In the ancient text of the Old Testament book of 1 Samuel, chapter 8 introduces the modern reader to the successful, yet insecure, nation of Israel. Generations of Israelites had lived and died on the Middle Eastern sand, between the miraculous rescue at the Red Sea and their current state of national affairs. They had a great situation, albeit a unique one. Surrounded by warring nations with earthly kings of differing abilities and strengths, Israel too had a King, but you couldn’t see Him. Oh, the evidence was pretty clear, as this group of people, who were not particularly great fighters or weapon manufacturers, continued to flourish and win victory after victory, that something bigger and greater was at work in their story. But alas, although they had been promised by their loving God that He would provide and protect always, they decided that they wanted a human king of their own.
Samuel, the legendary prophet and leader of Israel, is the one who receives the news of this startling desire to alter the God-designed arrangement. The Israelites’ approach to breaking it to Samuel is both deceptive and telling. In 1 Samuel 8:4-5, they give both a lame excuse and an honest admission of their reasons. First, they give the less than transparent excuse. Samuel, they say, is too old now to effectively govern them, so they need an earthly king. The problem with this is that Samuel, while no “young buck,” was only 60 years-old and still quite capable of getting the job done. Isn’t this just like us humans? We make less than wise decisions, and then we proceed to use justifications with swiss cheese-like holes in them. We know in our hearts that we are not being honest… not even with ourselves.
Literally, the very next sentence from the Elders of Israel gives us the truth behind their desire. You see, if you listen to someone talk for long enough, the truth eventually starts creeping out, even unintentionally. In an off-the-cuff-statement, they say that they want a king so Israel can be “like all the nations.” The real reason Israel wanted a king is that they were weary of being different! Sounding more like middle school kids than national leaders, the Elders admit that they want to fit in. One too many times they had been scoffed at by other people groups due to their invisible king. The powerful current of normalcy pulled Israel away from her beautiful uniqueness.
We swim in these same currents today. At virtually every level of our lives, we are drawn to the common ground of compromise and disobedience that permeates the world around us. We have been promised by this same faithful and true God that He will never leave or forsake us, yet we run to the same feed troughs that everyone else eats from to feed our hunger. We trade the promise of Godly marriages and sexual faithfulness for the microwave versions of one night stands and quick exits from those marriages. We run after financial gain and status, rather than resting in our God-given identities, paid for by His own blood. We look to celebrities and cultural gurus for wisdom when God has given us His own Word. Like Israel, we are a people who have been offered the very best, but we continually choose such lesser things to fill up our lives.
How do we change this? Be honest. You see, Israel would take too long to realize the truth behind their self-revelatory words. They just wanted to be a little more like everyone else, and you know what? We do the same thing. What if we embrace the discomfort of different? What if we started obeying God and trusting Him with the outcomes? What if lives of radical obedience replaced lives of constant cultural concessions? Let’s dare to be different. Let’s dance to a different beat. Let’s embrace a life of obedience.
Over the past year, the church that I have the honor of pastoring has lost from our family a number of incredible and young people to various diseases. Death is obviously no respecter of persons. Let me just say: you don’t stand by the beds of dying men and watch their families say goodbye without being shaken down to your core. This shaking, by the way, is not a bad thing. In fact, I think it is a good thing to be reminded of the brevity of my life.
The Bible teaches us in many places of the aforementioned brevity. The book of James tells us “life is but a vapor”. Well, if you’ve ever sprayed a can of hairspray or watched the fog lift off of a creek in the morning, you know how fast a vapor disappears. King David, in the Psalms, prays to God asking to be taught to “number his days”. This is important because it is an admission that making our brief lives count isn’t really in the natural wheelhouse of humans. We live often as if we are going to live this life forever. We waste tons of time online or watching TV, while real life is blowing by us. There must be a better way. In fact, there is a better way.
“See then that you walk circumspectly, not as fools but as wise, redeeming the time, because the days are evil.” – Ephesians 5:15-16
This is a powerful reminder to us about the time-wasting and purpose-stealing context in which we live, and the path to living brief lives that are loaded with significance. That’s right, your vapor can matter. We must REDEEM our time. The idea here is not one of Gospel/salvation redemption that comes through grace and faith. This idea of this redemption is like taking a gift certificate to a store, and actually getting the value that it promises. This is a revolutionary way of looking at our time! Our years, months, days, and even moments are all full of potential, but can only be realized when we redeem the gift certificate of time we’ve been given.
Unfortunately the analogy has a positive and negative corresponding reality. While the potential is real, it is so often left untouched and rendered useless. The gift certificate industry is a huge win for participating companies because they get the money, but often the certificates are never redeemed. Isn’t this true of our lives? The missed moments and lost opportunities lie scattered all around us. Thankfully, God has brought this to our attention. Your time is a gift certificate you’ve been given by God. You have no idea how much is on that card, but you do know it is limited. So, by His grace, start redeeming your time. Trade digital screens for real human faces. Trade distraction for focus. Trade waste for redemption. Make your vapor matter.
“Without oxen a stable stays clean, but you need a strong ox for a large harvest.”
Leadership is messy. Can’t we all agree on this? If you’ve been leading very long at all, you know this is true. Most of us entered into ministry leadership because we love Jesus and love people, but it doesn’t take long to realize that the people part is extremely unpredictable and complex. Whether it’s a staff, organization, or a church, leading humans from where they are currently to where they need to go is often hard, dirty work. While this is reality, it’s only part of the story. You see, when the stable is dirty, it is a sign of vision, progress, and life.
When Solomon penned the words of Proverbs 14:4 a few thousand years ago, he was talking to an agriculturally-based group of people. Simply put, if they didn’t work, they didn’t eat. The crops weren’t going to magically pop up from the ground, and the harvest wouldn’t simply fall into their laps and into their bellies. It required work. A lot of sweaty, hard, intentional work. And, it required time. The results from the work wasn’t immediately visible or useable. The harvest of meals and provision began with the labor of plowing and planting.
This is all true of leadership. The glories of harvest are never realized apart from the investment of planting. The thing that God has called you to lead will not automatically become all it is meant to be, unless you put your hands to the plow, bust up the dirt of habits and history, and plant seeds of culture and vision. Not everyone will like your dirty stable. People will press you to keep it clean….stop rocking the boat. Many will point out how much easier and nicer it would be to keep the “stable” of your organization neat and tidy; but true leaders know better.
Leaders keep the stables dirty. They refuse to trade the potential of the vision for the comfort of a few fearful, doubtful, or lazy people. In Theodore Roosevelt’s famous “Man in the Arena” speech, he reminded us that it’s not the people safe in the stands that get it done, but the “man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust, sweat, and blood.” In other words, if you want to accomplish great things, you’re going to have to get some dirt on yourself. Let me encourage and challenge you today, fellow leader. Make some hard decisions. Have some difficult conversations. Implement some brave initiatives. Get some dirt in the stable you are leading. That’s where the harvest is found.
“Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths.”
In Genesis 37, a teenage boy steps onto the pages of biblical history walking the sandy paths and dusty fields of ancient rural sheep herders. A few decades would see this handsome young man become one of the most powerful men in the world, but for now, the sheep would have to do. Like most truly large human stories, Joseph’s actually started out quite small. No one, including Joseph, could have imagined what next would look like by looking at his now.
Although the sheep held little promise for future glory, they were the most friendly creatures in his life since his explosively angry brothers treated him with utter disdain. Their hatred was born out of Joseph’s lofty standing with their father who heaped his love and favoritism on the boy. This disfunction would soon unleash it’s devastating fury on him as he would be attacked, almost killed, and then sold by his own brothers into Egyptian slavery.
If you know Joseph’s story, you know that what seems like a bad ending is actually a sovereignly designed beginning. God is actually clearing the path of Joseph’s future with the blade of the evil actions of these wicked men. Yes, God can make all things ultimately good for those who follow Him. And there enlies the point. God made a path for Joseph because Joseph did a few crucial things, even as a young man. He trusted, humbled himself, obeyed and left the outcomes in God’s hands. Joseph shows us that our obedience now is the key that opens the door to next.
While not having a clue about where his path would take him, Joseph chose to be immediately faithful to God. He trusted God, even when it didn’t make much sense. He did not lean on his own understanding, since the only thing he could see was his less than stellar situation. He believed God could see more. He obeyed his heavenly father and his earthly father as a young man should. This display of active faith in his young life opened the doors to Joseph’s amazing God empowered journey. He focused on faithfulness to God in his “now” and simply trusted God for his “next” modeling for us a God led life. What looked at times like a mess confusing mess of a life would end up being a stunningly straight line from the pit to the palace. This is how God worked and it’s still how he works. He is unchanging. Joseph’s God is our God! He still makes straight paths for people who will trust and obey Him. What if your next is depending on your obedience and surrender now? What if the best part of your story actually awaits you in your next chapter. Trust God, obey Him, and watch what He does NEXT.
I have a new dog. He’s a three month old Boykin Spaniel we named Gus. No, he isn’t named after the Auburn football coach but rather the greatest cowboy of all time Gus McRay from the epic Lonesome Dove. Nevertheless, our dog is pretty amazing. He is learning tricks and obedience commands and he swims like a duck. But, he doesn’t come close to the wonder that is humans. As great as Gus is, he is simply a sliver of the imagination of the Almighty, but he is not even on the same playing field with people. You see, Gus, and the rest of creation for that matter, wasn’t created in the image of God. He does not exhibit the Imago Dei.
In Genesis ch. 1, the Bible teaches that God created humans in His own image. This word image means “shadow” in the Hebrew language. We are not God and we aren’t little versions of God. We were created by God to reflect Him. Humans are special. Humans are unique to all the rest of creation. Nothing in the created universe compares to that apex of God’s creative design in people.
This truth leads to some important distinctions and implications. Humans have great responsibility to protect, explore, and use God’s creation for His glory and their good. We have been given dominion over creation. We should be creating and building. We should be finding cures to diseases and inventing technology that will continue adding to human flourishing. This is part of what it means to be human. Your dog isn’t sitting around thinking about its contribution to the rest of the dog world, but most humans have moments of deep reflection like the one I just described. It is simply in us. Imago Dei. Created in His image.
Finally, the reality of the Imago Dei in all humans has implications. We must protect and value all human life. Whether it is the life of the unborn or the life of the elderly. Whether the person is vibrantly productive or completely disabled, his or her life is valuable. Humans aren’t valuable because of what we can accomplish or attain, but rather because of the image we bear. The Imago Dei must impact the way we see and treat other humans. This starts in our homes with our spouses and children and seeps into our jobs, schools, and hobbies. We must see all people through the lens of the Imago Dei. People are just too valuable to dismiss, insult, or needlessly harm. In fact, Jesus, the perfect human, would teach us that we must LOVE one another. HE said those of us in faith would be recognized as such by the way we love each other. I hope that you will never look at other humans the same way again. See them for what they are……..image bearers of the King. Imago Dei.
“If anyone forces you to go one mile, go with them two miles.” Matthew 5:41
Roughly 2000 years ago in Judea, the mood was one of great tension. The Roman empire ruled the Jewish people with the usual Roman iron fist. Brutality and executions were the norm, and the subjugated people did what they were told or paid a horrible price. Even those who obeyed orders were forced into various further humiliations to remind them they were under Roman authority. One of these humiliations was the law of the mile.
By law, a Roman soldier could force a Jewish male to carry his load for one mile. There was to be no discussion. If you were told to do it, you did it. As you can imagine, the Jews despised this flaunting of power. Most all of the Jewish homes would have markers placed exactly one mile from their homes in all directions so that when forced to carry they wouldn’t go even an inch beyond what was required. It has been said that when the mile was completed the Jews would throw the Roman’s gear down and spit on the ground as a meager but useless protest.
It was in this context that Jesus, while preaching the amazing and famous Sermon on the Mount, said the words of Matthew 5:41. When you’re forced to go one mile, go two. This probably did not sit well initially with His audience. Seriously, Jesus? You want us to do more than is required for these brutal and pagan Romans?? I’m sure the indignant Jews stared back at Jesus incredulously. But Jesus was indeed quite serious. If we are to follow Him, we must become second mile people.
This second mile principal could be a game changer for all of us. Are we people who do the required mile but no more? If so, we are missing the joy of the second mile. You see, the first mile was one done under a certain type of slavery to the Romans, but the second mile was the free mile! No one made them do mile two. And that’s why it’s so special and so impactful. I can only guess the tremendous impact this had on the region as many men who heard Jesus’ words began to practice the second mile. Who knows, maybe they won over a few Roman soldiers!
If we are to be people of the Gospel, we must live in the shadow of it’s power and witness. Jesus most certainly went the second mile for us. What if we, in His name and power, began to live this way? What would our marriages and homes be like if we stopped only doing what is required and begin to go above and beyond? I believe it would transform our lives and those around us. Look, anyone can do the required mile! Wicked people will often do what is required when it benefits them. But the second mile requires not only feet, but hearts. May we all in the power of Christ become second mile people this year in every arena of our lives.
“For the Kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking but of righteousness and peace and JOY in the Holy Spirit” – Romans 14:17
The Christian life can be summed up in 3 words, one of which is joy. This means joy is no frivolous thing for which we should wish. Rather, it is an essential part of our experience with Christ. Joy is an emotion, but it’s no ordinary one. This is an emotion that is produced in your human spirit and is produced by the Holy Spirit. Being full of joy is a byproduct of being indwelled with the Spirit.
Christmas is supposed to be a time where our joy intensifies. Unfortunately, our modern version of Christmas often brings anything but comfort and joy. We run ourselves into the ground with the endless calendar commitments and gifts to buy. As we try to fill in the space under our tree we inevitably end up with an empty space in our hearts. Something is missing; Joy.
This Christmas I invite you to look beyond the lights and trees and instead look upon ancient texts. The Gospel of Luke records that angels appeared to a group of shepherds in a field and proclaimed GOOD NEWS that would lead to GREAT JOY. You see, true joy isn’t found in a mall but in a message. This message of good news was what we know as the Gospel. The message of the person and work of Jesus Christ leads us to great joy.
The Holy Spirit constantly points us to the Gospel with all of its earth shaking implications because it is there we find what our hearts so desperately long to have. As broken human beings our hearts have appetites for true joy but we have no idea where to find it. This leads us to walk an endless array of dead end roads in our frantic pursuit. Thankfully, Jesus came and shined light on the dark path and it led straight to Himself.
This Christmas, allow and even ask God to give you a new appetite for Him and His ways. He will give your soul a new set of taste buds!! He loves you so much that He will break your old tastes while giving you new ones. Instead of letting another December slip into the murky fog of materialism, stress, and exhaustion turn to your Heavenly Father and find righteousness, peace, and JOY.
For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” Ephesians 2:10
Have you ever noticed that the first thing we see God doing in the Bible is work? That’s right, the God of heaven begins His revealing of Himself to us by telling us that He works. Bursting onto the pages of scripture is a God creating and forming and making things. Beauty, light, and life itself comes forth from His magnificent activity. At the end of that first week God declared it good…..yep, He’s talking about the result of His WORK.
Speaking of these early days, God also gave the first man Adam a job before He gave him a wife! God creates Adam, breathes life into his nostrils, and puts him to work. Remember, this job of Adam’s precedes the fall in the garden. The world was a perfect and sinless place and it included work. I say all of this to remind you of an important truth; work is good.
Unfortunately, we live in a culture where we often bemoan work and see it simply as a necessary evil. We dream of the day when we can retire and relax in our proverbial hammocks until our happy hearts stop beating. We secretly hope we can win a lottery and finally walk away from the toil and slog of our jobs. The problem with this mindset is that it is not one that reflects the mark of our Creator.
God made us to work. Work is an amazing gift from a loving Father to His creation. It’s time we started looking at our jobs and responsibilities as opportunities to reflect God’s image rather than a simple means to an end. If you see your work as only a way to pay the bills and nothing more then you will be miserable for a considerable portion of your life. Thankfully, the Bible gives us a different view.
Ephesians 2:10 tells us that part of the redeeming work of Jesus in our lives is the redemption of our work. In Him, we are saved from having to work for our salvation but we are not saved from work! In fact, we are saved to work! The joy of unconditional love in the Father leads us to see all of life differently including our activity, effort, and responsibility. We can now stop looking at parts of life as mundane and other parts as sacred. Now, in Jesus, it is all sacred. This brings purpose and joy to everyone from the farmer to the lawyer. The stay at home mom realizes that every diaper matters while the doctor begins to view each patient through the lens of eternity. Everything a Christian does is sacred because he or she is a child of God. I hope this helps you today. In the words of Steven Curtis Chapman, “do everything you do to the glory of the One who made you”.
Now, get back to work!
The Book of Ephesians, which we are studying this summer at 3Circle Church, is a power packed 6 chapter book. Chapter one, which is essentially the Apostle Paul’s greeting in what was a letter to the church of Ephesus, is no ordinary greeting. Before he gave the Ephesians instruction he gave them encouragement. Paul wanted to strengthen their confidence in all that God had accomplished for them through Jesus. Much of the greeting is a reminder of the stunning implications of the Gospel for believers.
First, Paul calls the Ephesians saints. SAINTS!! What a powerful word. In some religious tribes, becoming a saint is something you must earn with a lifetime of good deeds. The Gospel informs broken sinners that sainthood is an identity GIVEN to unworthy sinners who place their faith in Jesus. The members of the church of Ephesus were not perfect. This will become obvious as the need for instruction is clear throughout the Epistle. Nevertheless, Paul calls them saints. You see, as a believer, saint becomes your constant identity even though sin is an occasional activity. You sin because you are an imperfect human but you are a saint because you belong to a perfect Savior.
Paul informs the church in this greeting that they have been blessed IN CHRIST with every spiritual blessing. The phrase “in Christ” is seen often in Paul’s writings. This speaks of the amazing union of the believer with Jesus through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. How can Jesus be in me and I in Him when He’s in heaven and I’m on earth? The wonderful answer is the Holy Spirit who indwells all true believers. The Trinity is three in one. Jesus and the Spirit are completely unified, so when you have the Spirit you have the Son!
Finally, Paul speaks of the blessing of predestination. Unfortunately this word and concept have become a grease fire of debate and controversy in the Church. What we’ve made controversial God intended to be comforting. I truly believe the problem is that we are finite creatures getting to know our infinite God. There are truths in the Scriptures that are hard for me to understand and reconcile. The Trinity would be an example. But even though the infinite truth of the Trinity literally takes my mind to the limit, I still fully believe. This is true of the issue of the parallel truths of God’s sovereignty and human choice. The Bible teaches both of these truths, yet they seem irreconcilable to finite creatures. Let me assure you that what seems irreconcilable to us is completely reconcilable to our infinite God! What do we do then? Believe the Bible!
I believe that God is in complete control and knows everything. I also believe simultaneously that God has given me freedom and choices that have real impact. I also REJOICE in the truth that my salvation was no accident…..I was CHOSEN!! Don’t miss the joy of this truth in the middle of all of the debate. God chose you to be His child. What a magnificent truth. And just think my friends, we’ve only covered the greeting of the letter!!
Summertime is finally here. By God’s grace, I live in a great area to have a great summer. Beaches, rivers, creeks and bays are literally all around me. If you’re like me, you will alternate between fishing, boating, and hanging out on the beach with your kids. While I’m all for enjoying the natural wonders of summer on the coast, I want to invite you to join me on a different type of summer journey. I’m talking about a journey to a church in an ancient Roman city known as Ephesus.
At 3Circle Church, we will be spending the next few hot and humid months walking through the New Testament book of Ephesians. This power packed 6 chapter letter was written to the church of Ephesus by the Apostle Paul. The book covers a lot of ground in a few chapters, and I believe those willing to drill down into this Epistle will find treasure that will change their lives. The great British preacher Charles Spurgeon, considered this to be his favorite book of the Bible. I personally have gone back to Ephesians over and over as a Christian, and a minister, for both encouragement and instruction.
CS Lewis said modern people often fall into an erroneous trap of “chronological snobbery,” meaning we incorrectly think that people from past ages were all extremely primitive and have nothing in common with us in our modernity. This is not true, however, because people have always been people created in God’s image. The book of Ephesians in particular makes this point as the city of Ephesus was a booming metropolis of over 250,000 people with all of the latest advancements and culture of the day.
The church to which this letter was written faced the same identity crisis that many of us face. They needed to be reminded of the grace of God and the stunning implications of the Gospel for themselves and their lost city. They longed for healthy marriages like we do and this letter gave them helpful instructions. Finally, like us, the Ephesus Church faced daily attacks in the spiritual realm that often left them discouraged, confused, and fearful. Paul spends a chapter of this letter equipping this church for the battle.
It is because of these reasons, and many more, that I’m so excited to lead our church through this book for Summer 2015. If you don’t have a church home and you are in the Gulf Coast region, please join us for this series. If you live in a different area you can take this journey with us online.
In preparation for this first Sunday, please read Ephesians chapter one. As a preview, I’d like you to take special notice of how Paul greeted the church of Ephesus in the first two verses of the letter. This is going to be a life changing summer at 3Circle as we unleash the power of Ephesians.