Thursday, October 13, 2016

For conscience sake..

If you set out to read the Bible in a year you'll find that 1-2 Samuel and 1-2 Kings is followed by a somewhat repetitive story in 1-2 Chronicles.  Like the Gospels there are times when these stories are telling the same story but giving slightly different details.  One such occurrence takes place as Rehoboam ascends to the throne in 2 Chronicles 12.  If you remember Rehoboam was Solomon's son and Solomon had ended his rule poorly by worshipping other gods.  The consequence God says is that the kingdom would be split in two with most of the nation no longer following God's choice for them with David's descendants as their kings, but now will be ruled by another (1 Kings 11:9-13).  There in 1 Kings the picture seems pretty bleak, saying that none but the tribe of Judah stayed and was ruled by Rehoboam (David's grandson).  In 1 Chronicles the details are a bit different as the text says that Judah and Benjamin stayed, but it goes on and states that the Levites migrated to Judah along with all "who set their hearts on seeking the Lord God of Israel," (2 Chronicles 11:16).   

I have often wondered what God would have wanted His followers to do who lived in other parts of Israel at that time?  What was the solution or the right choice for the faithful to honor God and shine as a light for the world around them.  What we see in Chronicles is that many of the faithful worshippers of the LORD in Israel defected and moved to Judah.  How could they not, I mean their culture was caving all around them.  Their worship, which had always taken place in Jerusalem was now restricted, a new false religion was setup by the state and they were the minority.  Now mind you this took place around 922 B.C.  But this is where these books compliment one another so brilliantly!  You see in 1 Kings 19 around 70 years after the division of the kingdom Elijah is in Israel trying to proclaim the Word of God to a nation that has long since moved away.  Elijah is deeply discouraged and depressed and lonely.  God proclaims a series of messages to him to encourage him, one of which states, "I will leave 7,000 in Israel, all the knees that have not bowed to Baal."  How were there 7,000 in Israel if they all fled to Judah?  

The reality is that some of the faithful left, perhaps the majority, but others chose to stay.  Why?  Why in the face of persecution and an increasingly pagan society would they have stayed?  It seems God led them to stay to remain salt and light in that fallen nation.  So which group was right, those who left or those who stayed?  Both of them.  Both of them were guided by their conscience and their faith in the Lord and it led them to make different decisions about the same situation.  

As I have grown older I have found this principle so helpful.  There are a variety of different choices we must make about topics that are not specifically addressed in Scripture.  Questions about education, politics, and diet are being thrown around and yet you find faithful believers on different sides.  Some home school while others choose public school.  Some are voting while others will not.  Too often we as individuals will make decisions and assume everyone else in the same situation would make the same choice we did.  When they don't, we immediately move to judgment and condemnation.  The reality is that in these decisions where God does not specifically say what His people are to do, our conscience is to guide us.  Here's where it get's tricky, my conscience is different from yours and will leave me to make a different decision (see Romans 14).  The danger is when I make my decision, assuming it is best for everyone and tell you to do the same.  That's legalism and not only does it put a stumbling block before my brother but it breaks down the unity and diversity that the body of Christ is to exhibit. 

Instead, let us be exhorting one another, to be seeking God's direction, trusting that the Lord will lead them to make the right decision by faith.  As Paul says, "The faith which you have, have as your own conviction before God."  This is an area where the Lord is stretching me, so that whether one chooses to leave or stay I can trust that the Lord was leading them to make that decision based on their convictions just as He did me and praise God that the diversity more fully reflects His heart and accomplishes His purposes.

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

More than just a season...

I sometimes joke about the idea that in heaven I hope the place the Lord provides for me has a perfected lawn.  I don't know why but I love those yards where the grass is thick and cut short and well maintained, to me that just looks like the type of home I would like to call my own!  Needless to say my grass never looks like that.  For a while I thought I had perfected the art of killing grass in my own yard.  Early on in my adventures in adulthood I did it all wrong.  I never watered, I cut the grass way too short, and I bagged the clippings.  All the things that an expert or a simple google search would tell you not to do!  About two years ago I had a friend who owns his own lawn care business who finally sat down and told me how to take care of it.  It took a while, but I'm finally understanding more about how to keep a yard and take care of it.  

Since that time I've learned the importance of fertilizing, watering regularly, of cutting the grass to a certain length that is not too short, and not bagging the clippings.  My yard looks better than it has in years, but the grass still isn't as thick as I wish it was.  The other day I commented to Jen how much of yard maintenance is a process that just takes time, even several years.  I find that truth to be such an important reminder to my heart.  Too often I can become fooled into thinking that change or growth can and should happen rapidly.  So much of our world continues to value speed and see it as correlating with productivity and effectiveness.  We are fooled into thinking that in our work place, we can be guilty of wanting change to happen quickly in our parenting strategies, even in the way we look at our own lives and habits that need to be broken or change.  In some ways, losing our connection to the ground (from which we came mind you), prevents us from remembering the slow methodical way that God chooses to work in our world.  Incredibly, when Jesus appeared on the scene and began teaching and telling stories many of His' parables were taking agriculture or common topics and using them as illustrations of a deeper point.  Certainly this was to bridge the gap for His listeners, but I wonder if some of the choice of a seed, a field, or even yeast that Jesus used as illustrations for the kingdom were done intentionally to emphasize the steady and persistent working of His kingdom?  These were all topics that his listeners understood didn't happen rapidly or in one season, but could take years to accomplish their goal.

My hope is that my yard will continue to look thicker and healthier as I have learned how to care for it more effectively.  I recognize now that it will take seasons and years before it looks the way I would like.  There are small and subtle changes that I notice from time to time because it is steadily growing and permeating to other areas of the yard.  That's the way the kingdom is working both in my heart and all around me as well.  Our role is to responsibly participate in His kingdom work by patiently and faithfully committing our lives to the work.  Sometimes we will see fruit, sometimes not, but God is in charge of the transformation, we are simply called to the task of serving and sharing.  That's a reminder to myself and others not to become weary of the task but to as Paul said, press on towards the goal God has given to us in Christ Jesus.

Thursday, March 3, 2016

Sin Spirals

Have you ever found yourself in a bad situation, having to make a choice between two bad options and wondered how did I get there?  The best example I have is driving home from a ski trip late one evening.  We had to leave the lodge that evening to avoid being snowed in.  We drove through the night on a road we didn't know down to Albuquerque New Mexico.  We stopped for gas late in the evening well past midnight at a pretty sketchy gas station.  There were bars on the window, and a number of guys outside drinking something out of a brown papered bag.  As we were pumping for gas I remember thinking, "How did it get to this?"

I imagine the Biblical characters often had that same reflection.  Recently as I was reading through Genesis in my own devotional time I came to the story of Abram, Sarai, and Hagar in Genesis 16 and for the first time a detail in the story stuck out to me.  Verse one says, "Now Sarai, Abram's wife had borne him no children, and she had an Egyptian maid whose name was Hagar."  If you know the story, God had promised Abram a son through his wife Sarai, but they were both old, advanced beyond child bearing years and they grew worried.  Rather than clinging to the promises of God, their hands get fidgety and they decide to make the promise happen through their own schemes.  Sarai gives Abram Hagar and tells him to take her and have a child through her.    The conclusion they were making was that this must be how God meant to fulfill the promise.  Abram agrees and takes Hagar and has a son through her.  Literally, the Middle East has not been the same since that moment.  Hagar's son Ishmael is the patriarch of the Arab nation.  Sarai's soon to be born son Isaac, the patriarch of the Jewish nation.  The two nations have warred for thousands of years, even to this day.

Sin has long lasting and far reaching consequences that we don't perceive in the moment.  Going back to the garden, the consequences of Adam and Eve's action couldn't possibly be known or understood in that moment.  For Abram, the same could be true as well.  Yet, the sin began before chapter 16.  Notice Hagar is said to be an Egyptian.  That begs the question, when did they pick up this Egyptian servant?  Going back to Genesis 12:10 we see Abram and Sarai in the Promised Land that God had given them, yet there's a problem, there is a famine.  In that moment, Abram has a decision to make, trust the God who brought him to this land to provide despite the shortage or to try and fix it on his own.  The text gives no indication that Abram received direction or permission to go to Egypt, instead he goes on his own.  He acts not based on faith, but fear.  In doing so his wife likely picked up a young Egyptian servant named Hagar.  Later, when Sarai comes with this idea about taking Hagar and having a son through her, Abram is confronted with a choice, act based on faith or fear and he again chooses fear.

Sin has a way of sending our lives in a direction we don't intend.  In the case of Abram, not only was the sin seen in Genesis 16, but it was built on the sinful decision to go to Egypt in Genesis 12.  We see other examples of this in Scripture.  David's colossal sins of adultery and murder were deeply connected and decisions that reflected fear rather than faith.  In our own lives, the decisions we make to cover up or solve an issue reflect a prior sin or rejection of faith.

I take heart in knowing that despite times in which Abram displayed such faithlessness, that over and over again in the New Testament he is held up as a model of walking by faith.  Abram's faith was not perfect or free of doubt, for he had many failures.  It was however persistent and that should be our goal as well.

I also find Genesis to be a story too often told about the faith of a man, rather than the faithfulness of his God.  Genesis is a broken story from Genesis 3 to the very end.  Abraham despite moments of great faith, fails.  In that brokenness and failure the God who promised to work through Abram remains constant and effectively uses him and his seed to accomplish His purpose on this world.  That reminder should provide us with hope, that despite our sin, brokenness, and even the spirals that we find ourselves in, God's faithfulness remains constant and effectively works to accomplish His glory.

Thursday, January 7, 2016

When seasons lag

Over the last four years as Jen and I have lived in Texas we've become aware that seasons in Texas do not resemble those four seasons of spring, summer, fall, and winter that we became accustomed to in Oklahoma.  Oh sure Texas has those four seasons, its just that Summer lasts from June to mid October, fall takes place sometime between Halloween and mid December, and winter picks up prior to Christmas and lasts through February.  The difficulty for me in the adjustment has just been with the summer.  When your a.c. is still running in late October that season has lagged too long for me! 

In so many ways life reflects the Texas seasons much more than it does your typical and conventional calendar.  For each of us, we've experienced seasons that seemed to end abruptly that we wished would have lasted longer.  Perhaps that was a job that we enjoyed or a season of living closer to family or a good friend.  Other seasons seemed to last too long.  In those season we longed for change.  Perhaps that was a season of discontent with a relationship or job or perhaps it was personal discouragement that we longed to overcome.  

Throughout Scripture we see the people of God experiencing similar seasons that lag.  Joseph sat in a prison cell for years awaiting deliverance and justice from God with no end in sight to his nightmare.  David waited while on the run as a fugitive to someday be the king God had promised to make him.  Simeon waited for years to hold the promised Messiah that God had promised.  The apostle John waited for his returning King and Lord. God's slow and methodically steady hand has always been at work using the time and the waiting in the lives of his servants.  

As Peter mentions as he says, "But do not forget this one thing, dear friends: With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day.  The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.

Over the last several months I have been reminded of God's goodness in the waiting.  That in spite of my desires for Him to work more quickly or transition us to a different season or stage that His purposes are refining in my own life and working for good.  Here are a few principles that have been so helpful for me to learn:

  • God's called me to be present  in this moment, not consumed with what is next.   Too often we can find ourselves concerned and focused on the next season that we forget about the present one.  As Jesus says in Matthew 6, " Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own."  God knows how often I have found myself guilty of thinking about the next stage of parenting rather than being all in with my child in the present moment or thinking about the next season rather than fully investing with those relationships around me now.  In doing so I'm missing opportunities to see Him at work and losing time to invest my life in others.  Like Paul says, we are called to make the most of our time.
  • God's timetable operates different than my own.  In my complaints about lagging seasons and stages that I'm eager to transition on there is an undercurrent from which those feelings flows that, if I were to be honest reflect a battle I fight with the idol of control.  Ultimately my complaints reveal that deep down I think I have a better idea for how this story should be written, the length of each chapter, and the details of the script.  These complaints are my balking with the way this story is going.  Instead of complaining, I must choose to trust that in the same way that God worked through the persistent faith of His servants long ago, God is also working in my own life at a speed that is steady and persistent.  My role is to trust that His timing can accomplish something in me (dependence) that can't be done in two minutes or less. 
  • Rejoice all the more when those seasons of Spring lag. In just the same way that I have experienced seasons that were difficult or challenging that I longed to end, I have also experienced sweet seasons of spring where goodness and joy exceeded what I deserved.  In those seasons my response is to rejoice and express thanksgiving for God's compassion.  Over the last several months Jen and I have been remarked how grateful and content we are.  We are in a season where God's undeserved graciousness to us has overflowed what we deserve and we rejoice.  

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Unsung Heroes

Despite where you might look one finds within our culture that we are trained to request, seek, and demand the attention of others.  It's everywhere, it's why football stars come up with touchdown celebrations that scream, "Look at me!"  It's why celebrities try and one up one another on the red carpet or the awards shows.  It's why political discourse has grinded to a halt and personal attacks and one-line zingers have become the norm among political leaders.  It is the result of the idol of approval  taking over and controlling the affection of one's heart.  It certainly is an idol that many of us likely struggle, but that is for another day.

But rather than writing a post about the discouragement we must all feel as we look around and see a society that molds us into being self-absorbed as we seek the praise, approval and eyes of others, too often we miss the incredible reality that behind every star or touchdown dance, there are those whose job was to block so that he had the chance.  Behind every celebrity making a fool of themselves on stage at an awards show is a bass player who is faithfully playing his chords with no acclaim.  Behind every politician that takes the opportunity to use his platform to blast another is an aid who is researching and reading the actual law and sharing advice with the politician that would best benefit his constituents.  These are somewhat thankless jobs, the unseen heroes.

For whatever reason these have always held a soft spot in my heart.  My best friends in high school were not the diva wide receivers, but our offensive linemen.  They were critical to any success that I or others had, but seldom were recognized outside of our locker room.  In young adulthood I got to know some guys who had played in bands as a bassist or drummer.  I appreciated so much their perseverance and the incredible investment that their talent and vision had on the music that was produced, yet the mic was rarely given to them in an interview.  In each case their investment and presence was absolutely essential yet rarely noticed or appreciated as much as they deserved.

As I have had opportunities to lead in local churches, my eye is regularly looking for those who are serving, leading, and investing but are rarely noticed.  Those who are the unseen heroes in a church.  The list could be plenty long.  I think of those who serve faithfully in children's ministry.  My in-law's have taught Sunday School at their church for early elementary kids for over twenty years.  They are investing week to week with kids and as faithful as they come.  They have been an incredible example to me of faithfulness and endurance in ministry.  I think of those custodians who keep the place in order and clean.  At the church where I work now, I love driving up to see a red pickup truck as Calvin is already at work.  That building is in order and he is making sure that things are ready for the activities of the day.  I can't imagine the place without him!  I think of those who serve in positions of leadership on a deacon/elder board.  The decisions that they are forced to wrestle and pray over are immense and their Godly wisdom and discernment not only for Scripture but for the signs of the time are necessary for the sheep in that local congregation.  I've been so grateful for the leaders at both churches where I've served.  Their faithfulness has left a mark in my life and always been a request I've prayed, that they would continue to fight the good fight.

The list could and should go on, but here are three ways that I'm trying to express my appreciation for unsung heroes near me;

  1. Expressing my thanks in person.  It certainly is not a radical idea, but just take a moment to tell them personally how much I appreciate them and their service.  I want them to know that I see and am grateful for their investment.
  2. Express my thanks by card & gift.  Ever since Jen and I had kids we tried to give gifts to our boys' Sunday School teachers.  We believe strongly in their impact and want them to know how much they mean to us.  It usually is a hand written card and some pastry around Christmas or a craft and gift card at the end of the year, but we simply want them to know their investment is noticed and worth it in our eyes.
  3. Imitation.  They say that imitation is the highest form of flattery.  In my case that means seeking out jobs that nobody notices and doing them.  I used to request that I get to clean the Youth House because I wanted a job that went unseen.  I want to be faithful even if nobody is approving or saying good job.  In some ways it sows humility that I need in my heart and my hope is that it will reap selflessness in my life as well.

Saturday, August 15, 2015

William Gibson Felker

As I lay on the couch next to a sleeping newborn in his jaundice bed, I can't hardly believe we are back at this stage again.  Athan was born five years ago and so in many ways it seems we've outgrown this newborn stage!  But in so many ways Jen and I are jubilant to have another little gift from above to care and teach.

William Gibson Felker was born August 9th at 5:27 p.m.  Like Hudson before him, that was a Sunday which always makes for an exciting day with church and the arrival of a new child!  He was early, like his brother Athan as his due date was not until August 27th.  In many ways he followed a similar line to his older brothers, but in many ways he carved his own path.  He is our first Texas baby, which comes with all of that state pride woven into the D.N.A.  He is our first C-section (He was breach so Jen didn't have a choice!).

As with the other two, Jen and I were committed to naming this one after heroes of the faith.  As the boys have grown older those conversations about their namesakes, Hudson Taylor and Athanasius have been a sweet way to reinforce the dependence upon the Lord and faithfulness to His plan that we pray and long the boys would emulate.  With this one Jen and I would both admittedly struggle to decide.  We love the boys' names and wanted something that we loved as much this time around.  Jen has always loved the name William and wanted to use it.  A few months ago she asked if I would read a biography by someone named William so we could use the name!  Certainly there are some great heroes that would do such as William Carey, the first modern missionary or William Wilberforce, who championed the end of the slave trade in the British Empire, but I settled on a biography about William Tyndale.

Tyndale was the first to translate the Bible into English from the Hebrew and Greek.   He did so at a time in which this was a capital offense in England.  As a result he fled to Europe to find a printer who would print his translations for him.  He moved around from town to town to stay hidden, but was eventually caught and martyred.  As he was being burned at the stake, he prayerfully said, "Lord, open the king of England's eyes."  As I read the biography about this humble servant whose work is so often forgotten, I couldn't help but consider what joy and direction I find in my English Bible and how thankful I am for men like William Tyndale whose love for the Word of God compelled him to lay his life down in faithfulness to the Lord in order to provide other English speakers with the ability to read the Word of God in their own tongue.  Tyndale's story is one I am looking forward to sharing with William in the years ahead!

In deciding on a middle name, Jen and I again reflected back on another servant of the Lord, named John G. Paton, the "king of the Cannibals".  Paton was a missionary to cannibals in the S. Pacific islands.  His devotion to them and seeing them hear and respond to the gospel meant the loss of his wife and small child and danger for many years, but his commitment to the Lord's call was unwavering.  Paton's biography was perhaps the first missionary biography I ever read and got me hooked!  It seemed a wonderful way to remember his life and story by using his middle name, Gibson, as William's middle name as well.

The world is truly not worthy of men like William Tyndale and John Gibson Paton, whose devotion to His Word and His work globally makes them to shine as the stars in the sky.  Our prayer this night and each night is that William would love the Lord, would pursue to know Him by looking and reading and studying His Word, and would follow the Lord's call wherever that takes Him.

 "The LORD has done great things for us; and we are filled with joy."

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Jesus throws the best parties?

Over the last several years I have been indebted to many within the missional movement.  Their emphasis on the church and its purpose being outside of itself is so essential for a post-Christendom world.  I've been blessed to have the opportunity to go to conferences, visit with some of these speakers, and read many of their books and publications.  Despite so much that I am thankful to them for, I have heard one idea that continues to be tossed out in these circles and continues to unsettle me each time I read or hear it.

My issue comes in the form of the way they portray Jesus during His time on Earth.  In much of their writings and speaking a picture is painted as Jesus "throwing" or "having" the best parties.  The argument is based on their argument that we as Christians should be mingling with our neighbors as our lives are intertwined with them.  One of the examples of how to do this is by throwing parties such as block parties.  The statement has been made Jesus threw the best parties, so shouldn't we do the same?  But we have to ask the question, Is that what Scripture presents?

Here is a quick take of the gospel accounts and Jesus either attending a party, talking about a party, or being accused of attending a party or socially communing with others.

-9:9-14           Levi’s Party
-11:19            “Son of Man came eating and drinking,” – Claim made by Jesus' opponents
-22 and 25      Parable of Wedding Feast
-26:6-13         Jesus’ body prepared for burial with perfume
-26:17-19       Last Supper- Jesus was the One who made preparations

-2:15-18         Matthew’s (Levi) Party
-14:1-9           Mary pours perfume for Jesus
-14:13-15       Jesus sends two disciples to Upper Room ahead of the rest

-5:29               Matthew's (Levi) Party
-7:36               Jesus dines with the Pharisee (Simon) as woman washes his feet.
-9:58               Foxes have holes* (I'll come back to this...)
-11:37-38        Jesus dines with Pharisee
-14:1               Jesus dines with one of the leaders of the Pharisees
-14:16             Parable of the banquet
-15:2               Pharisees claim he eats with sinners/tax-collectors
-19:1-10          Jesus stays (dines) with Zaccheus
-22:8               Jesus sends Peter and John to prepare the Upper Room
-24:30             Jesus shares a meal with 2 followers on the way to Emmaus

-2:1-11           Wedding in Cana
-12:1-8           Dining with Lazarus as Mary pours perfume
-13:1               Last Supper
-21:1               Firepit on the beach with disciples

Here are a few observations;
  1. Perhaps surprisingly, the gospels record Jesus sharing more meals with Pharisees or leaders of the Jews than sinners or tax-collectors.  That's the irony of the Luke 15:2 accusation!  Jesus certainly shared meals with the outcast, but he wasn't opposed to dining with the elite or upper class either.  
  2. In terms of hosting or throwing a party the Lord's Supper is the closest thing to Jesus hosting a party in the gospels.  
  3. In Luke 9:58 we find a truth that is critical to understanding the connection between Jesus, His first coming, and attendance at parties.  In that passage Jesus makes the statement, "foxes have holes and the birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head."  In the first coming Jesus came as a suffering servant who had no home, no place that was His.  As John  said, "He came to His own, and those who were His own rejected Him."  He had no place in which He could host His party or display hospitality, but that was the design of the first coming.  Jesus came in humility and embraces His role in a place that was not His own, He attended parties with sinners, tax-collector's, religious elite, and leaders of the day.  Despite the background, motivation, or hostility towards Him, Jesus united with them in that most basic human connection of sharing a meal with them.
  4. At the Last Supper in Matthew 26:29, Jesus alludes to a time in which He will throw a party in the kingdom, a meal known as the marriage supper of the Lamb. 
So what does this mean for us?
  • First, it means we can't claim Jesus threw or went to the best parties.  Scripture doesn't paint that picture.  Instead, the parties Jesus went to were either motivated by elite's trying to catch him in sin or by a recent convert bringing Jesus back to introduce him to his tax-collecting buddies, but this doesn't seem to be the event of the year in any of their minds. Even the wedding in Cana where Jesus turned the water to wine Jesus does covertly. 
  • Second, Jesus' example of acceptance and value for meals is still something to emulate.  Despite the fact that Jesus set aside the means to host by coming to the world as a Suffering Servant, He continued to dine and socialize with folks from a variety of different lifestyles.  Sinners weren't too low to have an audience with our Lord, nor those whose intentions were malicious too guilty to break bread with Him.  As a result, when we think of those we may spend time socializing with, whether we have the opportunity to host them or visa-versa, do they reveal the same time of diversity as His or is the audience homogenous to our own background and beliefs?
  • Third, Jesus will throw the best of all parties. The problem with a great party is that at some point it has to attend.  Jesus alludes to the kingdom of God, when peace and justice and unity will exist between all participants for all time.  That is the party He will host and the one we long to enjoy forever. Until that time, social gatherings of all kinds are a means for us to talk about our hope, to express our love, and walk by faith in Him who is coming quickly and invites all to come.