“Who is the LORD that I should obey Him?”

The question Pharaoh asked Moses is the modern question of our day. As we read the Old Testament, we often think that these people are primitive, uneducated, even barbaric. We have a general idea that we are progressively getting smarter and better. We have better medicine, technology, faster transportation; we’re enlightened, educated, modern. But at the heart of the human problem is the problem of the human heart.

The Pharaoh was a highly educated, affluent man. He is the modern man and his question is the question of our day. The entire story of the plagues, and the Exodus, hinges on his question: “Who is the LORD and why should I obey Him?” Exodus 5:2 Our entire story hinges on this question as well. The Pharaoh was not an atheist, but a polytheist. He had no trouble believing in gods, as long as they served him. But to believe in a god that would actually tell him what to do was preposterous. Not unlike most of us today.

Some struggle with God, thinking He is too harsh, judgmental and wrathful. Instead, we fail to see that in His mercy He rescues you from our gods, that will otherwise crush us. It is His mercy, not His wrath that saves us. In His wrath is His mercy. His judgement is mercy. “O LORD, I have heard the report of you, and your work, O LORD, do I fear. In the midst of the years revive it; in the midst of the years make it known; in wrath remember mercy.” Habakkuk 3:2

God’s judgment comes upon those who disregard Him. But even in His warnings of judgment there is mercy. Like the Pharaoh, we need a renewed vision of who God is.

By His grace, through warnings and judgment, God lovingly draws us to Himself. Every plague has a corresponding Egyptian god and what the LORD (Yahweh) is doing is answering Pharaoh’s question with each subsequent plague: “Who is LORD? I am the one, true God and I am greater than your false gods. I will crush them for your good and for my glory.”

Consider: what are the gods we serve in our day? And what corresponding plagues might God bring into our lives so that we would turn to Him and worship Him alone? What plagues might God unleash on us in order to show His supremacy, His place as the LORD, so that He might satisfy our soul’s desire? Just a few examples:

Our gods and the plagues that confront us

Comfort – the plague of inconvenience God will bring discomfort, perhaps Illness, relational struggles that confront us. Like gnats or flies, they may seem small at first, but they destroy our peace and comfort. All of this, so we will turn to Him and find that He alone is our Comfort and Peace.

Control – the plague of chaos The god of control says, “I will control how I live, how I look, how my life goes. I will cover every possible contingency, I will prepare, build an impenetrable wall around me. I will build an emotional wall around me. I will not let anyone in. I will control my environment.” In his famous poem, Invictus, William Henley (an atheist), writes (from a hospital bed), these last two stanzas: “Beyond this place of wrath and tears. Looms but the Horror of the shade, and yet the menace of the years finds, and shall find me, unafraid. It matters not how strait the gate, how charged with punishments the scroll, I am the master of my fate: I am the captain of my soul.” Henley echoes the Pharaoh’s question: “Who is the LORD, that I should obey Him?” Instead, our desire to control our lives results in impotence, disorganization, mismanagement, addictions. It’s why all alcoholics know that the first of the 12 steps to recovery is, “We admitted we were powerless over alcohol—that our lives had become unmanageable.” We must admit that you are NOT in control.

Success – the plague of dissatisfaction Success is never up and to the right always. And even if it is, we are left empty if success has become our functional god. This week, Tom Brady will start in his eighth Super Bowl. He’s won five. Surely, he is the GOAT, the greatest of all time. Brady is handsome, married to a model wife, and worth millions (billions?) of dollars. In a moment of rare vulnerability, on 60 Minutes, in an interview with Steve Kroft, Brady said, “This is what it is- this guy (himself) has it all. But I think, “there has to be more than this.” Kroft asked, “What’s the answer?” Brady responded, “I wish I knew, I wish I knew.” At the pinnacle of success he is plagued with dissatisfaction.

Approval – the plague of rejection Our desire for approval is met with the plague of disapproval, even self-condemnation. For the person who worships the god of approval, rejection is devastating. In a world of social media, the need for approval escalates to devastating results.

How can we discern our idols? Your deepest emotions will point you to your idols, to the gods you worship. Look at your anger, anxiety; what do you think about that makes you worry? What makes you really sad? Most often our anxiety is caused by the thought of losing something we love, something we worship- a god.

But what if God, by His mercy, is drawing us to Him? Paul asks: What if God, although choosing to show his wrath and make his power known, bore with great patience the objects of his wrath- prepared for destruction? What if he did this to make the riches of his glory known to the objects of his mercy, whom he prepared in advance for glory.” Romans 9:22-23

At the cross, God’s unending grace and His inflexible holiness collided and our salvation was made possible. On the Cross He brought mercy for sinners and judgment on sin that came upon Jesus. You and I were spared the ultimate plague of sin’s shame and death.

We find purpose and ultimate satisfaction in GOD alone, through Christ alone. The process that comes as God strips us of our idols is painful. But He does this so that you will turn to Him and rejoice in His presence and praise Him as you discover that He is enough.

 “For our sake He made Him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God.” 2 Corinthians 5:21

In His wrath, He has remembered mercy.

Life lessons from (26 year-old) Martin Luther King, Jr.

In December of 1955, Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat for a white person on the bus she took on her ride home from work. Parks was arrested and charged with violating Montgomery’s segregated bus seating law. Soon afterwards, the Montgomery bus boycott was organized and the “Montgomery Improvement Association” (MIA) came into being. Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr., who was then a preacher at the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery, was asked to become the president of the MIA- because he had been the voice behind the boycott from the start. King accepted the presidency and soon became the focus of white racists opposed to equal rights for Afro-Americans and the civil rights movement in general. On Monday night, January 30, 1956, King was speaking at a meeting that had been organized to support the bus boycott, at Montgomery’s First Baptist Church, before a full house- pews, stairways, along the walls, every seat in the house was taken.

The bus boycott was a couple of months long now and King was tired. The long walks, the threat of violence always against him. When they decided on the boycott, he delivered a speech that was simply amazing. And for the next 6 weeks he would preach and the people would listen. On this night, 2,000 people had piled into the church. They had gathered because they all knew that they were challenging segregation and white supremacy. This was a moment for them to come together. Consider that Martin Luther King was 26 years old.

While King was speaking, his wife and firstborn daughter, Yoki (Yolanda Denise), were home. Suddenly, a bomb, planted on the front porch of King’s residence, went off and blew out the windows of the house and causing significant damage to the porch of the family home. Pastor Ralph Abernathy kept receiving notes while sitting in the church and finally Mr. King asked what was going on and the pastor told him: “Your house has been bombed.” Not knowing if his family was okay, dead or alive, Dr. King stepped up with his normal public calm and asked the crowd to go home in peace, and he left out of a side door and went home. But the people did not go home in peace (and who could blame them?). Instead, when King arrived he found a crowd of black brothers and sisters with sticks, knives, and guns in his yard – and a barricade of white policemen out front. This did not improve the crowd’s mood. A week earlier, Clyde Sellers, the Police Commissioner, publicly joined the White Citizen’s Council, which effectively made the Montgomery Police Department an arm of the Clan.

As he walked through the destruction of the front of his house, inside he found reporters, the police chief (Sellers), and the fire chief in his house. He found Coretta and his Yoki, shaken but unhurt. Members of his church were already there, surrounding Mrs. King and her baby. And outside no one was leaving, until they knew King’s family was okay. Police Chief Sellers began to panic. He was scared as the scene outside was getting worse. Sellers asked King, “Will you speak on my behalf to the crowd?” Reverend King said, “Yes.” He stepped out on the ruins of his small white house and here’s what he said:

“Don’t get panicky. Don’t do anything panicky. Don’t get your weapons. If you have weapons, take them home. He who lives by the sword will perish by the sword. Remember that is what Jesus said. We are not advocating violence. We want to love our enemies. I want you to love our enemies. Be good to them. This is what we must live by. We must meet hate with love.”

I believe this incredible moment revealed, not only the character of this young 26-year-old pastor, but the power behind his world-changing work that was to come. Consider what he could have done: He could have incited a riot. The people were ready. He could have justified violence against those who sought to kill his family. He could have refused to help the man who was joining forces to stop all that he stood against. He could have settled for a short-term win, while losing the long-term victory to come. He could have sought to appear “strong and courageous” by verbally taking down the chief and the authorities (and he clearly had the verbal skills to do), instead of pointing to the One who was truly in authority. He could have sent the people home to fight another day, instead of teaching them how the battle would be won in the years ahead. His response serves as a model for us today.

Consider what Dr. King teaches us from this single event:

  1. True strength is seen in what might look like weakness.
  2. True leadership is found in what might look like abdication.
  3. True courage is revealed in what might look like cowardice.
  4. True victory is attained in what might look like surrender.
  5. True love is displayed in what might look like foolishness.

Dr. King taught us that true change is found by following the paradoxical ways of Jesus.

A New Year Revolution: One Thing

So it’s a time for new year’s resolutions, yet studies reveal four out of five of us will not stick to them and a third of us will not get out of January without breaking them. Why can we not stay true to desired changes we long to see in our lives? It’s because a resolution is an intention, a decision to do or not do something. Let’s admit it. We clearly don’t have the power within us to do what we desire to do. Something is working against us. What we need is a revolution.

“Revolution”- from the Latin, revolutio, which means, “a turnaround”- a revolution is “a fundamental change in power or organizational structures that takes place over a relatively short period of time”.

A revolution is an uprising, a mutiny, or insurrection. In spiritual terms a revolution is transformation; it’s a conversion. As you enter into 2018, you need a personal revolution. You need to revolt against all that is not allowing you to flourish, all is keeping you from pursuing God with all your heart. To revolt is to renounce allegiance, to rebel against an authority. Many of us need that attitude in our spiritual lives. In a general sense, we know that putting first things first helps put everything else in it’s place. Most of us know that prioritizing our lives is important, particularly if we want to live balanced lives. But Jesus never talked balance. Jesus talked about an all-out pursuit of one thing. He said: “But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.” Matthew 6:33 If you don’t have one thing that you’re all about, you will be distracted by a million other things. And what constantly distracts you will eventually define you. You must realize the power of a singular focus in your life. The apostle Paul understood this concept, and if you do, it will revolutionize your life.

“Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me.  Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.” Philippians 3:12-14

A New Year Revolution

1. A holy discontent (v. 12) “not that I have already obtained all this.” You must have a desire for more, a desire to change, and not stay where you are. This is the first and most critical piece of the equation. Many of will not move beyond this first point, because you do not have a holy discontent. Are you satisfied with where you are? Is your singular passion an all-out pursuit of Jesus? And if not, are you okay with that? This is why you don’t have a holy discontent- you need to rediscover who God is and His amazing grace toward you in Christ! I hope I never get over being saved. Have you lost the awe and wonder of being rescued by God? Is your entire life a response to that? We should all be longing for more of Him. No one would trade a bottle of water for gold if they were dying of thirst in the desert. Are you dying of thirst, for more of Jesus? Brethren theologian, J.N. Darby wrote, “necessity finds Him out.” He noted that apart from need, we don’t pursue anything in life. Do you truly sense a need to know more of Jesus? To be drawn closer to Him? Do you have a deep discontent, a dissatisfaction, a restless desire for more of Him? That’s a good thing.

2. A singular focus (v. 13) “one thing I do”. In vs. 8 he stated, “I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord”. What we need is what Thomas Chalmers, the Scottish minister, called, “the explosive power of a new affection.” Our problem is what Augustine called, “love out of order”, disordered love, misplaced affections. Disordered love is when good things become God things. Misplaced affections need to be replaced by the far greater power of the affection for God, in Christ- for the Gospel- what Christ has already done for us. What you need is a greater satisfaction in Him and the explosive power of a new affection. Chalmers wrote:

“The love of God and the love of the world, are two affections, not merely in a state of rivalship, but in a state of enmity and that irreconcilable, that they cannot dwell together in the same bosom. The heart is not so constituted (made up like that); and the only way to dispossess it of an old affection, is by the expulsive power of a new one.”

Chalmers is speaking of the importance of having one, singular focus. The disciplined pursuit of less, and an all-out chase of Jesus, one magnificent obsession: Jesus Christ. The problem for many of us is not that you don’t have plenty of good things to do, you need to focus on the best thing.

What does this look like? Simply put, it looks like saying NO, and it looks like saying, YES. First saying “no” to lesser things. Some of you the story of Nehemiah. Broken over the state of God’s people during the exile, he went to rebuild the walls around the city of Jerusalem. And to call the people back to God. His rivals, Sandballot, Tobiah, and Gesham, sent for him (seeking to kill him). They wanted him to “come down from your work and meet with us.” And I sent messengers to them, saying, “I am doing a great work and I cannot come down. Why should the work stop while I leave it and come down to you?” Nehemiah 6:3 Nehemiah had a job to do. He was obsessed with one thing. See, the power of a new affection, means that you can say NO to other things, even good things.

If you do not prioritize your life someone else will. As a pastor, this has been my greatest challenge though the years. I am constantly asked to do good things; not always easy things, but good things. So if I am to do what I’ve been called and gifted to do, I must say NO to good things, which means saying no to good people, people I love, and people I want to help. But here’s what I’ve learned: I will never accomplish God’s greatest plans for me, if I do not say no to lesser things. Some of us need to determine that we will NOT come down. Greg McKeown, in his book, Essentialism, writes:

You cannot overestimate the unimportance of practically everything.” Greg McKeown, Essentialism You may think, “No, everything matters!” If everything matters, then nothing matters. And McKeown’s statement is only true if you have a singular priority, ONE magnificent obsession.

Many of us need to follow Nehemiah’s example: “I’m doing a good work; I will not come down.” Remember this, say it often! Prioritizing your life is not as much, “What do I need to give up?” but “What do I need to go BIG on?” What is my focus? What is that for you? As you think about the great things that God has called you to in these days- what are you up on your ladder doing? Parents: “I’m doing a good work, I will not come down.” Dads: “I’m going to spend more time with my family. I will not come down.” Or perhaps, “I need to care for an elderly parent or friend in this season. I will not come down.” “I need to spend every morning in prayer. I will not come down.” For many of us: “I need to finish something. I will not come down.” “I need to finish my degree, I need to finish this job, finish my commitment. I need to pay off this debt. “I will not come down!” “I need to stay the course in my marriage. I will not quit. I will not come down. “I’ll continue to disciple this person or group.” What is for you? What do you need to finish in this season of your life, in the year ahead? What are you doing on your ladder? If it is God’s call on your life, do not come down.

3. A dedicated plan (vs. 13) – Paul’s one thing involved two things- because you cannot move into a preferred future without leaving the past behind. You can’t say, “I want things to be different in the future, but I’m not going to change anything in the present.” No, you must leave behind whatever doesn’t help you get to your goal. What was Paul’s goal? His ultimate goal was Christ Himself. In order to pursue Christ with all we have, we must rid ourselves of all that is not Him. Following Christ includes repentance and pursuit. Simply put, in a general sense, we must love God and hate sin. Reject your past and embrace the new.

O you who love the LORD, hate evil! He preserves the lives of His saints; He delivers them from the hand of the wicked. Psalm 97:10

The most common resolutions include: stop eating so much, drinking less, spending less money, exercising more, sleeping more, and volunteering. For the Christ follower, resolutions should include naming SIN in our lives. Martin Luther noted, the entire Christian life is one of repentance. Confess sin and repent. Determine to be more like Jesus- be more loving, forgiving, less judgmental, stop gossiping, quit thinking the world revolves around you, and be more generous. Name a sinful habit. But first you need to stop focusing on your sin, and focus on the one thing- the One Person- who can actually deliver you from that sin. A new year revolution involves overcoming sin in your life.

But here’s what happens. We approach sin by thinking: “I need to work harder to overcome this sin! I will pray more. I will even be accountable. I will tell others about my sin and desire to overcome it. I will read books on it, and I’ll find verses in the Bible to help me. I’ll even memorize Scripture so I can quote it when I’m tempted.” Okay, so just work harder and seek to get better. How’s that working out for you? How’s that going? You must learn this: Moralism says that we can become better people by keeping rules and striving to be good people. But Scripture rejects this idea. Instead, the Bible reveals that character development happens only in the context of freedom. Change comes not from striving in our own strength to be like Jesus, but by developing a habit of being with Jesus, abiding in Him.

Moralism calls for change from the outside-in through cosmetic, behavior modification and sin management. Grace produces change from the inside-out as our hearts are renewed and motivations are transformed. Change happens only as our motivations and desires change. Only the Spirit can do that. I don’t know exactly what this looks like for you but I know where it begins for all of us. I know exactly what this looks like on a daily basis. The picture is found in Luke 10:38-42 where we see Martha “distracted” (by good things, by the way), “much serving”. Jesus said to her, “you’re anxious and troubled about many things, but one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her.” Time with Jesus reaps temporary and eternal reward. In 2018 goal-setting and resolutions starts with TIME WITH JESUS.

ONE THING will set everything else in your life in its place. Set your heart on knowing Christ, pursuing Him, and serving Him above all else. This is the essence of the Christian life.

As you decide to pursue Christ above all else, then I challenge you to bring your focus down to one word for the year. Pray, think on it, and then write it down. Share it with a friend or family member. Let it guide you daily as you seek to live out this new year revolution.

Gospel Hope

When you stop to think about it, you’re life is all about hope. Every decision, every good or bad moment is about hope and expectation and then, whether that expectation is met or not. Think about it: “I hope this person likes me.” “I hope this relationship works out.” “I hope to pass this test.” “I hope I graduate.” “I hope this job becomes mine.” “I hope I stay healthy and grow old. “I will do this or that…” And then something or someone steps in. And when it doesn’t happen we’re disappointed, upset, angry, even despairing. In fact, you could go so far as to say, all frustration and disappointment in life is a result of, or birthed out of, unmet expectation.

And beware: Christmas ramps this up in spades. All of this season’s ads are pummeling you with false hope. We’ll see hundreds, even thousands, of ads this month promising you something- offering hope. What we see is an embellished vision of life created by a media- drenched culture that changes our expectations. It captures our imagination and convinces us that life should be like this. In fact, there’s a term for it: it’s what sociologist Krishan Kumar (at UVa) calls “hyper-reality”. He says, “Our world has become so saturated with images and symbols that a new ‘electronic reality’ has been created, whose effect is to obliterate any sense of an objective reality lying behind the images and symbols.” In other words, the images and the symbols that represent the things that stand behind them 
are actually overblown, exaggerated and embellished. We create in our minds a world that is not based on reality. As a result our hopes are heightened even more and our expectations are exaggerated and we’re always left wanting, even despairing.

We place our hope in something or someone and we expect that thing or person to deliver. The Scottish writer, Allan K. Chalmers, wrote, “The grand essentials of happiness are: something to do, something to love, and something to hope for.” We all place our hope in something or someone. But it is the Object of our Hope that makes ALL the difference. So, rightly understood:

Christmas is all about hope created, hope lost, hope restored, and hope realized. Indeed, this is the story of redemptive history. And HERE is the great human problem: We are prone to place our hope in things that cannot deliver. But here’s the ironic twist:

The doorway to hope is hopelessness. The only way you find true hope is to give up on all those other things in which you place your hope. And for hope to be hope (not wishful thinking but biblical hope), it must fix what’s broken. If not why hope in it? And we must realize that the answer is not found in us or anything this world can offer. There’s no horizontal hope.

Hopelessness is the doorway to hope. When you finally give up on the idea that you will find hope in the horizontal, you’re at the doorway of REAL hope, that gives life. And when you open the door, guess who’s standing there? Jesus. When you give up on horizontal hope then you’re ready to look up and find the only hope that matters. Have you given up on all those other things? Do you still think you’ll find your personal savior in something or someone else? Give up on that perfect relationship. Give up on that perfect job, the perfect body, the perfect marriage, the perfect house, the perfect kids. Give up; those things are fruitless. But HOPE has come.

Biblical hope is a bold and certain expectation that God will do what He says He will do.

Biblical hope is synonymous to trust. It is not synonymous with a wish or desire. Those who hope in the Lord, are those who trust in Him- and trust is equivalent to obedience. Hope is not a magic wand or a good feeling- ultimately hope is the result of obedience. Hope is a firm reliance on the preferred or future Story of God. 

Hope is not a situation, it’s not a circumstance, it’s not a thing.

Hope is a Person and His name is Jesus.

 

“May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope.” Romans 15:13

October 31, in 1517, was a day that changed the world. It was “All Hallows Eve”, the day before the day when all “hallows”, or “saints” who had died were recognized and honored. Hallows Eve is now our Halloween, still the day before all saints day. On that day, in 1517, a little known priest named, Martin Luther, posted 95 theses (grievances, complaints) that he had with the Catholic Church, by nailing them to the front Door of the Church in Wittenburg, Germany (where he was a priest and university professor). Though odd to us today, his act was a way to post an opinion to the public (like a writing on an OpEd page or posting on Social Media). The printing press was just coming into play – which would be as dramatic as the advent of the internet- but by nailing his 95 theses on the church door he was launching his opinions for anyone in town to discuss, deliberate, and debate. This single act sparked the Protestant Reformation.

The Reformation was a rediscovery of the major beliefs of orthodox, biblical Christianity. It was a rediscovery of the Gospel. This year marks the 500th anniversary of the Reformation. Historians and theologians observe that, about every 500 years, the empowered structures of institutionalized Christianity, whatever they may be at that time, become an intolerable covering, or a hard shell, that is broken, even shattered, in order for renewal and new growth to occur. It’s an unsettling time, but the result is always a fresh and revitalized expression of the Faith, and advancement of the Gospel. Consider, of course, the Great Christ event (His incarnation, perfect life, substitutionary death, and victorious resurrection) that split history into BC and AD. Then around 500 years later we see the Great Fall of Rome occurred and the Great Pope (Gregory) brought reform to the Church and the Gospel spread westward into Europe. Then the Great Schism (of 1054) took place, that split the Church between the West (Roman Catholic) and East (Orthodox Church). Then, in the 1500s, the Great Reformation took place, resulting in a dramatic shift of theology and practice- called Protestantism. And now we’re experiencing what some are calling the Great Emergence. We’re praying for a Great Revival that will bring dramatic changes.

Historically, when this upheaval takes place, there is first, a more vital form of Christianity that does indeed emerge. Secondly, the organized expression of Christianity (that up until then had been the dominant one), rediscovers a more pure and less fossilized expression of its former self. And thirdly, every time the fossilized form of an overly established Christianity has been broken open, the Gospel has spread dramatically into new geographic and demographic areas, which exponentially increases the range and depth of Christianity’s reach as a result of its time of unease and distress.

So what we see in the Reformation is that the birth of Protestantism not only established a new, powerful way of what it means to be “Christian”, but it was a history-making shift that resulted in social and cultural movements of global proportions. We are experiencing that kind of historic shift in spirituality and Christian life in our day. Through it all the Church remains the most resilient movement on the planet because she is constantly being driven back to her roots, by faithful preachers and Gospel-centered teachers who are found devoted to the Scriptures and centered on the Gospel of Jesus Christ. The “New Reformation” that is critical in our day, is calling us back to a biblical, orthodox Christian faith. It is again, a rediscovery of the Gospel and all its implications. It is a rediscovery of Christ Himself and how His Spirit lives in us. As we celebrate the first reformation throughout the month, we will be exploring the new reformation that is needed in our minds and hearts today. I hope you will join me and pray for revival in your heart during this significant time.