Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Are you imitating suffering saints?

"And you became imitators of us and of the Lord, for you received the word in much affliction, with the joy of the Holy Spirit, so that you became an example to all the believers in Macedonia and in Achaia. For not only has the word of the Lord sounded forth from you in Macedonia and Achaia, but your faith in God has gone forth everywhere, so that we need not say anything. For they themselves report concerning us the kind of reception we had among you, and how you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God, and to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead, Jesus who delivers us from the wrath to come."
(1 Thessalonians 1:6-10 ESV)

Ah, the Elvis impersonator.  I am amazed so many people seek to impersonate this guy.  He was distinctive and his music groundbreaking, certainly, but I am still surprised at the lengths guys will go to look and act like him.  Those who impersonate him really well (assuming there's a set standard for Elvis impersonators, of course) can actually be hired out for parties and singing telegrams. What a way to make a living!  Yes, I may or may not have searched on Google to find for-hire Elvis impersonators specifically for this post.

Impersonating a famous mid-20th century rock and roll star for bar gigs and birthday parties seems mostly harmless.  But our seemingly innate need to impersonate can often take a more chilling turn.  For example, observe the late comedians Chris Farley and John Belushi.  Belushi, who died from a drug overdose at age 33, was Farley's idol.  Farley, who lived to see heights of fame comparable, if not exceeding, those of Belushi, likewise died from a drug overdose at the young age of 33.  In fact, both died of an overdose from the same drug combination - cocaine and morphine.

Humanity has a knack for impersonation.  We will often act much like those whom we most admire.  Unfortunately those whom we most admire are often those whose example we best not follow, lest we imperil our well-being.  Our sinful nature leads us to follow those who would give us leave to indulge our baser desires and to give in to temptation; however, imitation is not always a harmful thing, as Paul will show us.

In this passage, Paul gives us a redeemed model of this practice in his description of the Thessalonians.  Prior to this passage, Paul describes how the Gospel message was affirmed through the Spirit-enabled power of their preaching.  He further bolsters this confirmation of the election of the Thessalonians by observing their imitation of him and the Lord Jesus.  In what way did they imitate them?  They "received the word in much affliction, with the joy of the Holy Spirit."  

Is there a godly man or woman in your life who has received the word while in much affliction yet with the joy of the Holy Spirit?  This person can take many shapes - an elderly man who has experienced the pains and trials of cancer, the young wife who suffers from seemingly inexplicable infertility, or perhaps a godly father you know who recently lost his job because he refused to compromise his integrity.  Insofar as those people faithfully follow Christ, they should be imitated.  Are you following the example of the Thessalonians and imitating those who have faced trials and afflictions while still seeking to believe the truth of God's Word?  

In doing so, like the Thessalonians, whose faithfulness was an example even to believers in other cities, we are building the kingdom up by becoming faithful believers whom others can likewise impersonate.  All this accomplishes the mission of the church - to make disciples.

So, brothers and sisters, seek out godly men and women who have faced trials and afflictions in the joy of the Spirit so that the Great Commission will be fulfilled!

Grace and Peace,


Thursday, February 16, 2012

Walking in the Light

"This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all. If we say we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth. But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin. If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us."
(1 John 1:5-10 ESV)

Many of our parents gave us curfews growing up, possibly much to our chagrin.  Dangerous things happened at night, right?  Car wrecks, drunkenness, and various other unnamed dangers and snares awaited around each corner.  But how many of us took our parents seriously?  What sort of truth is ingrained in the idea that one should only be out and about one's business in the light?

This leads us to this text from John, who offers us a simple yet pertinent message.  Those who walk in darkness are not in the light.  "Of course," you may be thinking, "Isn't that common sense?"  Well, yes, this is common sense.  But sin has a way of making us turn away from clear 'night and day' truth to turn to that way which seems best to us; into a place where, as Judges describes "each man does what is right in his own eyes."

Those things which are reprehensible and sinful tend to happen at night, in the dark, hidden from those around us.  As the old saying goes, "Nothing good happens after midnight."  But Christ, who John explains, "Is faithful and just to forgive us," frees us to walk in the light, for our sin no longer has a bearing on our righteous standing before God.

Today, I bring nothing more than a simple but powerful truth from John.  Brothers and sisters, are you walking in the light?  Are you seeking justice and equity in all your dealings?  Are you seeking to live in absolute purity?  Are you speaking truth?  Are you consistently confessing sin and seeking to live in repentance?  Live in the light so that God may be glorified, you may be sanctified, and the light of Christ may be shown to all the world!

Grace and Peace,


Saturday, February 4, 2012

Joshua 1-12: The Rightful Owner

Psalm 24:1 declares, "The Earth is the Lord's, and all the fullness thereof, the world and those who dwell within."

Allow me to introduce you to Queen Annabelle Eloise Burns and her court.

Basically, we serve her every need.  Hence our existence.  At least that's how she sees it.
Her highness lives a hard life.  She owns a house and has to keep up with her servants all day, thus exhausting her.  She ends her day by playing for about 45 minutes then taking a nap on her large couch.  Of course, she also owns the front and back yards as well.  She defends it from countless, relentlessly vicious foes like squirrels, rabbits, and cats.

Her highness after a long day of ruling the house.
Queen Ellie clearly owns this house.  But does she really?  I'm pretty sure she doesn't pay the mortgage.  Nor did she build it.  Nor does she mow the yard or tend the flowerbeds.  Though Ellie thinks that she owns it, in reality she has no claim.

The same is true of the peoples whom Joshua conquered.  In Joshua 1:10-11 the author recounts the scene as Joshua gives his orders, "...command the people, 'prepare your provision, for within three days you are to pass over this Jordan to go in to take possession of the land the Lord is giving you to possess.'"  Later, in chapter 6, the city of Jericho falls, becoming the first of many peoples to fall before the armies of the Lord.

Putting this in context is essential to understanding the text.  First, these people had been given many chances to repent over the course of history (see Noah and the Flood, Sodom and Gomorrah, etc).  Second, they were possessing a land that was purposed for another people - the covenant people of God.  Those who looked to Yahweh, even a prostitute such as Rahab, were spared.  The fact of the matter is that it was never about the land, it was about a people whose hearts were turned towards Yahweh.  This seen further when the anger of Yahweh burned against his own people in Chapter 7.  Why?  Because Achan had disregarded the things of the Lord, and his heart had turned away.  The result is Israel's stunning defeat at Ai (more on this incident next time).  The people occupying this land, with the notable exception of Rahab, had no desire to serve Yahweh and therefore could not be a part of his people.

In many ways we are just like Ellie and consequently just like those from whom Joshua took the Promised Land.  By nature, we are those who are living on the Lord's land and claiming it as our own.  Just like Ellie thinks she rules the house, but in fact does not, we often think we rule our possessions, our time, and our money.  Just like the Lord could see fit to do with the land of Jericho as he pleases, so he can do with our possessions and our lives.  The essence of the matter is that we all have blind spots in which we fail to recognize the sovereign rule of God.  In what areas are you ruling where you should be submitting?  Your family?  Your house?  Your job?  Your money?  Your marriage?  Your singleness?

Thankfully, unlike these people occupying the Promised Land, the necessary blood has already been shed for us.  The end result for a lack of submission before a Holy God is not laying prostrate before a victorious general awaiting the judgment of the Lord.  We who are in Christ instead lay before a beaten and bloodied King who died so that when the final judgment comes, we will stand blameless.  Though those outside the covenant experienced the patience of God for centuries, they never experienced the grace of God.  So let's move forward in life recognizing those territories that are rightly His and submitting accordingly, all the while knowing that our eternity is not forfeit for our failings.  But also be aware, just like Israel was subject to the discipline of God at Ai, so our lives are subject as well.  Therein lies the topic of the next post.  Just as the Lord can choose to take away, so he can choose whether to give... (to be continued, I suppose)

Grace and Peace,


Thursday, February 2, 2012

Devotional Thoughts on Joshua/Judges Part I

Wow, it's been quite some time since I've posted on here.  Though I was certainly enjoying the deep-thinking aspect of blogging, I've decided to instead opt for something more practical and readable.  So from here on out, it's shorter entries with a more devotional aim.

Those of you who follow me on twitter have likely caught on to the fact that I've been spending time in Joshua and Judges here recently.

This morning and in the coming entries I hope to draw your attention to a seemingly less-exciting portion of Joshua - chapters 13-19.  In this section Joshua is dispersing the spoils of war to the Israelites - the various cities and lands that had been given over to them by Yahweh.  When observing a map of the territory that the Lord gave them, the unequal distribution becomes quickly evident.  Some tribes received more, some received less.  Some, like the Levites, received none at all because "the offerings  by fire to the Lord God of Israel are their inheritance" (Josh. 13:14).  So, what do we take from this?  I plan to spend a few blog entries unpacking the implications. But, for today, I'll give you a preview outline:

1. The land is the Lord's to take as he pleases (Chapters in Joshua prior to 13)

2. The land is the Lord's to give as he pleases (Josh. 13:6-7)

3. The point is not the value or quantity of the gift, but the direct object of the faith that accompanies it.  (Josh. 23-24, Matt. 15:21-28)

Feel free to ponder on these truths.  On the next entry I'll begin, naturally, with some thoughts on the first point.

Grace and Peace,