Monday, August 12, 2013
God's character is greater than your circumstances.
God's character gives peace to your circumstances. God's character gives hope to your circumstances.
This is the reminder that Malachi the prophet has for the people of Judah, a people who have recently returned from exile in Babylon and are living in a desperate time. A time where the religious, moral, and economic fabric of the people of God was at an all-time low.
The circumstances in Jerusalem were desperate.
Harvests were poor. Locusts plagues were eating up crops. There was little economic vitality anywhere in the city.
The city looked like the bad parts of Detroit, still under the ruin of the Babylonian invasion.
The people were morally bankrupt and the priests were no longer worshipping Yahweh as God had commanded them to.
Into this darkness God sends the prophet Malachi to remind His people of the character of God.
Malachi 1:2 begins with this glorious declaration...
"I have loved you" declares the Lord, but the people respond...
"How have you loved us?"
It is not a totally unreasonable question. We are Your chosen people God, but everything around us has been destroyed. Your actions don't seem like love, this doesn't seem like what love looks like to us!
In truth, we have all asked this question, "How have you loved me God?"
We all have expectations of what our life should like that. We expect certain things to happen to us. If I do this then this will happen, if I pursue this then this will happen to me. And these expectations usually revolve around our pursuit of happiness.
And when anything disrupts our happiness we can begin to freak out, when the circumstances we find ourselves in are totally different from what our pre-set expectations of our life then our emotions can being to unravel.
For the people of Judah in the book of Malachi their expectations of what their lives as God's chosen people would look like were probably far different from the reality they were experiencing. And their reality was making them question the love of God.
Malachi runs through the sins of the priests in verses 6-14 of chapter 1 and shows that the priests were going through the religious motions without any fear or awe of the Great King (1:14). The priests had forgotten the character of God, they had forgotten Yahweh and were letting their present circumstances define their worship of Yahweh. And their present circumstances were not creating in them a desire to truly worship God in any real sense.
But the truth of God's love for His people has never changed. The circumstances of the people have changed, but His love for them has not changed. God proclaims "I have loved you".
And this is what God says to you. I have loved you. All that I have done is for your joy, is for your good, and I am calling you to the pursuit of holiness and not the pursuit of happiness.
The pursuit of holiness makes us look more like Jesus and through it all brings you joy.
The pursuit of happiness makes us look less like Jesus, and in the end makes us miserable.
God is holy. And He calls us to live holy lives and He gives us the Spirit to sanctify us and remind us of His covenant love for us. The key to personal revival is found in remembering the God of covenant love, remembering his declaration that "I have loved you." Just look at your biography and see all that God has done for you and then look at the Cross and see the length to which he showed you this love.
When the storm comes we must call to mind this great truth--that God loves us. And we must remind ourselves of the character and nature of God--that is He is good and longsuffering and patient and loving. That he is our strong tower, our refuge, and our peace.
The character of God gives peace to your circumstances.
Whether you are in a good place with the Lord, it can be easy to become complacent and settle. Don't settle. Keep pressing into Him, keep learning about His character and nature, keep growing, and pursuing holiness.
Or you may be in a difficult place and your circumstances may be consuming you--remember His character. Press into His character, hold fast to Him through what you are walking through, through what your family or friends may be walking through.
Desperate circumstances require desperate dependence on Jesus. And in desperately depending on Jesus we give up control and trust the One who made us, who knows us, and who loves us.
He is trustworthy. And He is enough.
Would the truth of God's character and nature rule and reign over all the circumstances of your life, so that Christ's glory might shine through your life and that your character would begin to resemble the character of Christ more and more.
"How have you loved us"? the people ask...
To the one asking the question we can always look to the Apostle Paul's declaration in Romans 5:8...
"But God shows us His love in this way, that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us."
Monday, July 15, 2013
"Alright, now we are going to head out and prayer walk around the Tenderloin" said Sean Brakey, the mission and intern director for San Francisco City Impact, the non-profit organization that I took 17 people from Door Creek Church to last week, 14 of them high school students.
"What is a prayer walk?" one student asked me.
"We are going to go walking around this neighborhood?" another asked.
We had just flown in from Wisconsin a few hours earlier and had taken a bus into the Tenderloin District of San Francisco, a neighborhood known for its poverty, its drugs, its danger. This was in the inner city of San Francisco and we were about to walk around it and just start praying for buildings and people. Our group began walking around with our intern, Zach O and we stopped first at City Impact's Rescue Mission and huddled around it to get the backstory and to begin praying for the Lord to move throughout that place in the coming week. As we prayed (a holy huddle if there ever was one) people from the streets would come up and stare at us, or ask us questions. There was lots of yelling all around us, police sirens running down Jones Street nearby, and a heartbreaking number of people simply living on the street, some asleep and some laying against a building and staring straight off into the distance.
It was uncomfortable. For the students. For my leaders. For me.
I was afraid. What had I gotten these kids into? What were we doing here? Why didn't we just go do some beach evangelism in Florida?
We fear what we don't know. And I was afraid of the people who lived in the Tenderloin. As we walked around the streets I was tense and nervous, fearful of who might approach us and what awkward conversation we might get into.
How long were we going to be here again?
Monday night rolled into Tuesday and our week began in earnest. We began each day with worship through song and teaching, challenged to give our lives to the "kingdom that will pass, or the kingdom that will last" and then sent out into the Tenderloin to love and serve the people. The students would serve at the school, the rescue mission, the thrift shop, and a variety of other ways to befriend the homeless and the people who made their lives in the Tenderloin.
Tuesday night we were sent out for two hours with a bag of chips to befriend people who were living on the streets. I was with about 10 of our students and I was fearful again. This is crazy. I am a white kid from Wisconsin (by way of the South) and I am going to go and hand out chips and try and talk with people in the Tenderloin? Wouldn't they just laugh at me? What could we possibly talk about?
Fear. Fear. Fear. Me. Me. Me.
It was throughout handing out dozens of chips and getting into dozens of conversations with the people of the Tenderloin (and watching high school students do it as well) that God began to convict me of my fear and my self-centerdness and to grow my heart with love for the people of the Tenderloin.
I spent every afternoon delivering meals and getting into conversations with residents in the apartment communities in the Tenderloin. We would knock on a door, introduce ourselves, make conversation, hand out food, and pray with people if they wanted.
I met Ron and Tony and Cindy and Laquisha and Matt and Roger and Nathan and dozens more people. Every door had a story. And for many of these people this might be the only time they talk with someone all week long. It was a beautiful experience. We were able to share the gospel and pray with and for people door after door.
Of course you are nervous before you knock on a door, who knows who may open the door (and what they might or might not be wearing), but that gives way quickly to a passion to simply talk with people and hear their story, to know them and to show them that we do actually care and that God cares a whole lot more for them.
Ron was 83 years old. He looked a lot younger. We knocked on his door and he opened it holding is his little dog Coco. Ron began talking with me and two students, Sean and James about his life and all the brokenness he had seen over the last 83 years. I asked me if had ever been married and he said he had once, right at the end of Korean War. He married a woman from the Philippines, but she was unable to return to the United States with him. It was in 1953 that Ron returned to the United States. I followed up by asking if he had ever gotten married again, and there was a short pause on his end (which was a miracle since he talked a mile a minute!), and a long look down, as if in that moment he was thinking over all that could have been over the past 60 years.
He finally looked up, his eyes watery and simply replied "No. I never got married again."
We were able to pray for Ron and talk with him about Jesus Christ. He was a believer in "something bigger than us", but not in any "orthodox religion", and said with all the pain and brokenness he had seen over the past 70 years he wondered how it could all happen.
"Ron, do you know that there was One who was broken for us?" I asked him.
"What do you mean" he responded.
"Jesus, God himself, was broken for us, that he took all the sin of this world on himself for us."
"Well, I don't know about that."
"I do," I answered.
"Ron, you have lived a long life and seen way more than I have seen, way more than I will probably ever see, but I want you to see this--that God loves you, God knows you, and God longs for you to know Him, and that that is the truest reality in the world."
Ron stood there staring at me.
I pushed through the silence and asked him if I could pray for him. I prayed for Ron and told him about City Impact and how he could get connected to the church to pursue this more. He was very grateful and happy that we simply stopped to talk with him and hear his story. I was grateful too.
I could tell you a dozen more stories like this of people that we met and talked with and prayed with. As the week closed out we went out on the streets again Thursday night again to hand out chips and pray with people. This time there was no fear, only love. Every block was covered with people we would have a chance to talk with, to laugh with, to cry with, to be human with. It was a joy to see my students out in front handing out chips and starting up conversations. They killed it. God was growing them right before my eyes. Pushed out of their comfort zones into the world, but equipped with the greatest message of all--the gospel. And the gospel is enough.
Our last day in San Francisco was a day off and so we all got into a bus and toured around San Francisco and saw all the tourist sites. We saw the Golden Gate, Alcatraz, the famous Piers, and all the beautiful houses. The final stop on the tour was passing through the Tenderloin.
Our tour guide called out over the microphone, "And we are coming up a district in San Francisco known as the Tenderloin." And when I heard the word "Tenderloin" my heart beat a little faster--not from fear, but from love. I loved this area. I loved these people. Every single person walking around was made in the image of God. So many people of the Tenderloin have been through hell, and yet I heard more "God Bless You's" this week then I ever heard in my life. They were so thankful to talk with us, to see us, and to show us their neighborhood, their home. They are a broken and yet a deeply beautiful people. No different from you and me.
People aren't projects to convert, they are human beings to love. I want everyone to know about Jesus, but here is the truth.
I can't save anyone, but Jesus can. I can't truly deliver anyone, but Jesus can.
I can't, but Jesus can. And Jesus will.
It's His City. It's His Tenderloin. And through City Impact and other Christians in the area the kingdom of God is being seen on the streets of the Tenderloin. The church is being the church--loving in word and deed, pursuing justice and calling people to repentance in and through Christ. Beautiful.
We all stand equal before God. We all struggle in our own ways. We have all sinned. You may visibly see the effects of sin more somewhere like the Tenderloin or Skid Row, but sin and brokenness is a part of the city of Madison, Wisconsin as well. It may look different, but the solution is the same--for the church to BE THE CHURCH and proclaim the rule and reign of Jesus over all things.
It's not about me. It's not about you. It's about Him.
Do you need to go and work with City Impact in the Tenderloin? Maybe, but maybe not. I know what I (and you need to do)--we need to get in the fight, to love our cities and ALL the people in them with the message of the Jesus.
And sometimes love is as simple and profound as going to someone, delivering and sharing a meal with them, and hearing their story.
Hmm...that sounds like what someone else I know spent his whole life doing.
Friday, March 29, 2013
You are a Barabbas. I am Barabbas.
Barabbas was a prisoner, a "notorious prisoner" according to the Gospel of Matthew who plays a prominent role in the Friday of Jesus' crucifixion. Matthew 27:15-26 records the episode in vivid detail.
The crowds are heated and growing more angry with each passing moment. Some want for Jesus to be put to death for claiming to be God himself and some, no doubt, are simply chanting along because they want to be a part of the action. Jesus Christ stands before Pontius Pilate, the Roman governor of Jerusalem, and Pontius Pilate tells the people that because it is the Passover feast then one prisoner can be released from the prison.
Matthew 26:17 Pilate said to the people "Whom do you want me to release for you: Barabbas, or Jesus who is called the Christ?"
The people chant for Barabbas to be released, to go free and for Jesus Christ to be crucified!
Crucify Him, Crucify Him they chant in verse 22.
So when Pilate saw that he was gaining nothing, but rather that a riot was beginning, he took water and washed his hands before the crowd, saying, “I am innocent of this man's blood;[a] see to it yourselves.” 25 And all the people answered, “His blood be on us and on our children!” 26 Then he released for them Barabbas, and having scourged Jesus, delivered him to be crucified.
Barabbas goes free, while Jesus is delivered to be crucified.
The guilty goes free, while the guilt-less one takes all of his guilt.
The prisoner gets released, while the Son of God is sent to prison and to the Cross.
It is the great exchange. The great exchange of the Scriptures, and it is our story as well.
We are all Barabbas. We are guilty, we are sinful, we are condemned under the law...
Jesus Christ goes to the Cross to die in our place on Good Friday.
He takes our guilt, He takes our sin, He takes our condemnation.
The Great Exchange. The Beautiful Gospel.
Now, you were Barabbas, but through Jesus Christ you are now a Son, a Daughter--reconciled to God your Father.
A new creation, a new person, redeemed by the blood of the Son of God into his family.
As has been said "The son of God became a man so that men could become sons of God."
1 John 4:10
This is love: not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.
Amen and Amen.