A Bigger Story, A Better Hero

My kids love stories. It doesn’t really matter what story I read, Cat in the Hat, Fox in Socks, Spiderman, or Star Wars, my kids just want to hear stories, they love them and they always want more. But when my oldest son Hutch, was 2 ½ years old, I decided to change up the routine.

I didn’t read him a story, I told him a story. A story about “Hutch, the Dragon Slayer.”

It was a simple story really, that I made up on the spot, wanting to give my boy an adventurous tale where he could be the hero. He would set out to save the village, journey up the treacherous mountain, defeat the dragon, save the princess, and live happily ever after.

Do you know what story he wanted the next night?

And the next?

“Dadda, can you tell me about Hutch and the dragon, and the dragon cave, and the sword, and my spear and my shield, and the princess?”

“I’m sorry, what story?”

He loved it, he was constantly thinking about it and though it didn’t change, he wanted to hear it over and over and over again.

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We are a people who love stories. They entertain. They distract. They have the power to take us into other worlds and adventures; they allow us to experience love, fear, excitement and wonder all within the safety of our own home or local movie theater. How many of you have grown up on comic books, video games, fantasy novels, fairy tales and princess stories?

Stories captivate our attention, but more than that,  they make us yearn for something greater: for our own story to make sense and to have a plot line where we have significance.

I remember back when James Cameron’s Avatar came out, news outlets shared about people seeing the movie over and over in 3D, not wanting to go home, not wanting to go back to their normal lives because normal life just wasn’t as good.

Avatar was a fun three hours that took them into another world, but it was a defective story, defective because it didn’t help make sense of the people’s own stories. It only made their story look worse.

But this phenomena is not limited to high-tech science fiction fantasy. For me, in high school and college, it was movies like Braveheart and Gladiator, or a series like Band of Brothers, movies and tv that showed real men thrown into impossible situations revealing their true colors in the face of serious evil. But then the movie ends or the show is over, we go back to living lives that look very different.

A friend from college posted on Facebook a while back, “multitasking between bench pressing and fantasy football, never in my life have I felt so much like a man…” Now, nothing against working out or even fantasy football, but is that all there is in this grand adventure? Is that the peak of our story?

Where are the Roman soldiers to defeat? Where’s the English tyrant to defy? The Nazi army to overcome? The dragon and the dragon cave, the sword, the shield, and the spear?

The problem is, none of those stories are good enough, we need a better story; not one that pulls us out of our world, but one that makes sense of it; one that calls our name and pulls our story into a bigger story. We need the “Big Story.” And that story is found in the Bible. Pastor/author Justin Buzzard calls it the “one true story that can make sense of all we encounter in this broken and beautiful world.”

The problem then, if it really is the Bible, isn’t that you haven’t had access to this story, but rather, maybe you haven’t had the keys to unlock it.

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Jesus Makes Sense of the Bible

Have you ever been watching a movie and a friend joins you late? It seems like the rest of the time they’re leaning over and asking, “Who’s that?” “Why’s that important?” “What are they talking about?” They never really get the full story.

Now, it doesn’t just have to be the beginning. While the beginning usually sets the stage, many movies have their crucial moments later on (think: Sixth Sense) that brings all the pieces together.

That key moment in the Bible comes in the New Testament in the Gospel of Luke, in chapter 24. Two followers of Jesus were walking away from Jerusalem toward a village called Emmaus talking about his trial, crucifixion and burial. Jesus, some sort of disguise, joins their little walking party and asks them what they’re talking about. They can’t believe he doesn’t know, everyone in Jerusalem knows about these events, but even more: the tomb was found empty and angels said Jesus was alive.

But an empty tomb hasn’t brought these followers joy, just confusion. So Jesus is compelled to clear things up:

Luke 24:25-27  And he said to them, “O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?” And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself.

I love that story because, oh! how I long to have heard that conversation; to hear Jesus open up the Old Testament and explain how it pointed to Him.

20 verses later Jesus appears to His disciples and He does it again:

Luke 24:44-45  Then he said to them, “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.” Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures,

Jesus is saying that the entire Old Testament is about Him. Jesus is the key to understanding the Big Story of the Bible. But in what way is it all about Jesus? He continues…

Luke 24:46-47  and said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead,  and that repentance for the forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem.

All of the Old Testament is pointing to Jesus – His death, His resurrection and His good news shared with the nations. It’s not that there a few prophecies scattered among the Old Testament, but that the entire Old Testament and therefore the entire Bible is about Jesus from beginning to end.

“In the Old Testament God points forward to him and promises his coming in the future. In the New Testament God proclaims him to be the one who fulfills all those promises.” – Vaughan Roberts.

Meaning we can only begin to make sense of the Big Story of the Bible if we first know that it is about Jesus and the salvation God offers through Him. Creation (Genesis 1-2) sets the stage, the Fall (Genesis 3) sets up the problem, and the rest of the scriptures unfolds the incredible rescue plan, pointing to and culminating in Jesus’ life, death and resurrection.

As a better Noah, Jesus saves the remnant from the grave.

As a better Isaac, Jesus is the sacrificed One and only son.

As a better Moses, Jesus frees his people by his own blood, from slavery to sin and death, and as the law bringer places it in their hearts rather than tablets of stone.

As a better Joshua, Jesus leads his people to a better land.

As a better Judge, Jesus is the savior that breaks the cycle of sin.

As a better King, Jesus reigns because of his perfect obedience to the Father; as the great shepherd over his people with all wisdom and authority.

As a better prophet, Jesus is the full representation of God, not just His words.

And a better Ezra and Nehemiah, Jesus leads his people from complete exile and alienation from God into a kingdom that will never be shaken.

And there is far more! The rest of the New Testament follows the church and its leaders who unpack the implications of Jesus’ radical disruption of the plot line, and help us to live in light of our place in the story until the glorious ending when everything broken will be undone.

Genesis 1:1  In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.

Revelation 21:1  Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth passed away…

From Creation to New creation, God has had a plan to bless and dwell with His people and the plan all along was for it to happen through Jesus.

Jesus makes sense of the Bible, the Big Story. However, it is not just a story.

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Jesus Makes Sense of History & Your Story

Harry Potter is just a story. Seven books that tell of seven years of a young wizard’s life that ends in an epic battle with evil. Throughout the series you get hints of what must come: marked with a scar, a strange connection between Harry and this evil one, a prophecy that tells of his fate. But when the prophecies are fulfilled and the story ends, it doesn’t (or at least shouldn’t) cause you to run around and tell your friends, “We are saved! Voldemort is gone! Harry lives! We don’t have to live our lives in fear anymore!”  That would be ridiculous, because it’s just a story. Beyond your entertainment, it doesn’t actually affect you.

But the big story of the Bible is different.

The Bible is revealed into and connected to our world, which means that Jesus is also the one that makes sense of history.

This isn’t just the truth of a religion, this is THE truth, the story that explains the entire world. Adam’s sin that causes problems for humanity in the Bible is the same sin and death that causes problems for everyone on earth. From our physical decay, to our relational problems and the hate and selfishness that pervades our world, the Bible understands, the Bible explains. It’s written for this world and the answers it gives are for this world too.

Galatians 4:4 says that God sent Jesus “when the fullness of the time came…” God didn’t just place Jesus in the pages of a book, but sent Him as flesh and blood into a real geographical location on a day, month and year that is part of our timeline.

Jesus came, not just into a story, but into history, directly into our world to bring rescue to all who will trust in His name. And it is this news, this rescue and restoration Jesus brings for which our world still longs.

But if Jesus is the one who makes sense of the Big Story, and History, He is also the one who will make sense of your story.

Because well, what is your story really? What’s the plot line? What’s the adventure and who is the hero?

I think if we’re honest with ourselves, our stories leave a lot to be desired. They fall short of what we’d hope for in a story because of our failures, our lack of power, and our inability to see a purpose that lasts beyond our spot in the ground.

Much of the Big Story of the Bible is anticipation for the rescuer, but the rescuer has come. His name is Jesus. Yet often we still live like He hasn’t. We’re in a bigger story, but we’re still trying to be our own hero; trying to provide our own rescue and we can’t do it.

This is even written into the juggernauts of modern storytelling: the Marvel Cinematic Universe. From the first time these “heroes” have assembled, we witness that not only are they not strong enough to do it alone, but often they create bigger messes just by being there. Yet that is part of the appeal. I think we are drawn to these flawed heroes because deep down we know that even if we were super, we still wouldn’t be enough.

But here’s the good news: the Big Story isn’t about Hutch the Dragon Slayer, it isn’t about Derick the Pastor, it’s not about You the (CEO, student, athlete, Mom, Dad, Adventurer, Maven, whatever), but it is about what God is doing through Jesus. When we discover that 1) He is the hero and not us, 2) He is inviting us to join His story, and 3) in His story our story makes sense and has purpose, only then will you find what you were really meant to do: walk with Jesus to bring God glory.

It’s simple really: We bring our problems. We bring our need for rescue. He brings the solution, and the solution is Himself. Jesus is the hero that conquers dragons.

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Maybe it’s time to dust off that Bible again and see Jesus as the hero we need, and the Big Story that brings Him to you.

Will you trust Him with your story? Will you enter into His?

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Derick Zeulner is an associate pastor at South Shores Church. He has a M.A. in Theology from Talbot School of Theology in La Mirada, CA and he loves the wacky adventures of doing life with his wife, Rebecca, and 4 kids.

—–

Resources for seeing Jesus throughout the Scriptures:

Kids:

The Jesus Storybook Bible: Every Story Whispers His Name by Sally Lloyd-Jones

The Garden, the Curtain and the Cross by Carl Laferton

Adults:

The Big Story: How the Bible Makes Sense Out of Life by Justin Buzzard

The God Who Is There: Finding Your Place in God’s Story by D.A. Carson

God’s Big Picture: Tracing the Storyline of the Bible by Vaughan Roberts

Jesus on Every Page: 10 Simple Ways to Seek & Find Christ in the Old Testament by David Murray

According to Plan: The Unfolding Revelation of God in the Bible by Graeme Goldsworthy

 

 

This post was originally published at http://www.southshores.org .

 

From Rocks to Berries

At the 1 year birthday of my daughter Avonlea we held a little party for her and her friends. It was a strawberry themed party because that’s what my daughter asked (or what her parents thought would be cute). For one of the games, which involved a large bucket of dirt, my wife, Rebecca, painted rocks to look like strawberries for the kids to find – it was a hit.

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Before the party a friend was over to help with some of the preparation and she asked, “How’d you find so many rocks that look like strawberries?” And I laughed. And it still makes me laugh. Because none of the rocks looked like strawberries until Rebecca made them look like strawberries.

Similarly, when we’re in heaven, I can envision an angel saying to Jesus, “Where did you find all these holy people, these people that look like You?” And I imagine Jesus would chuckle a little bit, because none of us looked like Him, none. Not one. But God will have made us look just like Jesus.

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For what Rebecca did with a little paint, God does as the supreme artist, not just covering but actually changing us from the inside out. Our heart, our mind, our priorities, our desires, our passions our love — turning rocks into real strawberries, sinful humans into righteous, holy, Christ-like saints. And He does so, in concert with us, across the grand journey of our lives.

Now may the God of peace himself sanctify you completely, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. He who calls you is faithful; he will surely do it.
1 Thessalonians 5:23 ESV

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By the way, we put real strawberries on her cake, not rocks.

20 Resolutions for Your Tongue

Sunday’s sermon was on James 3:1-12, “The Faith that Speaks.” (You can listen to or watch it by clicking here). In a nut shell, James shows us the power of words (to direct or devastate), our inability to control them, and our only hope in the God who can change our hearts. At the end of the sermon I gave 4 steps for us to walk in so we can put this Scripture into practice:

  1. Reflect on your words. – Examine how you use your words and who you’ve hurt.
  2. Repent of your sins. – Apologize to people and confess to God.
  3. Renew your heart. – Only Christ can renew your heart; ask the Holy Spirit to increase your love for Jesus, your longing for holiness, and your control of your tongue.
  4. Resolve to resist sin and speak life. – The greatest work is what’s done in your heart, but it doesn’t mean we don’t make an effort as well.
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According to James, this would be a lot easier than taming the tongue.

The battle of our words is a battle for our heart! We must take practical steps to outwardly change what we trust God is changing inwardly!

For help in that fourth step I turn to Pastor Sinclair Ferguson who has put together a list of 20 Resolutions on the Use of the Tongue from the entirety of the book of James (because James talked about our words and how we should use them, a lot!). I encourage you to read these resolutions, the scripture they come from, and then pick 2-3 that you want to work on, even as God is at work in you.

20 Resolution on the Use of the Tongue from James by Sinclair Ferguson [1]

1) Resolved: To ask God for wisdom to speak and to do so with a single mind.

“If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him. . . . in faith with no doubting. . . . For that person must not suppose that he will receive anything . . . he is a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways” (James 1:5–8).

2) Resolved: To boast only in my exaltation in Christ or my humiliation in the world.

“Let the lowly brother boast in his exaltation, and the rich in his humiliation, because like a flower of the grass he will pass away” (James 1:9–10).

3) Resolved: To set a watch over my mouth.

“Let no one say when he is tempted, ‘I am being tempted by God,’ for God cannot be tempted with evil, and he himself tempts no one” (James 1:13).

4) Resolved: To be constantly quick to hear, slow to speak.

“Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger” (James 1:19).

5) Resolved: To learn the gospel way of speaking to the poor and the rich.

“My brothers, show no partiality as you hold the faith in our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory. For if a man wearing a gold ring and fine clothing comes into your assembly, and a poor man in shabby clothing also comes in, and if you pay attention to the one who wears the fine clothing and say, ‘You sit here in a good place,’ while you say to the poor man, ‘You stand over there,’ or, ‘Sit down at my feet,’ have you not then made distinctions among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts?” (James 2:1–4).

6) Resolved: To speak in the consciousness of the final judgment.

“So speak and so act as those who are to be judged under the law of liberty” (James 2:12).

7) Resolved: To never stand on anyone’s face with words that demean, despise, or cause despair.

“If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace, be warmed and filled’ without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that?” (James 2:15–16).

8) Resolved: To never claim a reality I do not experience.

“If you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast and be false to the truth” (James 3:14).

9) Resolved: To resist quarrelsome words as marks of a bad heart.

“What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you?” (James 4:1).

10) Resolved: To never speak evil of another.

“Do not speak evil against one another, brothers. The one who speaks against a brother or judges his brother, speaks evil against the law and judges the law. But if you judge the law, you are not a doer of the law but a judge” (James 4:11).

11) Resolved: To never boast in what I will accomplish.

“Come now, you who say, ‘Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit’ — yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes” (James 4:13). 

12) Resolved: To always speak as one who is subject to the providences of God.

“Instead you ought to say, ‘If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that’” (James 4:15).

13) Resolved: To never grumble, knowing that the Judge is at the door.

“Do not grumble against one another, brothers, so that you may not be judged; behold, the Judge is standing at the door” (James 5:9).

14) Resolved: To never allow anything but total integrity in my speech.

“But above all, my brothers, do not swear, either by heaven or by earth or by any other oath, but let your ‘yes’ be yes and your ‘no’ be no, so that you may not fall under condemnation” (James 5:12).

15) Resolved: To speak to God in prayer whenever I suffer.

“Is anyone among you suffering? Let him pray” (James 5:13). 

16) Resolved: To sing praises to God whenever I am cheerful.

“Is anyone cheerful? Let him sing praise” (James 5:13). 

17) Resolved: To ask for the prayers of others when I am sick.

“Is anyone among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord” (James 5:14).

18) Resolved: To confess it whenever I have failed.

“Therefore, confess your sins to one another” (James 5:16).

19) Resolved: To pray for one another when I am together with others in need.

“Pray for one another, that you may be healed” (James 5:16).

20) Resolved: To speak words of restoration when I see another wander.

“My brothers, if anyone among you wanders from the truth and someone brings him back, let him know that whoever brings back a sinner from his wandering will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins” (James 5:19–20).

[1] http://www.desiringgod.org/messages/the-tongue-the-bridle-and-the-blessing-an-exposition-of-james-3-1-12

 

Handbook for an Active Faith

In the news this weekend was the story of a man, Jon Kramer, who discovered two library books in his parents’ old cabin, both 40 years overdue. They were guidebooks that had helped the family develop a lifestyle around nature and an appreciation for the outdoors. Simple and practical books of great use and, apparently, great value, Jon decided to pay $1552.30 to cover the nickel-a-day late fees. Along with the check, he included a letter requesting to keep the books on loan with the promise of a similar payment after another 40 years.[1]

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This story helps us understand why the New Testament book of James has continually been a favorite among Christians. First and foremost, James is a practical book. A book in which we can immediately see the need and put into use. A book  scholar Robert Gundry calls “a manual of Christian conduct that assumes a foundation of faith.” (474)

The first verse of James introduces us to a transformed life ready to spur other transformed people into actively living out their faith. The message of James is that genuine faith must become evident in how we live and what we do. Faith doesn’t sit the bench, there are no armchair Christians or couch-potato disciples.

So the question is, how is it going to be lived out? How will this guidebook help us to develop a lifestyle around active faith and an appreciation for not only hearing the Word, but doing it? If we hear God and become doers of His will, what will this mean for our church?

David A. DeSilva’s An Introduction to the New Testament, has an incredibly insightful list of which he says “the church that receives James’ word and takes it to heart will be characterized by the following traits.” For the sake of brevity I’ve summarized his list below:

  • Our knowledge of God will shape our community.
  • Our speech, actions and ambitions will be like Jesus.
  • We will have a consistent witness through kindness and charity among ourselves and toward the world.
  • We will resist the tendency to value people according to what they have, where they’re from or what they look like.
  • We will welcome the poor and filthy along with the wealthiest donor.
  • We will help members find healing for their strife.
  • We will use the wealth and resources of our church to reflect God’s priorities instead of secular financial wisdom.
  • We will seek to restore the sick and the sinner.[2]

I’m excited for what God has in store for our church as we engage with James between now and Easter. My hope is that we won’t keep our faith to ourselves, but we will get out there.

 

[1] http://www.startribune.com/minneapolis-man-pays-1-500-late-fee-for-library-books-borrowed-in-1970s/408867025/

[2] David A. DeSilva, An Introduction to the New Testament, Intervarsity Press, England: 2004, p 839.

He Prays for You

My prayer life is inadequate. There I said it. Anyone willing to join me in my confession? It’s not often enough. I don’t always know the words to say. And sometimes it feels like I’m just going through the motions. The truth of the matter is, I wonder how often I’m even aware of what I really need?

dennis-inadequateprayersEach night when I put my kids to bed I try to give them an opportunity to pray. It is often a simple list of thankfulness or requests for a fun day. Sometimes they recall people who are sick, or thank God for Jesus’ death on the cross, and sometimes they don’t feel like praying at all (and I don’t make them). But there are also times when they want to pray, but just don’t know what to say. It is these times that they ask if I will pray with them, for them, so they can repeat after me. They want to pray, but they feel inadequate.

Sounds familiar?

Hebrews 7:25 says of Jesus, “Consequently, He is able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through Him, since He always lives to make intercession for them.

Jesus always lives to make intercession for us. He is our great high priest. Our great “go-between” who knows the right words to say. This week I was encouraged by this paragraph:

“It is a consoling thought that Christ is praying for us, even when we are negligent in our prayer life; that He is presenting to the Father those spiritual needs which were not present to our minds and which we often neglect to include in our prayers; and that He prays for our protection against the dangers of which we are not even conscious, and against the enemies which threaten us, though we do not notice it. He is praying that our faith may not cease, and that we may come out victoriously in the end.” Louis Berkhof, Systematic Theology, p. 403

So take heart, friends – the right prayers always being offered by Jesus on your behalf and God is pleased to answer Him. Let that knowledge encourage you, not to skip prayer, but to go ahead and join Him. Because, as my kids will tell you, it’s always easier to pray when you know someone else is too. So pray. Pray with Jesus, knowing He prays for you.

 

Beyond Costumes

This article was originally published in the July 2016 issue of Homefront Magazine. “HomeFront is a monthly magazine and parenting curriculum combined into one – based on the 10 Environments highlighted in the book Spiritual Parenting by Dr. Michelle Anthony. It is filled with recipes, craft ideas, stories, and more to inspire, equip, and support you on your parenting journey.” Subscribe to the magazine here!

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Beyond Costumes

“Are you Luke Skywalker?” It’s not an odd question in our house, where costumes are king and one minute my oldest son, Hutch (5), will be in Peter Pan green and the next, he’s in a white karate suit holding a blue light saber. At the same time Oakes (4) is dressed as Darth Vader and Avonlea (2) is wearing an Iron Man glove, storm trooper helmet and a bright green tutu. But as they go flying down the hall, and I ask the obvious question, I usually get the reply, “No, Dad, it’s me, Hutch!”

Costumes are a powerful way to encourage imaginations and a fun way to think through what might be. In choosing a costume kids think: “What powers would I like to have?” “What would I change about myself?” “What would make me special?”

Growing up and out of costumes doesn’t really take those questions away. Instead of superpowers it becomes a matter of friends, skills or achievements. We weigh the different options of education, relationships and careers still wondering: “What power will this give me?” “What change will add value?” “What will make me special?”

As parents we need to help our children navigate these questions, but how can we if we are still held captive to them ourselves? If I equate my identity to my success at work or how I compare to other dads then all I can ever offer my kids is another costume change. And the thing about costumes is that they are sweaty, difficult to wash and don’t actually change who you are. So what will?

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“Who Am I?”

When it comes to the superheroes of the Old Testament, Moses is right at the top. His name immediately brings to mind the power struggle with Pharaoh, plagues and parting seas. But that is not the guy you have in Exodus three. In chapter thee, Moses isn’t a hero, but a failure, an outcast and a fugitive. Yet this is the Moses God calls.

In a less than impressive answer Moses says, “Who am I?” He is no longer impressed with himself: not his resume, education, reputation, abilities or faithfulness. In a way, Moses has reached the place that each of us need to reach: tired of trading one costume for another and acknowledging that the real problem is within. Moses is correct in his admission of his insufficiency, but incorrect in his math. Our weaknesses are overcome by God’s power; our poor identity with the riches of His own. God is greater than any insufficiencies.

Our weaknesses are overcome by God’s power; our poor identity with the riches of His own. God is greater than any insufficiencies.

This is the story of the gospel too. Rather than leave us to the judgment our insufficiencies and sinfulness deserve, God bends down, through the incarnation of Jesus and shows that God is not only all-sufficient in Himself, but that He will take care of our insufficiencies through Jesus’ perfection and payment for sin so that God might call us His children.

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Nail Guns,  Shepherd’s Staffs & Father’s Hands

Sometimes when I’m working on a house project, my son will come join me with his toy tools and his “worker-man” costume. Recently I was working with a nail gun and I saw a look in his eyes showing he simultaneously wanted to join and also knew this was a tool he couldn’t use. So I said, “Hutch, come help me make this headboard.” Puzzled, he responded, “How can I?”

I handed him the nail gun and immediately I surrounded his hands with mine. I guided the nail gun into place and said, “Pull the trigger” and he did. I moved it over to the new spot and said, “Again.” And we kept doing this, his hands in mine as I directed the work and carried the weight of the gun until we finished. Then he ran and yelled, “Mom! Look what we built!”

At the end of Exodus 4, though Moses still doesn’t get it and is lost in his own insufficiency, God says to him, “…take in your hand this staff, with which you shall do the signs. (Exodus 4:17 ESV)” And in the pages that follow, God places His hands around Moses’  hands, so that when Moses gets to Pharaoh, God can whisper, “Pull the trigger. Tell Pharaoh to let my people go.”

We must point ourselves and our children to this wondrous truth: identity is not first about who we are, but about whose we are; for when we are God’s our “who is also changed. We don’t need a different costume; we need the Father.

Beyond Costumes - HomeFront July

Like what you read? Find more engaging articles on Identity in this month’s issue of HomeFront.

Live Tweet Thru the Minor Prophets / #LTTMP

The Minor Prophets. It sounds like A) underage fortunetellers, B) unimportant books, or C) a good name for a ska band.

Ska? Anyone? No? Okay.

Ska? Anyone? No? Okay.

Okay, so you probably never really thought A or C, but we do tend to treat them like B (At least I know I have). When really they are only named this because their books are (delightfully) shorter than those of Isaiah, Jeremiah and the other “Major Prophets.” But we don’t read them. I don’t. I have, but usually part of a “read through the Bible” or “read through the Old Testament” sort of exercise and I have failed to let them make an impact in my mind and my soul.

So this year, I’m making a change. I’m not just going to read the Minor Prophets, but I’m going to do so reflectively: taking time to dwell on each chapter, looking for the nuggets ready to be mined. This is why I’m taking my own devotional time to Twitter (@Zeulner). With its limit of 140 characters per tweet, I am forced to refine, refine, refine my thoughts in the passage. And because of its public nature, I am forced to think through not just what makes sense to me, but what will hopefully makes sense to most anyone who comes across my posts on Twitter or Facebook.

Beyond just a better understanding of the wisdom and truth found in each book, an additional emphasis in this #LTTMP is to look for the “arrows” pointing to the Gospel. This might be hints of something greater than what is already found in the Old Covenant, breaking points that cannot find their resolution in the law or in man’s state of sin, or glimmers of hope and a better promise that God desires for His people. With each of these, my intent is to mark it with a tag, #OTGospel, to help us uncover how the whole Bible, even the Minor Prophets, is pointing to and fulfilled in the coming of Jesus. (But remember, I only get 140 characters and that tag is 9! So we’ll see how that goes!)

A couple of disclaimers:

  • I may not get it right every time. As this is part of my own devotional time, I am not taking time each day to consult commentaries and other technical resources. These are my own personal observations and might be shown wrong by superior scholarship – I gladly welcome that. In fact, I always welcome people doing more research on the Bible, even if it is just to prove me wrong!
  • This may get repetitive. The primary function of these prophets was to call the people of Israel and Judah out for their sin and warn them of God’s coming judgment if they don’t change. But, as Jesus’ primary message was one of repentance… I don’t mind the repetition, hopefully you don’t either.
  • This is intended for application. It’s not a sermon where I get to take time dissecting the author’s original meaning and intent for his original audience and then move to what we can take from it today. I’m doing that first part in my head and then trying to move to today, which means my tweets aren’t saying what the passage “means” but rather how it should be “significant” for us. If you think I missed something, well, refer back to disclaimer #1.

Let me finish with a quote from Charles Spurgeon, comparing each of the major prophetic works of the Old Testament to different constellations in the night sky:

I am not at a loss to find a constellation for the minor prophets: they are a sweet group, of intense brilliancy, even though but small: they are the Pleides of the Bible. –Charles Spurgeon

The Pleiades, or 7-Sisters, Star Cluster

The Pleiades, or 7-Sisters, Star Cluster

Feel free to check back at this page, where I’ll update with links to the summaries as I finish each book.

Hosea // Joel // Amos // Obadiah // Jonah // Micah // Nahum

Habakkuk // Zephaniah // Haggai // Zechariah // Malachi

To Trust in God’s Justice (07.06.14)

To Trust in God’s Justice – Psalm 94

Johnny watches as little Jack cheats to win the race, he complains to his dad, “But that’s not fair!” And his dad, sage of all sages, blessed with the wisdom of many fathers before him, aptly responds, “Son, life isn’t fair.”

We’ve heard it (or said it) a hundred times, but is that right? If God stands for justice and has all power and wisdom to carry it out, then shouldn’t life, of all things, be fair? Yet injustice occurs… people get away with stuff all the time. Why is God’s justice so slow in coming? Why? Because God is merciful.

Big Idea: God’s delayed justice is for our good and His glory, but it won’t be delayed forever.

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Thoughts: God’s vengeance is only offensive if you don’t think sin is a big deal. 

In the Bible the essence of stupidity, of foolishness is to think God doesn’t exist; and closely related is to think, that God doesn’t see or know what [the wicked] are doing.

When we read this psalm we need to see that we did not begin as the righteous in this story, but as the wicked facing judgment. That is our position apart from Christ and the delay is God’s mercy, so we might trust in Him.

God is ready to ride through this chaotic world WITH you; and help you to find greater joy in Him than anything, anyone, or anywhere else you could be.

Life isn’t fair… yet, and that’s a good thing.
Scripture: And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. – Philippians 4:7

Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.”  – Romans 12:19

What if God, desiring to show his wrath and to make known his power, has endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction, in order to make known the riches of his glory for vessels of mercy, which he has prepared beforehand for glory— Romans 9:22-23

Links: 

An Embassy of the Kingdom

This week I read two books on the exciting topic of Church Membership. Yesterday I told you about book number one and now I will tell you about book number two:

Church Membership: How the World Knows Who Represents Jesus by Jonathan Leeman

churchmembership

 

Like Rainer’s book, this one is also small (postcard size, 139 pages), which again is helpful to me. It is part of the new 9Marks books on building healthy churches, all which fit into this unburdening size. But don’t let it fool you, Leeman’s brevity does not keep him from painting a complete and winsome picture of church membership. To compare, in my opinion Rainer’s book aimed to take the ordinary church attenders/members and shift their attitude toward the church resulting in growth for them and their church. However, it is conceivable that an attending person could engage with Rainer’s book, commit to his 6 pledges and still not retain an official status as a “member.” Leeman’s book, on the other hand, helps the pastor, elder, layperson see the importance of the entire structure, founded in the biblical text and with specific Gospel oriented purpose for our world whereas you will immediately run to your pastor and ask “What must I do to become a member?!” Where Rainer’s book wants you to become a better member, Leeman’s helps you see the glorious purpose of the church, God’s design in its uniqueness, and practical ways for membership to facilitate a greater representation of Jesus to the world (even in our flawed churches).

I think that the primary gift that this book brings its readers is to make a big deal about church membership. In Leeman’s introduction he makes some grand statements regarding church membership and his purpose for writing this book:

My primary purpose is to show you what church membership is, because it’s not what you think it is. I’m not going to defend it, not directly anyhow. I’m going to present a vision for it. And here’s my prediction: if you grab hold of how the Bible views church membership, it just might change the shape of your Christianity. (p 18)

Pretty bold, isn’t he. But can I tell you, having finished the book… he did. At least for me. At least my vision of Christianity was altered, and I hope as I continue to work through these ideas that it will change its shape too.

What kind of changes are we talking about? It begins with viewing the church as the primary human authority on earth to affirm and give shape to your Christian life.

Just as the Bible establishes the government of your nation as your highest authority on earth when it comes to your citizenship in that nation, so the Bible establishes the local church as your highest authority on earth when it comes to your discipleship to Christ and your citizenship in Christ’s present and promised nation. (p 25)

Well, that sounds pretty different from something that I go to once in a while, duck in, get “fed,” talk to a few people about sports or the weather, eat a donut and duck back out. It honestly sounds a little scary because it might change how we live our lives. Jesus gave authority to the church, but does that mean we have too? We are so used to thinking about the church in terms of optional engagement that performs a service for us (like a country club, or gym membership). But Leeman, while address the many other metaphors describing the church, wants to help us begin by thinking through the church as an embassy of Christ’s future kingdom.

What’s an embassy? It’s an institution that represents one nation inside another nation. It declares its home nation’s interests to the host nation, and it protects the citizens of the home nation living in the host nation. (p 27)

If you lose your passport while on foreign soil, an embassy doesn’t make you a citizen, but it will affirm what you don’t have the authority to declare yourself – citizen of the United States. Similarly the local church functions to recognize people publicly as Christians. Leeman again:

Jesus didn’t leave us to govern ourselves and to declare ourselves his citizens. He left an institution in place that both affirms us as believers and then helps to give shape and direction to our Christian lives. (pp 29-30)

If we say “I’m with Jesus,” its through the local church that we get to show it to be true, which then gives the world somewhere to look to see what Jesus’ people are like.

Let me finish this review/recommendation with Jonathan Leeman’s “Twelve Reasons Membership Matters.” I hope you’ll check this out, and if it intrigues or upsets you, then please, by all means get the book and read the rest for yourself. The church is worth it.

“Twelve Reasons Membership Matters” by Jonathan Leeman

  1. It’s biblical. Jesus established the local church and all the apostles did their ministry through it. The Christian life in the New Testament is church life. Christians today should expect and desire the same.
  2. The church is its members. To be a church in the New Testament is to be one of its members (read through Acts). And you want to be part of the church because that’s who Jesus came to rescue and reconcile to himself.
  3. It’s a prerequisite for the Lord’s Supper. The Lord’s Supper is a meal for the gathered church, that is, for members (see 1 Cor. 11:20-33). And you want to take the Lord’s Supper. It’s the team flag that makes the church team visible to the nations.
  4. It’s how you officially represent Jesus. Membership is the church’s affirmation that you are a citizen of Christ’s kingdom and therefore a passport-carrying Jesus representative before the nations. And you want your representation to be authorized. Closely related to this…
  5. It’s how you declare your highest allegiance. Your membership on the team, which becomes visible when you wave the flag of the Lord’s Supper is a public testimony that your highest allegiance belongs to Jesus. Trials and persecution may come, but your only words are, “I am a Christian.”
  6. It’s how you embody and experience biblical images. It’s within the accountability structures of the local church that Christians live and experience the interconnectivity of his body, the spiritual fullness of his temple, and the safety and intimacy and shared identity of his family.
  7. It’s how you serve other Christians. Membership helps you to know which Christians on planet Earth you are specifically responsible to love, serve, warn, and encourage. It enables you to fulfill your biblical responsibilities to Christ’s body (for example, see Eph 4:11-16, 25-32).
  8. It’s how you follow Christian leaders. Membership helps you know which Christian leaders on planet Earth you are called to obey and follow. Again, it allows you to fulfill your biblical responsibility to them (see Heb. 13:7, 17).
  9. It helps Christian leaders lead. Membership lets Christian leaders know which Christians on planet Earth they will “give an account” for (Acts 20:28; 1 Pet. 5:2).
  10. It enables church discipline. It gives you the biblically prescribed place to participate in the work of church discipline responsibly, wisely, and lovingly (1 Cor 5).
  11. It gives structure to your Christian life. It places an individual Christian’s claim to obey and follow Jesus into a real-life setting where authority is actually exercised over us (see John 14:15; 1 John 2:19; 4:20-21). ItIt’s God’s discipling program.
  12. It builds a witness and invites the nations. Membership puts the alternative rule of Christ on display for the watching universe (see Matt 5:13; John 13:34-35; Eph 3:10; 1 Pet 2:9-12). The very boundaries, which are drawn around the membership of a church, yield a society of people that invites the nations to something better. It’s God’s evangelism program.  (pp 79-81).

But I thought it was just a gathering of God’s people? Yes, it is, and much much more. And it is for our good, and God’s glory.

Not a Country Club

I love the church. I know you’re thinking, “Really, Derick? You, as a pastor, love the church, so surprising.” Surprising I know, but true. The more I study the Bible the more I become amazed at all the church is to do and be. God has set up the church to be a wondrous and God-glorifying gathering of those who love Him. But I also work at a church, and I’m part of a church, and I have friends and families at other churches, and I read the news about churches and with all this I know that we aren’t all doing such a bang-up job all the time. There are a lot of reasons for this, and the purpose of this post is not to get into all of those reasons, but I do think that one reason we are able to find amazement in the words of Jesus and Paul about the church and yet find disappointment in our own experiences is simply because of our own mis-understanding of the church and how we belong.

We don’t tend to have a good idea WHY we are part of the church. Do you? What does that even mean to be a member or to belong?

I read two small books this week on the idea of church membership, and so in this post and the next I’d like to share them with you:

I Am a Church Member: Discovering the Attitude that Makes the Difference by Thom S. Rainer.

churchmember

Now, this book is little. About the size of a postcard and only 79 pages long, and I love that. It’s hard for me to find time to sit down and read a book, but this one was incredibly inviting, so I had too. Inviting is exactly how’d I describe Thom’s style of writing. You are easily invited into a discussion that could easily be a top-shelf theological discussion, but he makes it plain without making it any less biblical.  Probably the most unique aspect of Thom’s book is that he places your attitude toward the church at the fore-front. He isn’t trying to get you to help your pastor organize the best church structure or get you to infiltrate the elder board so you can make some real changes. Instead he wants you to read these six chapters and make six pledges that will begin to change how you look at your church, are committed to your church, pray for your church, serve your church and through it all, as you change, he believes that your church will begin to change to.

Here’s an (inviting) excerpt:

Join me on this journey of discovering or rediscovering the privilige and joy of church membership. And before you get caught up in the meaning of church membership take time to read the next brief chapter. Let us then take six steps carefully and prayerfully. And at the end of each step, let us be willing to make a commitment, a real commitment to our church.

When this journey is over for you, two things will likely take place. First, you will likely have a new or renewed attitude about your church. You will learn the joy of being last instead of seeking to be first. Instead of being a whiner complaining about what’s wrong with your church, you will be a unifier seeking what’s best for your church.

Second, your church will begin to change. It will become healthier because one of its members is healthier. And as the church gets healthier, it will have a greater impact on its community and the world. (pp 6-7)

And another:

Their view of membership is more aligned with country club membership. For them, membership is about receiving instead of giving, being served instead of serving, rights instead of responsibilities, and entitlements instead of sacrifices. This wrongful view of membership sees the tithes and offerings as membership dues that entitle members to a never-ending list of privileges and expectations, instead of an unconditional cheerful gift to God. So, what does the Bible say about church membership? I’m glad you asked. (p 11)

It’s a perfect book for the ordinary church-goer who is ready to stop treating the church like a country club, soccer team or a volunteer organization and start embracing it for what God created it to be. It can begin with you, and with me: I am a church member.

 

Stay tuned for a brief look at “Church Membership: How the World Knows Who Represents Jesus” by Jonathan Leeman.