Waterhose

One of the most interesting festivals celebrated in the Old Testament is the Feast of Tabernacles.  It’s also called the Feast of Booths.  There are several Old Testament references to the festival, and one main reference is found in Leviticus 23:34-43.  Here’s a snippet from that passage:

You shall live in booths for seven days; all the native born in Israel shall live in booths, so that your generations may know that I had the sons of Israel live in booths when I brought them out from the land of Egypt. I am the Lord your God. (Lev 23.42-43; NASB)

Let’s be honest, that sounds like a strange command.  Basically, God wanted the people to spend a week in pup-tents out in their front yard.  But interestingly, along with this, came a great feast.  The festival came just after the fall harvest was collected, so they didn’t just pass the time in their little homemade huts, they actually had festive meals and an abundance of food for a week.  So, while living in fragile booths, which were the opposite of opulent, inside they had all the abundance they needed, and were humbled by what they had. 

The original purpose of this festival was to be a yearly reminder of the time of the Exodus.  In that time, the Israelite people had nothing to lean on but God.  So out in the bare wilderness, they experienced an abundance of God’s presence and care.  It might not have been an easy time, but God was certainly working amongst them.  So, in remembrance of this, every year they would celebrate the harvest in booths like the ones made during the Exodus, and they would remember how God was faithful and how abundance is measured by God’s love, not material things.  They would also be humbled by those who went before in faith who had nearly nothing of earthly abundance.  So, during this festival, not only would the people be reminded of God’s presence as abundant, but they would also be humbled by the provision of the season’s harvest, and reminded of those who had little or nothing. 

We need those reminders.  We need to be reminded of how in our part of the world, the majority of us have our basic needs met, and we have a fair amount of comforts.  We need to be reminded and humbled by that because it’s easy to forget.  And when we forget that, we become entitled and out of touch with God.

It’s easy to fall into a mindset, where our use of resources and possessions is like a kid with a water hose.  Near my house, the neighbor kid will literally spray the water hose for hours.  He’ll spray it up into the air, against the fence, through the trees, into the other yards.  I’ll go back into the house or run some errands and come back out and he’s still spraying water.  Now, please here me- I’m NOT judging the kid.  I totally get that he’s just a kid and hasn’t developed a world-view and logical reasoning and all that.  I’m surprised his parents haven’t wondered about the water bill, but the kid just couldn’t know any better.  But the problem is, while he doesn’t know any better, I do.  And the other day I accidentally left the sprinklers on way too long.  It’s easy to become naïve to wastefulness and numb to the abundance all around us.  We get stuck in our own little backyard worlds where the dire straits of people elsewhere on the planet are forgotten.  We live in a country where every block or so there’s an “all you can eat” restaurant.  He has an excuse because he’s just a kid.  We don’t have an excuse, yet in some ways we don’t act much differently.    

The Feast of Tabernacles is a brilliant concept.  Step outside of the day to day, and actually realize the abundance around you.  Humbly celebrate what you have, and be convicted to pray for, give towards, and be actively concerned for those who have much, much less.  And be reminded that God’s desire for his creation is for it to know him and praise him.  And how do we know that is God’s heart?  Well, he celebrated a Feast of Tabernacles of his own.  In the first chapter of the book of Colossians, Paul tells us that God’s fullness dwelt in Christ.[1]  And In the first chapter of the Gospel of John, the text tells us that Jesus came and “dwelt” among us[2]. So, God’s abundance came here amongst us in Jesus Christ.  The word “dwelt” in the Gospel of John verse literally means to put up a tent or to tabernacle.  So then, God put his abundance in a humble, human, fragile form in Jesus- God’s abundance in an earthly dwelling.  It’s a perfectly divine Feast of Tabernacles.

God showed to the world that he is concerned for his creation.  He is abundant with love and grace for his creation.  He is a God who desires his abundance to be seen in his people- not merely by material things and by ease and comforts but shown humbly and powerfully through compassion, grace, love, and truth- a holy abundance.    


[1] Colossians 1.19
[2] John 1.14

Sunglasses

You know how it feels when you leave a two and a half hour movie in the afternoon and walk out into the bright sun?  It hurts.  For some reason it always makes me sneeze.  Weird, I know.  But you have to adjust to the light, and if you have sunglasses, most likely you reach for them.  I read the other day that Oakley sunglass company donated special sunglasses to the Chilean miners. As bad as it is leaving a dark theater, try being underground for 69 days.  That’s two and a half months in darkness.  Their eyes needed special protection from the sunlight.  The last I heard a couple of days ago, the miners were still wearing the glasses.

God is described as light. And he is more amazing than we could ever imagine. Sometimes I think we fear even attempting to gaze at Him. And while Paul is correct in saying that we see through a glass dimly[1] (there are still things of God we don’t comprehend); we are also invited to live in His light. We are called to see the world through His light and even reflect it ourselves. We are invited into this light by Him, and we are free and capable to open our eyes to it by Christ Jesus, who is the light to a dark world[2]

Paul describes it this way in 2 Corinthians 3.12-18:

Since we have such a hope, we are very bold, 13 not like Moses, who put a veil over his face so that the Israelites might not gaze at the outcome of what was being brought to an end. 14 But their minds were hardened. For to this day, when they read the old covenant, that same veil remains unlifted, because only through Christ is it taken away. 15 Yes, to this day whenever Moses is read a veil lies over their hearts. 16 But when one turns to the Lord, the veil is removed. 17 Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. 18 And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.

Christ is the removal of the sunglasses. And it’s not a blinding but a new vision. It’s a revealing of the truth of the world. In a sense, it’s like leaving a dark room and going into a sunny day.  You can actually see the world for its beauty, its purpose, and even its destructive tendencies. But in seeing that, you aren’t looking through dark glasses or even rose colored glasses. There’s not despair and there is no naivety.  There is a true sense of hope, redemption, and calling. There is the realization that one’s purpose is transformation.  Each is called in Christ to become more and more like the light which God is, reflecting it to those in spiritual and physical need.  (Whoever loves his brother abides in the light, and in him there is no cause for stumbling. But whoever hates his brother is in the darkness and walks in the darkness, and does not know where he is going, because the darkness has blinded his eyes[3]). In 2 Corinthians Paul says this transformation comes from one degree to another.  In other words, God desires our lives to be consistent steps of transformation, drawing closer and closer to His eternal glory and sovereignty.  Our calling towards God never stops or decreases. His light is good, and through Christ Jesus we see more and more of it in every prayer, Scripture reading, and time of authentic worship. 


[1] 1 Corinthians 13.12
[2] John 1.4-5
[3] 1 John 2.10-11

Mission Trip

Our group just returned from our mission trip to New York City. The trip was both challenging and overwhelming. It also afforded the opportunity to relationally and conversationally share the love and grace of Christ. There was a fairly heavy weight that hung over the trip, considering we were in New York over the weekend of 9/11, and it certainly did not help that a now infamous pastor from Florida was acting very foolishly and irresponsibly in regards to cultural relations. However, we never once felt threatened or alarmed, and thankfully did not hear of any security threats.

Our goal for the trip was to build and further relationships within a community of West African people, many of whom are Muslim. The trip was organized around the goal of introducing people to the hope and grace we find in Christ, while authentically and genuinely investing in their lives and respecting and learning about their culture. We also had the opportunity to meet, pray with, and encourage several Christ followers from Ghana. Through the myriad of conversations and encounters, I learned probably more than I can share but a few things in particular stand out.

The first is in regards to humility. On the trip, one major element is showing respect to the culture we visit with. This can be accomplished in many ways, and one of these ways is to wear an article of African style clothing. African clothing is beautiful and also very comfortable, but I’ve never worn clothing similar, and it is a tad out of my usual style. I felt a bit awkward in it, and I probably stood out a bit. Let’s be honest, it’s not every day you see an Irish looking dude in traditional African garb. I could only wish I looked as regal and elegant as the West Africans do. But the point is not to be comfortable. The point is to show a willingness to embrace something different than your normal habits, to show that the Gospel is not defined by Western or American culture, but it is for all people all over the world. Stepping into that humility reminds one that the point of sharing Christ is not fitting people into your system and norms, but it is respecting the diversity of God’s creativity and expressing a humility stemming from the fact that you are as dependent upon God’s love as anyone else in the world. Also, it was only right to be humble, as the vast majority of people we met would outdo us in hospitality any day of the week.

The second major thing impressed upon me was the power of the Gospel. People need to hear about hope. People need to hear about God’s creative power, and His willingness to personally invest in the redemption of the people who broke and break His creative desire. The truth of the matter is that most people, regardless of where they are from or what system of faith they live within, recognize that the world is not as it should be, and even they themselves fall short of the ideal that a perfect God would hold for His people. So, the idea that God initiates grace, and then the change of heart happens is a relieving idea, especially to a person who feels burdened to prove to God that they are worthy of Him and good enough to pass judgment. Actually, many people within the Christian church feel the weight of this pressure, and it is reflected in a pitiful self-righteousness that reflects a judgmental “your problems are worse than mine” attitude. This kind of mindset lends itself to exclusivity and shallow theological thinking. The good news of the Gospel is that God initiates the freedom of grace, and a life of righteousness is a life of thankfulness and reflection of what God has already done. It’s not a pressurized point system. This is good news to most, because you and I and anyone else couldn’t possibly be good enough to measure up to the glory of God. This goes along with the humility section above.

Thirdly, the importance of follow up and building authentic relationships was evident. It takes a certain amount of arrogance to think one can swing through a different culture, convert a bunch of people, and then jet off never to return and feeling like the job is done. The scripture from 2 Corinthians 2.17 bounced around in my brain over the course of the trip:

For we are not, like so many, peddlers of God’s word, but as men of sincerity, as commissioned by God, in the
sight of God we speak in Christ.

To authentically share the love of Christ and not be a peddler means an effort to truly know people and their backgrounds and burdens. A person peddling something uses the same technique with the same lines and kitschy catch phrases with no regard to the uniqueness of who passes by. They want the conversation to be short, shallow, and sanitized, and once the sell has been pitched, there is no need for further relationship or investment. Obviously, not all conversations lead to long relationships, but in representing Christ Jesus, one needs to be always open to that possibly and hopeful for a chance to live along side of people.

Humanism is a term often rejected by Christ followers. It’s seen as something synonymous with secularism and absolute relativism. But really, separated from the baggage of other philosophies, humanism merely refers to an outlook desiring to support the well being and advances of the human
population. God is the ultimate practitioner of humanism. God revealed Himself in Christ, who took on life as a person and showed God’s glory to us. He did this for the benefit and redemption of the world which struggles and suffers in brokenness and death. To truly share this God is to truly share the Gospel with the actual person in mind. To truly share the Gospel is to have care and concern for people, which is different from peddling.

Thank you for your prayers in regards to our trip. It was a blessing to spend a few days sharing life with the wonderful people in New York from Senegal, Ivory Coast, Togo, Ghana, Guinea, and many other places. We hope to return.

Simon Peter

Yesterday I listened to a devotion about the Apostle Peter. It drew my thoughts toward the drastic change in Peter’s life as told through Scripture. If one reads Luke and Acts together (as they were
both written by Luke and best read together), it is clear that Peter makes a gigantic character change between Luke 22.54-62 and Acts 2. In the Luke section, Peter cowardly denies knowing Jesus at all.
A servant girl recognizes Peter as one of Jesus’ followers and calls him out as he sits amongst a group of people in a courtyard after Jesus’ arrest. Peter says to her, “Woman, I do not know him.” Jesus
had predicted Peter’s denial, but Peter said it would never be, and it turns out that Peter utterly and completely fails to come through. He surely had a “can’t even look in the mirror” moment. The scene ends with Peter running out to weep bitterly over his failure.

The Peter we encounter in Acts 2 is a different man, however. This Peter tells it like it is. He is bold, courageous, fearless, outspoken, and driven, all in regards to his faith that Jesus is Lord. He comes across as literally unstoppable. In fact, Luke tells us in the early part of Acts, that people recognize God’s work through Peter to the point where they are just trying to get his shadow to fall on them when he walks by. Peter goes from weeping bitterly after denying his Lord to casting a holy and powerful shadow. Not only this, in terms of courage, he preaches publicly about Jesus even in the face of strict religious and political opposition, and this opposition had the power to imprison him, beat him, and even put him to death.

At some level, we all experience changes in our lives. For instance, I started jogging recently and it’s given me some extra energy. I’ve been drinking slightly less coffee, and I’ve felt less anxious. Some
changes are brought about by embarrassing errors. We can probably all relate to making a mistake either at work or interpersonally and vowing to think more before we talk, be kinder, more thorough,
etc. That reflects a change. Maybe a change comes from a random inspiration and resolution. Your life may become slightly more effective and intriguing by vowing to travel more, read more, or begin a new
hobby.

But I was reflecting on Peter and his change, and it goes well beyond a slight personal awakening. His shift is more than an “increase your effectiveness plan.” He didn’t get boldness of leadership, courage
of faith, and undying conviction just from hitting the treadmill or having his sleep apnea treated. His change is bigger than that. The cause of Peter’s magnificent change is his encounter with the risen Lord.

In the story of Acts, we see Peter as the Apostle Peter. In the early church, one of the qualifications for being an apostle was an experience and actual encounter with Jesus after his resurrection. Peter certainly had lived such experiences. My guess would be that after talking, listening, and eating with the resurrected Jesus, Peter surely gained a new perspective on death. Peter had tangibly seen that God could and would conquer the most frightening and disconcerting thing we know. So Peter before Jesus’ resurrection was gripped and bound by fear, specifically the fear of death and things that lead to death. After he experiences the resurrected Jesus, he is fearless in the full confidence of God’s sovereignty and power.

Most all of us are fearful of death and things that direct our thoughts towards death. We fear death with good reason. It is unknown territory and causes us grief and much sadness. Death brings with it loss and separation. And the fear of death also keeps us from being haphazard with the gift of life. But it also can subconsciously hold us back from being courageous, bold, and adventurous. In many ways, I envy Peter and the apostles. Peter has the advantage of actually seeing the power of the resurrection with his own eyes. Honestly, that would make boldness a bit easier. But Peter truly matches his experience in Christ with sincere life change and fully confident faith. And we are blessed to have the testimony of the eyewitness and the early church. We have the experience of the comfort of the Holy Spirit, and we have the guidance and strengthening of prayer. So, if you claim that the faith is true, it is your challenge to live increasingly confident in God’s total and ultimate victory. This does not come easy, and we are all probably in different places on the fearlessness scale; however, growing in the Spirit means trusting more and more in God and growing more and more in the courage of faith. I love the story of Peter. It reminds us that courage and strength is best found in the grace of God.

In a Hurry

I don’t know when I started going everywhere in a hurry, but hurrying had recently become my
mode of operations. It’s possible that it began from a daily battle with traffic. Traffic just totally
freaks me out. For some reason if I’m riding shotgun, traffic doesn’t get to me, but if I’m behind
the wheel, I feel this pressure like there’s something I can do about it: I should have chosen
a different route. Would it be too ridiculous to hop up on the shoulder and take the next exit?
How come the lane I’m in is always the slowest? Those are just a few of the examples of how
my brain works in traffic. So, somehow this had crept into my everyday life. On a peaceful
Saturday morning, driving to Starbucks, I find myself going all ‘Jeff Gordon’ down Cooper Street.
When I have an errand to run, it can’t just be a nice, easy drive there; I feel like I’m on the clock.
There’s a gas station that I stop at in a highly trafficked area. I get all anxious and impatient
trying to get back out on the road after pumping gas, and just to keep from having to wait, I’ll fly
out of there like “a bat out of Shell.” Get it? Sorry.

So, this random, constant pressure was starting to get to me, and I finally had an epiphany. It’s
time to take it easy. It’s time to start cruising. All the anxiety was not good for my health or my
personality. Thus, I’ve adopted a new and mellow driving attitude. It involves not looking at
the clock as much. It involves no tailgating, no yellow lights, and no speeding (ok, moderate
speeding still happens occasionally- let’s not be ridiculous).

It seems like this is a metaphor for the way life can weigh in on you. The weight of mortality
and the fragileness of life makes you feel like you are racing the clock. It may be subconscious,
but you feel the need to get as much in as you can in the time you’ve been allotted. So, you’re
always pushing, rarely focusing, always thinking ahead. In my old driving state of mind, I could
have driven past the funniest billboard or the nicest building and wouldn’t have noticed. In life,
when you live it like an anxious driver, it is inevitable that many of the joys and mysteries are
going to be missed. And a simple, small attitude adjustment actually makes a huge difference.

Psalm 102 is a brilliant expression of this anxiety(1).  The psalmist is pouring out his heart, railing
against life’s fleeting nature. He is expressing his angst over the mortality he cannot reverse.

“For my days pass away like smoke, and my bones burn like a furnace.”
“My days are like an evening shadow; I wither away like grass.”

But in the midst of his ranting, he is reminded that God, at times, moves slow. He is reminded
that God’s timing is very different from ours because God’s perspective is very different from
ours. He bluntly remembers that God is eternal and does not answer to the limits of the clock.

“But you, O Lord, are enthroned forever; you are remembered throughout all generations.”

“Of old you laid the foundation of the earth, and the heavens are the work of your hands.”

“They will perish, but you will remain.”

The psalmist crashes head-on into a realization of God’s glory and power. And while the
Psalmist knows his days are limited, he takes comfort not in his own wisdom, his own speed, his
own strength; He takes comfort in this God who is forever. A God who responds in his own time
but still intimately cares.

“That he looked down from his holy height; from heaven the Lord looked at the earth, to set free
those who were doomed to die, that they may declare in Zion the name of the Lord…”

So there is little you can do about the unwinding hands of the clock. The tendency is to rail
against it, living life in a stressful hurry: Cutting people off, mowing them down, hovering too
close. But our strength and security is in God, and our comfort is in his eternal glory (2).

“But you are the same, and your years have no end. The children of our servants shall dwell
secure.”

1 all verses are quoted from Psalm 102, English Standard Version

2Jesus teaches this perspective in his words on anxiety, Matthew 6.25-34

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