Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Swirls and Stories

Life can be a swirl. Especially as you get older, as life gets more complex, as the household expands, as responsibilities increase, and as time seems to get shorter. Or, if you are a Shomo (like I am), there is something we call “the Shomo swirl” which traps young and old alike—it’s quite treacherous.

So I find it interesting that as God leads the Israelites out of Egypt, and prepares them for life in the promised land, he gives them the Ten Commandments, tells them to love him with all their heart-mind-soul-strength, and also tells them this:

When your son asks you in time to come, “What is the meaning of the testimonies and the statutes and the rules that the Lord our God has commanded you?” then you shall say to your son, “We were Pharaoh’s slaves in Egypt. And the Lord brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand. And the Lord showed signs and wonders, great and grievous, against Pharaoh and all his household, before our eyes. And he brought us out from there, that he might bring us in and give us the land that he swore to give our fathers. ...” (Deuteronomy 6:20-23)

God is preparing them for the swirl. He is preparing them for the days to come when things are kind of mundane, yet awfully distracting. For when it would be easy to lose sight of their great privileges and unique purpose, because there are bills to pay and kids to raise.

So he gives them a (true) story to anchor themselves in. He would not be showing signs and wonders every day of the week, because human beings weren’t designed to live in such continual upheaval. Yet they need to remember the tremendous things he has done so that they do not lose their sense of identity and destiny.

We should likewise have ourselves anchored in a story. We should keep track of the great things God has done in our life, what previous generations of Christians called a testimony—a story of God’s goodness. We should remind ourselves of the privilege of knowing and serving God, and pass this on to our kids.


We should also connect our personal story (what a previous generation of Christians called our “personal testimony”) to the Greatest Story. After all, our salvation and identity, if we are believers, traces back to those Israelites in Egypt. And the story runs all the way through the Old and New Testament, and includes especially the saving death and resurrection of Jesus the Son of God.

I’m aware that I’m not saying much here that’s new. But practically, I wonder if we really do this. Or, if you are like a Shomo, does life seem more like a swirl than a meaningful, rich story?

Speaking of Shomos, I’m glad that my story contains a lot of interesting characters. In the Bible, and in my family. But most of all that it contains Jesus.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

The Cross Happens

In a message entitled "The Power of Total Freedom," Terry Virgo said something I found quite arresting:

"Paul doesn't talk about the cross so much as a memory of what happened to Jesus but as something that...happened to him. In fact, if you count the number of times Paul talks about the cross in the New Testament you'll find he talks more about what the cross did to him than the actual event of Jesus dying on the cross."

For example...

Galatians 6:14, he boasts "in the cross of the Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world."

2 Corinthians 5:15, "He died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised."

Back to Galatians, in 2:20, "I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me."

So, right now you are reading a blog. It's only barely interactive. You will probably navigate away right about now and think about something else. But it seems to me, this deserves a great deal of mediation: do I view the cross the way Paul did?

The cross didn't just happen, it happens. Has it happened to you?

Monday, May 21, 2012

Crushing Waves and Sinking Faith

The story of Jesus walking on water, and then Peter temporarily doing the same, is a great story recorded in each of the gospels. It reveals to us the deity of Christ, the nature of faith and doubt, and speaks to us when we are in our own storms. In case you forget the details, it will take you about 30 seconds to read it here or in the comments section.

The disciples were pretty fearful when they were caught in this tremendous storm. Some think it may have been a squall. Yikes. But Jesus, who had been back on land, comes out to the boat walking on water as if he’s God Incarnate, and everyone and everything calms down.

The fact that this event follows immediately after Jesus miraculously feeds the 5,000+ makes it easy, from a great distance, to wonder why the disciples didn’t have a little more faith. The story as recorded in the gospel of Mark even says, basically, “The disciples just didn’t get it.” Even Jesus marvels at their little faith.

Personally, when I put myself in the disciples’ place, there is no way I’m feeling anything but complete terror and abandonment in that storm.

Here’s why:

Because as I think about it, the crux of the story is the fact that Jesus is not physically present with them. All the miracles they’ve seen up to this point, including the feeding of the 5000+, took place when they were with him. But in this case, he wasn’t within eyeshot. They were on their own, or so it seemed. The miracle worker was up in the mountain praying, and it was just them and their oars against the ferocious power of crushing waves.

Apparently at this point in their discipleship, Jesus was calling them to trust that his presence in their lives was not limited to his physical presence. They needed to learn that he was “with them” even when it didn’t seem he was with them. Without the New Testament available yet (it would eventually be their job to write it!), without the resurrection, without the mystery of the Holy Spirit being revealed, no wonder they thought they were toast! Yes, toast mixes the metaphor: they thought they were abandoned, alone, doomed.

I definitely would have felt this way too.

The story moves on, and as it reaches its climax after Jesus’ death and resurrection, he says to the disciples before his ascension: “I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”

Now do we believe it?

After the resurrection… do we believe it? Based on what God has done in world history, and in our own history, do we believe it? Are we no better than the disciples? Are we worse?

The great news is that Jesus came to them as their ship and as their faith was sinking…

Saturday, May 12, 2012


Jesus said, "Do not be anxious."

Paul said, "Do not be anxious." (He obviously stole this line.)

So, don't be anxious. But how?

I have always found Philippians 4:6-7 to be among the most practical verses in Scripture. Paul tells us exactly what to do in the face of anxiety: pray a lot, and give thanks a lot. It's a powerful one-two punch that puts you in touch with divine power and divine contentment.

I haven't given enough credit, however, to the verses that precede and follow this.

In v.4 we read: "Rejoice in the Lord always; and again I will say, Rejoice." This is the goal: joy. Yes, I would definitely like to trade in my anxiety for joy. While anxiety is a popular little vehicle, the engine is always running so it uses a lot of gas, and it doesn't idle very well. Joy just runs so much more smoothly and gets me where I actually need to go.

Then in v.5 we read: "The Lord is at hand." This is akin to the many times in the Bible that God says, "Fear not, for I am with you." And it's tremendously practical, because he is there in such a way that he can be accessed by us: thus, the following verse about prayer and thanksgiving. "Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God." It's interesting that it says "let your requests be made known," as if God wouldn't know them... but the problem is not God's knowing, it's that we have a faithless tendency to worry rather than request. We don't direct our energies toward formulating a request, so anxiety breeds with all its disturbance and distraction. JUST ASK.

And after speaking about the peace that results from formulating our requests, and acknowledging all we have to be thankful for... there is more. I always viewed this next part as an entirely new set of instructions, but I should have known better. Paul goes on to speak about setting our mind on that which is true...honorable...lovely...commendable...excellent...praiseworthy. In other words, harness your thought life. You are prone to worry, which is basically letting our thoughts run wild. Lasso your thoughts, tackle them, stick out your foot and trip them, whatever it takes. Get the upper hand over your thoughts.

And finally, he says, "What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me--practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you" (v.9). So the final instruction here is to DO SOMETHING. Specifically, get busy about God's will. Praying and praising and thanking and thinking are all foundational, but now point yourself in a direction and do something. Perhaps this is why Jesus said, when he told us not to be anxious, to direct our energies on "seeking first the kingdom of God and his righteousness."

If you are like me, you need to be reminded of these basics even after (wow) 24 years of following Jesus. Or kind of following. It's like Jesus has to keep turning around to say to me, his erratic follower, "This way. This way. Hey Ken, this way." I then envision him rolling his eyes as I momentarily get back on track, but maybe he just lets out a laugh.