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May 23, 2016, 8:38 AM

Out of the Furnace


I once went swimming in some hot springs, in the middle of winter, at roughly 7000 feet above sea level, in the middle of the Rocky Mountains.  It was amazing.  There was literally a pile of snow on the "pool deck" from where the caretakers had cleared a path for us to jump in.  The experience was very cool (no pun intended) as the water kept us perfectly warm (hot even) despite the frost that was building up on our hair, eyebrows, and beards.  

Here's the big problem with that:  we had to get out of the pool.  Which meant submitting our entire bodies to the punishing wind and temperatures of a Colorado winter.  The walk from poolside to lodge was brutal... Quite an experience; we went through all extremes of temperatures from stepping outside, jumping in the water, a few of us dove into the snow bank near the pool, got warmed up again in the water, then ran inside to dry off.  I think I will name the experience:  "A Flat-lander's Guide to Getting Hypothermia."  (on sale today!).  

We were comfortable in the hot springs... but we couldn't stay there forever.  I wonder what it felt like for the three guys thrown into the fiery furnace by Nebuchadnezzar!  Not a hair burned, so we have to guess that the fire was a comfortable experience.  Throw in the fact that JESUS joined them (!!!!!!) and you've got a really neat experience to pass on to the kiddos.  Much like I believe Daniel totally snuggled up to some lions over night in the den, ordered pizza, and watched some Full House reruns.  

Regardless of how we imagine the experience, the three guys had to walk out of the furnace.  On the inside there was Jesus (!!!!!!) and complete immunity as no one could get close to them. On the outside there was captivity, service to Babylon, a pagan king, and members of the royal court who wanted them dead.  Which would you rather have?  I think I'd stay in the furnace too.  Maybe order up a fiery chariot to join the flames and hitch a ride with Jesus (!!!!!) back to Heaven.  

 But alas, it was not meant to work that way.  They had to leave the comfort of the furnace and face the world around them.  So do we.  Our influence might be veiled, or hidden completely, but there are individuals who are needing a taste of God's mercy in their lives and its our job to deliver.  Just like Peter's request to build little houses for Elijah, Moses, and Jesus on the Mount of Transfiguration, our hope of keeping ourselves away from the world will be denied.  In that instance, Jesus knew there were hoards of people waiting for them at the foot of the mountain.  

Your fiery furnace might look a lot like your bed, house, or the silence you offer to people around you.  Walking out of those safe zones is torturous.  For others the furnace looks a lot like our churches, the places we occupy on Sunday mornings (and if you're super holy: Sunday nights, too).  That's a dangerous statement to make, I know... but its scarier to admit that its true.  We get comfortable with Jesus in our safe place from the world, tell him how much we love and want to serve him... Then walk away heads down and hearts turned inward.  The world needs us!  Not with protest signs or shouts, but to quietly love, pray, and serve.  

When Daniel faced the music of prayer being kicked out of Babylon, he went to his room and prayed quietly.  Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego stood quietly at the back of the service when everyone in the kingdom bowed to the statue (they weren't in front waving their arms, drawing attention to the fact that they disagreed with the political regimes of Babylon!).  And when faced with the fiery furnace, they quietly put their confidence in God.  When they walked out they didn't (as I totally would have) do a touchdown dance celebration or trash talk their victory and how awesome their God is.  They went about their business of serving Babylon.  

Its time to leave the furnace and get back to the business of loving God and loving people.  

Isaiah 43: 1 - 2   1But now, O Jacob, listen to the Lord who created you. O Israel, the one who formed you says, “Do not be afraid, for I have ransomed you. I have called you by name; you are mine. 2When you go through deep waters, I will be with you. When you go through rivers of difficulty, you will not drown. When you walk through the fire of oppression, you will not be burned up; the flames will not consume you.




May 16, 2016, 9:32 AM

Lost the Plot


Have you ever gotten into a book, a BIG book, and forgotten where things were supposed to be going?  Sometimes its poor character development; Other times though its just the sheer volume of information that confuses us (I'm looking at you Lord of the Rings).  That's all well and good with a book, because you can always flip back a chapter or two and regain your footing.  

Its not that easy with life when we lose the plot. Maybe its a career that hasn't panned out like we'd hoped.  We've lost the plot of our own dreams, and turning back a few pages could cost us seniority or salary.  Relationships can get into the same loop as well, losing the foundation of what brought people together in the first place.  Healthy relationships will be able to weather those moments and survive a quick detour to refresh ties.  

Spiritually speaking, losing the plot can have far more dire consequences (I'm looking at you Israel and Judah).  The most frustrating things about working through the complex chapters of Israel's demise at the hands of the Assyrians and Judah's demise at the hands of Babylon are that they could have fixed the problems quickly and simply.  Every prophet God sent to the people had the same message: "RETURN TO GOD!!"  If they obeyed, God delivered them (see the book of Judges for a practical example of this).  

But they lost the plot.  

Israel and Judah's kings found themselves surrounded by everything the Lower Story has to offer:  excess, pleasure, and comfort. Idolatry spoke to their carnal desires and required very little integrity and accountability.  Creating your own plot is a lot easier than being transformed by the Upper Story.  It is frustrating though that no matter the hardships or struggles placed on kings and people, they refused to be transformed, to conform to God's instructions (which were not new by any stretch of the imagination, having been around for centuries).  Even a toddler will learn, eventually, that negative discipline can be avoided by changing one's behavior patterns.  

Have we lost the plot as well?  Does Church engage culture?  Do we embrace the message of Christ, the example of Jesus, the powerful sacrifice of our Savior?  Our plot has become comfort, sustaining what is known so we can comfortably postulate about the unknown.  When we forget our mission we create a path that suits our own Lower Story ideals instead of God's Upper Story vision for his people.  The vision of the Church has always, ALWAYS been about growing God's kingdom and not our own.  

Which plot are we following? 

Matthew 6: 33  Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and live righteously, and he will give you everything you need.




May 9, 2016, 8:43 AM

To Whom?


Who gets the message God needed sent in Isaiah 9? Who needed to hear about the light in the darkness that was the coming Messiah?  

In the text, the message needed sent to sinners.  And not just any sinners, but the worst kind of sinners:  the ones who knew better than to be sinning in the way they were (idolatry).   Yes, Israel, you needed the hope of the coming Messiah.  They were about to be laid siege by the Assyrian army and were literally on the doorstep of annihilation.  The next few days and weeks were going to be a trial they would not survive; at least survive in the sense that they had a kingdom, land, and identity to call their own. 

As they were taken into captivity (which if you set that side by side with what happened to the Northern Kingdom, captivity is the better option) they needed to hear something that would give them a handhold, a foundational grip to grasp in the coming generations of slavery.  This is what was given: 

Isaiah 9: 6  6For a child is born to us, a son is given to us. The government will rest on his shoulders. And he will be called: Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of fPeace.

Now Israel had its fill of child-kings.  Some were good, most troubled.  This was the promise of an eternal kingdom resting in the arms of a child, a son.  This was enough.  This message sustained them.  

No, there wasn't a timeframe.  No, there wasn't a direct link to when this government would be set in place.  And no, there was no guarantee they would actually see all this come to light.  But the promise was enough.  

This message of hope (Jesus) is not obsolete, nor did it expire.  It rings true today.  So who needs to hear it?  Isaiah took it to a place struggling with idolatry, disobedience, and empty religious practices.  Where do we need to take it?  

Each of us is called to share the hope of Christ.  It may be a tenuous grip we have, but regardless, it is the only real hope we have. To whom are we sharing it?  

Isaiah 6: 8 - 9 8Then I heard the Lord asking, “Whom should I send as a messenger to this people? Who will go for us?” I said, “Here I am. Send me.” 9And he said, “Yes, go, and say to this people . . .

 




May 2, 2016, 8:36 AM

Elijah's Question


1 Kings 18:21 Then Elijah stood in front of them and said, “How much longer will you waver, hobbling between two opinions? If the Lord is God, follow him! But if Baal is God, then follow him!” But the people were completely silent.

While there is no question mark at the end of Elijah's cry here, it is in the form of a question that stretches FAR beyond that single moment.  Make Your Choice.  

And the people were silent.  

The same question shows up again and again in various forms:  "...choose this day whom you will serve."  "Let the dead bury their own..."  "Peter, Do you love me?"  "I wish you would be hot or cold..."  (All paraphrased by Chris).  

I'm afraid of my own answer, because I too have been silent; hoping the conversation will turn to other areas like church attendance, church offerings, and church participation (how many tables and chairs need to be put away to assure one's place in heaven?).  And while I would try and march out a truly dazzling display of earthly works to try and prove my allegiance, Jesus looks deeper and his question pushes past the physical.  Just like he did with Peter in John 21, he asks a question meant to cut deep, to our very soul.  "How long will you waver?"  

I'm confident that I would answer the same as Peter did every time.  I too would be hurt when he asks again, and crushed when he asks a third time.  Because I know what he knows:  My heart has been torn in two by the treasures of this world.  

How long will we waver?  

Matthew 6:21  21 Wherever your treasure is, there the desires of your heart will also be.




April 25, 2016, 8:37 AM

A Kingdom Built on Service


Big question:  What is your kingdom built on?  

Now you can interpret the idea of "your kingdom" in many different ways:  Family; Career; Church; Community; etc... Lets look at ALL of them and answer that question.  What is the foundation for everything you've built?  

If its not Service then we need to re-pour the concrete and foundations for what we think we've built.  Two moments come to mind in making this statement:  1 Kings 12: 3 - 7 and John 13: 1 - 17.  

Both contain the foundations for what could have become great kingdoms.  The first was the moment Rehoboam had the opportunity to be a worthy king, earning the devotion of his people forever.  He is advised to "serve the people" and be a leader who shepherds his community.  However, and that is a BIG however, he chooses to be served by the people in harsher measures than they've known before.  He builds his foundation on reputation, pride, arrogance, and power.  How does that work out for him? 

The second illustration is at the doorstep of a more relevant kingdom being established:  the Church.  Jesus is mere hours away from arrest and crucifixion and he has a final message he needs to get across to those he has entrusted his kingdom.  Service. He washes their feet, becoming the lowest servant in the room of which he is far and above the most worthy and important.  

The example he sets before us is to build a kingdom on self sacrifice, putting oneself in a place in which others will become great.  That is leadership 101:  setting others up for the win.  The remaining moments of Jesus' life prove this even further, giving us the lasting image of sacrifice and redemption on The Cross.  But it is the moment in John 13 that drives the point home:  Serve.  

If the apostles had tried to move ahead after the Resurrection through reputation alone, the Church would have failed and not become a global movement.  If they had tried to impress the people in Jerusalem with their names and association with Jesus to draw people in, the Church would've been forgotten as time dulls even the sharpest memories.  

Throughout the Old Testament we can identify moments when leaders turn from serving others to self-serving.  And every time, EVERY time, its bad news.  Moses and the rock; Abraham and his lies about his wife; David and Bathsheba; Solomon and his idolatry; Jonah and the Ninevites; on and on and on.  

What is your kingdom built on?  What is our church built on?  The kingdom of Israel went from powerful to a torn apart mess because of a lack of foundation.  Don't let it happen to yours.  

John 13: 12b - 15  “Do you understand what I was doing? You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and you are right, because that’s what I am.  And since I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you ought to wash each other’s feet. I have given you an example to follow. Do as I have done to you. (NLT)


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