation. Many of will not move beyond this first point, because you do not have a holy discontent. Are you satisfied with where you are? Is your singular passion an all-out pursuit of Jesus? And if not, are you okay with that? This is why you don’t have a holy discontent- you need to rediscover who God is and His amazing grace toward you in Christ! I hope I never get over being saved. Have you lost the awe and wonder of being rescued by God? Is your entire life a response to that? We should all be longing for more of Him. No one would trade a bottle of water for gold if they were dying of thirst in the desert. Are you dying of thirst, for more of Jesus? Brethren theologian, J.N. Darby wrote, “necessity finds Him out.” He noted that apart from need, we don’t pursue anything in life. Do you truly sense a need to know more of Jesus? To be drawn closer to Him? Do you have a deep discontent, a dissatisfaction, a restless desire for more of Him? That’s a good thing.

2. A singular focus (v. 13) “one thing I do”. In vs. 8 he stated, “I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord”. What we need is what Thomas Chalmers, the Scottish minister, called, “the explosive power of a new affection.” Our problem is what Augustine called, “love out of order”, disordered love, misplaced affections. Disordered love is when good things become God things. Misplaced affections need to be replaced by the far greater power of the affection for God, in Christ- for the Gospel- what Christ has already done for us. What you need is a greater satisfaction in Him and the explosive power of a new affection. Chalmers wrote:

“The love of God and the love of the world, are two affections, not merely in a state of rivalship, but in a state of enmity and that irreconcilable, that they cannot dwell together in the same bosom. The heart is not so constituted (made up like that); and the only way to dispossess it of an old affection, is by the expulsive power of a new one.”

Chalmers is speaking of the importance of having one, singular focus. The disciplined pursuit of less, and an all-out chase of Jesus, one magnificent obsession: Jesus Christ. The problem for many of us is not that you don’t have plenty of good things to do, you need to focus on the best thing.

What does this look like? Simply put, it looks like saying NO, and it looks like saying, YES. First saying “no” to lesser things. Some of you the story of Nehemiah. Broken over the state of God’s people during the exile, he went to rebuild the walls around the city of Jerusalem. And to call the people back to God. His rivals, Sandballot, Tobiah, and Gesham, sent for him (seeking to kill him). They wanted him to “come down from your work and meet with us.” And I sent messengers to them, saying, “I am doing a great work and I cannot come down. Why should the work stop while I leave it and come down to you?” Nehemiah 6:3 Nehemiah had a job to do. He was obsessed with one thing. See, the power of a new affection, means that you can say NO to other things, even good things.

If you do not prioritize your life someone else will. As a pastor, this has been my greatest challenge though the years. I am constantly asked to do good things; not always easy things, but good things. So if I am to do what I’ve been called and gifted to do, I must say NO to good things, which means saying no to good people, people I love, and people I want to help. But here’s what I’ve learned: I will never accomplish God’s greatest plans for me, if I do not say no to lesser things. Some of us need to determine that we will NOT come down. Greg McKeown, in his book, Essentialism, writes:

You cannot overestimate the unimportance of practically everything.” Greg McKeown, Essentialism You may think, “No, everything matters!” If everything matters, then nothing matters. And McKeown’s statement is only true if you have a singular priority, ONE magnificent obsession.

Many of us need to follow Nehemiah’s example: “I’m doing a good work; I will not come down.” Remember this, say it often! Prioritizing your life is not as much, “What do I need to give up?” but “What do I need to go BIG on?” What is my focus? What is that for you? As you think about the great things that God has called you to in these days- what are you up on your ladder doing? Parents: “I’m doing a good work, I will not come down.” Dads: “I’m going to spend more time with my family. I will not come down.” Or perhaps, “I need to care for an elderly parent or friend in this season. I will not come down.” “I need to spend every morning in prayer. I will not come down.” For many of us: “I need to finish something. I will not come down.” “I need to finish my degree, I need to finish this job, finish my commitment. I need to pay off this debt. “I will not come down!” “I need to stay the course in my marriage. I will not quit. I will not come down. “I’ll continue to disciple this person or group.” What is for you? What do you need to finish in this season of your life, in the year ahead? What are you doing on your ladder? If it is God’s call on your life, do not come down.

3. A dedicated plan (vs. 13) – Paul’s one thing involved two things- because you cannot move into a preferred future without leaving the past behind. You can’t say, “I want things to be different in the future, but I’m not going to change anything in the present.” No, you must leave behind whatever doesn’t help you get to your goal. What was Paul’s goal? His ultimate goal was Christ Himself. In order to pursue Christ with all we have, we must rid ourselves of all that is not Him. Following Christ includes repentance and pursuit. Simply put, in a general sense, we must love God and hate sin. Reject your past and embrace the new.

O you who love the LORD, hate evil! He preserves the lives of His saints; He delivers them from the hand of the wicked. Psalm 97:10

The most common resolutions include: stop eating so much, drinking less, spending less money, exercising more, sleeping more, and volunteering. For the Christ follower, resolutions should include naming SIN in our lives. Martin Luther noted, the entire Christian life is one of repentance. Confess sin and repent. Determine to be more like Jesus- be more loving, forgiving, less judgmental, stop gossiping, quit thinking the world revolves around you, and be more generous. Name a sinful habit. But first you need to stop focusing on your sin, and focus on the one thing- the One Person- who can actually deliver you from that sin. A new year revolution involves overcoming sin in your life.

But here’s what happens. We approach sin by thinking: “I need to work harder to overcome this sin! I will pray more. I will even be accountable. I will tell others about my sin and desire to overcome it. I will read books on it, and I’ll find verses in the Bible to help me. I’ll even memorize Scripture so I can quote it when I’m tempted.” Okay, so just work harder and seek to get better. How’s that working out for you? How’s that going? You must learn this: Moralism says that we can become better people by keeping rules and striving to be good people. But Scripture rejects this idea. Instead, the Bible reveals that character development happens only in the context of freedom. Change comes not from striving in our own strength to be like Jesus, but by developing a habit of being with Jesus, abiding in Him.

Moralism calls for change from the outside-in through cosmetic, behavior modification and sin management. Grace produces change from the inside-out as our hearts are renewed and motivations are transformed. Change happens only as our motivations and desires change. Only the Spirit can do that. I don’t know exactly what this looks like for you but I know where it begins for all of us. I know exactly what this looks like on a daily basis. The picture is found in Luke 10:38-42 where we see Martha “distracted” (by good things, by the way), “much serving”. Jesus said to her, “you’re anxious and troubled about many things, but one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her.” Time with Jesus reaps temporary and eternal reward. In 2018 goal-setting and resolutions starts with TIME WITH JESUS.

ONE THING will set everything else in your life in its place. Set your heart on knowing Christ, pursuing Him, and serving Him above all else. This is the essence of the Christian life.

As you decide to pursue Christ above all else, then I challenge you to bring your focus down to one word for the year. Pray, think on it, and then write it down. Share it with a friend or family member. Let it guide you daily as you seek to live out this new year revolution.

Every Day Jesus – in my home.

In Colossians 3 Paul gives clear instruction on the respective roles within our families. In a less comprehensive, but parallel passage in Ephesian 5, Paul guides the Colossians regarding the radical nature of the Christian family. He speaks of the roles of each member, that are as radical and controversial today as they were when he first penned the letter in the First Century.

In the previous chapters he has explained how those who are now in Christ have been transferred from their sin and from darkness into the kingdom of His Son and are now completely forgiven, totally loved, and fully accepted by Him. We can now love others without restraint and without any need for love in return, because all the love we need we have found in Christ. In Ephesians 5, He says that we are to all submit to Christ, and in fact, “submit to one another out of reverence for Christ”. We are to love each other as He has loved us. Imagine a home where everyone does that. Imagine a world like that. That is the kingdom of God, on earth. In that context, He very clearly outlines the roles of each member of the family.

“Wives, submit to your husbands, as is fitting in the Lord. Husbands, love your wives, and do not be harsh with them. Children, obey your parents in everything, for this pleases the Lord. Fathers, do not provoke your children, lest they become discouraged.”Colossians 3:18-21

  • The role of wives: submit 

Hupotasso in the Greek means to arrange under, to subordinate, to subject one’s self, to obey, to submit to one’s control, to yield to one’s admonition or advice, to be subject- and immediately some of us think, whoooah. But remember that Paul also reminds us in Ephesians 5 that marriage is (what Tim Keller calls), “Gospel reenactment” in the home. Marriage portrays the Gospel. It is a picture of Christ and His Church. In this analogy, Christ is the Groom and the Church is the Bride. The Church submits (same word) to Christ who is the Head of the Church – as the man is head of the home. But let’s delve deeper into this submission. The question is not will the woman submit, anymore than will the man submit – but to whom will she submit? To whom will he submit? To understand the wife’s role we must understand the husband’s role. The implication is that the man has been reshaped by the Cross.

It’s as if Paul is saying, women: Don’t give yourself to a man whose heart has not been radically altered by the Gospel. If his male ego has not been set in its rightful place by the finished work of Christ, don’t marry him.

But what does it look like? He does not give us details but instead, tells us to look at Jesus and His love for us. Does the husband make all the decisions? Does the husband tell his wife how to spend money? Does the husband’s 50% of the relationship outweigh hers? What Paul is telling us is that two people, given over to marriage (seeking to live for Christ), will seek to serve the other. We often bring our family of origin into the mix to define the roles of the family. But your family and your experience is negotiable, but God’s plan is not. Each is to serve the other.

  • The role of husbands: love

“Husband” means house dweller or steward. Men: your role is one of stewardship. You do not own your wife, your kids, or your family- God does. You are the steward of your home, your family. And your role is two-fold stewardship is to provision and protection.

Alain de Botton wrote an article in the Op Ed section of the NY Times entitled, “Why You Will Marry the Wrong Person”. His point is essentially that you never really know the person you’re marrying. He says an early date question should be: “In what way are you crazy?” He concludes with this statement: “Compatibility is an achievement of love; it must not be its precondition.” That is Gospel love. Last week a couple in our church celebrated 77 years of marriage. They have an amazing, selfless love for one another. That is Gospel reenactment. And on the front row, watching this Gospel lived out in the family are the children.

  • The role of children: obey

If mom and dad are loving each other as Christ has loved us then children will obey. Husbands: love, lead, and serve like Jesus. Wives submit to that and children obey that kind of love. Parents need to RE-think the family as your primary discipleship group. It is your role to devote yourself to the love of Christ for you and to live out of that – “in Him” as Paul states it over and over again.

As we dive into a new school year. Let’s be clear about the biblical roles within the family. Husbands love, as Christ has loved us – willing to die (daily) for your wife and children. Wives submit to a man who is seeking to do that (though never perfectly), and children obey in the context of a grace-centered, Gospel-drenched family. And this will be the greatest school year you have ever known, regardless of what comes your way.

One One Year Later – Let’s not give up. – July 7, 2017

A year ago tonight, fourteen people were shot and five Dallas Police officers were killed during a peaceful protest in downtown Dallas. It was the single most fatalities among law enforcement since 9/11. And Dallas was brought to her knees. The peaceful protest had been formed in response to the deaths of Philando Castile and Alton Sterling, two black men who were killed by law enforcement in Minnesota and Louisiana, just days earlier. The sniper said he wanted to kill white people, and white officers in particular.

Like many, my summer evening was interrupted by images on TV, as I watched in horror, struggling to believe that this could happen here in our beloved city. Immediately my mind raced back to a few years earlier when my friend, Pastor Bryan Carter, and I asked the question, “What if Ferguson happened in Dallas? Would we be ready?” The quick was answer, “no”, we realized we were not ready to respond. The greater Church of Dallas was not ready to respond, so it would be difficult for the city to come together and respond in peace with a collective response to bring hope and healing.

The broader church of Dallas, across racial lines, simply did not know each other. We began pulling pastors and leaders together to talk about the racial divide in Dallas and our nation. Over time, we did come to know each other. As a result, we came to love each other. We began meeting, praying, swapping pulpits, serving together, and members of our churches met members from other churches across racial lines. And God showed up. Through Movement Day, Transform Dallas, the pulpit swaps, prayer meetings, men’s and women’s gatherings, our hearts were softened, grace was extended, and we were ready to love others, only after we came to love each other. We learned that empathy truly is the pathway to peace.

“He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the LORD require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” Micah 6:8

We began to ask : How do we do justice in Dallas, Texas? How do we love kindness? How do we walk humbly? We discovered that humility leads to empathy, kindness leads to progress, and justice leads to healing.

We have a long way to go, but we know this: Racial reconciliation is a result, an implication, of the Gospel. If God’s people love Him and embrace the Gospel and its implications, we will display the Gospel in every aspect of life. And in its corporate expression, its diversity, would reveal the love of God, “so that through the church the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places.” Ephesians 3:10 Literally, the “multi-colored wisdom of God” would be on display.

In many ways, by the sovereign Hand of God, we were ready when the shootings took place a year ago. The Church was ready and responded. We came together the next morning at Thanksgiving Square (credit the work of our mayor, Mike Rawlings, who reached out to the faith community). We came together the next night at Concord Church to declare, Together We Stand. In the days that followed we organized a clergy mobilization meeting that continues to meet. Pastor Richie Butler has led an initiative called, The Year of Unity that continues on throughout this year. We have discovered that we need each other in ways we never realized. We’ve learned that we must recognize and embrace the definitive source of our Hope. The Good News of Jesus Christ actively undermines the sins that feed racial strife, and leads to a many-colored and many-cultured kingdom expression of God’s people. If we go at this alone they will not believe. But together we challenge presuppositions and prove that the Gospel makes one what was formerly divided. Our love for each other proves our faith in Christ.

A year later I think progress has been made, but we have long way to go. We must not give up. We must walk in humility, seeking to understand and empathize. We must, “Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep.” Romans 12:15 When someone’s life is taken (black, white, officer, civilian) it is not the time to talk about the “facts”. There’s a time and place for the facts, but it’s first a time to weep. Can we not simply weep and grieve with families who have lost loved ones? Can we pray with them and for them? And when our brothers and sisters are weary and sad, it is time for the entire Body of Christ to respond with understanding, in prayer, and love. “If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together.” 1 Corinthians 12:26

Let us empathize. Let us intentionally pursue one another. Let us persevere. Don’t give up. Increase your ethnic I.Q. You cannot get a G.E.D. if you don’t understand white culture, but you can get a doctorate and know nothing about black culture. Expand your relational world into places where people don’t look like you.

Thank you to my black brothers and sisters who have not given up, who put up with us, who have forgiven us for saying things we did not understand. We are sorry that it has taken such a long time to understand. We are sorry that many of us have not stood with you in the past. It is a new day and many are ready to stand with me, with you, as we seek one nation under God. Even more, let’s be the answer to the prayer of Jesus in John 17 – one Church, under God, in Him. Let us not give up. May this anniversary help us grieve, weep again, determining to be the change we want to see in the world. Let us be angry over injustice and yet not sin. May we pause, pray, and remember. And then, let’s finish the work that God has called us to.