Partnership with God

 

I sometimes envy others who are connected to people in “high places”.  Doors of opportunity just seem to magically open for them. They seem to be able to accomplish more, to do more significant things, and overall operate on a higher plane of existence.

Of course, it’s not true. But sometimes I’m tempted to believe the lie. The lie that if I was better connected life would be better.

Can you relate?

Do you have a list (maybe just in your head) of people you wished you knew? Or better yet, do you have a list of people you wished knew you?

Yeah, me neither 🙂

Here’s the good news!

We don’t have to envy others in “high places” anymore.

The God of the universe not only knows us but created us to be in a relationship with Him. But not just any kind of relationship. God created us to be in partnership with Him.

What does that mean?

Watch this short video and find out:

 

For more great videos like this go to www.jointhebibleproject.com

More than just naked people…

 

Typically when I think of Adam and Eve the first thing that comes to my mind is that they were “the first naked people.” Because every time I read the story of Adam and Eve from a picture Bible to my kids, one of them giggles and says, “their naked.” And now sadly I can’t get that out of my head.

But Adam and Eve were more than just “the first naked people”.  Adam and Eve were the first King and Queen of Earth.

Early Christian depiction Early Christian depictions of Adam and Eve in the Catacombs of Marcellinus and Peter

Early Christian depiction of Adam and Eve in the Catacombs of Marcellinus and Peter

This is different than how we often picture them. But for the original audience, the language of Genesis 1 made this very clear.

In Genesis 1: 26-28 we read,

26 Then God said, “Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.”

27 So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.

28 God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground

 

First, Adam and Eve were made in the image of God. This was significant. As Old Testament scholar Bruce Waltke points out, in ancient Near Eastern literature only kings were made in the image of God.

Waltke writes,

‘Image’ entails more than human form and the capability of social relationships, it confers the functional notion of duty and authority. The ancient New Eastern literature validates this inferences. For example, in Assyria only kings were thought to be in the image of god.

[An Assyrian proverb states] ‘A (free) man is as the shadow of God, the slave as the shadow of a (free) man; but the king, he is like unto the (very) image of god.”[1]

Second we see from Genesis 1:26-28 that God commanded Adam and Eve to “rule” and “subdue” the land and its inhabitants. These words shouted to the reader that Adam and Eve were to act as King and Queen over all that God had put before them. Old Testament scholar Peter Leithart summarizes Genesis 1:26-28 this way,

“As God is king of the whole creation, so Adam is to be king of the animals and birds, with Eve the queen at his side”[2]

That Adam and Eve were described as royalty is very relevant for us today. Waltke writes,

“Genesis 1 confers this authoritative status of God’s image to all human beings, so that we are all kings given the responsibility to rule as God’s vice-regents over the earth.”[3]

Every decedent of Adam was made like Adam, and therefore is part of his royal lineage. We are given the same responsibilities to be little kings and queens serving the great King, God himself.

Now this is at once both good and sobering news. For as a king Adam fell. He rebelled against God and sought to exalt his kingdom over God’s kingdom. And in Adam we all fell as well. And have been little rebel kings and queens ever since.

Because of this, many years after Adam and Eve a new son of Adam would come. He too was a king. But he was not like his earthy ancestor. He was like his heavenly Father. He would bring a new kingdom. A perfect kingdom. He would bring to earth the kingdom of God.

And he would invite every son and daughter of Adam to lay down his or her own kingdom and instead come under his rule.

Why would we do this?

Because his kingdom, the Kingdom of God is not only a better Kingdom, it is the only everlasting kingdom. And unlike Adam, this king, Jesus, is the perfect king.

Like Adam and Eve, we too are more than just naked people. We are royalty.

But the question we royals face everyday is, will we use our royal status to work for our own kingdoms? Or will we submit our kingdom to the rule and authority of God’s kingdom and to its king Jesus Christ?

 

 

 

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[1] Bruce K Waltke. An Old Testament Theology: an exegetical, canonical, and thematic approach.

[2] Peter J. Leithart. A House For My Name: A survey of the Old Testament

[3] Bruce K Waltke. An Old Testament Theology: an exegetical, canonical, and thematic approach.

 

The Trouble With Democracy

Today is one of those days I’m tempted to feel nervous about the future. I just voted. But I have no way of knowing whether or not the people I voted for will do what they said they would do. Nor do I have any control over how other people voted. And there is a good chance some people, maybe a lot of people, voted for different people than me.

Which leads to fear. Fear that if we don’t get the right people in the right offices, all is lost.

I’m reading Revelation right now. It’s a great book that speaks comfort to those of us who struggle with political fear. Although the book does look toward the future it was written at a time when all the wrong people were in office. And for the people of God everything looked lost.

And yet through an apocalyptic vision give to the Apostle John, God’s people are given hope. Hope that even when the wrong people are in power, and those wrong people are abusing their power, God is still in control. And though there are seasons to come when God’s people will feel powerless, ultimately there will come a time when God wins. That is there will come a time when all power (political or otherwise) will be taken back by the hands of God, and specifically put into the hands of the God-Man Jesus Christ.

In Revelation 15:1-4 we read:

I saw in heaven another great and marvelous sign: seven angels with the seven last plagues—last, because with them God’s wrath is completed. And I saw what looked like a sea of glass glowing with fire and, standing beside the sea, those who had been victorious over the beast and its image and over the number of its name. They held harps given them by God and sang the song of God’s servant Moses and of the Lamb:

“Great and marvelous are your deeds,
Lord God Almighty.
Just and true are your ways,
King of the nations.
Who will not fear you, Lord,
and bring glory to your name?
For you alone are holy.
All nations will come
and worship before you,
for your righteous acts have been revealed.”

 

Maybe I’m a little anti-democracy, but I look forward to the day when I don’t have to vote anymore. I look forward to the day when there are no more political campaigns or commercials. When I no longer have to do research to find out who are the best candidates. And I no longer have to trust that the candidates I chose will work out.

I look forward to the day when there is one King of Kings over all the nations and all power rests in his hands. I look forward to that day, because on that day I can live free from the temptation of fear, knowing that the one who is in every way perfect is now ruling over all things.

 

Two simple things parents can do to keep their kids walking with God

 

At some point every parent realizes time with their kids is running out. That their kids will soon leave the house. That their kids will soon make life choices without their consent.  As Christians we worry that one of those choices might be to walk away from their faith.

It’s a valid concern.

According to LifeWay Research, “70% of young adults who indicated they attended church regularly for at least one year in high school do, in fact, drop out”[1]. About two-thirds will eventually return at some point, but nevertheless that is a large number, even if it is just for a season.

So what can parents do to beat the statistics?

It may be of some comfort to know that this is not a new problem. In fact, it is a very old problem.

About 3,000 years ago a Levite named Asaph, who worked as a musician for King David, wrote Psalm 78. Within the song Asaph speaks of what must be done so that the next generation will not become “a stubborn and rebellious generation, whose hearts were not loyal to God, whose spirits were not faithful to him.”(Ps 78:8)

Asaph is concerned for his kids, and all the children of Israel. He is concerned that one day they might not follow in the faith of their fathers.

So what is Asaph’s solution?

He commends parents (and leaders) to do just two things. Pass down the Deeds and Decrees of the Lord.

Deeds

In verse four Asaph writes,

 We will not hide them from their descendants; we will tell the next generation the praiseworthy deeds of the Lord, his power, and the wonders he has done.

And in verse seven he writes,

Then they would put their trust in God and would not forget his deeds

For Asaph, telling the next generation what God has done was of utmost importance. He understood that in order for people (of all ages) to know God, they must first hear about the works of God.

Today God calls parents to do the same thing. We are called to simply share with our kids what God has done. But not just in the Bible. We’re called to share what God has done, and is doing, in our lives.

I’ve found that most students want to hear how God is working in the lives of their parents. They don’t want a lecture. But they do want a story. They’d like to hear about a time when their parents needed God’s help and how he came through.

As a parent, your stories offer hope to your students. Hope that the same God who helped you will in turn be the same God who will help them.

Decrees

Stories are great. But stories alone are not enough to sustain the faith of a student. Asaph longed to pass down more than stories. He also longed to pass down the decrees of God.

In verses 5-7 he writes,

He decreed statutes for Jacob and established the law in Israel, which he commanded our ancestors to teach their children, so the next generation would know them, even the children yet to be born, and they in turn would tell their children. Then they would put their trust in God and would not forget his deeds but would keep his commands.

For most of us, “commands/decrees” have a negative connotation. But Asaph knew the commands of God were good. He knew the words of King David:

Blessed is the one…whose delight is in the law of the Lord, and who meditates on his law day and night…whatever he does prospers. (Psalm 1:1-3)

He knew that people (of all ages) grow in a deeper relationship with God when they begin to delight in the decrees of God.

What might this look like for parents today?

Parents don’t have to hang the Ten Commandments on their kid’s bedroom wall (they can if they want). But they may want to talk to their kids about the choices they are making and why they are making them.

It is helpful for parents to explain to their kids why it is they follow the decrees of God. Parents can share why it is they don’t cheat on their taxes. Or why it is they don’t lie. They can share with their kids why it is they try to do what is right. And how doing what is right in God’s eyes has benefited them.

Again kids don’t want a lecture. But they are interested in real life case studies–especially from people they know. Giving them real life examples of the benefits of God’s decrees will show them that God can be trusted. It will show them God is good. And ultimately it will inspire them to delight in God.

We can’t force our kids to continue in a relationship with God. But we can model for them what an authentic relationship with God looks like. This happens when we spend time (lots of time) sharing with them the deeds of God and the benefits of the decrees of God. And when we do these two things we might just see our independent kids desiring to grow with God rather than choosing to walk away from God.

 

 

[1] http://www.christianitytoday.com/edstetzer/2014/may/dropouts-and-disciples-how-many-students-are-really-leaving.html?paging=off

 

The Known Universe

 You alone are the Lord. You made the heavens, even the highest heavens, and all their starry host, the earth and all that is on it, the seas and all that is in them. You give life to everything, and the multitudes of heaven worship you. (Nehemiah 9:6)

This video illustrates the scaled size of our observable universe. Each circle used in the video represents a scale factor of 10; meaning each larger circle is zoomed out 10 times more than the previous circle .

Grace In The Midst of Genocide

Mass killings in the Bible are always hard to deal with. This morning I read the uncomfortable story of Joshua chapter 8. If you’re unfamiliar with it, it’s the story of God giving the city of Ai to Joshua and the people of Israel. The only problem was that, in order to take the city, Joshua and his army of 30, 000 men had to burn the city and slaughter its 12,000 residents. The text even makes a point to tell us that the 12,000 included men and women (Josh. 8:25). It sounds like an act of genocide.

When I was younger, stories like this made me cheer for God. God’s army is the best. No one can stand in his way.

But now stories like this make me squirm. Killing 12,000 people…. really?

The story is brutal in its matter of fact description of the events. No emotion from God, no giving the people of Ai a way out, no love for the lost.

Instead it is just the story of God (through Joshua and his army) setting an ambush, burning the city, killing its inhabitants, and taking its plunder.

And yet, when seen in the greater narrative of the whole Bible, the story is also about grace. Not the grace given to the people of Ai, but the grace given to us.

The story reminds us that:

  1. All those who live in opposition to God’s kingdom and laws are subject to his wrath and face certain death (Rom. 6:23). And that God’s wrath is thorough.
  2. In a way we all, at one time, were citizens of the city of Ai (a kingdom opposed to God). Therefore we all were objects deserving of God’s wrath (Eph. 2:1-3).
  3. But God in his mercy called us out of the “condemned city” and he gave us the opportunity to repent, and to enter into “his city”. He gave us (the rebels) the opportunity to live under his sovereign protection and care (Eph. 2:4-9), able to live not just as aliens among his people, but as full citizens (Eph. 2:19), even as adopted sons and daughters of the King (Eph. 1:5).

But even in the midst of the grace, the story still has an edge. Because it points us to the future. A future which still includes wrath. Wrath not for us, but for all those who are still living in their own city of Ai (kingdoms opposed to God’s kingdom). For a time has been appointed by God, for Jesus (the better and more perfect Joshua) to judge, to conquer, and to lay waste to all those who oppose his kingdom.

Therefore those of us who are citizens of God’s city, recipients of God grace, should still pray for God’s mercy on all those we know. That they too, while they still can, will respond to the grace offered to them through Jesus, and turn from their opposition to his kingdom.

The idea of God ordering the slaughter of 12,000 people still doesn’t sit well with me. It is a dark story. But it is against the darkness where we find gratitude for the light. The story of Ai reminds us that God’s wrath and judgment are real. Yet through his son Jesus Christ he has made a way for us to escape that wrath and enter into his love. And knowing what could have been makes his grace, his forgiveness, and his protection that much sweeter.

 

Today, may we appreciate the grace given to us. And may we pray for those we know to receive and respond to that same grace.

I don’t think that means what you think it means…

In the last post I wrote about overcoming the comparison trap.  I said that when we understand that in God’s eyes we are blessed, we will be freed from temptation to compare ourselves with others.

But there was one problem with that post.

I never actually defined what it means to be “blessed”.

And the idea of being “blessed” is kind of abstract. We throw around the term in a variety of ways. We say things like:

“I feel blessed…”

“Bless you…”

“What a blessing that is…”

“I pray that God would bless…”

But what are we thinking when we speak of being blessed? What should we be thinking when we think of Christian blessings?

The truth is, “being blessed” likely doesn’t mean what you (and I) think it means.

In the BibleIsaac_Blessing_Jacob_-_Govert_Flinck

God blesses people when he gives them some kind of physical or spiritual gifts (Gen. 1:22; 24:35; Job 42:12; Ps. 45:2; 104:24, 35). A person blesses God when he shows God gratitude (Ps. 103:1, 2; 145:1, 2). A person blesses himself  when he rejoices in God’s goodness to him (Deut. 29:19; Ps. 49:18). And one person blesses another person when he expresses good wishes or prays to God for the welfare of the other person (Gen. 24:60; 31:55; 1 Sam. 2:20). [1]

So far this sounds like what we’d expect.

But in the New testament things get a little more interesting. The most common Greek word for “blessed” is makarios (see The Beatitudes). This word means “happy”.

But this is not the  Pharrell Williams kind of happy (nothing against the song). Being “blessed” is not based on a feeling. Rather makarios (“being blessed”) is based on a person’s status from the point of view of others. [2] In other words a person is “blessed” when they are favored by someone else. And it is the knowledge of that favor which brings about the person’s happiness.

This is the key to understanding being “blessed” in the Christian worldview. 

Being blessed is not something that comes from inside of us. Nor is it based on anything we do or have in and of ourselves. To be blessed is to be favored by someone else. When Jesus calls people “blessed” (again, see The Beatitudes) he is telling them they are favored by the greatest someone else— God himself.

This is the good news: through Jesus Christ any person can receive the favor of God!

Having the favor of God trumps all other favor. It’s the favor that levels the playing field. It is not about what a person has been given in relation to someone else. One gift from God is not better than another. The only thing that matters is that a person has the favor of God. For the favor of God is the blessing, not just the manifestations of that favor.

This is hard for us in the United States. We often equate being “blessed” with our allotment of physical goods — money, beauty, health, or other material things.

But God’s primary concern is not our financial and material well-being. The example of Paul in Phil 4:12-13 shows us that much.  Sometimes God blesses us with material resources and sometimes he doesn’t. So then, what is the big deal about God’s favor?

What good is God’s favor in our world?

Romans 8:31-35 answers that question well:

If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things? Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies. Who then is the one who condemns? No one. Christ Jesus who died—more than that, who was raised to life—is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?

Despite who we are or what we have done. Despite our social-economic condition or family’s colored past. Despite our failures, or sins. Despite our insecurities or weakness.

If we have the favor of God,  we are free from all condemnation. We have a new social status. We are members of a new family. We have a new inheritance waiting for us. We have been made into a new creation. We have been forgiven. We have the Spirit of God within us, and are able to draw on his security and strength.

To have the favor of God is to know, despite our external circumstances, that God is always for us. That He is always working things out for our good according to his purpose. That our story is (because of our relationship to God) always significant.

To have the favor of God is to know that the perfect, unconditional, eternal, incomprehensible love of God displayed through Jesus Christ is yours forever.

And the more we understand what that means we will understand what it means to be “blessed”.

 

 

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[1] Easton, M. G. (1893). Easton’s Bible dictionary. New York: Harper & Brothers.

[2] Carson, D. A. (1984). Matthew. In F. E. Gaebelein (Ed.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, Volume 8: Matthew, Mark, Luke (F. E. Gaebelein, Ed.) (131). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House.

 

 

 

True Identity

The other night I went with our high school students to watch How to Train your Dragon 2. As I watched the movie, I was reminded just how significant the question of identity is to each of us.

In the movie, the main character Hiccup seeks to answer the question, who am I?  He wonders if he could become the new village chief, even though he is nothing like the current chief–his father. He wonders where his spirit of curiosity, peace, and exploration comes from. In Hiccup’s mind, understanding who he is will determine what he should do.

For Hiccup, even though he is told to look within himself,  the answers to his questions of identity come from outside himself. Through the encouragement and wisdom of his family, friends, and community, he discovers who he is.

The movie reminds us that we all desire to know who we are.  That who we are will drive our actions. And that the answer to who am I? is actually found outside of ourselves.

This is the way God made us.

God made us to desire an answer to the question who am I? God made us so that our actions would be dependent on our identity. And God made us to search for our identity in things and people outside of ourselves.

Why?

God made us this way because it is his desire to give us our identity. And it is his desire that our actions be dependent (or motivated) by our God-given identity.

What is our God-given identity?

For those who have been adopted into the family of God through Jesus Christ, God says to them:

But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.

Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul. Keep your conduct among the Gentiles honorable, so that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation. (1 Peter 2:9-12:)

Notice, first God reminds his people who they are:

(1) Chosen race, (2) a royal priesthood, (3) a holy nation, (4) God’s possession, (5) God’s people, (6) receivers of mercy

Then he encourages them to act in manner that flows from that identity…

(1) Abstain from passions of the flesh, (2) keep your conduct honorable, (3) do good deeds.

Of course, the verses in 1 Peter are just a small sample of our God-given identity. In his book, Victory Over the Darkness: Realizing the Power of Your Identity in Christ, Neil Anderson provides us with a fuller picture of  our identity in Christ.  Take a moment and watch this video inspired by Anderson’s book:

Click here for a print version of “Who I Am In Christ”

Because of what Jesus Christ has done for us, we no longer have to wonder who am I? We are free from this existential crisis. In Christ, we are given an identity that is bigger, stronger, and more worthwhile than anything we can find in our family, friends, or community. In Christ, we are given an identity that will last forever.

In Christ, we find an identity that guarantees our acceptance by God. In Christ, we find an identity that guarantees our security of self. And in Christ, we find an identity that guarantees our significance in the world.

Only in Christ do we discover who we were truly made to be. Only in Christ do we discover our true identity.

What Is The Right Kind of Life?

George Fox was an interesting preacher. But despite his quirks he understood that the Christian life at its core was quite simple. The Christian life was about living the right kind of life. What did that mean? In his Letters he wrotes:

“So, this is the word of the Lord God to you all. Do rightly, whether you be tradesmen, of what calling or profession or sort so ever, or husbandmen. Do rightly, justly, truly, holily, equally to all people in all things; and that is according to that of God in everyone, and the witness of God, and the wisdom of God, and the life of God in yourselves.

Whatever your calling, live in the power of Truth and wisdom of God to answer that just principle of God in all people upon the earth. So, let your lives preach, let your light shine, that your works may be seen, that your Father may be glorified. This has the praise of God, and they who do so come to answer that which God requires, to love mercy, do justly, and to walk humbly with God.

So everyone strive to be rich in the Life, and the thing of the Kingdom that has no end; for the person that covets to be rich in the things of this world falls into many snares and hurtful lusts. Therefore, let the one that buys, or sells, or possesses, or uses this world be as if he did not. Let them be masters over the world in the power of the Spirit of God, and let them know that they owe no one anything but love; yet serve God in Truth, and one another in their generation.”

For George Fox, the right kind of life was a life that lived for Truth and served God and others. For us, this may seem rather ambiguous until we remember that Jesus Christ is the Truth. Therefore to know Jesus Christ is to know the Truth. To live in the power of Truth is to live in the power of Christ. And to serve God in Truth is to serve God in Christ.

The right kind of life is the kind of life that seeks Christ. It is the kind of life that serves Christ. And it is the kind of life that desires to see Christ displayed to others. The right kind of life is not about being perfect or getting everything we want. Rather it is simply about letting Christ use us for his glory and the glory of God the Father.

May God give all of us the desire to live this kind of life!