Doing Church: God Provides

Today Todd taught at The Well. We are continuing our study through the book of Exodus. The main thought I had while listening to Todd teach was how much God has provided for me, even when it seems I cannot hear Him or see Him at work in my life. That is the passage we were studying today.

As the Israelites came out of Egypt, God provided food for them. He provided the food they needed for that day. If they tried to gather more food than they needed for the day, it would smell and turn into maggots. It is interesting to me: Jesus says we should not worry about tomorrow. We are called to allow tomorrow taking care of tomorrow. We are not able to predict what tomorrow will bring. I guess that is why the stuff they gathered turned into maggots after a day. They had to trust that God would meet their needs for the day. The Lord’s Prayer is like that too. “Give us this day our daily bread.” That is really powerful. It is almost like an announcement that we continually believe that God will provide for us today whatever it is He knows we need. Food, clothes, money, or whatever; God always provides. I think we could seriously learn a lot from this very small selected passage in Exodus.

The other thing I was challenged with was the importance of taking a Sabbath rest. To be sure, my life is ridiculously busy. I have added to my own strength, making my time either rushed or compact. I have added more to my life than perhaps I should but I am enjoying it all. I need to make sure that I get enough rest though. Sleep is important. I do not get enough of that. I also need to take a “personal day” and just be with the Lord. I hope to make that a reality in my life. We all have 24 hours in a day. The question I need to ask myself is: What am I doing with the time I have been given? God takes the Sabbath seriously.

In other news, this evening, we had a “Community dinner” at Ginger’s house in Doylestown. I was not sure if I was going to go. With all the stuff going on with school and work, I thought perhaps it would be better if I stayed home and got the work done. I decided to allow the messages today speak to me and I went. I am glad I did. After getting a little lost, I found where I was supposed to be, and several people from The Well greeted me. I brought a “famous” salad our family makes all the time. From the looks of an empty bowel at the end of the night, I guess it went over well. The cool thing about this evening was perhaps, for the first time, I felt as though I belonged to this church.

I grew up in a church that was very individualistic in nature. The Gospel was all about “me” and had no image of it being more than that. As I have learned though, the Gospel is so much more than I had both see and had been taught by those I attended church with. The Gospel also includes “the good of others and the world” (Scot McKnight’s book “Embracing Grace – xiii). Today, I felt as though we were living the Gospel in a very real and genuine way. It was totally awesome. I hope I never have to pinch my arm and find out that all of this has been a dream. I want to live the Gospel out loud as the body of Christ. It is really that important.

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The Gospel According to Mac

There are a lot of books out there that make no sense.  The Gospel According to Harry Potter for instance is a perfect example of a book that is ridiculous.  There are a lot of those kinds of books out there.  The Gospel According to Operah, The Gospel According to The Lord of The Rings and other such titles that attempts to provoke the psyche with the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  There is in fact only one “The Gospel According to” book that has yet to be written.  I call it, The Gospel According to Mac.  If I were to seriously write this book, this is how I might begin my writing.  (Please note:  This is supposed to be humorous.  Please do not send me hate mail.  I promise I will not read it).

Sitting before me right now is a white MacBook.  It is sleek and slender.  There are no ‘extra edges’ that can get caught on something; it weighs a whole five pounds.  It is, by design, the most perfect notebook on the market.  The Gospel is also the greatest thing on the market.  It is pure (white like the MacBook), and is very simple in design.  Jesus is Lord.  He came to save us from ourselves and to have a real relationship with us.  He died for us and rose from the dead and has given us the Holy Spirit to press on in this life until we met with Him once again for eternity.  There is nothing to get snagged on.  It is just that simple.

The MacBook also has a video camera built in the inner workings.  So too does the Gospel have a Spiritual camera that looks inside you and I.  It sees what we ourselves cannot see with our own eyes.  It also shows us what we ultimately project to others.  Sometimes it is a great thing.  Other times, it is not the prettiest thing to look at.  It does its job though.  With other computers, you usually have to buy a camera at an additional cost.  It is cheap grace.  When we are able to see who we are in Christ, we are better able to make changes in our life for the better.  MacBook has what we are looking for.

The one thing I continually seem to come back to is the fact that a MacBook never seems to crash.  I am sure they do once in 1,000 years or something.  But I have never heard of a MacBook crash.  So too the Gospel never fails us.  Even when we seem to do the wrong thing, the Gospel never shows us a blank screen.  Sometimes we need to just take a moment to reboot our minds and go at it again.  I have had three other computers that were not Macs.  I cannot tell you how many times the computers crashed on me while I was working on something important.  The MacBook has not let me down.  It really is good news!

Another cool characteristic of a MacBook is that it is in no need of a virus program.  For another computer, the need to buy a virus program is ridiculously important.  The MacBook though is pretty much virus free.  To own a virus program is to say that the Gospel alone cannot meet our needs.  When we add a virus program, we are ultimately saying that the Gospel itself is not good enough and that we are in need of a works/faith process.  The Gospel tells us that the blood of Christ covers a multitude of sins.  I wish virus programs did their job and kept viruses away from our computers.  The MacBook though does its job.  It is the fullness of the Gospel.  It is something we can be proud of.

Finally, the MacBook has been tested and proven to be one of the best computers on the market.  It might cost you more than your traditional Dell computer but the for what you get, the cost is well worth its weight in gold.  So too is the Gospel of Jesus.  It will cost you more than any other way of living.  And, though it seems like the cost is too great, it is worth it.   Think about what you have gained knowing that you have the true Gospel before you.  Should we allow the cost of the Gospel to scare us away from having the truth?  In a word, “no.”  There are many fake gospels out there.  Dell, Acer, Compaq, and IBM.  Whatever title you want to give it, the MacBook is what it is.  It does not compromise itself for the sake of other notebooks.  It is something you can rest your papers on and believe you have the greatest notebook money can buy.  The Gospel is like that.  We all know that the notebook God will write in is a MacBook notebook.  It really only makes sense.  So, that being said let us is filled with the Holy Spirit.  Find your MacBook here and find the truth out for yourself.  Find the true Gospel of Jesus in your dusty Bible you have not opened. I know it will bless you as it has me.  God bless

Embracing Grace

Tonight we continued our theological discussions, using the book, “Embracing Grace” by Scot McKnight.  We are not a large group to say the lest but we meet each Wednesday night.  It is a time for us to get together and share with one another all that God is doing in and through us.  I am a personal fan of the book (I have read it now three times all the way through).

I will say however that I struggled with Scot’s definition of the Gospel.  The main reason I struggled with it is because it dealt with the issue of community in the body of Christ.  A term I had never seen or heard of before I went away to college.  It is also something I have not really seen within the body of Christ so it seemed like that star you attempt to catch but instinctively know will never happen.  The Gospel I was taught in the church at an early age was a selfish Gospel that focused on ‘me” rather than an “us” Gospel, if that makes sense.  Going to The Well, I believe I am beginning to see the Gospel lived out in the manner Scot calls the Church to live the Gospel out.  It is very encouraging.  It is what I have been waiting to see.

The other thought that I struggled with is seeing not only myself but others who are ‘different’ as being made in the image of God.  It is true though.  We are all on the same page when it comes to how we were made.  It should not be so difficult though.  The ministry of Jesus on this earth should have taught us well enough that He saw all people as being made in the image of God.  These were the people He was going to die for on the cross.

So the Gospel is very communal as it is individual.  Perhaps we can change as a body of Christ when we learn to live in this fashion.  It is a difficult calling but again, it is what Jesus calls us to.  Thanks Scot for writing this book.  I cannot say enough how much it has challenged me.  God bless

Stories From the Homeless

Tonight I went to Philadelphia. I did not go to shop or catch a baseball game. I went with sixteen people to serve the homeless at Love Park. We met at church around seven to make PBJ’s to hand out to the homeless people we would meet while we were there. We had a purpose and a goal too. We simply wanted to be the church. We wanted people to know that someone really cared about them. We were not there to preach to them. We were there to talk, to listen, to pray, to laugh, and to cry at times. Each person had a story; a soul behind the eyes that stared at us this evening. I think we forget all too often that those who are homeless are people. Sometimes I feel as though we treat them like dogs or mice that run across the city streets. They are people though. They have eyes, a nose and a mouth like you and I.

The first person I met was a guy named James. He is an African- American man who went through some ‘tough times.’ He got hurt on the job and could not work. He searched for a job for several months but was unable to find something that could meet his needs. After a year, he had not found a job and lost his house and even his family. He has three children from two different women. Somehow, he said, he always finds ways to pay for his kid’s needs; they are more important than him. He would rather live on the streets of Philadelphia and work to make sure they have a meaningful life than live in a simple house and care only about him. He sold drugs for a time to make some ‘extra money’ but then got caught and went to jail for a time. When he got out of jail, he attempted to find a job once again. He has learned where all the food banks are and when to go there to get some food. He said he has never gone to bed hungry.

Another guy I met that night was Mont. He was a homeless Jewish guy who has lived on the streets for over nine years. His story is of the same story of James. He hurt his leg at work as a wielder. He went to the hospital and had surgery to try and fix it. They were unable to fix it. He tried to make quick money and lost all that he had gambling. He, like James also knows all the food banks or places to sleep if it is too cold outside to sleep on a park bench. When I asked if I could pray for him, he said that I could. I did not know how to pray for Mont though. Do I pray that he would find a job and get off the streets or do I focus more on the fact that he does not know the Lord. So I decided that I would pray that whatever he needed to sustain a meaningful life for him, God would answer that in his life. Even if that meant living on the streets for the rest of his life knowing that Jesus was Lord and loved him. When I looked at him, there was a tear in his eye. This Jerry Garcia look-a-like stared at me and asked if I knew what his dream was. I did not. He said that he wished he could understand how it got so bad. Why did he not stop gambling when he was losing? I could not answer this man who looked at me with honest eyes. I am sure if I go back to Love Park this Monday, Mont will be there on his ‘special bench.’ I hope his answer is answered in some manner.

Finally I met a guy named Frank. Frank is a guy who is loved by most of the homeless people there in Love Park. He is loved because he cares more about the other people in that park than he does about himself. He is probably one of the most humble men I have met in my life. He has absolutely nothing and yet treats people as those he is the wealthiest man on the block. That is inspiring to me. He told me of a girl on the streets that were pregnant with twins. She needed help but did not know how to help her. So, I did what I could. I found a place where she could be looked after that evening and have her babies looked after to make sure they were healthy. I then found a long term place where she can get the help she needs. She would need money though to get there. So I went and bought some tokens for her to use the next day. This place would take care of her and provide for her and her babies. When all of this was accomplished, Frank looked at me and asked why I care about a bunch of homeless people? I told him that they were people and deserved to be looked after just like myself. A wealth status should not matter. He just looked at me and put his arm on my back as we walked back to Love Park.

On my ride home, I considered a lot of things. These are people. I am not going to lie. Some of these people smelled really bad. Though, if I had not showered in several months, I guess would smell like them as well. They had nothing and yet, for some reason, seemed happy to be on the street. Finally sometimes we need a hand up not a hand out. There is a lot more to the equation than simply being a homeless person. There is a life behind the eyes that stare back at you. I hope and pray that we will all take a little more time to consider those who are in need. It will require us to get a little dirty (or even smelly). Craig Gross wrote, “You cannot blame the darkness for being in the dark. You can only blame the light for not shinning brightly in the darkness. I agree. So let us shine bright in the darkness. Let us love our neighbor as ourselves. It is what we are called to do. It is the reason we were saved. Let us be a blessing to others. For the sake of Christ, let us live as Christ has called us to live. At the end of the day, you are more blessed than those whom you server. It is crazy like that. So let us bless others, for the sake of the Gospel

Doing Church: Exodus 12

This Sunday, Gary taught on the Exodus (Exodus 12).  It is a familiar passage, which I think at times, is half the problem.  We know these passages so well.  We often miss what the Lord might be teaching us when we glance or skim over these very important events.  That is one thing I am always challenged with when I read the Word of God.

I cannot tell you how many times I have read this story.  And, yet, I have seen where I have missed an important part of the story.  When Moses led the Israelites out of Egypt, God told Moses to lift up his staff and the waters would part; they would cross on dry ground.  He did so.  After the Israelites crossed, Pharaoh attempted to run after the Israelites.  He had changed his mind.  When Moses got everyone across, God told him to reach out his staff once more and the waters would fall on the Egyptians.  He said that the Lord would fight the fight and all Moses had to do was sit and watch.

I like that.  I like the fact that God wants to fight our battles for us.  I like the fact that I can sit back and watch God work.  I do not have to sweat through a situation.  All I have to do is obey God and He will be faithful to meet all of my needs as they arise in the fashions they seem to arise.  In all we do and say, our actions will far exceed our words.  When the “stuff hits the fan,” will we truly rely on the word of God or will we attempt (perhaps once again) to try and work it out for ourselves?  It is a sad story when we do not listen to the words of God.  They are important and lead us His grace and peace despite all the cares and worries we struggle through each and every day.

I am not claiming to have the “corner market’ on this mind you.  I have a lot of work to do.  I am learning though.  I am learning to listen to the words of God even more than I have before.  I am learning to sit back and wait; waiting to see how God is going to make it all work out.  Then again, it seems to me that am what faith is all about.  Faith does not always know how it is all going to work out.  Faith knows that it will work out according to God’s will.  He knows what I need before I even ask Him for His help.  I only need to sit back and wait.  Maybe that is something we all can learn to do a little more.  It would probably aid in not making the same mistakes we oftentimes make when we try it on our own.  Knowing our luck, we will not heed the words of God though.  We will mess up once again and will try to figure out where we went wrong.  So it goes.  Let us not make that mistake though.  Let us work through our faith and know that God is who He is.  When we learn to do this, God is able to do what He does best.

Suicide: How Do We Respond?

I have not blogged for a while. This has been a hard week. A guy from a Bible study I have attended for the past several months each week committed suicide. Since I heard the news about this individual, I have been flooded with personal questions that have taken much of my free time. Questions like:

“Why?” Why did I not know he was struggling with whatever he was struggling with? Why could I not discern what he was going through and try and help him through his situation?

“How?” How could he do it? How could life get so hard for some that the only answer would be to end his life in the manner in which he ended it? How could I have not seen the symptoms?

“Is?” Is he in heaven or is he in hell? Does suicide result in losing one’s salvation or can we honestly believe that even through the event of committing suicide an individual can still enter eternity with God?

These are honest questions perhaps you would ask or have asked when you have heard the news of an individual who has ended their life in such a tragic way. They are honest questions we need to work through so that we can continue to live as a people of God. It is not an easy thing to work through; it takes time to make sense (if it is really even possible) through the different aspects the events of suicide ensue. I believe however that I have found a place where I can at least move on and not curse God or John for the events that occurred this past week.

The first place we need to look is not to John but God. We need to remember who God is and ultimately who God says He is in His Word. We know believe the Word of God says He is love, we believe the Word of God says He is gracious and merciful, and we believe the Word of God says God is just. God’s characteristics display all of these things and more, so the Bible claims in its written proclamation. If we do not deal with this issue first, if we do not believe God inhabits these characteristics, we will continue to struggle through the healing process we desire to take place. So, a very practical place to begin is with the question, “Do I believe that God is love? Do I believe that God is both merciful and gracious? And do I believe that God is just?” If you can honestly affirm these things, that God is love, merciful, gracious, and just, we can begin to build the healing process; this is our foundation in which we can heal. I personally believe we cannot move on until this is affirmed in ourselves.

When we have come to a place where our faith and trust in who God is, we can then build a path towards healing and continue to live the life God has called us to live.

“How could this individual commit suicide?” I am sure we can branch several questions from this root. The most honest answer I can give is, “I don’t know.” I say that because I do not know the heart of the individual and what he was going through at that time when he made a decision to do what he did. There are those who would have us look to the symptoms of an individual’s situation and state the means to the end was the root of the individual’s response. I wan to encourage us to not look at it from that perspective. After talking to several people who are much smarter than I will probably ever be, it seems as though it can be a lot easier to grasp onto the symptoms rather than realize the symptoms the individual was dealing with is very different from the root cause. For example, if an individual was dealing with bi-polar disorder or pneumatic depression, it could be very easy to say, “Well, the individual was dealing with bi-polar and it caused him to commit suicide.” The only problem with that statement (even though it could be the ‘reason’) is that it is not the root issue but is one symptom (perhaps among many) the person was dealing with at that time. That is why we must look to God rather than the individual or what the individual’s symptoms were, order to cope with our loss.

God knows why the individual committed suicide.
God knows what was going on.
God knows.

That does not make the coping process any easier to go through perhaps, but it is my personal belief we must look to this end rather than any other preconceived notions. This may or may not help in answering one of the most difficult and controversial questions we ask ourselves or others: “Is this individual in heaven or is he or she in hell? Can one lose their salvation if they commit suicide?”
As I have already said, this is a seriously difficult and controversial subject that is not answered directly in Scripture. Let us go back to our foundation though in hopes of answering this question intelligently and honestly. God is love. He is gracious and merciful. He is just. As long as we believe these statements, I believe we can find a correct answer to this question. There are three aspects we must state though before we can rightly answer this question:

1. Committing suicide (whether a believer in Christ or not) is a selfish act. It is a sin. In some anthropomorphical way, it causes God to grieve (or cry). I do not understand how that all works out in heaven but I have to believe that it grieves God when we take our life into our own hands and end our life in that manner. If God is love, gracious, merciful and just, He is able to help us in our times of need. The Psalmist said, “Even when I walk through the path of darkness, You (God) are there.” When we feel as though we cannot go on in this world, God is there with His arms wide open. He is a True Father who opens His arms and desires to pick us up like little children and whisper in our ear that He loves us and we will be okay. He is love. He knows what we need and He knows how to provide for us.

2. Suicide is a sin. There is no other way around it. It is a selfish sin. It is not a “greater” sin to God than other sins; God sees all sin equally and does not magnify one sin over another. It is all imperfection and rebellion to God. The bummer about committing this sin however is the end result. When one commits the sin of suicide, there is no chance to repent from their choice to end their life. When the individual meets with God, he will have to give an account for his act and his choice to do what he did. Committing suicide however does not mean automatically that an individual is going to hell. It also does not give a ‘right’ for someone to end his or her life though. Committing suicide does not either admit or throw out one’s salvation in Christ. God Himself is the Judge of our eternal resting place (either heaven or hell). That is dependant on our personal relationship with Christ.

3. Going back to our foundation once again: God is God. He knows all. He knows the end from the beginning. He is the Supreme Judge. He knows the heart of the individual. He knows if the individual had a real and genuine relationship. Only God knows this. We are never in a position to say one way or another. We must always remember this point. If we believe we have found some ‘holy grail’ of knowledge that allows us to judge an individual’s heart, we need to wake up. Once again, God is the Supreme Judge.

So, after acknowledging these points, what can we say of an individual who has committed suicide? Write this down. I hope that you will not run with this answer but will study it on your own. This is my answer to someone who asks the question, “Are they in heaven or are they in hell?” based on our points above:

“All I know is when the individual committed suicide, their eyes were closed in the world and opened in the presence of God. The individual went before God and gave an account for their life and their relationship with God. Finally, God is love. He is merciful and gracious. He is just.”

Any other statement in which we can add to those statements (however you would like to word them for yourself) is speculation and an opinion. If an individual had a personal relationship with God, the Word of God says that no one can pluck a sheep from the Master’s hand (John 10) and that no one can separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord (Romans 8). I want to believe that the person who I personally knew was a believer in Christ and had a personal relationship with Him. That does not excuse his decision to commit suicide mind you. Again, God knows His heart in that manner. I do not want to automatically in the same pretence state he is in heaven. God knows His heart. That is why our relationship with Christ is dependant upon God and us alone. We will be the only ones in the room when we give an account to our relationship with Christ. We will not be able to look to other people or make excuses for why we missed out on opportunities to be used by God on this earth. It is God and I or God and you. I hope we never forget that.

Dealing with the issue of suicide is not an easy one to deal with. Let us always remember however where our foundation is found. It is found in God. He is love. He is merciful and gracious. He is just. His Word is true and we can rest in knowing that God is God and we are not. Even when something as horrible as suicide occurs, we can meet with God and know He is in control.

Doing Church: The Passover

Today was a great service.  The reason I really enjoyed the service today was for a lot of reasons.  It went longer than it usually does.  I used to go to a church where God forbid we were moved by the Holy Spirit and went five minutes over the normal time, people would begin looking at their watches and putting their coats on.  That always drove me nuts.  I want to challenge people to take off their watches when they enter their places of worship.  Please do not treat God that way.

Anyway, as I said, it was a great service.  Todd taught today.  He spoke on the Passover found in Exodus.  I wonder if we really take the Passover as seriously as we probably should.  The Jewish people found their ‘salvation’ and deliverance through the Passover.

The Passover story is quite interesting.  God called the Israelites to celebrate the Passover.  They were supposed to celebrate it a certain way.  They were to do it in haste.  The thing that really hit me today was a statement. If we are not looking at the Passover meal (what we would call the Lord’s Supper) in the correct manner (a symbolism of Christ’s death and resurrection for my salvation), we are missing something.  We are missing the main reason we really take the Lord’s Supper in the first place.

I have a lot to think about.  I have been free from my ‘Egypt’ and have been given true deliverance in Christ.  I need to step it up a bit when it comes to how I view communion.  I need to take some time to remember what Christ has done for me before I go up and take it.  I am glad we talked about the Passover service.  It is not just a story for Jewish people but is also valuable for you and I as believers in Christ.  God is so good.