Monday, October 22, 2018

What's In A Name?

When our daughter was younger, one of our joint activities involved me building a tower with blocks and her knocking it over and watching the blocks go tumbling. To a lesser extent she still enjoys this past time only now she's capable of building her own towers. 

Over the past year I've been listening to a series of podcasts by BEMA.  At a conference in 2017 I participated in a workshop by Marty Solomon who runs BEMA. He provided a fresh look at scriptures using concepts he had learned while studying under Rabbis. If you stop and think about it, our Bible was written not by westerners in the 21st century, but over a period of centuries on three different continents in three different languages by about 40 authors. Mostly of Middle Eastern and Eastern European descent. Naturally there's a cultural barrier that we fail to cross and thus are left with many passages in the Bible that leave us confused. Or we only scratch the surface of the truths that lie inside because we study these with 21st century western eyes. 

Listening to the BEMA podcasts (admittedly when I'm not listening to a fantasy football podcast) has allowed me to discover truths in Scriptures that I previously missed. One of the recent podcasts I listened to again was about the tower of Babel. If you're not familiar or vaguely familiar with the passage, I encourage you to read it here

This passage should raise questions. Genesis as a whole really sets the stage for the narrative of the whole Bible. Just like the opening crawl in Star Wars, or the opening narration in Lord of the Rings, our world needs context. Why are things the way they are? Why is evil and suffering in the world? How are we created? Why are we cut off from God? Genesis answers these questions, with the rest of the Bible telling the narrative of how God is making things right. So how does this story involving the tower of Babel fit into the background? 

Following the fall in garden of Eden and the murder of Abel by Cain, people begin to multiply. God instructed Adam's descendants to increase and multiply and to spread out over the earth (Gen. 1:28). Despite some of this descendants calling on the name of the Lord (Genesis 4:26), Adam's offspring turn to sin until God starts anew by preserving Noah and his family from the devastating flood. God again repeats his command to increase, multiply and spread out over the earth (Gen. 9:7). 

But we see in Genesis 11, that his offspring have journeyed eastward from where God planted them following the flood and are remaining as one people, in one place. They invent the brick which allows for greater construction efforts than previously imaginable. Then they decide to build a city with a tower that will reach the heavens so they can make a name for themselves and not be scattered over the earth.


Why are they afraid of being scattered? Do they fear loneliness? Isolation? Why do they feel the need to make a name for themselves? Why are they trying to reach the heavens? 

Genesis 1:26 tells us man was created in God's image. That is the name of mankind. Made in God's image. And yet here we see mankind wanting to make a new name for themselves. They don't want to be known as God's creation. They want to boast in their own accomplishments. 

Why do they journey east of where God planted them following the flood? Maybe they are looking for their own home and not the home God has given them. Maybe they are searching for something that's missing. 

Why do they fear being scattered? Do they already feel cut off from their connection with God? Is that why they are building a tower to reach the heavens? Or are they trying to again make themselves gods, just as Adam and Eve attempted to become like God by eating the forbidden fruit?

God sees all this and says "Come let us go down and confuse their language so they will not understand each other." And thus the work grinds to a halt. The people scatter to the four corners of the earth. 

Notice how God says "Come let us go down." That's God the Father, Son and Spirit at work here. Why does God choose to confuse their language? He's not punishing the people. He's not placing a curse on them. But he confuses their language. I don't personally have answers to that. Ultimately I believe God is sending a message to the people that they cannot make a new name for themselves. They cannot make themselves equal to God. That their name is "made in the image of God." 

Like the fall in the Garden of Eden, we see another attempt by man to break away from God's purpose and to set ourselves apart from his design and purpose. We see another attempt to replace God's role in our lives by placing ourselves in his place. But beginning in Genesis 12, we will see God taking another step in pursuit of mankind. 

Saturday, March 31, 2018

The power of a look

It's been a while since I blogged. To provide a bit of a life update, Alaina is now two years old and keeps my wife and I pretty busy. Last fall I left my position with Christian Student Fellowship at Penn State. I won't go into the reasons behind that decision, but since that time I've been able to be more present with my family. Getting Alaina to go to bed and stay in bed has been a struggle recently and despite the time spent each night, I'm glad I can be home to help put Alaina in bed.

Earlier tonight Alaina was cuddled in my lap as we sat in the rocking char. I had just finished singing the hymn "It is well with my soul" which is one of our regular bed time songs. As I rocked her she looked up at me at one point. I looked down and smiled. She saw my smile and smiled back. This went on for several minutes with her looking up, me smiling back, and this big grin spreading across her face. 

At two years of age Alaina can already tell when we're happy and when we're upset. And she takes her cues from us. When we celebrate something she claps her hands. If we get scared because she's about to do something she shouldn't, she get's upset. 

There's a lot of power in a simple look. Each expression communicates a message, intentional or unintentional. 

This weekend we are observing Easter. Not willing that anyone should perish apart from Him, God sent Jesus into the world to communicate face to face His heart for His people. In Jesus we see the compassion God has for the lost (Matthew 9), the anger He feels over man's greed (John 2), and the heartache He experiences when He sees us suffering (John 11). In Jesus we see God's delight in His Son (Matthew 3) and we see a glimpse of the delight He has with us. Romans 8 tells us we are co heirs with Christ and if we are brothers and co-heirs how much more does God also delight in us?!

In Jesus we also see the Father turn his face away (Matthew 27). Jesus takes our sin upon Himself. He takes our punishment upon Himself. He takes God's wrath upon Himself. Everything Jesus experiences on the cross, the rejection, the mocking, the suffering, was meant for us. Before we accepted Christ God was turning His face away. But because of Christ He turns His gaze back towards us. 

And He smiles. 

As we celebrate the risen Savior, let us reflect on the face of Jesus. What do you see in His face this Easter? Joy? Sadness? Delight? Concern? Whatever you see, know that God wants to delight in you. 

Thursday, February 4, 2016

The Power of Transformation

One of the key stories we look at during Foxholes here at Penn State is Mark 5:1-20. In the story Jesus encounters a man possessed by demons. This man had been alienated from his family, and culture. No one could help him. He broke chains that tried to subdue him, and cut himself with stones, crying out every day/night.

Then he meets Jesus. As powerful as this man was, Jesus was stronger. Jesus drives the demons out of the man, and his personality instantly changes. Now the man is calm, sober, and even dresses himself in new clothes. The people were amazed and terrified of Jesus at the same time. Amazed because Jesus made whole the unreachable. Terrified of the power Jesus wields to change lives.

And when the man begs to follow Jesus, He gives him a different assignment. Why didn’t Jesus accept this man as a disciple? Jesus instead sends him home to his family to share what God has done for him. The result? The people in his hometown were amazed at this life changing miracle.

Sure he could have impacted the world as one of Jesus’ 12 disciples. We might have even learned his name down that path. But instead Jesus sends him to be a witness for him in a city that Jesus likely never visited Himself.

As Christians we know we should be telling others about Jesus. But often we feel unprepared, inadequate. This man had only spent a single day with Jesus. But he recognized how Jesus had changed his life, and that alone transformed him into an effective witness for God.

We don’t have to know the Bible cover to cover, or have a seminary education to lead others to Christ. The power of our own story and how Jesus works in our lives is enough for God to use.

Don’t be afraid! Tell the world your story and what God has done for you. I have found that often the world will pay more attention to your story of transformation, than the life of one man changed thousands of years ago.

Who will you share your story with?

Sunday, September 27, 2015

Noisy Lives

I have returned to the blogging world. My wife and I continue to do ministry at Penn State. Our baby will be here in 8 days or less!

This past semester we have been speaking on spiritual rhythms at CSF. Last Tuesday I spoke about the listening to God. The following are some of the thoughts I shared.

There’s a difference between knowing truths about someone and knowing someone. Example: Have you heard of God’s goodness or have you experienced his goodness for yourself? God doesn’t want us to just know things about him. He wants us to know him personally.

How we get to know someone personally is by spending time with them. But in our culture today undivided attention is at a premium. We talk to one friend, and text another. When we think about it, our lives are very noisy.

In 1 Kings 19:1-18, there’s a story about a man who hears from God, but has to look beyond the noise to do so. Elijah was a man on the run, ready to throw in the towel. Elijah desperately needed to hear encouragement from God.

But when God speaks, he doesn’t speak in a spectacular or supernatural way. Instead God spoke to Elijah as a gentle whisper.

God still speaks to us today, but often His voice is drowned out by the noise in our own lives. When Jesus was on earth, his life became very noisy with all the crowds following him to see miracles, or to hear his teaching. When Jesus needed time with God the Father, he would separate himself and seek quiet time with God. In Mark 1:34 we read:

“Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went to a solitary place, where he prayed.”

If you desire to know God personally and not just know things about him, then you will have to cut the noise out of your life, detaching yourself for a little while in order to hear that still small voice.

Don’t be afraid to turn your phone off for 15-30 minutes. If you’re out for a drive, leave the radio off, and spend time praying to God. God wants uninterrupted time with you. You will have to decide how much you want to experience God.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Meaningful Prayer

It's been too long since I last regularly updated my blog. I will be making more of an effort to share what God is teaching me as well as observations from my walk with God. So let's get back at it!

During the summer our CSF (Christian Student Fellowship) staff have been starting our staff meetings on Monday morning by spending some time in Psalms. This past Monday we read Psalm 5. As we dug into the passage one verse really caught my attention:

"In the morning Lord you hear my voice; in the morning I lay my requests before you and wait expectantly. Psalm 5:3

Lately life has been busy with a seemingly endless list of tasks. You would think summer session would mean campus ministry slows down quite a bit. But between moving, spending time at a church camp, meeting new students, life remains busy. In the middle of that I've noticed my prayers mainly revolve around meal times.

Just the other day as I felt the pressure of everything I needed to get done over the next two weeks I found myself calling out to Jesus. As I asked for his help with these burdens I realized how little I've had meaningful prayer time lately.

Often we pray to God like we're leaving someone a voicemail. We dial, we leave a message for why we're praying, then we say "in Jesus name Amen" This is why Psalm 5:3 stood out to me. Here David would share with God what lay on his heart, then he would wait expectantly. David gave God time to reply, and while he waited, he enjoyed God's presence. Reading that my heart immediately begins to desire some uninterrupted time with God. Time where I can set aside all the "to do's" and just enjoy Him.

Summer may have presented more of a work load than I first anticipated, but some of that load will have to wait until after I take some time in my day to spend with Jesus.

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Minefields and Blind Faith

Last week we began to meet freshman who are beginning their academic career here at Penn State. About 20 students new to CSF came out to play Ultimate Frisbee. That evening we also kicked off our Summer Bible study with an introductory night but the real highlight was God showing up and showing off.

For Bible study, we had 4 new students who'd also played frisbee with us earlier that afternoon. After some introductions we took part in navigating each other through a mine field with our eyes closed and only listening to our partners instructions to safely pass through. Some students only got a few steps in before suffering casualties, others made it safely through. (Note to readers, the mines consisted of squares of bubble wrap that popped when stepped on!)

Watching the students display different styles of giving/following instructions became a big discussion topic afterwards as we talked about the importance of knowing who you can trust. Sometimes in life you have to step out in blind faith not knowing what's ahead and have to trust those around you who do  see the picture. Following God is a lot like that.

Between the discussion, and the rousing success of the minefield, and the attendance of students new to the ministry, we had plenty to praise God for that evening and the next few days. Then on Sunday and Monday, I found myself anxious over how well our study would continue this week. "Will we have another great discussion?" "Is Nick prepared enough?" (Nick is a fellow staff member and recent graduate of Penn State). "Is there another activity we could use to engage students interest?"

Then last night while reading through the story of the Ten Lepers in Luke 17:11-19 God smacked me in the face. Once the ten found themselves healed, only 1 returned to praise God. The other 9 continued on with their lives. Even though I gave credit to God last week for our Bible study, this week I'd fallen back into a mindset of thinking our success depended solely on ourselves.

Father forgive me for such thinking. We can only bear fruit by abiding in you.

Which reminds me of a statement Buzz made two weeks ago in our campus minister's class. A statement I've never heard any other church or ministry declare before. "We cannot guarantee our own fruitfulness. God is responsible for that."

I see myself needing time to continue adopting to that mindset. I will likely continue to discover areas in my mind and heart where I still believe it's all up to us. But in truth, it's all up to God.

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Preparing for marriage

What a whirlwind the past few weeks have been! I still can't believe I drove from NC to PA, then from PA to KS, then from KS to PA, and now find myself in SD after flying. Getting everything moved from two different states to our new home in PA went much smoother than I would have hoped. Even some automotive work on the Jeep before leaving for KS only proved a minor battle.

This morning I'm enjoying a rainy day. Normally I like sunshine, but I can't stop gazing out the house windows today. My spirit is drinking in the rain.

Most of the wedding preparations finished, we just have final details to put together this week. Getting ready for marriage however is a process I see now God has been directing for a few years in my life. Marrying Joanna has not been a decision I entered into lightly, but one I made knowing our marriage would be a means for God to continue sanctifying both of us. While nobody else could make me happier than Joanna, choosing to continue seeking to know each other completely, to love and desire one another will require work on both our parts. And we are ready as we can be.

What I've realized this past week is how much strength it takes. I'm not talking physical. I'm talking about spiritual, mental, and emotional strength required to provide reassurances daily. I'm finding it takes a lot of strength to not only fight for Joanna, but to fight with her against spiritual attack. Yes we have a different approach to grocery shopping. We handle stress and conflict differently. Being humble through those moments, acknowledging that our way isn't the only way, and showing control requires strength.

Abiding in God, walking by his grace, and receiving his love will replenish my strength that I can continue to offer to Joanna. Marriage will continue requiring strength, continue to be a means by which God transforms us. Marriage will at times be hard. But our marriage will be worth it. Our marriage will be worth everything because we will paint a portrait of what God's love for mankind looks like.