Introducing God

Hello my name is

Making introductions is one of the simplest but hardest tasks one can be called upon to do. You need to give a brief – and that’s the key – description of the person being introduced. It gives the introducee a framework from which to launch a question or two at their new acquaintance. But you should not go into too much detail or you’ll sound gushing, over-flattering, and probably embarrass everyone involved.

We recently had our annual end of summer party and invited people from various spheres of our life which meant there were a lot of introductions to make. It got me thinking, what would I say if God came to the party and I had to introduce Him to someone?

God’s OT Reputation

The task of introducing God is more complicated that at first it appears. God has something of a reputation that precedes Him. If you were, say, at a backyard BBQ throwing a bocce ball and suddenly God walked up, what would you say to make a proper introduction?

Let your imagination wander with mine.

“Oh, hi God! Good to see you again! This is Mike. Mike, this is God.”

“Good to meet you God.” *holding out a hand*

“You too, Mike. How’s the game going?” *Pretending he doesn’t already know*

“Not bad but Eric here keeps knocking me out.”

“One time I knocked out an entire city. Technically, it was two cities.”

How awkward is that pause?

Let’s face it, God just doesn’t have that great a reputation when it comes to the Old Testament. I can’t tell you how often I’ve heard people say God in the OT is mean and suddenly changed in the NT. But is that true?

How God Introduces Himself in the OT

Wouldn’t it be helpful if there were a passage where God introduced Himself? Wouldn’t God’s response to a horrible sin be instructive in shaping our thoughts about Him? I’m glad you asked. Yes, it would be and you’re in luck because there is just such a passage.

But first, some context.

Remember the story of the golden calf? Moses was hanging out with God on the mountain when the people of Israel thought maybe he took a left turn off a cliff so they created a new gold god to worship. Moses got wind of the idolatry from his omniscient friend and hurried down the mountain to kick some butt (I’m pretty sure that’s in the Hebrew…) breaking the tablets of stone God had just written in the process.

All appropriate butt kicking complete, Moses prayed for forgiveness and all was right. But the tablets needed to be rewritten and the covenant needed renewed. This time God made Moses bring the stone tablets and do the writing which seems like a smart move after he smashed version 1.0 of the Ten Commandments.

Now here is what I want  you to notice. God showed up at the covenant renewal ceremony and introduced Himself.

Before I tell you what He said, what do you expect God to say here? Something about His holiness? His righteousness? His right to be angry, maybe? Good thoughts but all wrong.

Here’s what God said (from Exodus 34):

And he passed in front of Moses, proclaiming, “The Lord, the Lord, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin. Yet he does not leave the guilty unpunished; he punishes the children and their children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation.”

Does this surprise you? This is the Old Testament God who has a reputation for being all fire, brimstone, and no love?

This introduction became a standard way of talking about God. It was repeated over and over including in 2 Chronicles 30:9, Psalm 103:8, 111:4,  145:8, Joel 2:13, and Jonah 4:2.

What should you take from this passage about your relationship with God? Three things:

  • God is slow to anger – If you are struggling with sin and are afraid that God is after you or is angry with you for doing that thing again, this is a comfort. God is, in fact, eager to forgive you and heal the wounded places that are leading you to sin. So why let that sin keep you feeling separated from Him? Confess what He knows already because there is no need to be afraid of His anger.
  • God’s love is abounding – The word abounding makes me think of abundant, generous, and plentiful. If you’ve ever struggled with feeling accepted or loved by anyone, God’s abounding love and acceptance of you is the answer. He loves you more than you can know. He could not accept you more than He already has.
  • God is willing to forgive – God opened up and revealed an amazing sense of justice. He is at once willing to forgive and ready to punish the guilty. Why both? I believe it’s the difference between those who know they are guilty and humbly seek Him and those who know they are guilty and do not.

Moses, heard God’s amazing self-revelation/reintroduction and did the only sane thing to do. He pleaded with God to go with Israel to the Promised Land. God, for His part, upped the ante and affirmed the covenant, the promise of land, and His instructions.

Does this sound like an angry mean-spirited God to you? Me neither. God is actually quite loving in the OT as He adopts Israel as His people.

What about all that punishment and disaster God causes in the OT?

As with any introduction, first impressions matter. With God, this declaration of His character makes a lasting impression on how you read the rest of the Bible. Are there times when God is angry with Israel and sends judgment? Yes. But is He still slow to anger, abounding in love, and willing to forgive? Also yes.

Some examples of each from the rest of the OT:

Examples of God’s Slowness to Anger

  • Genesis 15:16 – While God made the covenant promise to Abraham, He revealed that the Abraham’s descendants  would be enslaved for a time but then would come back to take over the land promised to him. God anticipated Abraham’s question about the delay, and said “for the iniquity of the Amorites is not yet complete.” In other words, God was willing to be patient with them though he knows they are headed for disaster.
  • Nehemiah 9:30-31 – Nehemiah pointed out God’s patience with Israel throughout their sordid history with idols.

Examples of God’s Abounding Love

  • Isaiah 43:1-7 – One of the most beautiful declarations of God’s love for Israel ever. He told Israel how precious they were to Him and what He would do to bring them back. There was no reason for God to take them back except for His exceptional love for Israel.
  • Hosea 3:1 – God made Hosea one of the more graphic and heartbreaking examples in the Bible when He had the prophet marry a prostitute. The picture in chapter 3 is a treasure as God reclaimed Israel because of His great love for her. If you’re ever looking for something to read in a quiet time you could do worse than the first three chapters of Hosea.

Examples of God’s Willingness to Forgive

  • 2 Samuel 12:13 & Psalm 51:1-19 – David sinned with Bathsheba and killed her husband Uriah. It took awhile for David to repent but he did it wholeheartedly. God forgave David who then wrote a psalm of confession to commemorate the experience.
  • Jonah 4:9-11 – Jonah was a very self-centered prophet who preached repentance to Nineveh against his will. Just as he feared they repented and God forgave them. God’s concern for Nineveh stands as an eternal witness to God’s willingness to forgive everyone who would turn to Him no matter what their sin.

God is not hellbent (pun intended) on punishment, death, and destruction in the OT. He did not change from one section of the Bible to the other. He has always been full of grace for His people. If there is any difference at all it is in the expression of the grace and forgiveness He offers. In the OT it was incomplete and temporary but finally grace and forgiveness comes completely, once and for all, in Jesus.

That’s worth an introduction, don’t you think?

How does God’s surprising introduction change the way you think about Him?

Fortifying the Right Beaches

Troops ready for storming the beach

The 70th anniversary of the D-Day invasion was this past June. The reader of history has the advantage of knowing the outcome that the participants of history do not. We marked the anniversary with thankfulness but those boys storming the beaches didn’t know whether that would be possible.

I often think of the strategic decisions in preparing for the battle; it began long before boots hit the sand. The Allies were careful to mislead Hitler into believing that the attack would come at Pas-de-Calais, the shortest point across the English Channel. They fed false information across the spy networks and created massive faux-bases that easily deceived German reconnaissance pilots. You could do that in a world before satellite imaging.

When the attack finally began, German forces were ready but no where near the scale they would have been without the deception of the Allied generals. Hitler reportedly was happy the battle had finally started. He never imagined the battle could be lost or that it would be the beginning of his demise. He fortified the wrong beaches and could not stop the onslaught once it started.

The Evangelical Pas-de-Calais

As I survey the cultural landscape I cannot help but think that late-century Evangelicals also fortified the wrong beaches. Somewhere between the 1970s and 1980s Evangelical leaders sensed they had some power. It was numbers thing. They realized that while they did not get the attention of the press, they had far more people than the press believed. “The Moral Majority,” they called it.

Evangelical leaders became active in politics endorsing candidates, pushing agendas, and speaking out on issues of morality. It was great, for awhile. Evangelicals seemed to have some weight to throw around the political arena and did, often with success. For example, the issue of abortion drove rank-and-file Christians to the polls for decades but was eclipsed in the mid to late 90’s by gay marriage. This is became the great deception and diversion of Christian political involvement, the Evangelical Pas-de-Calais.

In an effort to support what is now called “traditional marriage,” Christian people enshrined into law the view of marriage as one man and one woman. Political success felt good. Laws were passed in nearly three-fifths of the states, in California twice, and once federally. It seemed the “will of the people” could not be stopped.

…but it could be changed

While Christians focused on passing laws Hollywood began churning out movies, sitcoms, and other media that portrayed gay people and relationships in positive lights. Christians passed the Defense of Marriage Act. Hollywood made Will and Grace. While Evangelicals were chasing votes, Hollywood was chasing hearts. They knew laws can be ignored or changed at any time…if you have the hearts of the people.

In recent years, the courts have struck down many of the legislative victories Evangelicals once celebrated, all the effort and capital expended to pass them wasted. Meanwhile, polling data shows that Americans feel more favorably about gay marriage than ever even in states that currently prohibit it.

If Evangelicals worked so hard to change laws why have they lost the battle in public opinion? At a time when their political influence seemed to be unstoppable a quick tidal surge of public opinion washed away all their efforts. Why? Evangelicals fortified the beach of law and neglected the more strategic beach of public opinion.

The term “public opinion” is slightly misleading and may suggest Evangelicals should only tickle the ears of those paying attention to them. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Rather, it is an acknowledgement that as Evangelical leaders became more concerned about numbers and influence they lost both. They were short-sighted about how cultures change. They thought of themselves as modern-day Wilberforces. They ended up more like modern-day Marie Antoinettes.

D-Day soldiers coming ashore.
D-Day soldiers coming ashore.

Fortifying the Right Beaches

My view on this began to change several years ago when I reviewed a book by Os Guinness titled A Free People’s SuicideGuinness convinced me that the foundation was never based on policies one supports. Rather, the Founders believed that the republic rested on the character of the people. Fighting for causes is nice but fighting for people is more important and, ultimately, more effective.

The tides have turned and my point is not to begin a political debate or to criticize Evangelical leaders. They were men and women of their time and did the best they could. It is to say now is a different time now which calls for new actions.

What can we do in a post-Evangelical world to influence an increasingly hostile culture? We must fortify the right beaches.

Influence is not gained by demonstrating mass numbers. It’s earned in increments bit by bit. This is why Peter writing to a soon-to-be-persecuted church says “Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us” (1 Peter 2:12).

We have to start thinking smaller not bigger churches, buildings, and budgets.

 Post-evangelicals hear the calling to apprentice individuals to Jesus and trust God for their influence in the broader political universe.

The only instruction Jesus left us with was to make disciples. That is, to tell other people about the great news of what He’d done on the cross and to teach them how to live in light of this news. The rest of the New Testament is stories of people learning to live in the amazing grace of God.

People change when their understanding of the world is chiseled into one resembling the way God understands it. American culture no longer has the Bible as the factory installed worldview. P0st-Evangelicals accept this stubborn fact. But if you want to change it then you have to learn to speak the new language. Don’t fight it. Use it to your advantage and you just might find genuine influence under your fingertips.

When I started this blog my tagline was “Where Faith and Politics Meet.” I was trying to convey that Christians have a place in politics. I still believe we do. But I’ve grown to believe that Christians must take a much longer view when it comes to cultural transformation.

It starts with heart transformation.

It starts with grace.

It is apprenticeship to Jesus.

That’s why I’m relaunching Rev Nev with a whole new focus. Gone are the political policy debates of the past. Now the focus is on people and what it takes for them to move closer to Christ whether they already consider themselves Christ-followers or not.

There are four primary topics I will write about:

  • God – The central Christian pursuit is knowing and relating with God. Paul expressed this beautifully when he called it the “surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord.” We’ll explore the Scriptures for what they have to tell us about Him and what He wants us to know. Sometimes it’s theology and revelation and others it’s about how to listen and interact.
  • Community – “Since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses…” Christian community is a much larger universe that we normally imagine. Our perspective can be limited to the people in our small group or church and occasionally our denomination. But it’s much bigger. You have more in common with a believer from 1000 years ago than with a peer who doesn’t believe. Expect posts on who some of these people are and how they encourage you and I to keep the faith.
  • Perseverance – The true result of faith is perseverance not perfection. The perfection is already handled by Jesus. He calls us to live in light of his gifted-to-us righteousness, we also must persevere when we and others don’t.
  • Reward – God has something wonderful for us. It starts now but it extends forever. Taking an eternal view of things puts the rest of life in perspective.

The world is changing and that is okay. Some Evangelicals are fighting to retain their power and whatever prestige they have left but because those things were never eternal to begin with it’s a hopeless cause. We only have two options: (1) continue to fight a battle we’ve long since lost, or (2) reinforce on a new front. It will mean learning new tactics and ways of speaking. It will require us to contextualize our message in ways Christians never have before. We will need a fresh breath of the Spirit to bring us to life but that is no problem for our God.

Consider this post an invitation.

Are you ready to join the post-Evangelical world?

Resurrection Day Meditation 2014

Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart. Hebrews 12:3

Crown of Thorns

The verse at the top of this post came to mind during yesterday’s Good Friday service. So many of the things I fight for, cling to, and otherwise desire I see Jesus give up during his passion. So I took the invitation to consider him in his suffering hoping to learn from him.

Consider him…

When he needed his friends to pray with him, they fell asleep.

“Get up and pray,” he encouraged them.

When imminent suffering scared him, he prayed.

“Please take this cup of suffering from me. Yet I want your will, not mine.”

When betrayed by a close friend he did not try to stop him with all kinds of arguments.

“My friend, go ahead and do what you came for.”

When abandoned, he faced what was coming with resolution.

“This is happening to fulfill the words of the prophets as recorded in the Scriptures.”

When lied about in court, he remained silent.

No need to justify himself.

But he acknowledged the truth knowing its consequences.

“…you will see the Son of Man sitting at God’s right hand”

When his best friend denied ever knowing him, he prayed for him.

“But I have pleaded for you…that your strength should not fail. So when you have repented…”

When mocked, he did not return the insults.

He was quiet.

When beaten, he bled but did not lash out.

He accepted the lashes.

When unjustly sentenced to death, he carried his cross to a hill outside of town.

They called it Skull Hill.

When soldiers pierced his hands and feet and affixed him to that rugged piece of wood, he forgave them.

“Father, forgive them because they don’t know what they are doing.”

Even when his deep, heartfelt cry to God was misunderstood, he did not complain.

No. He merely died.

He had no sin in need of atonement.

But he was broken for it.

Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.

 

Where does Jesus’ example meet you?

For me, it’s in the tendency to get defensive, to fight when attacked, to argue when falsely (or even justly) accused. Jesus deserved better but did not need to defend himself. Ever wonder why?

I see two reasons for Jesus security in the Passion narratives. First, Jesus trusted his Father completely. His trust oozes as he prays “Father, you can do anything you want…” and when he instructs Peter, “I could ask for 1000 angels and the Father would send them.” My insecurity about myself betrays a lack of trust in God and the person he made me and is making me into.

Second, Jesus knew the Scriptures and understood from them that the Messiah had to suffer. He determined to do the Father’s will not his own and the Scriptures told him what God’s will was. He accepted what that meant for him. I take comfort from the fact that even Jesus didn’t want to do what God asked of him. It’s highly unlikely that God will ever ask me to suffer half as much. So what am I so afraid of? What are you so afraid of?

If you want the security Jesus demonstrates, you’ll have to get to know God. You’ll have to trust him. You’ll have to stop gripping what he calls you to lay down. It may not be your life. It may be a defining characteristic of your life like fear, worry, insecurity, or faithlessness. By losing your life, he promised you would find it.

Are you weary or losing heart this Resurrection Day? I admit sometime I am and I do. Consider him who endured such opposition…

If this post speaks to you, I’d love to hear about it. Leave a comment or share it on the social medium of your choice.

When You Imagine Jesus (And I Know You Do), Who Do You See?

Jesus doesn’t seem very manly to me. Using only the mental images planted in my skull-full-of-mush as a Sunday School regular circa 1982-1990, the Jesus I’m looking at pets lambs, is surrounded by little children, and wears a dress.

Jesus With Kids
See what I mean?

Fashion trends aside, how we think about Jesus – even the imaginary picture in our heads – is important. A.W. Tozer wrote in The Pursuit of God that what you think about God is the most important thing about you. Jesus, being fully God and, in fact, the ultimate revelation of God (see Col. 1:15) is an especially crucial piece of the God puzzle. That’s why it’s so good for us to see the whole picture, the final and triumphant picture of Jesus, and not let our mind’s picture of him be too skewed in any direction.

For example, at Christmas we think of Baby Jesus:

Joseph totally smells it.
Joseph totally smells it.

Baby Jesus is the definition of meek and mild (queue Away in a Manger), at least in the 10 minutes he’s depicted in Christmas pageants the world over. But when is the last time you imagined Baby Jesus crying when he needed a diaper change or nursed? Sure, he was perfect but even God-incarnate babies have limited communication channels. I find that if I forget the humanity of Jesus, the terrible two, poopy-panstsed, skinned-knee humanity, I deprive myself of the whole revelation God intended to give.

Then there’s Walk on Water Jesus:

Holy Jesus
Jesus really is holier than thou…er…you (and me).

The walking on water scene in Matthew 14 has entered many of our heads as an event that shows Jesus having unattainable perfection and gets abused as a holier-than-thou epithet. No one likes someone who walks on water or seems to think they do. This attitude bleeds into my imagination as I marvel more at Peter’s faith (wavering though it is) than Jesus’ trust in God that makes walking on water possible.

Who is this guy, anyway?

Which leads me to Voodoo Healer Jesus:

file000586776839
Believe it or not, there aren’t that many pictures of Jesus healing people on the internet.

Even in his own day, people tried to project onto him their idea of what he could/would/must do for them. Jesus was often confronted by many who just wanted him to solve all their illnesses and problems like he was some kind of mysterious, voodoo healer-man. And he, interestingly, often obliged. The Gospels give us glimpses of him bum rushed by townspeople, wading through them to the point of sheer exhaustion. But he was also careful to clarify that he wasn’t about the miracles and anyone who seeks him – then and for all time – for the miracles misses the point (see John 6:22-44). Whatever my illnesses are, real or imagined, Jesus is willing to heal them but there’s so much more to him.

Finally, Broken Jesus:

Cross Jesus
“And so he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fully met in us, who do not live according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.”

This is the tough one, right? “This is my body, broken for you” is an integral part of our faith. Every Good Friday (and every time we take Communion, or preach the Gospel, etc.) we rightly remember that he was stripped, beaten, broken. The last thing I would say is that we should not enter into his brokenness to marvel at it and let it change us.

But I find something happens if my image of Jesus stays here. He was broken to heal my brokenness. The powerful part of the story is the love dramatically displayed in Jesus’ willingness to suffer and die. His love, not my brokenness, is amazing.

Eternal Jesus

Do you have any pictures of Jesus stuck in your head? I’m guessing that you do. Here’s my (unsolicited) advice. Keep your images. Season them with a little reality. Love Jesus as you encounter him in the scenes you imagine.

But never forget those scenes are for a purpose:

I saw heaven standing open and there before me was a white horse, whose rider is called

Faithful and True.

With justice he judges and wages war.

His eyes are like blazing fire,

and on his head are many crowns.

He has a name written on him that no one knows but he himself.

He is dressed in a robe dipped in blood, and his name is the Word of God.

The armies of heaven were following him, riding on white horses and dressed in fine linen, white and clean.

Coming out of his mouth is a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations.

“He will rule them with an iron scepter.”He treads the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God Almighty.

On his robe and on his thigh he has this name written:

KING OF KINGS AND LORD OF LORDS

Revelation 19:11-16

Put that in your imagination and smoke it.

Eyes of fire, robe dipped in blood (his own, incidentally), and a thigh tattoo. Now that’s a manly Jesus.

This is Conqueror Jesus who:

  • Became a human baby to show you and me how to be human
  • Trusted God to the point that the wind and the waves, even water molecules, obeyed him to show us that we could trust God, too
  • Gave himself to healing the multitudes even when it wearied him and gives himself to you today
  • Suffered incredible amounts of pain, scorn, and derision that we should never be afraid again

Baby Jesus, Walk on Water Jesus, Voodoo Healer Jesus, and Broken Jesus have their moments of relatability. But all of that experience is wrapped up in Conqueror Jesus.

All of those moments, and stories happened so that he could claim the title Conqueror Jesus.

Is Conqueror Jesus able to handle your guilt? He paid for it.

Your shame? He was shamed and came out vindicated.

Your sorrow? They called him Man of Sorrows.

He didn’t get so fierce by living a cushy life.

Could Conqueror Jesus be worth trusting with your hopes and fears, dreams and losses?

When you imagine Jesus, and I know you do, what Jesus do you see?

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