Monday, November 10, 2008
Since the Bible never really covers some of the stickier issues regarding the story of Rahab in Joshua 2, I chose not to delve into those questions in the message yesterday. As I said, the point in the story is the decision by Rahab to put her complete trust--including her own life and the life of her family--in the God of Israel, the God whom she professed was Lord of all heaven and earth.
The questions hang around the story, although they are not questions put in the Bible itself except by silence. So the answers can only be surmised by our understanding of God, by what the Bible says about related issues, and by what we know of human behavior.
Question #1: Did Rahab continue her prostitution after the encounter with the Israeli spies? Why didn't Rahab repent of her prostitution?
We don't know that she DIDN'T, of course. We don't know what she did or did not do after the visit from the spies. So what can we suppose happened? What we know is that Rahab put herself into the care of God. She trusted him, believing him to be in charge of everything. What we know about God suggests that he would honor Rahab's decision of trust, and that the relationship thus established would have the result of Rahab's facing off with her sin and repenting of that sin. What we know about people is that once a true relationship with God is established, and as it grows, the heart softens in the gentle exposure of God's holiness and brokenness is healed. It is not a flippant assumption to believe that this is what happened to Rahab, either before or after the account in Joshua 2.
Question #2: Rahab lied to protect the spies by convincing the King's police that she had sent the two men on their way back to the ford's of the Jordan. Does this mean that lying is OK? Is it OK to lie in certain situations? And if so, doesn't that make morality subjective instead of objective?
Two answers are usually given for this one:
a. Rahab lied and it was a sin. God, in his sovereign power, still honored the faith of Rahab and the promise to the people of Israel and protected the spies in spite of the means Rahab used. If Rahab had not chosen to lie, God would still have protected the spies. Rahab's faith was adequate to believe God for her life, but was not mature enough to prevent her lying to the King's squad. We simply don't know how God would have protected the spies had Rahab chosen the more righteous path of honesty, but we know this is what he would have done.
b. Rahab lied and it was not a sin, because the purposes of God in saving the spies was more honorable than the deceit of the lie was sinful. In other words, since the deceit was actually an act of faith, and since that act of faith was in service of the plans and purposes of God, the lie was justified. The good from the lie trumps any sinfulness involved.
There are other examples of deceit used in the plans of God in scripture, and in every case these two arguments are proposed. Neither position is completely satisfying to me.
The first is sketchy because it doesn't answer the foundational question: If God could have accomplished his purpose without deceit, why didn't he just do that and keep Rahab from the sin? And if Rahab's actions were sin, why didn't God hold her publicly accountable for that sin so that we wouldn't have to guess about it?
The second option has its own trouble. If Rahab's deceit was not sin because of the ethics of the situation, it opens up the possibility of sin being defined by a person's own motives rather than objectively an issue of right and wrong. It seems to put sin on a teeter-totter with righteousness, so that if you can add something righteous to the sin you can outweigh it and make it OK. This ushers in the issue of relative morality, which always seems a little dicey.
Question #3: Why does the Bible leave us to ask/answer these questions?
This, to me, is the question that is most intriguing. It speaks volumes that these issues were left to the reader to ponder instead of God simply answering them outright. He surely knew we would ask! That he didn't plop down an answer on the spot gives us a point of wrestling. It may be uncomfortable and involve some brain power and trust on our part, but in the end it is good for us.
So, what do you think? Come on! Don't fudge. Don't be afraid of a wrong answer. What do you think?
Sunday, November 2, 2008
Provided here for your ponderings--Links to some interesting thoughts about voting as Christians and the present campaign:
Watch the FIRST campaign "debate" at Saddleback Church, hosted by Rick Warren.
Jesus for President
NYTimes Op-Ed "Christ Among the Partisans" by Garry Wills
J.P. Moreland on trueu re: WWJD: How Would Jesus Vote?
Do Christians Have an Obligation to Vote?
Chuck Colson on Breakpoint: An Urgent Calling
Obama and Faith - New York Times
About.com on McCain and Faith
Saturday, October 18, 2008
The next two weeks I'll be away. In my place, John Davis returns to speak. I've heard good things about John's ministry in the past. Please give him a kind welcome.
On November 2 we'll be considering our role in politics and government. We'll tell you exactly who Jesus would vote for! We'll also be praying for the election and our country, and observing communion.
The next Sunday we'll get back to our study in Joshua.
Monday, July 28, 2008
Yesterday more than 100 people crowded the shoreline at Haithco Park as six people went full-bore public with their faith in Jesus Christ. They were baptized in the clear pleasant water, and when they came up out of the lake the crowd cheered!
As soon as I get some pictures I'll post them here. In the meantime, let's continue to be excited about these people and what God is doing:
Also, when you see my wife Linda, give her a BIG HUG! She's the one who put the afternoon together, and we all had a great time!
Monday, July 21, 2008
What a great service Sunday. The band, as my wife says, was HOT! We are so blessed to have a great group of musicians under the humble and capable leadership of Doug. Thanks, guys.
Some of you asked me where I got the "Blues Primer" I used Sunday. Here's a link: Blues Primer. My special thanks to guitar teacher Stephen Compton for this hilarious bit.
Some of you also asked for the lyrics to "Evangelical Church-Going Blues," although I can't imagine why. It's the band that made that song any good! But, here are the lyrics:
Woke up and realized I forgot to wash my shirt,
And now this wrinkled button down is showin all my dirt,
I got the evangelical church-goin blues. (2X)
Pulled into the parkin lot, sometin missin from my life, (2X)
Got out of the car and realized, I forgot to bring my wife,
She waitin back at home and I am gonna face some real strife,
I got the evangelical church goin blues. (2X)
Preacher at the pulpit, he got up in my face (2X)
He told me where I goin and he put me in my place
He said, “I want your InfoCard, or you are a disgrace”
I got the Grace Christian Fellowship,
Wednesday, July 16, 2008
Here's where we've been. We've talked about worship as the intersection of God's greatness and our brokenness. We've discussed how worship amplifies God's character, and in so doing diminishes our place in the universe. Worship is a humbling experience.
Because of all this, worship needs to be honest. In fact, any other approach to worship nullifies it. In other words, if you worship in deceit, if you're trying to fool God when you're praising him, if you "put on airs" during worship, it's not worship at all. You've reduced God to someone who can be scammed, and you've covered yourself in lies, and that's not worship.
And last week we looked at emotion in worship--one of the things that Psalms are all about. Joy, happiness, contentment, peace, anger, depression, grief, frustration, and even jealousy all show up in various psalms. Talk about honesty!
Here's the thing that blows me away: God allowed all that into the manuscript. God, through the elaborate and elegant process of inspiration, shows us how honesty and vulnerability operates when we come face to face with him in worship.
Psalms are the songs and poetic content for the worship of the people of Israel, and serve as a model for our worship. So how does your own personal worship, whether in church or without, compare to what's going on in Psalms?
Let me hear what you're thinking.
Sunday, June 1, 2008
If your family is like us, you have a ton of photo albums. One thing about ours--a lot of them have pages that are blank at the back of the book. Maybe we're waiting for the next chapter.
So what's the next chapter of Mark? Where does Jesus go now? What happens with the good news in June of 2008? What are the pictures we can add to the album? Please let us know.
Monday, May 19, 2008
Everyone who has ever walked with God has let go of his hand and fallen on their face.
Think of the heroes in the Old Testament: Noah, Abraham, Moses, David. All walked with God. All serve as models of faith. All took a tumble.
Yesterday we observed the reactions to people surrounding the Passion of Christ. All of them, to one degree or another, betrayed Jesus is his most dreadful hour.
These were men who had spent three years in close proximity to the Son of God, who learned from him face to face, who were priviledged to be on the inside track with the whole Kingdom program, but who, when Jesus was arrested, tortured, and savagely crucified, all ditched him. Peter even lied about ever having known Jesus.
So two thoughts come to mind. First is this: If these people could desert him at such a desperate moment, can we dare think that we are immune from the temptation to betray him?
The other question has to do with Jesus' reaction. Jesus was unable to stop Judas from making his horrible choice, and we don't know what Jesus would have done had Judas not taken his own life. But for all the other betrayers, Jesus offered forgiveness. He showed them his love. He went out of his way to help them understand his grace.
If Jesus would forgive his closest followers their act of utter betrayal, is he any less prone to grant forgiveness to those of us who are willing to recognize and repent of our own betrayals?
Think about your walk with God. Have you ever let go of his hand? Have you taken a fall? Has he revealed his grace to you? Want to share the story?
Next Sunday, we'll take a look at why Jesus had to die. Wasn't there some other way?
Coming this summer!
Monday, May 12, 2008
The day was great at GCF, and I hope those of you who are moms, as well as those who have moms, were able to walk away with hope, security, and a desire to just hang.
Here are some questions to spur you into inaction:
1. When do you chill? Is there a moment to breath? Can you carve out time to "be still and know?" If not, what's your plan?
2. For a tight-rope walker, the weight at the end of the pole provides stability. God's nature--the fact that he's in control, and he has complete and utter power, and he cares about you--is the weight at the end of our poles as we navigate through life. How do you get the weight of his presence into your life?
3. Sometimes it's necessary to give up. The demands of our culture on women to "bring home the bacon and fry it up in a pan," etc. raise the expectation level to a fever pitch, and few mothers can pull off the act. What have you had to say "no" to in order to stay on the wire?
A NOTE TO OUR GCF FRIENDS: This week I heard from a couple folks who do not attend GCF but who enjoy keeping up with what we're doing here at GraceAbility. Some even use the MP3s from the BayGrace.org website and listen to the message before they read the post. I'd like to say a special welcome to all of you, and I'd ask that you leave a message and let us know you're out there in cyberspace with us!
Have a good week!
Tuesday, April 15, 2008
Sunday, after describing what Jesus did at the Temple, I said something like, "Of course, Jesus must have been sinning, since everyone knows that anger is wrong" and some other things along the same line.
I hope you know I don't believe that. It was said "tongue-in-cheek," but my tongue was not far enough into my cheek to let everyone know it was an attempt at being facetious. Here is what the Bible teaches and what I believe:
Jesus never sinned. Period.
Anger is not a sin. Period. It can be sin, but we're created in God's image to feel anger. Anger is a sin only when anger is broken.
As a child I was taught by good Christians that any expression of anger was crossing a moral line, and I've heard the same instruction given in word and action in many other settings in my life. I think the teaching that equates anger with sin (as in anger=sin) is wrong and can injure our health, our faith, and our influence. That's why I poked some attention at that erroneous teaching.
I love humor, but I know I need to be careful when I communicate so that my words are clearly understood.
Thanks for understanding.
Sunday, April 13, 2008
Today we talked about Mark 11, the story of Jesus coming to the Temple in Jerusalem on Monday, the day after the "Triumphal Entry."
So what do you think about Jesus "going temple"?
One thing we didn't have time to discuss this morning was the practical implication of table turning in the life of a Christian.
Have you ever wanted to turn a few tables of your own? Is it OK? Or is this something only Jesus could do, since he was 100% God and 100% man?
If you think it's OK, under what circumstances is driving people out of the temple with whips considered good Christian behavior? If you don't use whips, what form do you use? What are good targets for this kind of action?
I will confess, I have done some temple-table-turning. I don't use whips. My method is usually words. I like to write satire. Sometimes it is sharp, sometimes just fun. But it's almost always aimed at the religious habits of the Christian culture.
What do you think? Is this a case where WWJD doesn't apply?
Next week a controversial topic: giving. The sermon is titled, Why Tithing is Sin. Here's an interesting article I wrote for Today's Christian magazine about a creative idea offered by LifeChurchTV. Click here to read the article: The Tithing Challenge
Bring your purses and wallets.
Sunday, March 16, 2008
So what have you learned? What impacted you the most? What changes have the lessons from Ezra prompted in you?
Have a holy Holy week.
Sunday, March 9, 2008
Today we had a great worship service! I think the GCF Praise Band is OUTRAGEOUS! Good job, Doug and crew!
We talked about spiritual DNA today. Let's define what we mean:
In the same way we have a physical DNA that is at the core of all we are -- the way we look, think, and emote, I don't think it's too much of a stretch to think we have a spiritual DNA that defines how we respond to God. Just like physical DNA describes our unique chemistry, so our spiritual DNA is the chemistry that is uniquely designed by God to enable us to respond to him.
Our physical DNA, marvelous as it is, was broken when the first man and woman sinned. That brokeness came from the sin and the "curse." In the same way, our spiritual DNA was broken by the fall of Adam, and our ability to relate to God has been marred. We call it our "sin nature."
Our spiritual DNA might include things like, spiritual gifts, sensitivity to the Holy Spirit, ability to understand God's word, and other things. The weaknesses in the DNA--our sin nature--make us prone to sin. The problem sins, those areas where we are weakest, are the scars from that original sin that continue to plague us.
I think churches also have a spiritual DNA. GCF has a spiritual DNA.
So, what's in your spiritual DNA? How does it function? Where is it broken?
What do you think are some of the "genes" in the DNA of Grace Christian Fellowship?
Next week at Grace: we'll tie up Ezra, celebrate Palm Sunday, and talk vision. All three things; one message! See you next Sunday.
Wednesday, March 5, 2008
Jesus, of course, is our model for what separateness looks like in real life. Jesus was perfect, as holy as holy can be, and he was a human as well as God. You just can't get holier than Jesus.
So, did Jesus' holiness attract people or did it repel people?
Depends on the people! Jesus' holiness attracted people who were helplessly broken. Those people thronged to Jesus. His extreme holiness came off to them not as a platform for condemnation or as a pedastal of pride, but as a balm for the wounds which sin had inflicted on them.
There was a group of people, however, that Jesus consistently repelled. These people were so inflamed by the radical holiness of Jesus that they grew to hate him, despising his mission, to the point that they killed him. Who were these people?
Largely Pharisees. Religious professionals. Holy types. Known for their separateness.
In fact, I was just reminded a few minutes ago that the word "Pharisee" most likely is translated, "separate one."
Blew me away.
That's why I had to write another post. Who do we think we are when we hoist ourselves onto the bandwagon lined up for all to see in the parade of holy people lead by the "separate ones?" I don't want to be part of that party.
There is, however, a holiness that atttracts. It's Jesus' kind. It is humble and gentle. It is honest. It is caring. Oh, how I want to be in that band.
Tuesday, March 4, 2008
- Denominational loyalty is dropping.
- More people identify themselves as simply disinterested in organized religion.
- One interesting quote:
"Mega-churches succeed not because they are mega but because they have smaller ministries inside"
I'd be interested in reading your thoughts about this study and GCF. Here's the link:
Sunday, March 2, 2008
Ezra 9 presents a picture--a template--to use to help us think and act on holiness. We discussed some of the ramifications at church today. How did you feel about what was said? Do you agree with my views on the church in the United States today? Do you sense that "there's a change coming on?"
Of course, it's easy for me to point the finger. And as we've learned, just pointing a finger at someone else's sin problem does not make the pointee holy. It comes down to this: what will I do about this? How can I practice the kind of holiness Ezra practiced?
Does this mean we never draw the line? Does this mean we tolerate sin? Does this mean that we simply ignore sin for the sake of grace?
As the Apostle Paul would say, NO WAY! Instead, we should humbly deal with sin in our lives, and confront sin around us in love and extreme humility. Whenever we sense that we're erecting a tower of our own holiness, we should be concerned. "Pride goes before a fall."
While you were considering these things today, did God speak to you? Did God give you any ideas that would help you and your progress toward holiness? Any ideas on how Grace Christian Fellowship could confess to the Tri-Cities area?
Next week at GCF we look at Ezra 10. Read it this week. Please pray that God would bring together exactly the congregation he wants to attend next week.
Have a graceful week.
Sunday, February 24, 2008
What God wants from us is dependent trust. But not blind trust.
Ezra, looking out toward the west from the Ahava Canal, did not step blindly in the direction of Jerusalem, walking off to an unknown precarious future. The journey ahead would be hard and full of peril, but God had already laid a foundation for trust. Read through Zechariah 8 (NIV):
Again the word of the LORD Almighty came to me. This is what the LORD Almighty says: "I am very jealous for Zion; I am burning with jealousy for her."
This is what the LORD says: "I will return to Zion and dwell in Jerusalem. Then Jerusalem will be called the City of Truth, and the mountain of the LORD Almighty will be called the Holy Mountain."
This is what the LORD Almighty says: "Once again men and women of ripe old age will sit in the streets of Jerusalem, each with cane in hand because of his age. The city streets will be filled with boys and girls playing there."
This is what the LORD Almighty says: "It may seem marvelous to the remnant of this people at that time, but will it seem marvelous to me?" declares the LORD Almighty.
This is what the LORD Almighty says: "I will save my people from the countries of the east and the west. I will bring them back to live in Jerusalem; they will be my people, and I will be faithful and righteous to them as their God."
This is what the LORD Almighty says: "You who now hear these words spoken by the prophets who were there when the foundation was laid for the house of the LORD Almighty, let your hands be strong so that the temple may be built. Before that time there were no wages for man or beast. No one could go about his business safely because of his enemy, for I had turned every man against his neighbor. But now I will not deal with the remnant of this people as I did in the past," declares the LORD Almighty.
"The seed will grow well, the vine will yield its fruit, the ground will produce its crops, and the heavens will drop their dew. I will give all these things as an inheritance to the remnant of this people. As you have been an object of cursing among the nations, O Judah and Israel, so will I save you, and you will be a blessing. Do not be afraid, but let your hands be strong."
This is what the LORD Almighty says: "Just as I had determined to bring disaster upon you and showed no pity when your fathers angered me," says the LORD Almighty, "so now I have determined to do good again to Jerusalem and Judah. Do not be afraid. These are the things you are to do: Speak the truth to each other, and render true and sound judgment in your courts; do not plot evil against your neighbor, and do not love to swear falsely. I hate all this," declares the LORD.
Again the word of the LORD Almighty came to me. This is what the LORD Almighty says: "The fasts of the fourth, fifth, seventh and tenth months will become joyful and glad occasions and happy festivals for Judah. Therefore love truth and peace."
This is what the LORD Almighty says: "Many peoples and the inhabitants of many cities will yet come, and the inhabitants of one city will go to another and say, 'Let us go at once to entreat the LORD and seek the LORD Almighty. I myself am going.' And many peoples and powerful nations will come to Jerusalem to seek the LORD Almighty and to entreat him."
This is what the LORD Almighty says: "In those days ten men from all languages and nations will take firm hold of one Jew by the hem of his robe and say, 'Let us go with you, because we have heard that God is with you.' "
How do we know we can trust him? Because he's given his word. What promises speak to you about well-placed dependence?
Next Sunday, we dig deep into Ezra and into our own spiritual identity. We'll be taking a strong, possibly painful look at holiness -- not the easy, breezy kind, but the holiness that makes you squirm.
Have fun fasting this week.
Sunday, February 17, 2008
"Grace," I said.
"I should have guessed! That's kind of your 'theme' isn't it? Grace?"
Oh yeah. That it is.
Here's one to talk about. If you come up with answers, please let me know.
Mankind was made to live best -- to thrive -- in an environment of grace. But because of The Fall, we would much rather dig out of our situation ourselves. God has never abandoned his original plans, and has provided a way, through the sacrifice of his own son, to provide the grace environment for us again.
As applies to church life, how can we create an environment of grace in which people can thrive? Can we? Have you ever been in a place of grace? Have you ever been in a church that provided that environment? How did it work?
Next week at GCF: We'll open up Ezra 8 and learn about Courageous Dependence.
Have a warm week.
Sunday, February 10, 2008
Always a good question, based on the evidence. He's always going to try to derail God's work, and he does not want God's plans in us to succeed. So what are we supposed to do?
The answer is alarmingly simple, but not easy.
Imagine walking through a dangerous jungle. Alone, you are vulnerable and open to attack. But if you take someone with you, you might be able to avoid harm. If you are accompanied by a guide who knows the jungle thoroughly, you're even better protected. If you're walking alongside someone who created the jungle, knows every path, every beast, every detail, and has the power over every circumstance you will ever face in the jungle, you can be quite confident and assured of safety. And if that's the case, it just makes sense to stay as close to that person as you possibly can.
So it is with Jesus. We could try to turn around and battle the enemy on our own, but that's not always going to work. Instead, it makes sense to stay as close as we can to Jesus, who has already been victorious over Satan, and trust in the safety of his love and power.
How has Satan caused discouragement in your life? How have you been able to deal with it?
Next Sunday, we'll be looking at Ezra 6: "The Ezra Method."
Enjoy your week.
Wednesday, February 6, 2008
Have you been practicing your chedvah? Good.
"The joy of the Lord is my strength." How?
This joy that brings strength proves powerful when it springs up in a person. It is like a big wave when it multiplies through a group of people. Can you imagine this kind of joy invading Grace Christian Fellowship? Can you see what that could mean?
How does joy operate? How do we find it, grow it, share it, show it? How do we practice the joy that leads to strength?
Next week at GCF Sunday: Facing Off with Opposition from Ezra 4-5. Have a good rest of the week.
Sunday, January 27, 2008
The first three chapters of Ezra provides ample evidence that the most important thing to the returning Jews was worship. If you combed through your life, would you find similar evidence of the priority of worship? Here are some of the ways the evidence showed up in Ezra. Use these categories to evaluate the priority of worship in your life.
- The way you spend the budget
- The way you organize your family
- The way you spend your time
- The way you use your talent
- The way you express your emotions
- The way you evaluate your life
While you're thinking about Sunday, on a practical note, let me know how you feel about the new InfoCard.
May you find grace this week.
Monday, January 14, 2008
What are we going to do with the kids?
That's what the disciples asked, and their answer was to send them away. Jesus got especially angry with this decision, and he rebuked his friends.
Yesterday at Grace Christian Fellowship we talked about what we "do" with kids. Here are some questions I asked that we need to answer:
- How do we welcome kids? How do we show children hospitality?
- How do we protect the hearts of kids? Are we reactive or proactive?
- How are we clearing the pathway to Jesus for kids? What obstacles are we removing?
- How are we blessing children? What does it mean to "bless" kids?
Ironic that when we were setting up tables for our ministry meeting, we used the tables the kids needed to eat on. I never considered that they would need the tables more than the adults.
The answers to these questions have to do with Grace Christian Fellowship's overall approach and philosophy of children's ministry. Do we see our role as glorified babysitters, caring for the kids so their parents can be spiritually fed? Or do we see children's ministry as actual ministry to children?
Or we could approach it this way: Would we have ministry to children if none of the adults at our church had children? Hmmm....
What do you think? What do we do with the kids?
"Jesus said to them, "Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these."
Have a great week. Next Sunday, the beginning of an exciting new series, "Back Where We Belong."