Monday, February 27, 2012

Going Deeper for the week of February 26

Yesterday we watched the sermon "The Prodigal God" by Timothy Keller on DVD during worship.  Now some of you, like me, might have been initially put off by the title.  It just sounds so wrong?  God as prodigal?  How could that be?

Yet I think if you like me had that feeling it might be due to the fact that we associate the word "prodigal" as necessarily bad.  When we think of Jesus' parable we think of the "prodigal" son as the bad guy.  Who would ever want to be known as a "prodigal"?  And how could we ever think of God that way?

However, let's take a look (as Timothy Keller does in his book) at the word "prodigal" and see what the dictionary definition really is.

Prodigal = 1) recklessly extravagant  2) having spent everything

It seems wasteful, but it is only wasteful if the object of our extravagance and lavish spending is ourselves.  But what happens if the object of extravagance and spending is others?

As we think about Jesus' life and death, we realize that He literally spent everything, extravagantly, including His own life on us.  This is what Keller means when he describes God as "prodigal".

So is this a new picture of God?  Remember that Keller said Jesus is asking us to rethink everything we ever thought about how to approach God.  So what is God really like?  Is Jesus giving us a new vision of God?  Or is this who God really is, always has been, and always will be?

(Read Exodus 33:12-34:10)

Moses asks God in 33:13, "If you are pleased with me, teach me your ways so I may know you and continue to find favor with you."

God hears Moses' request and grants him what he asks.  God reveals Himself twice as "the LORD".  In 33:19 He says, "I will cause all my goodness to pass in front of you, and I will proclaim my name, the LORD, in your presence.  I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion."  Later, God again reveals Himself as "the LORD".  In 34:6, He says, "The LORD, the LORD, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion, and sin.  Yet He does not leave the guilty unpunished ..."   This is God, as He is for who He is.

Notice that He describes Himself first with mercy and compassion, then with grace, long-suffering (slow to anger), love, faithfulness, and one who forgives.  While He also punishes the guilty, He clearly defines Himself first with love, mercy, grace, compassion, patience (slow to anger), forgiveness, and faithfulness.  This is God, as He is for who He is.

So now I ask again, "Does Jesus offer us a new vision of God?"  Or is the God Jesus shows us the same as He has ever been?  I believe God has always been the same "prodigal" as Jesus describes in the parable.

So what do you find most striking here in God's self-revelation?  Does anything surprise you?  Is this a different picture of God, than the one you had before?  Let's discuss!

Monday, February 20, 2012

Going Deeper for the week of February 19

Yesterday we concluded our series "Walking by Faith" as we walked with Abraham as he walked with God.  During the call to new life I introduced the philosophy of Soren Kierkegaard and what have been called his "three stages of life" (aesthetic, ethical, and religious).

The Aesthetic is the self-centered life, the Ethical is the rule-centered life, and the Religious is the "God-centered" life.  The Religious is where Abraham found himself, and that is why the Bible says, "Abraham believed God and He (God) credited it to him (Abraham) as righteousness."  Abraham's righteousness went beyond behavior to a deep and abiding trust in the living God.  And I believe that is where God wants all His people to be.

(Read Psalm 63:1-11)

The psalmist could also be said to live in this "Religious" sphere.  His greatest desire is to know God; to see Him, and to enjoy Him forever.  Note how the first 9 verses use the second person pronoun "you" in reference to God.  The psalmist is not only speaking about God (using third person pronoun "he"), but is speaking directly to God in appreciation, adoration, and praise.  Does this connection to the one true living God who is revealed in the Bible and most clearly through Jesus Christ characterize our connection to God?  Are we responding to God's Holy Spirit leading our daily lives?  Or are we stuck somewhere between living for ourselves, and living to keep the rules?

This week is the beginning of Lent.  Lent is a time where we remember, where we recommit as we walk one more time towards the cross with Jesus.  Jesus is the personal God, who has always existed in three persons.  He is the second person of the eternal God who took on flesh.  He is the one we desire, the one we adore, and the one for whom we long walking among us, living our life, dying our death, and winning our victory over death through His glorious resurrection.

May our Lenten observance take on new meaning this year, as we seek to draw closer to the living God.
If you have questions, or comments please share them.  Thank you.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Going Deeper for the week of February 12

Isaiah 40:31 says, "those who hope in the LORD will renew their strength ..." (NIV).  However, I think the idea is even clearer in the ESV translation "they who wait for the LORD shall renew their strength ..."

Waiting is one of the most difficult things we ever have to do.  Waiting is hard.  We always want everything "now".  But waiting is often what God asks us to do.  Remember "they who wait for the LORD shall renew their strength ..."  The LORD is our strength, so waiting for Him is how we become strong.  Still waiting is hard. 

Abram knew a lot about waiting.  In Genesis 12:4 we read that "Abram was 75 years old when he set out from Haran."  At that time God promised to make him into a great nation, bless him, make his name great, make him a blessing, bless those who bless him and curse those who curse him, and bless all nations through him. (see Genesis 12:2-3)  However, after 11 years, Abram still had no child.  I imagine waiting was hard for Abram.  

In Genesis 16, we read about Abram and Sarai's plot to help God along.  Sarai gives her mistress Hagar to Abram and tells him, "The LORD has kept me from having children.  Go, sleep with my maidservant; perhaps I can build a family through her." (Genesis 16:2 - NIV)  So Abram does as his wife asks him to do and Hagar bears a son named Ishmael.  But Ishmael is not the one through whom God will fulfill His promise to Abram.  After a brief time away, Ishmael returns to his father's household where Abram raises him as his own son.  13 years pass between then and what we will read today.

So when we read today's scripture we can imagine Abram's reluctance toward wholehearted joy at God's promise.  

(Read Genesis 17:1-27)

Abram is now 99 years old.  I imagine he and his wife Sarai have largely given up on having a child of their own.  Yet God comes to him again with a promise.  God promises him - descendants and land, as he has done before, but God also promises him HIMSELF.  God establishes His covenant with Abram (now Abraham) in verse 7, "I will establish my covenant as an everlasting covenant between me and you and your descendants after you for the generations to come to be your God and the God of your descendants after you."  God promises Himself to Abraham and Abraham's descendants.  

This is God's promise, but what does God expect from Abraham?  Verse 10 says, "This is my covenant with you and your descendants after you, the covenant you are to keep: Every male among you shall be circumcised."  The only thing God asks Abraham to do is to become circumcised and then to circumcise every male in his household.  Circumcision becomes a sign of Abraham's faith in God.

Still Abraham remains reluctant, especially when God says Sarai (now Sarah) will have a child.  Here Abraham's reluctance becomes shocking disbelief.  "Abraham fell facedown; he laughed and said to himself, 'Will a son be born to a man a hundred years old?  Will Sarah bear a child at the age of ninety?"  It seems too good to be true.  Abraham laughs to keep from crying.  Is God now going to fulfill His promise against all odds?  Why now?  Why not 20 years ago?  It all seems too incredible.  Yet this is God's plan.  

"Then God said, 'Yes but your wife Sarah will bear you a son, and you will call him Isaac.'" As the footnote says Isaac means "he laughs".  So God confirms His promise and wants the whole world to know just how incredibly unbelievable this is by naming the child Isaac to show the world that even Abraham and Sarah laughed at the thought of it.  Nothing is impossible for God!  When God makes a promise He always keeps it.  God is faithful.  

So now I think there are two ways we can "go deeper" together here.  

First, if you want to tell a story about a time when you "waited for the LORD" and He renewed your strength, we would love to hear it.

Second, if you want to talk about God's covenant to Abraham sealed by circumcision in relationship to God's new covenant (which in my humble opinion is really not that "new") fulfilled in Jesus sealed by baptism, there is certainly room for that here as well.  In this regard I would direct us to two scriptures in the New Testament to get our conversation started.  Read Galatians 3:1-29, ff but especially verses 3:26-29, also read Colossians 2:9-12.  How does God's promise to Abraham relate to salvation by faith in Jesus Christ?  Also how do the "signs and seals" of those promises relate (i.e. circumcision and baptism)?  

Monday, February 6, 2012

Going Deeper - week of February 5

Genesis 15:6 says, “Abram believed God and He credited it to him as righteousness.”  This narrator’s comment is the foundation for what it means to be a Christian.  Christian faith is in essence Abraham’s faith.  
Sometimes we make life too complicated.  Last week we read I Corinthians 1, and in verse 18 we read, “For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.”   As followers of Jesus, we need to get to the place where we are operating solely on God’s wisdom and not the wisdom of this world.  This is what it means to have faith (to trust God so much that we believe what He says even though it might sound foolish to others).  
Let me give you an example of what I mean.  A few weeks ago I watched a “YouTube” video of a man who calls himself “The Amazing Atheist”.  In this video, he was criticizing a popular video of a young man entitled “Why I hate religion, but love Jesus”.  His basic argument was that pitting religion vs. Jesus was meaningless because following Jesus is religion.  I think he made a good point, and even though he uses foul language and lots of vulgarity, I think he also makes the point about the foolishness of the message of the cross in the eyes of the world.  At one point in the video he asserts that following Jesus is no different from following him (The Amazing Atheist).  He claims that he could just as readily make the claim that he was the messiah and that people should follow him to be saved.  
He is certainly flawed in his logic.  No one would follow him as messiah because he does not fulfill prophecy, his birth was not accompanied by angels, he can perform no miracles, and if he were to die he would remain in the grave.  Only Jesus, who is the eternal Son of God in human flesh, fulfilled prophecy, had his birth announced by angels, performed great miracles, and rose victoriously from the dead.  So only Jesus is the true messiah and only Jesus is worthy of our trust and faith - because of WHO He is and WHAT He alone has done.
(Read Romans 4:1-25) 
Here the apostle Paul makes the point that Jesus is the savior of all people (not just the circumcised; i.e. Jews), and that salvation in Jesus comes only to those who trust Him in true faith, like Abraham.  Several times in Romans 4 Paul refers to Abraham’s faith being “credited” to him by God as righteousness (v. 3, 9-13, 16, 23-25). 
This is where the “foolishness” of the message of the cross is found. 
Receiving the gracious gift of salvation from God through true faith in Jesus seems foolish to this world.  Those who hear this message without the Holy Spirit communicating it hear it as foolishness.  They think it encourages bad behavior because to them it seems to eliminate consequences to evil acts, and thereby encouraging bad behavior.  
However, when the Holy Spirit communicates the gracious gift of salvation from God through true faith in Jesus it is received gratefully.  So that in faith we receive God’s grace and in gratitude we seek to live in ways that please God.  This is what it means to behold the power of God in salvation and to walk in the faith of Abraham.  

        What do you think?  Have you had times when you wondered yourself or were challenged by others about the "foolishness" of the message of the cross?