Friday, May 30, 2008

never-changing commands

The Old Testament is rich with story and spiritual insight. We must resist discounting what we read as mere historical record, especially in light of what I came across recently.

A curious message is tucked into the account of an unnamed prophet in 1 Kings 13. He's simply called "the man of God," so I guessed that he was on target, so to speak, when it came to obedience, wisdom, righteousness and the like. The fellow travels to the northern Kingdom [Israel] in the early days of the divided monarchy and speaks a curse to the wicked king Jeroboam. Wanting to gain God's favor, the condemned king asks the man of God to stay for dinner. But, the prophet refuses because God has given him specific instruction not to "eat any food or drink any water" in the town where the king rules.

The man of God begins his journey home when he is intercepted by another "old prophet" [v. 11]. For reasons unknown, the older sage invites the younger prophet to come back to the city and have dinner. Once again, the first explains that God has given him a command restricting dinner plans in Bethel. The older prophet interrupts, "I am a prophet, too, just as you are. And an angel gave me this message from the Lord: 'Bring him home with you, and give him food to eat and water to drink'" [v. 18].

So, the first prophet has a dinner party with the second.

During dessert, the Lord speaks through the host to the first prophet and condemns his actions. Because he disobeyed the word of God, he wouldn't even make it home alive. Along the path, he was killed by a lion.

The dilemma of the story is that God seems to speak in contradiction. He restricts the prophet and then He gives him freedom. First He says "No" and then He says "Yes." But, as I considered the passage more carefully, three very important principles came to light:

First, God's commands are eternal. What He decrees, is true for today, tomorrow and a thousand years from now. This means that the 2nd Commandment that forbids the making of any image of God applies to golden calves as well as modern movie comedies. With this in mind, I want to know my Old Testament even more! God doesn't change His mind or His commands.

Second, God never contradicts what He has once spoken. Years ago, I realized an important implication of this principle: God will never set aside one of His commands in order to fulfill another of His commands. I heard a man once say that he wanted to follow God's command to "have joy" ["Rejoice always!"]. But, his marriage made him miserable. Only by divorcing his wife could he truly obey God's joy command. Poor thinking. God would contradict His own truth if the only way the man could have joy was to violate his marriage covenant through divorce. There had to be another way. God doesn't say "eat" and "don't eat" in the same breath.

Third, make sure God is speaking. I think the key to this passage is fact that "an angel" instructed the older prophet to invite the man of God to dinner. This isn't an "angel of the Lord" [a.k.a. The Lord]. It's just an angel. Perhaps a fallen angel. Perhaps a well-intentioned angel. However, no matter how angelic, the messenger got it wrong. Which makes me all the more careful to receive a word from God alone. Satan "masquerades as an angel of light" [2 Corinthians 11:14] and will work to convince us "thus sayeth the Lord" when the Lord never "thus sayethed."

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

finding freedom in failure

Rarely do I get excited about what I can't do. Most often, I'm in pursuit of success, not failure. But, I'm learning to let go of who I'm not in order to be who I am.

Take, for example, a recent email I received from my friend Kevin. He attends Pantego Bible Church and is a great graphic designer [we have several in our church]. It so happens that I'm a graphic designer too...20 years ago. It's what I studied in college, much before computers were invented and magazines were still made ready for press on drafting boards with T-squares. I still dabble in design and, a week ago, I created a new bulletin design for an upcoming summer sermon series on the life of King David. Then, I zipped the file off to Kevin and invited him to take a stab at the same subject. What he sent back was over-the-top superior. Not only that, he sent four separate designs. And, what took me hours probably took him minutes.

He has it and I don't.

I remember that I first felt this loss several years after I picked up guitar. Like most leaders in student ministry, I felt the lure of learning five basic chords which would qualify me to play every song in the Young Life song book. I purchased my own guitar, led worship [I use that term very loosely] and even wrote a song...which no one will ever hear. One Spring Break, while on a mission trip to Ciudad Victoria, Mexico, I met a pastor who was very gifted on the guitar. The problem is that the neck of his overly-strummed instrument was cracked and the fellow had the thing held together with duct tape. Near the end of our trip, I was hammering out my five chords when God said, "Give it up." I joke to myself that the Almighty feared I might bring my worship leading into heaven one day, throwing the whole angelic host into utter chaos. But, God was more specific. I gave my guitar to the pastor before we left and gave it up for good. That day, I died to the possibility that I might play well. And, to be honest, I fought that failure.

I still do sometimes. But, God is teaching me that letting go is an important step to moving on. It's a little like lightening your load for the journey. To be best at what God has called us to, we must jettison the myriad of other things which can be distracting, time-killers, or obstacles in the way [see previous post]. I'm not talking about giving up things where we are mediocre [few of us would own golf clubs] or never having a new interest which we can develop. I'm talking about shutting the door to old dreams that get in the way of new vision. It's understanding what I'm made for, how I am designed, what are my gifts, what I do well. It's also about affirming the uniqueness of each part of the Body of Christ--allowing better designers and more gifted worship leaders to step forward and do what they're fitted to do. I'm discovering that, when I finally embrace my failure, I can truly move on in freedom. The letting go really does release me to move forward.

Monday, May 26, 2008

return[ed] on investment

The paper today predicted that the economy might begin to turn around by mid-year. More jobs, better home sales and a stable stock market will be the leading indicators.

I can hardly wait.

Because my financial portfolio has been sitting on idle for the last 6 months. No matter how many IRA contributions I make, the needle never heads north to the land of profit. My advisor tells me that everyone's in the same boat . . . except hedge fund managers.

This weekend, I experienced a parallel loss--the currency of time. I made five trips to three different home improvement stores. By Sunday afternoon, I had taken virtually everything I purchased back for a refund. I spent hours planning, searching aisles, choosing products, talking to sales people, standing in lines and driving across town only to end up right back where I started. In short, my return on investment was poor. Wasted time. No profit to show for my venture.

Ephesians 5:15-16 states "Be very careful, then, how you live—not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil." The writer understood the the currents of the time currency. If we're not careful, we're liable to lose our investment, whittling our days away with errands, busyness and inane activities that make for a shallow life-portfolio in the end. What if we were to only do the kinds of things that had eternal value: serving others, meeting the needs of the impoverished, reconciling relationships, practicing generosity, caring for widows and orphans, speaking the truth. To stand before God and know that my time yielded a profit that fulfilled God's purpose for my life and made Him famous along the way. No useless investments. No refunds. Time well-spent

Thursday, May 22, 2008

the Job prospect

This morning, I received the tragic news of the untimely death of Steven Curtis Chapman's 5-year old daughter, Maria [news here]. The sweet little princess was the Chapman's youngest of three adopted Chinese daughters. Even more gut-wrenching is the fact that she was struck, in her driveway, by a car driven by one of the Chapman sons. Sadly, the family was hours away from their son's high school graduation party and their older daughter had recenlty announced her engagement.

Can you feel the trauma?

So many questions, the greatest of which is "why?" Suddenly, my disappointment over the hit and run driver who backed into my wife's SUV this week dissipated. My difficulties pale in comparison. It's all a matter of perspective, isn't it?

As I grieve with the Chapman family [Steven is one of the top Christian musicians in the world and has become a leading advocate for Chinese adoptions], I can't help but glance in the direction of Job. The story of Job is one of the most ancient episodes in the Bible, placed in the middle of the Old Testament, but likely occurring sometime after Cain murdered Abel and before Noah's ark. The book opens with the declaration that Job was "blameless and upright," fearing God and shunning evil. Because of his notable righteousness, the devil decided to "test" him [vv. 6-19]. In the time it took to pull out of the family driveway, the man's livestock were stolen, his servants kidnapped and his children killed in a freak accident. If that weren't enough, Job was afflicted with boils that covered his body from head to toe. And, everyone wanted to know one thing.


For 37 chapters, God remained silent for Job [unfortunately, the wretched man was surrounded by a trio of op-ed writers who were sure they knew the answer]. But, when the Almighty finally broke the silence, everyone stopped hypothesizing. God is sovereign. God is at work. God has the first and the final words. No matter what happens, at the end of the day, God is still God. And, Job found his contentment in this sure-anchored fact.

Some think that the story of Job searches out the question: Where is God when life hurts? But, really, it explored the question: Where are we when life hurts? The answer depends on what we have believed about God before tragedy strikes. No one forms a brand new theology in the midst of crisis. What we hold to be true either forms a firm foundation that supports us when tests come or creates a false security that crumbles leaving us with nothing but hopeless questions.

I hope you understand my intentions when I say that the death of little Maria couldn't have happened to better people. The Steven Curtis Chapman family has walked with God for a lifetime. Their whole world has been built on the truth of a God who is sovereign and secure. They trust God to be good. In faith, they rest in His grace. They possess a confident hope that they will see their baby again. They are exactly the kind of people who have a foundation of faith that attracts the attack of the enemy yet endures the pain with God-centered confidence.

I want to live in such a way that the quality of my faith is validated by the tests that come my way. And, I want to suffer those tests in a way that vindicates what I hold to be true about God now.

Please be in prayer for the Chapmans that they remain steadfast and firm.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

wise guise

I'm presently trekking through the book of 1 Kings in the Bible. Today, I read chapter 3--a perfect passage for my present position. God has a way of doing that.

The chapter is about Solomon, the son-heir to the throne of King David. In his rise to power, Solomon has a dream where, in it, God invites him to "ask anything" (v. 5). The tone of the verse suggests that God would have made good on whatever Solomon requested. The opportunities are endless! Anything is an almost paralyzing prospect. What would I desire if, upon asking, my wish would be granted?

Solomon asks for wisdom. Which was a smart thing to do.

Because, God not only gives him wisdom, but promised to heap on the king health and wealth because he made such a good choice. Then (v. 15), Solomon woke up, returned to Jerusalem and began to sacrifice burnt offerings. His response shouldn't be overlooked. Because the chapter opens with the observation that "Solomon showed his love for the Lord by walking according to the statutes of his father David, except that he offered sacrifices and burned incense on the high places" (v. 3). This was the practice of the pagan Canaanites who believed that the higher the hill where they offered their sacrifices, the closer they were to their gods. But, in Leviticus 17:3-4, God specifically limited offerings to Himself to the tabernacle (and later, the Temple). So, the Israelites, though well-intentioned, were living in disobedience. So was Solomon.

But, after wisdom was granted, Solomon went to Jerusalem and honored the Lord before the ark of the covenant. In wisdom, he was rightly aligned in worship. I learned long ago that the "fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom" (Proverbs 9:10). But, this passage reminds me that the fear of the Lord is also the "end" of wisdom. The evidence of true wisdom is God-centered living. Truly wise people are endued with the mind of God and, therefore, manifest the priorities and purposes of God.

So, today, I've asked God to give me whatever I want. And, I want wisdom.

Monday, May 12, 2008

nothing to write

It's been two weeks. Nothing scribed on the wall for the world to see. It makes me feel like nothing has happened when, in fact, so much has:

1. I was interviewed by KCBI to give some sound bites about prayer last week.
2. I met with 20~ Senior Pastors from area churches for our monthly prayer time.
3. I had lunch with old friends, Stanley and Jenny Wang to talk church planting strategies in Dallas.
4. I met my brother Ron for lunch and talked about his new house.
5. I spent time with 4 pastors from Peru [and their families] who are receiving their doctorates from DTS this month.
6. I met with my financial advisor and learned that the economy is in the ditch for everyone...not just my family.
7. I celebrated my daughter's volleyball team win in the YMCA championship game. Go Ditto Diggers!
8. I enjoyed spiritual challenge with my friend in Christ, Scott Burks.
9. I cherished a time of reflection and spiritual care with my Thursday morning discipleship group as we prayed for one of our members at length.
10. I have been playing lots of cards with my boys....and losing most of the time
11. I watched God move in a spectacular way during our church Mother's Day celebration.
12. I finished reading Patrick Lencioni's book Silos, Politics and Turf Wars.
13. I fell asleep in a deck chair by the pool yesterday.
14. I got an unexpected email and an out-of-the-blue letter from two former disciples.
15. I started studying for an exciting new sermon series on the life of David coming up in June.
16. I shared a delicious meal out with my family.
17. I prayed about a great opportunity to travel to Spain and teach a one-week course at a seminary in Madrid this Fall.
18. I saw a 3 foot snake.
19. I wrestled with Pearson and laughed so hard that I cried.
20. I've been overhwlemingly affirmed in my calling as a pastor.

wow. wow. wow.