Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Jesus Preached to CONFUSE People?

Not too long ago I watched a DVD segment of Francis Chan speaking at a Youth Specialties Conference in 2008. The topic of study was the current state of U.S. churches and his message totally blew me away. In the past two months or so, God had been pushing me to have a bigger heart for the church (his people) and to get a better handle on my part in it. At one point during the message, Chan touched on the ministry of Jesus and the way he preached. He brought up a passage in Matthew 13 where Jesus makes a statement following his Parable of the Four Soils. What he says there has always confused me. Check it out for yourself:

"To those who are open to my teaching, more understanding will be given, and they will have an abundance of knowledge. But to those who are not listening, even what they have will be taken away from them. That is why I tell these stories, because people see what I do, but they don't really see. They hear what I say, but they don't really hear, and they don't understand. It fulfills the prophecy of Isaiah, which says: 'You will hear my words, but you will not understand, you will see what i do, but you will not perceive its meaning. For the hearts of these people are hardened and their ears cannot hear, and they have closed their eys--so their eyes cannot see and their ears cannot hear, and their hearts cannot understand, and they cannot turn to me and let me heal them.' " (Matthew 13:12-15, NLT)

Jesus issued the statement above after his disciples came and asked him, "Why do you always tell stories when you talk to people?" His response? "So they won't get it!" Jesus confused people on purpose! He knew that there were some in the crowd who came only for the show. All the miracles...him feeding thousands, healing the blind and lame...that was all pretty attractive. But Jesus knew that those same people would desert him when push came to shove. He himself declared, "Foxes have dens to live in, and birds have nests, but I, the Son of Man, have no home of my own, not even a place to lay my head." (Luke 9:58, NLT) He preached so that they would hear, but not really hear, and so that they would see but not really see. They'd get their show, but he wasn't going to waste time on them otherwise.

Today, American churches are full of individuals who are there for the same thing. They like the contemporary worship bands, coffee shops, and big monitors. They see and they hear, but their hearts don't understand. How are we to respond to these people? This is something I'm still wrestling with. Surely we are called to try and spur these people on toward love and good deeds, but what happens if they don't respond? How much more "spurring" can we afford to do?

Revelation 3:15-16 says, "I know the things you do, that you are neither hot nor cold. I wish you were one or the other! But since you are like lukewarm water, I will spit you out of my mouth!" At what point do we simply say, "Lord, I've been obedient. Now I leave the matter in your hands"?

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Cue Ram in Thicket

"Abraham looked up and there in a thicket he saw a ram caught by its horns. He went over and took the ram and sacrificed it as a burnt offering instead of his son. So Abraham called that place The LORD Will Provide." Genesis 22:13-14

I love the story of Abraham. Just when I think it's going to get old, it never ceases to amaze me.

Recently I finished reading When I Lay My Isaac Down by Carol Kent. It's a very eye-opening read, especially given this woman's powerful story. In October of 1999, Carol's son--a U.S. Naval Officer--was arrested for murdering his wife's ex-husband. Jason was a Christian man full of integrity, so the news was obviously both shocking and devastating. Immediately, Carol was overwhelmed with a flood of emotions and legal complications that were hard to comprehend. However, thanks to the God she served, her and her husband emerged from the ordeal changed for the better. While her story didn't turn out the way she had hoped, she experienced the power of relinquishment in a profound way and now shares it with others.

One concept that struck me while reading this book had to do with Carol's spin on the ram in the thicket mentioned above. In the Biblical account, Abraham traveled 3 days to a spot God had chosen for him to sacrifice his one, only, and promised son Isaac. He faithfully laid down the wood, tied up his precious child, and raised the knife to kill him...until an angel of the Lord called out for him to stop. Just like in the movies, Abraham looked up and there in a bush was God's provision.

Carol waited for her ram in the thicket. She prayed for her son to be released. She waited. And wept. And prayed some more. It didn't come.

I think that at some point in our lives, we will all reach the point where that ram needs to show up. We wait and we pray and we cry, "God...any day now!" But does it always come? In Carol's case, it didn' least, not in an obvious way. God still provided but he chose not to answer her specific plea. Instead he brought her to the place where she could fully "lay her Isaac down" and be completely dependant on him.

The Bible talks again and again about the great faith Abraham possessed. People point to his extreme obedience as an indicator of how he trusted God to keep his promise even if that meant taking away his only hope. It's certainly painful (just ask Carol) but we can do the same. We serve a Lord who delights in bringing us to the point where he can use all of us. Many times that means breaking us until there doesn't seem to be anything left to surrender. Almost every time it requires patience.

Right now I find myself in a place where God has truly called me to wait. Being the organized person I like to think I am, this does not come easily for me. 2009 was the weirdest year of my life. Things have changed so much, but God is still so good! Many times I envision my own personal ram coming in and getting everything back to "normal." But now I'm seeing that maybe that's not God's plan. Maybe he's trying to teach me to be stretched and simply trust like Abraham did. Things probably won't ever get back to the way they were, and Jesus is teaching me to be okay with that. I'll have to learn to live in a new normal. However, I will not love God any less, and in the words of John Waller: "I'll be running the race, even while I wait."

Monday, January 4, 2010

Bored?? Read This

Happy New Year Everyone!
Check out this link to an article on Plugged In Online ( I hope to write more on this topic in the near future.