Gods


I would recommend Dr. John Townsend’s “Where is God? Finding His Presence, Purpose, and Power in Difficult Times.” I was fortunate enough to be provided a copy in a special pre-release directly from Thomas Nelson for review purposes. You can purchase a copy for under $16 at Amazon.com (http://www.amazon.com/Where-God-Finding-Presence-Difficult/dp/0785229191/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1262303242&sr=8-1)or directly from the publisher at http://www.thomasnelson.com/consumer/product_detail.asp?sku=0785229191&title=Where_Is_God&author=Dr._John_Townsend. For further study on this topic, I would also encourage one to read C.S. Lewis’ “The Problem with Pain” and Philip Yancey’s “The Problem with Pain.”

My favorite chapter was titled “The God You Must Not Seek” and focused on our “internal picture of God and how to deal with it if [we] have any desire to clear the way for the One who is for [us] in [you] hard circumstances . . . [the author] deal[s] with several false versions of God that [we] struggle with:
• Angry God: How do [we] feel safe with him?
• Unpleasable God: [We] might as well just give up.
• Disconnected God: He is unavailable.
• Indulgent God: There are no rules to protect [us]” (Townsend, 43-44).
For one reason or another, many of us have the tendency to distort the attributes and actions of God to be someone who he is absolutely not – whether that be One who is bent on wrath, One who is in demand of perfection, One who is far removed from his creation, or One who does not care what we do because all is forgiven in the end. All these distortions are full of deception and end in personal (and most likely corporate) destruction.

I can relate to this warning. Due partially to certain individuals that I came into regular contact with growing up, I have acquired misconceptions of God’s character and still struggle with those ideas to this day. For example, one person I very much loved and trusted, used to promise me time and possessions and then never follow through. I learned quickly to doubt the word of others and to protect myself from further disappointment. On a lighter note, my wife laughs at me and my sports allegiances. I always expect my favorite teams to let me down in the end – thinking about the worst case scenario. This preemptive attitude has served me well considering my two favorite teams – the Los Angeles Dodgers and Notre Dame Fighting Irish – have not hoisted a trophy over their heads in twenty-one seasons (but who is counting). However, she did not laugh at me, while we were dating, and I constantly asked her, “Do you promise?” This was a poor attempt at protecting myself from yet another person breaking my heart – the problem: commitment takes trust. I needed to learn to see the best. Expect the best. Be the best. That is what she deserved and still deserves from me.

I have wrestled with this weakness and in many ways have grown in maturity and health – but I also recognize that I still have the tendency to repeat myself to her. I still expect, deep down, to be let down. Is this any different with my relationship with God? When I graduated from college, even after seeing his direction and provision through that entire process, I doubted that I would ever be hired by a church to youth pastor. Nothing really changed a few years later, upon sensing in my heart of hearts that change was coming our way, because I STILL wondered if I would ever find another place to pastor. There are a few Wednesdays every year where I will be driving home disappointed or discouraged – asking myself, “Am I even doing anything of eternal significance? Will I succeed in God’s eyes? Am I being obedient?” There are seasons in my life where I begin to slowly but surely begin to doubt the dreams that I truly believe that God has placed in my heart. Will I ever . . . does this mean . . . am I destined to be . . . . Why do I continually do this? Isn’t the same God who was gracious enough to call me the same God who is faithful enough to place me?

I am reminded of one biblical author who wrote, “And they shall not teach, each one his neighbor and each one his brother, saying, Know the Lord, for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest” (Hebrews 8:11, ESV). The New Covenant, the one centered upon Christ, is God’s revelation in all of it’s fullness. We might now know the Father by knowing God. The author encourages the reader to consider the answers to several questions in hopes of revealing one’s distorted viewpoints concerning God. For example, how do you think God feels toward you during difficult circumstances? How do you think he feels when you make a bad decision? I pray that all of us will make every effort this new year in seeking out the grace and truth of Jesus Christ. May we know him through the Inspired Words of Scripture. Through prayer. Through worship. Through Christ-centered community. May this be the year that all of us – from the least to the greatest – know him, are known by him, and make known to others.

Official Book Description: Hard times make us look for God. Everyone has problems. But if we could solve all our difficulties ourselves, would we ever search for God? Psychologist John Townsend says “It is actually the very unfixability of our problems and our powerlessness to bring right results that keep us asking, ‘Where is God?'” With a compelling narrative, Townsend offers new insights into the pursuit for God’s help and presence. Designed to give readers hope and meaning, he divides the discussion into three parts:
* Why does a loving God allow us to experience difficulties?
* How is God active in the middle of our hard times?
* How can I find God?
With powerful stories and practical applications, Where Is God? assures readers that even when it feels as though God is absent it is his nature to be in relationship, to connect with, love, and guide us. And when we seek him with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength, he shows up in ways that transform us forever.

Gods

Global

We are less than 48 hours away from not only a new year but a new decade alltogether. The new year seems to be a natural time for reflection, renewal, and resolve. A new decade gives people the opportunity to start fresh – especially when the last ten years have been so full of trial, terror, and tragedy. Everyone loves a second chance. A new chance.

However, if we are honest with ourselves, we would admit that nearly every year, every decade, every century, and every millenium brings with it a list of difficulties – different as they may seem. Why would this decade be any different? Don’t get me wrong, I am not trying to sqelch what little hope any of us have left in the future. I am very hopeful. Nevertheless, my hope looks and sounds a bit different than many of those out there today. I am also not attempting to be one who stands at the cornder with a sandwich board around my neck and shouting, “The end is near.” It might be. The end could take place at any moment. The end of what we know is none other than the beginning of Christ’s rule and reign. I believe that his Kingdom can and will appear at any moment. Though I also believe, as the church, we must seize of every moment that we have until then – whether it be one day . . . one decade . . . or another one thousand years.

Let me put this dilemna another way (being caught between being hopeful and being watchful). We live in a global age. The economy. Technology. Media. Networking. Communications. Altercations. Resources. All of it being global. We watch movies that depict many forms and intreprtations of the apolclypse – whether it be Y2K of ten years ago, the countdown to 2012, natural disasters, or alien invasions. The list goes on and on. The typical script comes down to this: When unified – humanity can save herself. A remnant always survives. A few will always overcome. Who would not want to live in that type of world? The problem: it just will not and cannot happen. Humanity cannot rescue herself. Humanity just cannot steer clear of conflict for any great length of time – sad but true. But why? Because humanity, whether she can believe it or not, is conflict with her Creator.

There might be times of peace. There might be moments where there is absence of conflct. There might be seasons where leaders rise up who call others to common rallying points – but just does not last. Someone one is left out. Someone wants what another has. Someone is hiding something and the truth is eventually revealed. Whatever the cause, whatever the reason, war wages on. Famine. Enslavement. Genecide. Humanity hurts herself.

These are the signs that have been going on since the beginning. These are the confirmanation that we are not who we were meant to be. This was not the earth that God created. Again, please don’t misunderstand what I am trying to say. We must, especailly the church, stand for righteesness. We must act to help in times of turmiol. We must feed the hungry, free the captive, and share the good news. We must push for negotations and sanctions – anything to avoid the brutaility of battle. And yet, I often look at the direction we are heading – reliance on technolgy, global economic programs, environmental emphasis – and wonder if much (not all) of these issues are merely band-aids. I like to call them Tower of Babels. We unify for a time. But we unify for the wrong reasons. We mistakenly beleive that we are great. That we own the heavens. That if ONLY we would work together the world would be a better place – the world would be made right again.

I pray that we will see less Babels this coming decade and a whole lot more of Pentecost. Babel was humanity’s attempt. Pentecost was God’s empowerment. Babel ended in confusion and disunity. Pentecost brought common ground and purpose. They both ended with the people scattering. The people who began the Tower all scattered because of differences. The people who experienced Pentecost scattered because of persecution – but they scattered on the mission of making disciples of the known world. May this be the decade where the church goes. Where the church is going. Where the church gets it. Where they utilzie the technological advances and cutlural norms to share Christ’s message – but they do not rely upon them. They instead are people of God’s presence and power.

There will come a day when the nations will come together. They will come together for ever. However, it will not be because of treaty or personality or agenda. The Apostle John writes, “And they sing the song of Moses, the servant of God, and the song of the Lamb, saying, Great and amazing are your deeds, O Lord God the Almighty! Just and true are your ways, O King of the nations! Who will not fear, O Lord, and glorify your name? For you alone are holy. All nations will come and worship you, for your righteous acts have been revealed” (Revelation 15:3-4, ESV). Ever knee will bow and every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord. Humanity will finally recognize that they were saved – from themselves.

Global

Acclaim

One of the most spectacular elements of John’s Revelation is the heavenly worship scattered throughout. Christ takes his rightful place upon the throne. Even when the church was in the midst of terrible persecution at the hands of the Roman Empire, the evangelist was pointing his audience to the proper response – acclaim for Jesus as Lord – not Caesar. Worship. The divine picture was described as, “And all the angels were standing around the throne and around the elders and the four living creatures, and they fell on their faces before the throne and worshiped God, saying, Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might be to our God forever and ever! Amen” (Revelation 7:11-12, ESV).

God was exalted in all fullness and completeness – praise, glory, wisdom, gratitude, honor, power, and strength. He is God. Not us. Not our leaders. Not our system. Not our ideas. He is God. Many scholars see correlations between this song and the song of David as he passed his crown to his son at the end of 1 Chronicles. David was always the first to admit that even he, as the greatest king in Israel’s history, was first and foremost appointed and anointed as king by the the King of Kings. He was reminding people that, even during one of the most crucial transfers of power that their nation would experience, God was in control. How much more in the last of the last days? When Christ is recognized by ever heart to be who he has always been? There will no more transition of power. He is the first and last. Forever and ever.

Some respond sooner than later. Jesus might end the story with all glory and honor – but his life was launched in humility and discomfort. Even so, the unlikeliest of believers knew that their response was to be nothing less than worship. The bible reads, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star in the east and have come to worship him” (Matthew 2:2, NIV). Imagine that – Gentiles. Wealthy Gentiles. Wealthy Gentile Magicians. Yet, they chose to search out a child, to make the two year long trek. All to worship a child. All to acknowledge that he was the One worthy of their presents and praises. Their gifts and gratitude. How will I respond this Christmas season? How will I celebrate his birth? Will I anticipate the day of Peace. Of Hope. Of Love. The day that he rules and reigns over all the earth? Merry Christmas. Jesus is Lord.

Acclaim

Slain

The bible is full of what I like to call “holy contradictions.” God’s plans, purposes, and perspectives are so upside down compared to ours – or maybe he is actually turning our world right-side up? I can’t wait for that day – the day that our world is finally the way that it was in the beginning – the way that it was meant to be in the first place. The Apostle John describes a heavenly picture by stating, “And between the throne and the four living creatures and among the elders I saw a Lamb standing, as though it had been slain, with seven horns and with seven eyes, which are the seven spirits of God sent out into all the earth. And he went and took the scroll from the right hand of him who was seated on the throne. And when he had taken the scroll, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb, each holding a harp, and golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints” (Revelation 5:6-8, ESV).

Not many world leaders would willingly describe themselves as a lamb. A lion, yes. A lamb, absolutely not. Think about our nation’s political climate. When was the last time we had a bald president? Eisenhower left office in 1961. Fifty years of heads that are full of hair. Kennedy’s popularity jumped after his televised debate with the sweaty and make-upless Nixon. We live in a visual age. Even our phones can now record real-time images and post them on the worldwide web. Thank YouTube. Some have even argued that today’s American people not have elected Franklin D. Roosevelt once – a president that was elected no less than four consecutive times – solely because he was in a wheelchair. A sign of weakness. Image is not everything – but it is most things. Political views and campaign promises aside – Obama versus McCain 2008 all but confirms this point. Bernie Goldberg proposes that this election looked a whole lot like yesterday versus tomorrow – and people tend to vote for tomorrow.

Here is one of the greatest concerns in such a cultural context: Strength has little to do with what one looks like and a whole lot more with what one does. FDR, polio or not, rallied a people to not fear nothing but fear itself – not even Nazi tyranny that had already taken half of Europe. Hair has little to do with might. Just ask half of the UFC prize-fighters. Looks do not make a leader. Charisma is no substitute for character. Style is not equal to substance. Let’s face it, our world is looking for a fighter. A champion. A hero. We just might have found him. A lamb. A lamb that was slain. Imagine that, our hope is in One who had died . . . for about three days. One who had been killed. One who had willingly laid himself down into the hands of the enemy. He was slaughtered.

Here is the good news: One translation states, “A Lamb slaughtered but standing tall” (v. 6, The Message). Standing tall. His very victory was in his death. Upside down. Right-side up. He came to power all because of his obedience. His sacrifice. He was exalted because he first humbled himself – to the point of death. Now he had all authority. He was the lion and the lamb. Not one or the other – but both. Wasn’t this the pattern of Jesus? Why should we be surprised? After all, he left the luxuries of his heavenly position to come in the form of a helpless baby born in a manger. He was raised by a carpenter’s son. He was nothing special by the standards of his day – all until he gave sight to the blind, legs to the lame, and life to the corpses. Then all of sudden, he people’s attention.

The same will be true one day in the near future. As of right now, we are busy with celebrity gossip, athletic accomplishments, and pop presidents. Some of this is harmless – much of this is senseless. There will be a day, whether we like to admit or or not, where the Lion-Lamb will grab our attention again. The skies will part. The trumpet will sound. Not one ear will be able to ignore the sound of final victory – a win that stems from a public and painful loss upon a cross. Or so they thought. Then people will see beauty. Strength. Glory. All for the very first time – even though that strength was staring them in the face all along. The way things were meant to be. The way they will be.

Slain

Crown

Zecheriah was challenging the people to rebuild the temple no matter the cost or competition. He encouraged them by sharing glimpses of God’s glorious future. The Messiah was coming. The Anointed One. The Chosen One. He would be all that they hoped that he would be – and so much more. The High Priest and Exalted King (not to mention other Scriptures refer to him as the Great Prophet). He would be the Fulfillment of the First Covenant. The Word made Reality. He would defeat the Evil Empires of the day. God’s rule would be full and final. Rebuild the temple. Make way for his power and presence to be evident.

The prophet proclaimed, “And the word of the Lord came to me: Take from the exiles Heldai, Tobijah, and Jedaiah, who have arrived from Babylon, and go the same day to the house of Josiah, the son of Zephaniah. Take from them silver and gold, and make a crown, and set it on the head of Joshua, the son of Jehozadak, the high priest. And say to him, Thus says the Lord of hosts, Behold, the man whose name is the Branch: for he shall branch out from his place, and he shall build the temple of the Lord. It is he who shall build the temple of the Lord and shall bear royal honor, and shall sit and rule on his throne. And there shall be a priest on his throne, and the counsel of peace shall be between them both. And the crown shall be in the temple of the Lord as a reminder to Helem, Tobijah, Jedaiah, and Hen the son of Zephaniah. And those who are far off shall come and help to build the temple of the Lord. And you shall know that the Lord of hosts has sent me to you. And this shall come to pass, if you will diligently obey the voice of the Lord your God” (Zechariah 6:9-15, ESV).

The idea of the Messiah being both priest and king was a revolutionary thought in Hebrew theology. How could this all be wrapped up in One? Especially now? They did not even have a temple up. They did not have anything close to a king? We know that Joshua, son of Zephaniah, would end up far from the fulfillment of this prophecy. Maybe another descendent of David. Another Josuah. Another by the name of “The Lord Saves.” The greek equivelant: Jesus. Could this be the Messiah that we have been waiting for? Over five hundred years later. Five hundred years of political oppression by several different superpowers – Assyrian, Babylonian, Persian, Greek, and Roman. Four hundred years of silence between Malachia and John the Baptist.

Would this be when the crown is finally placed upon the head of the Christ? Even so, we know that Jesus’ Kingdom did not come in all of it’s glory and splendor. He died. He asscended to heaven. Rome carried on (for at least a little while). Humanity still believes, in some ways, that they rule themselves. Different pursuits. Different leaders. Different wars. Different crowns. Same sad story. Where has Joshua’s priesthood and kingship been the last two thousand years?

I am writing this blog just three short days before Christmas Day. I am always intrigued with this season. A mentor of mine just made the observation today that this is one of the few times that it is okay for retail stores and coffee shops to play Christmas carols proclaiming the kingship of Christ. For once, people are open and honest enough to admit that they have a deep-down hidden desire for things such as hope, direction, peace, and salvation. They are drawn to the miraculous (though have have sucessful renamed it the magical). The holiday season is full of family, generosity, and stability.

Let’s face it, we all know that the world is not what it used to be – what it should be. War, famine, injustice, immorality – sin. For once in the calendar year, in the churches and in the marketplace, people are looking for someone else to rule. Someone else to reign. Someone else to make things right. Could it be that this baby that was born in a manger – could he be the Answer? Will he be the Hero? May Christ followers and the churches that they belong to be about the Cause of directing others to Christ. May he be worshiped for who he is – all that he is. May he truly be, this year, our Priest and King. Merry Christmas.

Crown

Might

Zechariah prophesied during much of the same time that Haggai did. The temple foundation was laying there. A disgrace to the God who had returned a remnant from Exile. It was time to build. The people were discouraged. They were distracted. Time was running out. Do you blame their leader, Zerubbabel, the governor of Israel? He had carried the pressure of being a direct descendant of David – the greatest king in all of their history. The people had anointed him as their hero. He would bring hope. Change. Salvation. So they thought. How? Did he have the military experience of David? The wisdom of Solomon? Did they have the manpower? The resources? The drive? Things had changed. They were even lucky to be let go by the Persians let alone have permission to build. The Samaritans were breathing down their neck. The Hebrews were more concerned with their own houses and fields than with rebuilding a temple that would not even come close to its former self in size and stature.

Then [the angel] said to [Zechariah}, This is the word of the Lord to Zerubbabel: Not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit, says the Lord of hosts” (Zechariah 4:6, ESV). Another translation says, “You can’t force these things. They only come by the Spirit” (v. 6, The Message). God was honest with the people. No false hope. No false promises. No fancy speeches. Here it is: You are right, you can’t do this alone. You are right, you are not your grandfather – not even close, actually. This is a different time. A different challenge. I did not call David to this task. Solomon and his prosperous times are past. Your land is barely yours. The capitol is in shambles. The temple is nothing more than a foundation that took you far too long to build. You are right. You have neither the power nor the might to complete the Cause that I have called you to. So stop forcing. Pushing. Striving.

Instead, rely upon my Spirit. Remember, it was my Spirit that chose David AND HIS DESCENDANTS to sit upon my throne. He was not even the oldest, the most respected, the most decorated, or the most recognizable in his own family. Yet, my Spirit anointed him. Isn’t it my very Spirit who gave Solomon the wisdom which would make him world famous? Isn’t it my very Spirit which prompted a pagan king, known as Cyrus, to allow you inhabit the Land of Promise once again? So what will it be? Your might, as if these people are actually working for you, or mine? Your power, as if you had any, or my power? My Spirit will empower you. The same Spirit which sent you will enable you to complete the mission.

Wow. My jaw just drops after reading that text. If I am honest for a moment, I would admit that I often look for any and every excuse not to rise to a challenge. I am too young. I don’t speak well enough. I don’t know the right people. I don’t have enough money. I am not ready. I don’t have enough people. I don’t live in the right place. Is it even worth it? It won’t look like it used to. Like it should. Like I want it to be. I chalk these statements off as not having enough faith in myself – as basic insecurity. Who am I fooling? These thoughts stem from not having enough faith in God. How dare I look at my own (or lack of) might and power when it is Christ who has put me where I am to begin with?

God promised Zerubbabel and Zechariah his Holy Spirit in an age where his Spirit only came down upon certain individuals, for certain amount of times, and only to complete certain tasks. Then he was gone. How much more does the Holy Spirit empower New Covenant believers? Isn’t he the same Holy Spirit who propelled John the Baptist to face the religious elite, call a nation to repentance, face a corrupt king, and prepare the way for the Messiah? Isn’t this the same Holy Spirit who led and sustained Jesus during direct temptation from the devil? Isn’t this the same Spirit that raised him from the dead after three days of decay? Isn’t this the Spirit that Jesus promised to his disciples – telling them that he would be with them until the very end of the age? If it is so, let us not go about the Cause on our own. May we truly rely upon his empowerment. Let’s build.

Might