Sandals

The commission of Moses began near a burning bush. God called a man in hiding to save an enslaved nation. The bible states, “Then he said, ‘Do not come near; take your sandals off your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground. And he said, I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.’ And Moses hid his face, for he was afraid to look at God” (Exodus 3:5-7, ESV).

God demanded that Moses take off his sandals . . . a popular gesture in Middle Eastern culture signifying reverence and submission. Moses was to perform an outer sign of an inner recognition that he was indeed in the very presence of the Most High God. The One True God.

In a somewhat related way, even today, Muslims remove their shoes upon entering their respective places of prayer and worship. While in Amsterdam, for a layover on my way down to South Africa, I noticed several Muslim designated locations to pray towards Mecca. Say what you will about Islam – the faith does not lack devotion.

How would this translate in the Christian faith? Where we know that our gatherings truly include the manifest presence of the One True God? Where the Spirit of Christ wishes to be amongst his people? Where we can expect to enter into the holiest of holies? Where, due to the cross of Christ, we are invited to boldly approach the Throne room? Due to this new found freedom of the Second Covenant, I think we have often lost a bit of reverence and humility. We have forgotten that we did not deserve this status? This access did not come cheap. Now I am not endorsing a false sense of piety. Or wish to follow the tragic mistakes of the Pharisees who largely and unnecessarily weighed the common people down with a somber and shameful spirit. There ought to be joy and celebration in response to what God has done. I am just asking that we search out creative ways to remind our congregations and reflect upon the truth of God’s utmost holiness. That we enter in to his presence with an understanding of what an honor it is to know that God wishes to be with us. To speak to us. To act on our behalf. Somehow and someway. In one way or another. Slip off your sandals. Look around. Thanks be to Christ. You and I are standing on holy ground.

Sandals

Intention

Studying the life of Joseph these past couple of weeks has been incredibly beneficial to my daily spiritual development. I touched on this idea a couple of days ago on God’s plans and purposes greatly impacting our security and safety – but still wish to dwell on the meaning a little longer. The narrative goes on to read, “But Joseph said to them, Do not fear, for am I in the place of God? As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today. So do not fear; I will provide for you and your little ones. Thus he comforted them and spoke kindly to them” (Genesis 50:19-21, ESV).

Joseph’s unbelievable misfortune was at the epicenter of God’s salvation story. He used Joseph to eventually rescue the Israelites, the Egyptians, and all the other tribes and nations who would become a grateful recipient of Egypt’s famine relief system. Joseph’s dream had to die (at least for two decades) that the Abrahamic Promises might live on . . . that the First Covenant people might survive.

I wonder if my faith in Christ has the tendency to become all too self-centered. As if I spend far too much time and energy thinking about how my reconciled relationship with God will better serve me rather than thinking about how I might better serve him and serve others? Maybe God’s Kingdom is a whole lot bigger than my one life. Would I be willing to suffer? To fall short of my great expectations? My hopes and my dreams? That his Kingdom might come and his will might be done? Do I believe in and invest in his Greater Cause with that passion and purpose with that I bring to my own existence? Maybe, as troubling as this might sound, God’s intentions could have little to do with my comfort and convenience.

In this way, Joseph was a great precursor to the Messiah. Matthew’s Gospel says, “In the same way the chief priests, the teachers of the law and the elders mocked him. ‘He saved others,’ they said, ‘but he can’t save himself! He’s the King of Israel! Let him come down now from the cross, and we will believe in him. He trusts in God. Let God rescue him now if he wants him, for he said, ‘I am the Son of God.’ In the same way the robbers who were crucified with him also heaped insults on him” (Matthew 27:41-44, NIV).

Jesus had every right and ability to come down. He could have used his power and privilege to shock and awe a frail political empire and a corrupt religious establishment. He could have had the last word. Just as Joseph could had sent his brothers away to starve. To lap in the luxury of a Superpower. But neither retaliated. Both used their influence for God’s intentions. Jesus died. At least for a weekend. He willingly was executed publicly, painfully, and shamefully. Why should my life be any different? Why should my idea of obedience be any less than Christ’s? Why would God’s intention for my time on earth be anything other than the same? Time will tell. Until then, who might I extend God’s salvation to? How might I reflect and represent Christ? What story will my life be a part of? How might I be a part of the greatest narrative ever written?

Intention

Elvis

I would not recommend Dr. George Nichopoulous’ “The King and Dr. Nick: What Really Happened to Elvis and Me.” I was fortunate enough to be provided a copy in a special pre-release directly from Thomas Nelson for review purposes. If still interested, you can purchase a copy for under $17 at Amazon.com (http://www.amazon.com/King-Dr-Nick-Really-Happened/dp/1595551719/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1264806685&sr=8-1)or directly from the publisher at http://www.thomasnelson.com/consumer/product_detail.asp?sku=1595551719&title=The_King_and_Dr._Nick&author=Dr._George_Nichopoulos.

Honestly, this book was quite disappointing. The author did not really share with the reader who Elvis was. His accounts seemed impersonal at times and quite general in scope. He seemed to only be specific when listing off certain prescriptions – what was given and how they were given. His accounts seemed guarded – as if he was either protecting himself or the image of Elvis. If the latter, I respect that, but just don’t write a book then. I often thought that I was reading a medical rap sheet rather than a biography. I wanted to know more about his life, his motivations, his struggles, his faith, his relationships, and his career. His story – not Dr. Nick’s. I am not even talking about the “juicy” details – just more about Dr. Nick’s friendship with the superstar – conversations, observations, etc. There were glimpses of this early on but soon disappeared all together. In fact, half the book is not even about Elvis Presley – but rather Dr. Nick’s defense before the medical boards, federal courts, and American press. These stories are necessary, I understand that, but not intriguing enough to carry or close out a book. I sense that there are better sources on Elvis’ life (especially since Dr. Nick did not work with Elvis in the early years). The trouble would be to find an author who is telling the whole truth and nothing but the truth. Good luck with that. My counsel to any interested readers: If you have read any books on the life of Elvis, I doubt that this book will give you any information that you did not already know or actually need to know.

I am not passing judgement on Elvis Presley nor on Dr. Nick. This is obviously not my place. I was not even alive when Mr. Presley passed away. I have not studied nor care to study the details of the case. I cannot and will not reach a conclusion on the cause of his death, on who is to blame for his death, or whether his doctor is in anyway responsible for his death. These details should be left to debate in another day and between experts who are more familiar with the case.

What troubles me is a quote by Elvis Presley when speaking of himself, “The man is one thing; the image is another. It’s very hard to live up to an image” (Nichopoulos, 122). Here is a man who, by the standards of his day, had everything. The popularity, the power, and the prosperity. He was and is often still considered to be the King of Rock and Roll. His home is only second to the White House as the most visited house in the United States. His music still tops the charts. He had everything – and yet, he wanted more. Here was a man who was overwhelmingly sick – just take a look at a few of the chapters to see the amount of health complications that he suffered with. He overworked himself. He went from one woman to another. He could not sleep. He had no privacy. No peace. He had a plethora of fears and periods of failure. He did not even live to see the age of fifty. He was surrounded by many who would turn on him after he was gone for a quick book contract. His name was slandered just months after he was buried.

I am reminded of when the bible reads, “Then Jesus said to his disciples, ‘If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will find it. What good will it be for a man if he gains the whole world, yet forfeits his soul? Or what can a man give in exchange for his soul? For the Son of Man is going to come in his Father’s glory with his angels, and then he will reward each person according to what he has done. 28I tell you the truth, some who are standing here will not taste death before they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom'” (Matthew 16:24-28, NIV).

I have no idea what it would be like to have this type of pressure . . . and I have no idea how he chose to cope with that pressure or how that pressure progressed throughout his career. But I do see a trend in many superstars, especially successful recording musicians, who struggle to ever find a balance between their fame and their faith. I imagine that if you hear your name being chanted enough times you begin to believe that you are worthy of such praise. And none of us are. For example, why did Elvis decide to begin wearing those signature jumpsuits? He did not wear those sort of outfits until his comeback and not really until his debut in Las Vegas. Did he begin to believe that he really was the King of Rock and Roll? That he really was royalty? That he needed or deserved the pomp and circumstance? Was this showmanship or something more?

I do not know. I will never know. And I don’t need to. What I do need to do is learn from others. I must guard against the desire to be someone for the mere fact of being someone. I don’t want what Elvis had. He lost too much in the process. He really lost himself. He was a talented musician. A great voice. A great entertainer and performer. He changed the face of music in the 20th century. But was all of that hard work and trial worth it? Was the price paid too much? Christ seemed to be content to live his life in sacrifice rather than stardom. He was uncomfortable with the praise. He had compassion for the crowds. He was not an entertainer – he was a Savior. That is the One whom I devote my life to. That is the One that I wish to model my life after. Every day I must check every thought and every action: Do I wish to be a king or do I wish to serve One.

Official Book Description: The truth about Elvis’s death from the doctor who spent eleven years as “the King’s” personal physician, father-figure, and confidant—”Dr. Nick.” Dr. Nichopoulos spent a decade with Elvis on the road and at Graceland, trying to maintain the precarious health of one of the world’s greatest entertainers. But on August 16, 1977, he found himself in the ambulance with Elvis on that fateful last trip to the ER. He signed the death certificate. From that day forward, Dr. Nick became the focus of a media witch hunt which threatened his life and all but destroyed his professional reputation. Now, for the first time, Dr. Nick reveals the true story behind Elvis’s drug use and final days—not the version formed by years of tabloid journalism and gross speculation. Put aside what you’ve learned about Elvis’s final days and understand for the first time the inner workings of “the king of rock n’ roll.”

Elvis

Tension

One of the greatest tensions to being a Missional Christ Follower in this Postmodern world is pertaining to how the church will choose to approach the issue of homosexuality. We ought to listen and learn much from our brothers and sisters from the early church. We can be assured that they did not function in any sort of cultural vacuum. They were somehow and someway able to thrive in an incredibly pluralistic and pagan Empire. They too, especially those in Corinth and Rome, were surrounded with all types of sexual immorality. The Apostle Paul wrote, “For this reason God gave them up to dishonorable passions. For their women exchanged natural relations for those that are contrary to nature; and the men likewise gave up natural relations with women and were consumed with passion for one another, men committing shameless acts with men and receiving in themselves the due penalty for their error” (Romans 1:26-27, ESV).

Before I go any further, allow me to first clarify that I am far from an expert on this issue. I do not believe that I will actually add anything new to this discussion I encourage all Christ followers to pick up a copy of Andrew Marin’s “Love is an Orientation: Elevating the Conversation With the Gay Community.” Like most books that I read, I do not agree with or endorse every word that he writes. However, unlike me, he writes from several personal experiences. His work is one of the best when it comes to coming under the authority of Scripture while still aiming to show grace and humility within the discussion. That is my aim. A discussion. Not debate. Not hate. I do not want to bring division by any means. I wish to use this forum, as small as it is, to share a bit of the tension that I feel as a Christ follower and pastor while above all else hoping to learn from others in the process.

Allow me to state clearly that I believe wholeheartedly that sex was created by God and entrusted to humanity as a gift. Sex was given to us to be enjoyed in one context and one context only – to be enjoyed between one man and one woman involved in a lifetime committed marriage. One context. Three purposes: Sex is to bring unity, pleasure, and procreation. Any sexual activity outside of that context will be destructive. That being said, homosexuality is far from the only sexual sin. Pornography. Divorce. Adultery. Lustful thoughts. The list goes on and on (and that is just the sexual sins – which do so much damage to the mind, body, and soul – but there are other disastrous and divisive sins such as gossip, greed, gluttony, pride, racism, unforgiveness, etc.). Homosexuality , though just one sin, is a sin nonetheless. Homosexuality, as unpopular and uncomfortable a statement as this is to write, is far from God’s design and therefore brings great consequence.

Here is another part, what should be a more important part, to the discussion. Everyone has value. Everyone was originally created to be in the image of God . . . and each and every one of us has chosen in one way or the other to do what we want, when we want, how we want, and with whom we want. Rebellion has disconnected us from our loving and loyal Creator and has brought us to the point of death – both spiritually and one day physically. Our Heavenly Father has not given up on us. Anyone of us. Nothing, absolutely nothing, can separate us from the love of God. He decided to get his hands dirty. He came to us. In the Flesh. He walked among us. Among the untouchables, unlovables, and unliklies. Jesus did not only share with us how to be reconciled to God but he showed us how . . . he was accused of crimes that he did not commit and was publicly, painfully, and shamefully executed upon a cross. The story, however, does not end there. On the third day he did what no one has ever done before and what no one would do ever again – he conquered death, hell, and grave. He took the penalty of sin – all sin – upon his back and made a way for us to be forgiven. Before returning to his Father, he launched a movement of believers to scatter all across the known world so that they might carry out his message and live out the Cause of the Kingdom. Some of the first converts were those who were deemed hopeless and helpless. Lepers. Eunuchs. The demon-possessed. Men and women. Jew and Gentile. Rich and poor. Slave and free. Diverse and yet unified by Christ in his Spirit. All were sinners. But all were on the journey towards transformation. I want to be that church.

So here I am . . . caught between two worlds. How do I, as a Christ follower in my culture, stand up for righteousness . . . and yet love those who hate me and my positions? Who do not trust me? Who believe that I am attaching not just their lifestyle – but their very identity? How do I not compromise in my convictions and yet have opportunity to show the gay community that I am more concerned with their relationship with God than I am initially with their significant other? I would love to hear your feedback. Your ideas. Your own experiences. Your frustrations and fears. I believe a significant step in the right direction is that we as the church first focus on our pursuit of healthy and holistic sexuality. We are fooling ourselves if we actually think that our churches are free of any sexual sin. The divorce rate is as bad as the rest of the world. We must fight for our marriages. We must find ways to creatively and courageously talk about sex without being crass or perverse. Enjoy what has been given to us. Reclaim intimacy in marriage. Closeness. Communication. Trust. Friendship. We must be a light in a very dark place. People on the outside should look at what we have and want it. Be drawn to Christ who is at the center.

Let’s ask the tough questions. Take the tough road. Pursue those who want nothing to do with us. Befriend the broken. Let’s be the church to a culture who desperately is in need of the Kingdom.

Tension

Distressed

I used to believe that the worst thing that could ever happen to me, while I was entrapped in sinful behavior, was that I would eventually be caught. That I would be exposed for who I really was. Be shamed for who I had become. What I had done. If only they knew. I was so wrong. Dead wrong. The worst thing that can happen to us is that we get away with it all. That we have to live with it all. That we have to live with ourselves. Worse yet, that we actually begin to think that we have gotten away with it. That we have escaped. That no one will ever know. That we are too good for all of this to come crashign down upon us. That we can continue to defy God and live to tell about it.

A lot of sermons that I have heard (and probably even have preached) focus on the fact that Joseph had to endure twenty-one years of trials and tribulations before his dream was finally realized. Before he was reunited with his family. This is true. However, I find the idea that his brothers had to live with themselves and amongst themselves for twenty-one years an even more troubling scenario. Not one of them came clean in all that time. No one chose to step forward to tell their father the truth – that they had sold his beloved son into slavery out of jealousy and contempt. The dreamer was probably dead because of what they had done. All the sleepless nights. All the fear. Still none of it enough to bring them to repentance.

The bible reads, “Then they said to one another, In truth we are guilty concerning our brother, in that we saw the distress of his soul, when he begged us and we did not listen. That is why this distress has come upon us” (Genesis 42:21, ESV). They knew that they are finally been given what they had deserved – but they did not see that God was still using these very events behind the scenes to mercifully and miraculously save their families. Sure, they would have to finally answer for what they had put Joseph through. They would have to humble themselves and bow to their savior – to make his long-lost and far-fetched dream come true. They would have to go home and tell their father who they really were . . . they would surely lose face . . . lose a portion of their blessing and birth right . . . the account would be recorded in Spirit-inspired Scripture for generations to read time and time again . . . and yet, they would live to see another day. They would see their children have children who would have children who would then grow up and out to become the Chosen People.

Getting away with sin (for a season) breeds hypocrisy. Our rebellion is solidified. Our hearts our hardened. We do everything imaginable to impress everyone else around us and yet do not fool the One who really matters. We do what we want, when we want, where we want, and with whom we want and then unashamedly walk into the sanctuary doors and lift our hands and sing His praises. As if all that pomp and circumstance is enough. Heavenly worship becomes empty ritual. As if we are pleasing him with our lives. As if looking the part is all that is important. This is shaky ground. The greatest and most grace-filled event that could ever occur to us is . . . that we get caught. That someone who loves us finds out. That we are forced to answer for our actions. That we are given one more chance to repent. Hopefully, we will not run. We will not deny. We will not hide. Maybe, just maybe, we will admit that we need a Savior. That we were wrong. That we sinned against our brother – but more importantly that we sinned against our God.

There will be a day of decision. There will be a day of divine judgement. Whether we care to believe or not – we are not the God of our existence. We cannot save our selves. Image is far from everything. He wants our heart. May not another day be wasted. May not another moment pass. The Apostle Paul warns, “Don’t be misled: No one makes a fool of God. What a person plants, he will harvest. The person who plants selfishness, ignoring the needs of others—ignoring God!” (Galatians 6:7, The Message).

Distressed

Curtain

It is often the things we love the most that we often take for granted. One Gospel writer states, “And behold, the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. And the earth shook, and the rocks were split. The tombs also were opened. And many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised, and coming out of the tombs after his resurrection they went into the holy city and appeared to many” (Matthew 27:51-53, ESV).

For thousands of years there was a curtain that divided the Holy Place from the Most Holy Place in the Lord’s temple. Upon the crucifixion of Christ – the sacrifice of God’s one and only Son – that veil was removed once and for all. A violent earthquake happened to be our Heavenly Father’s invitation for us all to have the courage and conviction to walk into his very Presence. For so long, the Chosen people had to travel from all over Israel and the surrounding region. So many Psalms were written to celebrate the events of holy pilgrimage – traveling to the holy lands for various religious festivities throughtout the calendar year. The Sons of Korah wrote, “Better is one day in your courts than a thousand elsewhere; I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God than dwell in the tents of the wicked” (Psalm 84:10, NIV). Can you imagine having to spend the time, energy, and resources just to make the necessary sacrifices? Just to be made right with the One we serve? Not only were these events few and far between, but depending on your tribal status, you were not even allowed to be close to the Holiest places? For Gentiles it was even worse. Even the God-fearing individuals had to watch from the outer courts. The nose-bleed seats. They were outsiders but they were not insiders either.

Then comes along the Messiah. God’s Anointed. He could have come to exalt his Jewish brothers and sisters. To bring further division amongst humanity. To cast out the Greeks and Romans from the Capitol. Yet, in his loving loyalty, he tore the curtain. His death brought unity. He launched a new Community – where gender, race, economics, or even supposed godliness no longer mattered – all were united by their common connection to Christ. The author of Hebrews proposes, “. . . because by one sacrifice he has made perfect forever those who are becoming holy” (Hebrews 10:14, NIV).

We now can gather together and worship him. To be in the Holiest of Holy Places. To know him, be known by him, and make him known to others. How often do I take this blessing for granted? Some self-proclaimed believers consistently neglect gathering together with other brothers and sisters in Christ. They claim that their faith is personal and private – something that our Father never intended it to be. Faith in Jesus was entrusted to us to be shared in the context of community and to be shared often with those who do not yet believe. We say that we are too busy for such things as trivial as church attendance. What we are really saying is that our free time and rest is that much more important. We are too busy. We are not placing value on that which matters most. We no longer have to travel great distances by foot. We no longer have to pay such expenses for a sacrifice of an animal. We no longer have to be on the outside looking in – and yet we stay at home and enjoy another day of recreation and comfort and isolation.

Even I am guilty at times, as a pastor, of making Sunday an occupation. I focus to much on the program and presentation and not enough on his power and presence. I care so much about every one else’s experience that I so often forget to speak to the One the entire day is actually dedicated to. I care more about if people enjoyed themselves than I do if I pleased God with my gratitude. There are weekends where I arrive to the church campus without ever expecting something great. I fail to anticipate. To really step back and realize the divine gift that I have been given – I am allowed to participate in corporate worship. Why? Because the curtain is torn. Because Christ gave his life on my behalf. May every Sunday be the Lord’s Day. Regardless if they sing my favorite songs, whether the message was clear and creative, whether attendance was up or down, the response was good or bad . . . may Christ be lifted up and may people be drawn to him.

I by no means am limiting the torn curtain to merely giving us successful and significant worship experiences – though the outward sign does indeed involve that. The curtain really reassures his people that his Presence is no longer restricted to a few anointed individuals or to a few restricted locations or to a few specific holy days. All of us now are to be walking and talking Dwelling Places of the Most High God. His Spirit now writes his Law on our hearts. He desires to work in us and through us on a daily basis by his Spirit. As his church gathers on Sundays, it is equally imperative that his church scatters throughout the week. That we bring his fruit and gifts to the world in which we live. In contrast to the First Covenant that called for believers to travel to the Temple – now the Temple goes out into the marketplace. This is what so many dreamed of. This is what so many of us ignore. May that not be the case any longer.

Curtain

Favor

A whole lot can be learned in regards to God’s covenant faithfulness and sovereign favor when it comes to the life of Joseph. He was entrusted with such great influence time and time again – whether it be in Potiphar’s house, stuck in prison with convicts, and much later as a part of the government in Egypt. Without even truly realizing it, he held the future survival of the Chosen People in his hands. He held such responsibility with the utmost humility and honor (at least later in his life – once he got past his imperfect and immature translation of his childhood vision). Contrast Joseph’s approach to God’s delegated leadership with that of his father. Jacob always tried to force the hand of God. I don’t even know if he was initially interested in divine favor as he was with worldly success. He wanted the birthright. He wanted blessings. Time and time again he tried to force God’s rule and reign. He wrestled with his sovereignty. He doubted God and therefore resorted to deceiving people. Joseph, on the other hand, lead with the highest standard of integrity. He trusted that God had a plan – even when it meant being sold into slavery by his very own brothers.

The biblical account reads, “The LORD was with Joseph, and he became a successful man, and he was in the house of his Egyptian master. His master saw that the LORD was with him and that the LORD caused all that he did to succeed in his hands. So Joseph found favor in his sight and attended him, and he made him overseer of his house and put him in charge of all that he had. From the time that he made him overseer in his house and over all that he had the LORD blessed the Egyptian’s house for Joseph’s sake; the blessing of the LORD was on all that he had, in house and field. So he left all that he had in Joseph’s charge, and because of him he had no concern about anything but the food he ate” (Genesis 39:3-7, ESV).

How often am I guilty of trying to make things happen when they are just not meant to be? How many times have I lost sight of what is most important for that which is most appealing? Favor cannot be forced. Favor is not equal to success (at least how our culture defines it). Often success is mere popularity, power, and prosperity. I prefer Mark Batterson’s definition – doing our best with what we have, where we are at, and whom we are with. Ministry success is so much more than buildings, budgets, and butts in the chairs. So much more. A “successful” church is one where the people are pleasing God with every area of their life. Where they are growing in the image of Christ – in the way they think, feel, speak, and act. Where they are determined to bring lasting transformation to their families, neighborhoods, community, and world. I am speaking of a group of believers committed to connecting people to the love of Christ, the life of the church, and the need of the world.

Favor does not always mean that things will go the way we want. Joseph ended up in a dungeon for crimes that he did not commit. He waited a long time to confront his brothers – and even then he did not feel the need to seek retaliation. The plans and purposes of God are far superior than our own personal security and even our own personal significance. Our mission is to carry out the cause of God’s Kingdom. Am I willing? To go when I want to stay? To stay when I want to go? To say and do what is unpopular? To be silent when everything in me screams self-defense? Then and only then will we be able to look back on our lives and say, “Look what the Lord has done.” I could not and would not have been able to accomplish anything close to this on my own. Even more so, I am convinced that God cares far more about who we become than in what we accomplish. Indeed, he was positioning Joseph where he was to be for what he was to do – but more so, he was refining his heart. He was making him ready and worthy to lead his people. He was showing that through fame and through famine – his favor is always upon his Chosen.

Favor