Archive for February, 2011

Feb
24

One.Life

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I picked up Scot McKnight’s latest book, One.Life, for a couple of reasons. For one, I like him. I first became familiar with his academic side, collecting each volume of the IVP Theological Dictionary series that bears his name as an editor. I own several of his commentaries, and as a pastor have benefited from his sensible observations on the biblical text. It was only then that I learned he had authored several popular books such as The Jesus Creed and The Blue Parakeet. And then there are my daily visitations to his high traffic blog site, Jesus Creed. Over the past year or so I’ve turned to McKnight through several pathways to find compelling theological conversations. Our world is losing some heavyweight New Testament scholars (Bruce, Stott, Morris, et al) who have helped bridge the gap between the ancient text and the modern world. McKnight seems equipped to step into that kind of role, but I digress.

The second reason I picked up One.Life is because I was looking for an answer to a big question. I think the big question for the established churches in America today is “How do we go about the process of producing followers of Jesus Christ?” For decades churches have relied upon programs to produce such creatures. When I began ministry 28 years ago, there was a uniform pattern for the practice of making disciples. People would convert to Christ, then make commitments to attend worship and Sunday School with faithful regularity. Those who were able to develop these practices were encouraged to attend Sunday evening church services and Wednesday night prayer meeting. Special classes were offered weekly that we called “Discipleship Training.” We had outreach night to train them to share their faith with the lost. As people “matured,” we pulled them from the bleachers onto the playing field and encouraged them to pursue discipleship through singing in the choir, serving as an usher, teaching Sunday School to adults, youth, or children, and serving on a committee. Those who achieved mastery at these levels were elevated to the summit: the Deacon ministry.

I don’t mean to sound pious, but after a year or so of reflection on this process I’ve come to the conclusion that we weren’t really producing followers of Christ as much as we were producing “churchmen” who would keep the church running and maintain its programs. People were busy to the point of burnout, but what was strangely absent was life change. Disciple making was more about sustaining the organization and its programs than it was creating avenues for transformation.

To say that the established church of the 21st century is in trouble is perhaps merely stating the obvious. What worked in the last half of the last century isn’t working now, and the lives of our sheep bear this out. You can find any number of surveys today that will bear out one tragic fact: the lives of American Christians are, for all intents and purposes, no different than the lives of their un-churched counterparts. We are as prone to addition, depression, obesity, divorce, crime, dysfuncton, and debt as anyone else. We are just as materialistic and given to pursuit of the American dream as our neighbors who sleep in on Sundays. And, those who do not attend a local church are just as committed to volunteer activities to charitable organizations as those who invest their time in their charitable organization. Therefore, based on those observations I think that I (we) need to discover and recover the ancient practice of how to develop real disciples of Jesus Christ.

That’s why I one-clicked One.Life.

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Joseph’s family has been through the wringer. Little do they know what is yet to be unveiled! This week I’ve been posting principles for turning the corner from regret to resolution. To date my observations from Genesis and the story of Joseph include remembering that God is always at work, even in undetectable ways; the importance of facing reality (not unlike Jim Collins’ confront the brutal facts); and remembering that God is for (and with) His children.

The fourth element is to Accept Responsibility (Genesis 42:37-43:10). Aware that they cannot return to Egypt without Benjamin, Reuben made a generous offer. He told Jacob that he would be responsible for Benjamin and that if anything happened to him he could avenge the loss by taking the lives of his two sons. Jacob immediately refused this offer, primarily, I think, because Reuben had slept with his father’s wife Bilhah back in an earlier chapter. “I don’t trust you.”

As the clock ticks the food supplies diminish and the children get hungrier. It is at that point that Judah stepped up to the plate. Judah told Jacob that he would personally accept responsibility for his brother’s welfare. Period. Judah, you may recall, was the one who had the bright idea to sell Joseph to the slave traders to begin with. In short, Judah accepted responsibility for his action. It’s amazing what can happen when we are willing to accept responsibility for what we’ve done. Jacob permitted Benjamin to go.

The final piece to the puzzle is evidenced in Jacob resting in the strength of his God (Genesis 43:11-15). Jacob commended his sons, including Benjamin, to “El-Shaddai,” the mighty God. He finally came full circle and chose to place his trust in God. Martin Luther once wrote, “I know not the way he leads me, but well I know my guide.” Put another way, “I don’t know what the future holds, but I know who holds the future.”

Have you noticed what is happening? The conversation has become elevated. This family is now thinking about God, looking to God, and talking about God. Sometimes the most important step we can take is not a step forward, it’s a step upward. Elevating the conversation from the physical, temporal plane to a spiritual plane will help you discover that God is indeed real and relevant. After all, God is all about conflict resolution.

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The third step we must make if we’re going to turn the corner from regret to resolution is to Remember that God is for His Children (Genesis 42:36). Upon hearing the news from the brothers, Jacob made four false statements:
1. Joseph is no more!
2. Simeon is no more!
3. Benjamin will be no more!
4. Everything is against me!
The truth is that everything is for Jacob. His problem was that he had forgotten the promise of God, found in Genesis 28:13-15. In that passage, God clarified to Jacob what he was going to do. God relayed it this way: “I am the Lord…The ground you are lying on belongs to you. I am giving it to you and your descendants. Your descendants will be as numerous as the dust of the earth! They will spread out in all directions…And all the families of the earth will be blessed through you and your descendants. What’s more, I am with you, and I will protect you wherever you go. One day I will bring you back to this land. I will not leave you until I have finished giving you everything I have promised you” (NLT).

In my reading last week I came across a statement about love. The writer stated that love involves a commitment to be with someone and a commitment to be for someone. I see that claim verified in God’s promise to Jacob. God wasn’t against Jacob and his family. Nothing could have been further from the truth. God is for his children. When all things appear to be against you, remember that the Father’s hand has sent it and the Father’s love has measured it to exactly fit your need.

Each morning as we bench press the blankets from our bodies and slide our feet out of bed and onto the floor we have to make a decision about how we’re going to face that day. The direction choice we make with each sunrise is whether we will live that day by faith or by sight (2 Corinthians 5:7). Faith determines to live life based on the person and the promises of God. On the other hand, sight determines to live life governed by the senses, the emotions, and the prevailing circumstances we will face. There was a day when Jacob lived by faith, but by this stage of the storyline, he is purely running on sight. If Jacob could be susceptible to “sight living,” so can we. The choice to live by faith is one of the most important daily decisions we can make.

Tomorrow I’ll conclude this week’s series with the final two steps on how to Turn the Corner from Regret to Resolution.

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The following link will take you to an article which describes the poll results of American Evangelicals on the present Federal budget crisis. Is there a disconnect between our faith and our pursuit of the American dream?

Polling Evangelicals: Cut Aid to World’s Poor, Unemployed | Christianity Today | A Magazine of Evangelical Conviction.

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Last weekend I outlined five steps that one needs to take to turn the corner from regret to resolution. The first of which was to Recognize that God is Always at Work (Genesis 42:25-28). Joseph’s brothers had sold him for a mere 20 pieces of silver. But when they found that their money had been mysteriously returned, they became upset. The very thing they once desired was now detestable in their sight. As far as I can tell, Joseph returned the money as an act of grace. There were no soldiers in pursuit. Joseph would never mention it again. Later, when the brothers confessed it to Joseph’s servant, he shrugged it off (43:23). The brothers were so far from God they couldn’t even comprehend simple grace. Because they were not right with God, they feared even his goodness.

In the story, the brothers exclaim, “What is God doing to us?” They are doing more than asking a question. They’re making a statement. It might be of interest to you that this is their first mention of God in the entire narrative. For the first time they are acknowledging that God is controlling a specific and important circumstance in their lives. God is always at work, even when we cannot perceive it. Just because we are not aware of God’s activity does not mean he isn’t actively working!

Second, Face Reality (Genesis 42:29-35). When the brothers returned from Egypt they were honest with Jacob about the fate of Simeon. They hadn’t been honest with Jacob about Joseph, and still haven’t for that matter. But at least we can see they are beginning to come to terms with what is real. Last year I read a helpful book by Dr. Henry Cloud titled Integrity. Cloud defines integrity as “the courage to meet the demands of reality.” His supposition is that we can only advance in life and live in wholeness when we are grounded in the truth of what is real. When we are aware of what is real, then we can work constructively to deal with issues past, present, and for that matter, future.

Tomorrow I’ll continue this series with the third step on how to turn the corner from regret to resolution.

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In 1636, Roger Williams, who had been exiled from Massachusetts, went to what is now called Rhode Island and established its very first settlement. He called the settlement Providence, stating that “divine guidance has led me here.”

Providence is defined simply by Chuck Swindoll as “The belief that the events of our lives are not ruled by fate of chance, but by our sovereign God and loving Lord who works out his plan and purpose in the lives of his children.”

In the lives of Joseph’s family, we can see God at work to bring resolution to the unaddressed and unhealed issues of the past. Twenty five long years have passed since Joseph was pitched in the pit and sold off to the slave traders. Living the daily grind must have felt like fate, but God was at work. Like this biblical family, we may feel like we’re on the treadmill of life, going through the motions, totally subjected to the winds of fate. But the providence of God would indicate otherwise. This week I’m going to post some reflections from Genesis 42-43 on how this family turned the corner from regret to resolution.

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This week I’ve devoted a lot of virtual ink to the subject of dealing with guilt and making peace with your past. Most of my energy has been diagnostic as opposed to providing tangible steps to turn the corner from regret to resolution. The Bible has a lot to say about resolving guilt issues. What the Bible has to say is fairly simple to understand. The problem is that the principles of resolution we discover in Scripture are hard to apply!

The first thing the Bible would say about dealing with guilt is that one must first come clean with God. We need to confess our buried sin to God. That sounds frightening, but let’s be honest: God already knows! Here’s the good news. No matter how marred or scarred our broken pasts may appear, the promise of God is that when we turn from our sin we run directly into the open arms of God. There is no forgiveness and healing without coming clean with God in confession. Confession means “to agree with.” If there is one verse in the Bible you need to know, its 1 John 1:9, which reads, “If we confess our sins to him, he is faith and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all wickedness” (NLT). We always need to confess our sins to God. But what about to those we have offended? Here’s what James 5:16 says, “Confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed” (NLT).
Coming clean is the first step to resolving yesterday’s guilt.

Next, the Bible would say we need to accept God’s forgiveness. Accepting God’s forgiveness is one of the most difficult things we can do. I think there are a couple of reasons for that. For one, we live in a performance based culture. Our society, which is based on merit and conditional love, struggles to comprehend the grace of God and unconditional love. We feel that we have to earn or deserve forgiveness. But we cannot earn forgiveness, we can only receive it. How can God forgive? God can forgive because God is a God of love. Love is the character and essence of God that makes forgiveness possible.

The other reason it’s hard to accept God’s forgiveness is because we associate forgiveness with feelings. If we don’t feel forgiven, then we question forgiveness. God’s primary goal in forgiveness is not emotional. It’s legal. God’s forgiveness is his righteous declaration and pronouncement that we have been made right with him. Feelings may follow, but one cannot judge what God has stated as fact based solely on how we feel. Focus on the facts first. The feelings will follow.

The final thing the Bible would say about handling guilt is to become forgiving in our own spirit. There are several verses in the Bible on forgiveness that we have to acknowledge and deal with. For example, Jesus said, “If you forgive those who sin against you, your heavenly Father will forgive you. But if you refuse to forgive others, your Father will not forgive your sins” (Matthew 6:14-15, NLT). What do we do with that?! How about this one? “Be kind to each other, tender-hearted, forgiving one another, just as God through Christ has forgiven you” (Ephesians 4:32, NLT).

Forgiveness is a picture of releasing a debt. By refusing to forgive, we keep others emotionally indebted to us. We cannot have an open relationship with God if we hold others in debt for something that God would forgive us for.

I like music, but I really don’t know that much about it. I do know that in music a dissonant chord is one that lacks resolution. You’d know one if you heard it. A dissonant chord lingers in the air, begging for resolution. Or, better yet, closure. If you’re at a dissonant in life, resolution comes through Jesus. The only way we can make peace with our past is through him, the “Prince of Peace.”

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What does guilt do? How does it impact our lives? Last weekend I highlighted implications of guilt from Genesis 42:1-28.

First, guilt limits us to the point of emotional paralysis (Genesis 42:1-2). Jacob knew there was food available in Egypt, yet the sons weren’t doing anything about it. The effects of the famine had reached the land of Canaan, yet the narrative reveals this family, slowly starving to death, standing and staring at one another. Purchasing food from a food source is a routine act each of us take for granted. Yet guilt had such a powerful grip on Jacob’s family that they couldn’t do simple and obvious tasks.

Second, guilt distorts our vision (Genesis 42:6-8). Having arrived safely in Egypt, Joseph’s ten brothers didn’t recognize him, but he immediately recognized them. Guilt has a way of preventing us from seeing things as they really are. Guilt can cause us to become self absorbed, making it hard to see others as they are. One can lose objectivity and miss things as they are right beneath their own noses.

Third, guilt can blind us from the truth (Genesis 42:9-13). Notice the two affirmations the brothers made to Joseph: “we are honest men,” and “one is no more.” The brothers had been telling those lies for 25 years, so long that they had begun to believe them. But what was the truth? The truth was that God had placed his hand on Joseph, as revealed in the dreams of the sheaves and the stars. The truth is that they had premeditated murder, sold Joseph as a slave, then conspired to cover it up Joseph’s brothers were farther from the truth than they acknowledged, yet closer to the truth than they realized.

Next, guilt can chain us to the past (Genesis 42:14-24). Notice how the brothers are gripped by fear and paranoia. Although Joseph had spent time in prison, he was never a captive in the way his brothers had been. They say that circus trainers will begin their training baby elephants by chaining them to a small stake to keep them in place. The baby elephant will strain against the chain until it learns that it cannot escape. Now elephants are not necessarily known for their intelligence, but they are praised for their memories. The memory of the stake becomes so powerful, that even as a full grown adult it will not pull at the simple chain and stake. Unfortunately, our memories are often no different

Finally, guilt distorts our view of God (Genesis 42:15-28). As Joseph sent his brothers away, he quietly had returned their money and provided supplies for their journey home. I think this is a simple act of grace. After all, what kind of brother would Joseph have been to take money from his starving family? But upon discovering the money on the return trip, the brothers exclaimed, “What has God done to us?” Guilt has many negative implications on our lives, but perhaps the worst of all is that it distorts our view of God to the extent that we cannot comprehend his simple grace in our lives.

Tomorrow I’ll finish up Making Peace with Your Past and post three ways that we can deal with buried sin and the guilt that accompanies it.

Categories : Genesis, Guilt, Joseph, Peace
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Feb
14

Making Peace with our Past: 1

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Each stage of Joseph’s life has been plagued by its own unique set of challenges. While it appears difficult to understand, the most challenging stage of his life was his exaltation as governor of the land of Egypt. Joseph had been prepared by God for this challenge. His preparation included time in the pit, time in slavery, and time in prison. During these days Joseph learned to deal with injustice, temptation, rejection, and being forgotten by a friend.

One of the key factors in Joseph’s progress from the pit to the palace was his character. He was faithful in the little things, doing them in the quiet out of the way places. Because of his faithfulness in the little things, God made him ruler over many things.

After he was elevated to his new position, Joseph went to work during those seven years of abundance.
In our minds Joseph represents the classic “rags to riches story.” But before we can close the book on the story, it becomes clear that God has unfinished business. God has plans to put Joseph and his family back together. Joseph is at a dissonant note, but God is going to bring resolution. God’s plan was to use this family to create a new nation: Israel.

Genesis chapter 42 tells how God deals with our conscience regarding guilt. We may put time and distance between our present and our past, but it is never healed until God deals with it. 25 years have passed since Joseph was thrown in the pit. It’s time for resolution and closure.

What does guilt look like? How does it affect us? Tomorrow I’ll post five ways that unresolved guilt impacts our lives.

Categories : Genesis, Grace, Guilt, Joseph, Peace
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Feb
07

Beza Threads

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This weekend we hosted Beza Threads, a ministry designed to provide an avenue of hope to children in Ethiopia who work as sex slaves. It is estimated at there are 8.4 million child slaves in the world, with 1.8 million children robbed of their childhoods through sex slavery. Girls in Ethopia, as young as 5 years old, are sold 4-10 times per day for as little as $1.

Beza (“redemption”) Threads’ mission is to provide additional funding to WinSouls, an Ethiopian ministry commited to rescuing girls from sex slavery. WinSouls teaches the former child slaves and former sex slaves how to make scarves to provide funding for their education. WinSouls has a three year program theat educates, counsels, and rebuilds self worth into these young people. God is using Josiah and Megan Carter and many volunteers like them to change the world one life at a time. I want to encourage you to visit www.BezaThreads.org to learn more about this ministry. Perhaps you would even consider purchasing a scarf online and sharing in this great work of mercy and compassion.