What Harvey Can Teach Us – Repost of Max Lucado Devotion

I thought this was so good it was worth re-posting on my blog. Thank-you Max Lucado!

Hurricane Harvey warning

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Sunday morning was already odd. Rather than stand before the church to speak, I sat in front of the television and watched the news.
As far as I know, this was the first time we’d ever cancelled all services on all campuses. It was not an easy decision. With city officials urging everyone to stay home and off the streets because of Hurricane Harvey, however, I believe it was the correct one. So I found myself with a lazy Sunday morning. (Ok, I confess, the extra sleep was nice.)
But then came the news reports. Image after image from Rockport. Story after story from Houston. The devastation was breathtaking and ongoing. Like many of you, I sat glued to the television screen, toggling back and forth between CNN, FOX, and the Weather Channel. I heard the phrase “once in a thousand year flood”. I received texts like: “We are safe, but our neighbors aren’t.” And who will ever forget the images of citizens heeding the call to steer their shallow-bottomed boats through neighborhoods on rescue missions.
Stunning. If only it were a movie. But it isn’t. It is history.
So what do we do?

First and foremost, we pray. We pray for God to redirect the storm and alleviate the suffering.

Next, we help. At this initial stage, the biggest need besides prayer is for financial donations to organizations providing disaster relief.
We recommend donating directly to Samaritan’s Purse or to The American Red Cross, online at:
https://www.samaritanspurse.org/disaster/hurricane-harvey/
https://www.redcross.org/donate/hurricane-harvey

Not only do we pray and help, I think we need to learn. What spiritual lessons do these moments teach us?
Jesus criticized the leaders of his day for focusing on the weather and ignoring the signals: “You find it easy enough to forecast the weather—why can’t you read the signs of the times?” (Matthew 16:3 MSG).
What are we to learn from all of this? Is God sending us some reminders? I think so. At least three come to mind:

Lesson #1- Stuff doesn’t last. Relationships do.
As you’ve listened to evacuees and survivors, have you noticed their words? No one laments a lost plasma television or submerged SUV. No one runs through the streets yelling, “My cordless drill is missing” or “My golf clubs have washed away.” If they mourn, it is for people lost. If they rejoice, it is for people found.
Could Jesus be reminding us that people matter more than possessions? In a land where we have more malls than high schools, more debt than credit, more clothes to wear than we can wear, could Christ be saying:
“Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; a man’s life does not consist in the abundance of possessions” (Luke 12:15 NIV).
You see demolished $40,000 cars that will never be driven again, hidden in debris. And in the background of our minds we hear the quiet echoes of Jesus saying, “What good will it be for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul?” (Matthew 16:26 NIV).
Raging hurricanes and swollen bayous have a way of prying our fingers off the stuff we love. What was once most precious now means little; what we once ignored is now of eternal significance.
Think about what matters to you.

Lesson #2: We really are in this together.
We saw, and are seeing, how humanity can come together and help each other. Lifeboats did not discriminate by color of skin. Rescuers did not ask if the needy were Republican or Democrat. Helicopter rescue wasn’t offered only to the rich or educated. People came together to help people.
We don’t have to have a Harvey to prompt us to help others, however. Someone in your office could use your assistance. They aren’t stranded on a rooftop, but they are likely struggling with a decision. Someone in your neighborhood could use a friend. They didn’t lose their house, but, perhaps they lost their way.
Let’s let Harvey remind us: we really are in this together.

Lesson #3: This world doesn’t work but the next one will.
“The whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time” (Romans 8:19-22 NIV).
The creation is third trimester heavy. Birth pangs must occur before a new birth. During the birth pangs the mother keeps focused on the end result: the moment that she will hold her beautiful baby in her arms. She knows that birth pangs don’t last forever; indeed, the more intense the pangs, the nearer the delivery.
Our world is experiencing a rash of birth pangs these days. It is not to me to declare the day the Lord will return. But we know this much: it’s the beginning of the end and the beginning of new beginnings. Calamities and catastrophes must occur before the birth of the new world. In the meantime- practice what they teach in Lamaze classes- take some deep breaths and hold the hand of the one who loves you.
Jesus made this point in one of his final messages. He referred to the increased frequency of disasters and then said: “See to it that you are not alarmed” (Matthew 24:6 NIV). Jesus chose a stout term for “alarmed” that he used on no other occasion. It means, “to wail, to cry aloud” as if Jesus counseled the disciple: “Don’t freak out when bad stuff happens.”
Jesus promised that bad things would occur. But they won’t occur forever.
What rescuers are doing for Houstonians, God will do for you. He has entered your world. He has dropped a rope into your sin-swamped life. He will rescue, you simply need to do what many stranded people are doing–let him lift you out.
Listen to the lessons of Harvey. Let the storm remind you of the value of relationships, people and, most of all, the promise of heaven. In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, I attended a prayer service at a downtown church. A local minister gave a message on this verse: “But Noah found grace in the eyes of the Lord” (Genesis 6:8 NKJV).
The minister helped us see all the things Noah could not find because of the flood. He could not find his neighborhood. He could not find his house. He could not find the comforts of home or the people down the street–there was much he could not find. But what he could find made all the difference. Noah found grace in the eyes of the Lord.
Noah found grace in the eyes of God. If you have everything and no grace, you have nothing. If you have nothing but grace, you have everything.
©Max Lucado, August 29, 2017
https://maxlucado.com/harvey-can-teach-us/

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Pick up the snake… by the tail!!

So I was reading the other day one of those google interesting facts and read that if you should find a snake you should not pick up by the tail. Here’s what an expert wildlife removal professional said:

“You should avoid picking a snake up by the tail only. Most snakes lack the muscles to be able to curl up and bite your hand; however, they can thrash and squirm enough to easily catch you on another area of the body. Holding a snake by its tail elicits a panic response from the serpent and will make it more likely to strike. If you need to pick up a snake, you can use the tail to control the snake, but equal support should be at the front of the body through the use of a snake hook or your hand. You should generally avoid picking a snake up at all.” (www.wildlife-removal.com)

Then the other day, I am reading in Exodus 4 about how God tries to get Moses to accept his assignment to lead the children of Israel out of bondage. Moses is reluctant to say the least. And so God helps him see that he is on his side by giving him an object lesson: “What is that in your hand?” “A staff,” he (Moses) replied. The LORD said, “Throw it on the ground.” Moses threw it on the ground and it became a snake, and he ran from it.”

That must have been one SCARY SNAKE! Surely Moses, working in Midian desert, had seen plenty of serpents. but this one…

Then the LORD said to him, “Reach out your hand and take it by the tail.”

Moses may have at least thought… “Whoa… all due respect Lord, but no, no, you don’t pick up a snake out here and never just by the tail.”

But to his credit Moses went ahead and it says…

So Moses reached out and took hold of the snake and it turned back into a staff in his hand.” Exodus‬ ‭4:2-4‬ ‭NIV‬‬

As Moses touched the squirmy scales, it hardened.

Moses lifted up the snake turned staff —the same staff that would show Pharaoh God meant business, the same staff that he would lift up to divide the water at the Red Sea and the same staff he would use to guide two million people through the desert.

God took something scary, a huge challenge and turned into something powerful.

And I couldn’t help thinking… what might be scaring us? What has God told you to pick it up? Maybe that’s interviewing for a new job, or maybe that’s undergoing that next treatment, or maybe it’s that tough conversation you need to have with that one you don’t want to lose.

Whatever your snake might be if God tells you to pick it up, even if it’s by the tail… do it and remember he can take the scary stuff and turn into a staff of power, if we’ll trust Him and pick it up.

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Back from Kenya, Africa

Just a quick post to thank all of you for praying for me as I went to Kenya.

Exodus 3:4 says about Moses… “When the Lord saw that he (Moses) had gone over to look (at burning bush), God called to him…” This is what happened to our team as we went “over to look” at the mission called Africa-Hope Kenya.  God has placed a call on each of us to bring back to our churches a recommendation on supporting this Great Commission endeavor to the Maasai people.

The Director of the mission is Tim Mantai a life-long resident of Kenya and Maasai land. Tim’s love for the people there is beyond compare and the mission is so impressive.

The Maasai are a people that have resided on the land they presently live on for literally thousands of years. They reminded me of the stories of our own Native Americans that lived off the land without fences and within a very family type structure. While culture is encroaching on that type of lifestyle for the Maasai their biggest need is to know Jesus. They are classified as an “unreached people group” as less than 5% know Christ.  Africa Hope Kenya has a plan to move that percentage way up! Here’s how Tim Mantai put it: “The Massai have no future tense in their language. So we introduce them to Jesus as their future!”

Please pray for a couple of things for the Maasai people:

  1. That they will trust the Kenyans who come from Africa Hope Kenya to speak to them about Jesus. The Maasai have often been ignored and mistreated so it is hard for them to trust anyone outside their clan or family.
  2. Pray for rain. SW Kenya where most of Maasai land is located is under a severe draught. When you live a pastoral lifestyle like the Maasai do you are dependent on grasses for your livestock and farming. Right now that land is cracked and so dry that dust storms are frequent.
  3. Pray for Tim Mantai and his staff as they reach out to the Massai. The plan they have is good and God is great but the Maasai must be open to the Gospel. Pray for soft hearts.

I’ll close with a couple of pictures below and just say “Thank-you for your prayers!”

Also, if you or your church would be interested in a Vision Trip like we took please contact Mike Sheagren of Crossroads Christian Church in Evansville, IN at msheagren@cccgo.com. He can point you in the right direction.

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Down in Africa

Back in 1982 a group called Toto released the song “Africa.” I was not alone in liking that tune as it rose to #1 on the Billboard top hits early in 1983. I remember one line from that song that has now come full circle in my life. The line was: “I know that I must do what’s right. As sure as Kilimanjaro rises like Olympus above the Serengeti.” While the singer was referring to a personal relationship, for me it refers to the fact that I am actually going to Africa for a much greater purpose. I’m going because I have the privilege of evaluating a mission for our church’s possible support. So, I know I must do what’s right: to see the mission with Jesus’ heart and also with the eyes of a good steward representing many believers here at home.  That can be a tough task, especially in 3rd world countries where there is so much need.

So, I would like to ask you for your help. Before I do let me tell you a little more about my trip.

As I go to represent Northridge Christian here in Milledgeville, several other churches around the country are sending representatives for the same purpose. We are calling it a Vision Trip  to visit the Africa Hope Kenya mission. The mission is led by Tim Mantai, a devoted follower of Jesus and one who loves the Massai people. Tim has served Christ in Narok, Kenya for decades, planting churches, distributing relief and now directs Africa Hope Kenya. If you would like to learn more about Tim and his family you can click HERE. If you would like to learn more about Africa Hope Kenya click HERE.

The Team leaves Friday, July 14, and returns Sunday, July 23rd. We will be visiting the mission that is headquartered in Narok, Kenya but also going out into the bush. If you are interested in the entire itinerary you can click on 2017 AfricaHope Vision trip schedule.

But as I wrote earlier, this is not just about giving you information, but asking for your help. How can you do that?  PRAY. Here’s what I’m asking from those who read this:

  1. Pray for wisdom for the representatives that visit the Africa Hope Kenya mission. You don’t go on a mission trip like this without wanting to support it, but is that the right thing for the church at this time? It can be a hard pull because I’m sure the need is great. As I mentioned earlier, I want to do what is right so I need God’s wisdom to see this endeavor how He sees it.
  2. Pray for Tim and Lorna Manai and their 5 girls. They are the “boots on the ground” in a place that desperately needs the message of Jesus. In fact, more than money or resources (although they need that too), they need God’s strength, courage, and wisdom.
  3. Pray for a safe trip for all concerned.
  4. Pray for loved ones at home. We will be out of touch for some if not much of this trip and our loved ones will be at home constantly wondering about our safety.
  5. Pray that our churches will be open to our reports and if support is what the representatives deem necessary, that they will not hesitate to give generously.

Well, that’s it. The song over and over again said, “Bless the rains down in Africa” I’d like to say and pray, “Bless the trip and Mantai’s down in Africa.”

Thank-you.

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A New Question, for a New Year

So when they had eaten breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon, son of Jonah, do you love Me…?”  John 21:15

Do you remember how miserably Peter failed his Lord?

1. He told Jesus that he would NEVER allow Him to die, right after Jesus had explained that His whole purpose for coming into the world was to do so. Jesus even addressed him as Satan! (Matthew 16:23)
2. As Jesus was voluntarily giving Himself up to His mission, Peter drew a sword and was rebuffed by Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane. Of all the times to use violence.
(John 18:10)

peter-s-denial-posters3. Later, Peter publicly denies that he even knows Jesus, being pressured by a young servant-girl, possibly middle school age. (Mark 14:66)

So, at the time of this breakfast in John 21, I would not be surprised if Peter wondered if he was even capable of being Jesus’ disciple; having been so unfaithful in His most crucial hour.

But I too am Peter.
As I begin 2017, I’m painfully aware of how I’ve failed Jesus in 2016. I’ve had times I didn’t respond well to those I love. I’ve experienced moments this past year when my ministry was not successful because of my own failings. I’ve seen areas in my life where my own expectations and promises to Jesus were not completed. Bottom line? I have sinned. In doing those things, in a very real way, I have denied Him too.

But here’s the encouragement I receive from Jesus’ encounter with my fellow struggler, Peter in John 21.

peter-doyoulovemeDon’t miss how Jesus responds to Peter’s failures. He does not berate Peter, He does not humiliate Peter. He didn’t even ask, as I would: “Okay, Peter what plans do you have so you will not repeat this failure?” -or- “What are your goals to have a better year for me?” No, His question was simply, “Do you love Me?

That question is so encouraging as I start a new year, because I know when I fail Jesus in 2017, and I will, in one way or another, that He will not berate me, nor humiliate me, nor ask for my plans or goals to do better. He will simply ask me, as he did Peter, “Do you love Me?

You see, Jesus does not need our promises to try harder this year or our plans to do better. After all, if your resolve to obey God last year did not help you be faithful in every situation, you can be assured your own effort will not make you successful this year.

So, rather than our resolutions, Jesus asks for a re-commitment of our love to Him.

As I start a new year I hear Jesus ask: “Tim, do you love me?” And to that question I can answer confidently, “Yes Lord, I do!

His question inspires me as I hope it does you. Because when we answer we truly love Jesus, our service for Him in the new year and beyond will be of the quality that He desires.

(Thoughts inspired by Experiencing God Day by Day, Henry and Richard Blackerby)

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This Christmas I remember Jesus – Meek and Humble of Heart

Of all the things that are incredible to me about Jesus’ birth there is one that stands out above all others.

I’m mystified by the Virgin Birth – how exactly did that happen?
I’m in wonder at the way Joseph reacted to Mary’s pregnancy.
I’m astounded by the angelic activity.

But more than anything else it is completely unfathomable to me why God chose to come as a baby. Why not just appear as a full grown man? Marching out of the dessert or just suddenly appearing in the Temple? Why not, if he wanted to come quietly, just appear at the shore of Galilee and call the disciples? Why a baby?

Oh, I think I understand, theologically…
He came as a baby because lineage was so important to Jewish people and He had to come from the line of David.
He came as a baby to fulfill prophecy.

But while I understand that theologically, what does being born as a baby mean to me personally?
Two things:

  1. He was to go through everything we are to go through. Hebrews 4:15 says that he can EMPHATHIZE, not just sympathize, with my  every weakness. He was months in the womb of a woman like me, he came down the birth canal, like me, He was hungry, tired, dependent on other people… like me. He could not have made the claim to empathize with my EVERY weakness had he not been born as a baby.
  2. He came as a humble baby because he wanted us to know how much he valued humility. We needed to learn (I’m still learning) that in order to have a healthy relationship with Him we must get our significance from Him not from anywhere or anyone else. Think about it, an infant is probably the most dependent being on earth. Maybe that’s why a couple of times in scripture – in Proverbs 3:34 and in James 4:6 God tells us that “He opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.”

If there is one thing I am reminded of with the coming of Jesus as a baby – it’s how much I need to be meek and humble in heart and depend on him.  Which is why I identified with I this prayer from Cardinal  Merry Del Val, 1865–1930.

From the desire of being praised by others, deliver me, Jesus.
From the desire of being honored by others, deliver me, Jesus.
From the desire of being preferred, consulted, & approved, except by You, deliver me, Jesus.

From the fear of being criticized, deliver me, Jesus.
From the fear of being passed over deliver me, Jesus.
From the fear of being lonely, hurt, or of suffering, deliver me, Jesus.

Jesus, grant me the grace to desire that others be loved more than I,
That others be chosen and I set aside,
That others be praised while I serve You unnoticed,
Jesus, grant me the grace to desire this.

Oh Jesus, You who came so meek and humble of heart, make my heart like yours. strengthen me with your Spirit and teach me your ways.
Oh Jesus, meek and humble of heart, help me this day to put my self-importance aside and if I be known for anything, let me be known for being totally, dependently and completely Yours.
Amen.

 

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Pastor, who are you voting for?

The subject line is a question, as a Pastor, that I hear often. I get it. People within my circle of influence are confused by our current choices, so they want to know where I stand on the election. To be transparent, I am not enamored with either of our main candidates. On one hand you have a man who at times is vulgar, doesn’t sometimes think before he speaks and has a very checkered past. On the other you have a woman who is constantly stands on the very left and is in a constant battle over her credibility and honesty. The unfavorable rating of both of the main candidates has never been higher than in this election.

“Pastor, who are you voting for?” How do I answer that question? I say this:

I am voting for the PLATFORM of the party that most clearly supports LIFE. I don’t mention a name but I do say that I am a “one issue voter.” What do I mean by that? Simply this: I cannot cast a vote for anyone who doesn’t at least espouse the idea that life is sacred and begins at conception. Why do I say that?

Let me say this as clearly as I can. I DO NOT BELIEVE YOU CAN READ SCRIPTURE WITHOUT CONCLUDING THAT GOD CONSIDERS LIFE TO BEGIN AT CONCEPTION! Consider with me the following scriptures:

Exodus 21:22-23 – “If people are fighting and hit a pregnant woman and she gives birth prematurely but there is no serious injury, the offender must be fined whatever the woman’s husband demands and the court allows. But if there is serious injury, you are to take life for life…” (NIV) The life of both the woman and the unborn child were valuable to God! And the Jews understood this because every man had some reason to think that the Messiah could spring from his family and so they were extremely careful of the unborn child even if an accident had occurred.

Psalms 139:13 -16 -“For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well. My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place, when I was woven together in the depths of the earth. Your eyes saw my unformed body; all the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.” (NIV) David says that God  already knew him and had ordained his days while he was still in the womb.

Isaiah 49:1 & 5 -“Before I was born the Lord called me; from my mother’s womb he has spoken my name.” “And now the Lord says — he who formed me in the womb to be his servant to bring Jacob back to him and gather Israel to himself…” (NIV) God called Isaiah before he was born, he called him in the womb to be his servant.

This is not just an Old Testament principle.
Luke 1:41 – “When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the baby leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit.” (NIV) John the Baptist was 6 months developed in his mother’s womb when Mary came to visit his mother Elizabeth.

Luke 1:44 -“As soon as the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy!” (NIV) God moved through the Holy Spirit while John was still in the womb! The word “brethos” used to describe John in the womb is the very same word for the infant Jesus in Luke 2:12 & 16 where you find “a baby (brethos) wrapped in clothes and laying in a manger.” The words are used interchangeably.

You see, to God, birth doesn’t create life! It simply manifests the life that has already been created by God in the womb. And there is no way a serious Bible student can rationalize abortion today.

My wife, Deborah was the fourth of 7 children that my mother-in-law gave birth too. And I know those kids so bless her heart! 🙂 The time gap between my wife and her nearest older sibling was separated by 3 years. But if that was today maybe somebody would have said. “Lorena, you’ve already got three, and this one will be several years younger than your other three, this fourth one doesn’t matter.” Praise God #4 did matter to my mother-in-law! Because it certainly mattered to Deb! And it matters to my children and my grandchildren! And it mattered to me! Where would I be if #4 hadn’t mattered and had been just tossed aside?

The point is, every life matters to God. Whether it’s #1 or #10! Whether it’s perfect or deformed! He’s the one that is the author and Creator of life!

So, I cannot vote for anyone who will say, “I believe it’s the woman’s right to choose whether she gives birth to the baby inside of her.” Really? A woman can do whatever she chooses with her body? Not if she believes scripture because Paul wrote to the Corinthians, “Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own;  you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your bodies.
(1 Cor. 6:19-20 NIV)

“Pastor, who are you voting for?” I am voting for the PLATFORM that says this:
We say the unborn child has a fundamental individual right to life which cannot be infringed. We support a human life amendment to the Constitution and we endorse legislation to make it clear that the 14th Amendment’s protections apply to unborn children. We oppose using public revenues for abortion and will not fund organizations which advocate it. We support the appointment of judges who respect traditional family values and the sanctity of innocent human life.”

Which party said that? Look it up! Or better yet, take a look at this guide to where the two major candidates stand 2016vgpresident on a number of issues including abortion.

Oh, and I add one more thing after saying, “I’m a one issue voter – I vote for the candidate who supports life at conception.” I add: “No matter who is elected God is still in control and “…he has set a day when he will judge the world with justice by the man he has appointed. He has given proof of this to everyone by raising him from the dead.”
(Acts 17:31 NIV)

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The Gender Neutral Bathroom Controversy

I do not often re-post a Blog but Sam Rainer has given some good thoughts on a very timely and controversial issue. While it is entitled, “What Pastors Can Do…” It’s really, in my opinion, helpful for any believer on how to “speak the truth in love.” Remember while we are not to be OF the world (holding the world’s values and practices) we are IN the world (confronted by the worlds values and practices). This makes it necessary sometimes to think about how we will respond as Christ followers to things like this.
Thanks to Sam Rainer – well said!

What Pastors Can Do about the Gender Neutral Bathroom Controversy http://samrainer.com/2016/05/what-pastors-can-do-about-the-gender-neutral-bathroom-controversy/

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“It’s All About HIM, Not It.”

That subject line was the last line of an apology sent by someone who had walked away from the church I was leading more than a decade ago. What brought on the contrite heart and the statement? To answer that I’ve got to go back some 13 years to 2003.

We were planting a church in Colorado Springs, CO and after the launch I was teaching some new leaders.  In that teaching I said this: “Be careful not to make the Bible your idol. We don’t worship the Bible. In fact, people don’t even have to believe the bible to become Christ followers.” Immediately you could see in this one leader’s eyes a fire that basically heard that statement as hearsay. There was so much shock and anger in his eyes that I thought he was about to say, “Get the torches folks, we’ve got to kill the heretic!”

Before you too think I’ve lost my senses, or at least my theology, my statement was based on two scriptures.
Bible-glasses-notebook

  1. John 5:39 where Jesus basically said the same thing to the religious leaders of his day. He said: “You study the scriptures diligently because you think in them you have eternal life. These scriptures testify about me.” In other words, you are so deep into the Bible that you’ve missed the One that the Bible is telling you about! Studying the scriptures had become more important than the One who had given them the scriptures!
  2. John 17:17 where Jesus prays, “Sanctify them by YOUR truth – YOUR Word is truth.” There’s a great little play on words there by Jesus where he is saying – God is the Truth and His true Word is what is used to reveal Him as Truth. I like the way the Basic English Bible translates that verse: “Set them apart by Your Truth which is revealed in the truth of Your Word.” Once again we find that God is to be honored above the scripture He is revealed in.

God is the Truth. The Bible is simply the conduit by which we learn of that Truth. We dare not get that backwards. Sometimes I see believer’s intent on “digging deeper in the scriptures” when they haven’t even scraped the surface of obeying the scriptures they already know. It’s as if information has become their idol and they fall to worshiping the Bible rather than the One revealed in it. And why not? Isn’t it easier to just pour in more knowledge rather than practically applying the knowledge you already have?

That’s why something that Andy Stanley said at a Drive Conference a few years ago resonated with me so deeply. He said: “’The Bible says…’ is not a good starting point for many people today. The bible doesn’t really say or teach anything. Specific authors in the Bible say things and teach. The Bible is not a book but 66 manuscripts that reveal what God through the Holy Spirit led writers to say.”1  Don’t forget that for the first 250 years or so of the church people did not have a “bible” like we do today. And yet, they turned the world upside down without the “book.”

Now, please don’t misunderstand. I believe the Bible to be inerrant, God breathed and a book like no other. But, I do not believe it was ever meant to be idolized or used as a substitution for the Author. We must be careful not to lift the Bible so high that it obscures the One the Bible seeks to lift up! For the most part, people must first see the transforming truth of Him who the Bible reveals in us, before they will give the Bible any credibility.

So, I come full circle to the communication from my friend. I’m not sure what prompted it but I received a note from him which at the end eloquently said this: “I was wrong to walk out. I’ve learned that at the time of your teaching I wasn’t spiritually mature enough to receive it. Now, I get it – it’s all about HIM, not it.”

Yeah, I’d say he gets it.

1 You can find a more thorough explanation of Andy’s line of thinking in his book, Deep & Wide, 2016, Zondervan. P.246-252. (Paperback ed)

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The Promise Seen in Darkness

In Genesis 15 we are presented with one of the more remarkable if not mysterious interchanges between a man and God.  In this case it is Abram (later named Abraham) and the way he receives the promise from God that he would be the father of multitudes and would inherit a great deal of land. In 15:4-7 we see God make the promise and then Abraham basically asks for proof. V.8: “Sovereign Lord, how can I know that I will gain possession of it (the Promise Land)?” What is surprising is not the request, but the way God answers Abraham and the sign he provides. Because it is in this sign where once again I am surprised, startled even, to see Jesus.

God has Abraham bring animals, split them in two and place them in front of him. Then the author writes in v.12- “As the sun was setting, Abram fell into a deep sleep, and a thick and dreadful darkness came over him.” As Abram experiences this thick darkness, God represents himself as a smoking pot and a flaming torch. The episode ends with the statement, “On that day the Lord made a covenant with Abram.” (V.18)

For people in the Mideast, when parties entered into a promise it was often dramatized by some enactment of the parties willingness to sacrifice and honor the arrangement. It is easy to see the sacrifice part in the animals that are split in two but what is with the darkness? When you read v.17 you find that during Abram’s darkness this happened: “…a smoking firepot with a blazing torch appeared and passed between the pieces.” I think God was showing Abram and us three things:

  1. By passing between the pieces He was showing He would pass through the sacrifice so that Abram wouldn’t have to.
    2. By showing a firepot and torch He was demonstrating that He would be the Light that would show clearly He could be trusted.

I thought… there’s Jesus. It is Jesus who passes through death, our Passover if you will, so that we will not have to pay the penalty of our broken promises. It is Jesus who is called the Light of the World.

Butcross_dark the darkness still puzzled me until… It sprang to my mind that the Gospel writers told us that when Jesus died, a thick darkness fell over the land. It was actually one of those times I literally caught my breath when I realized that this “thick and dreadful darkness” in the first book of the Bible is sharing the future moment when another darkness would fall. And it is in the moment of that dreadful darkness that Jesus would become both my sacrifice and light my way home. Jesus experienced the darkness of my sin so that my alienation from Him could not and would not break His covenant of love with me.

God is so brilliant to take an episode thousands of years ago and by showing Abram that He is a covenant keeper, dramatically remind me that His promise to me and you will never, ever be broken.

No wonder God tells Abraham in vs:1 of this chapter: “I am your shield, and your very great reward.”

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