Watch this

Moses parting the Red Sea is probably one of the most commonly told Bible stories. We grow up in church hearing about this incredible miracle. We learn how God pulls through at the last minute to save his people from total destruction. I’ve been doing a lot of studying over Moses again. First it was for personal study, and then to use some specific lessons during my Sunday Night talks to the teenagers. I recently taught from this story, and was struck by a detail we rarely give attention to. Perhaps it has been so long since you have read the story that you have forgotten this detail to. It is found in a simple question. Why in the world did Israel get caught between the Egyptians and the Red Sea in the first place?

How in the world did they get into such a predicament? Did they disobey God? Did they get lost? Did they simply take a wrong turn? Were they trying to catch a boat? Why in the world did they go this route? More importantly, why did God let them walk in this direction?

The truth is God did not simply let them fall into this ambush, He actually lead them into it. At the beginning of this story were read a conversation between God and Moses. God informs Moses that he is going to lead them into a trap. He is going to lead them into a situation where they will be sitting duck. They will be beyond easy for Pharaoh’s army to pick them off. The temptation for Pharaoh would be too great.

I don’t know about you, but I find this incredibly fascinating. We often ask the question, “To what extent should I rely on God and follow His leading?” We wonder where the line is between following God no matter what, and just being foolish and irresponsible. This is Moses first act as the official leader of Israel. His choice of where to lead them by any textbook standard would seem completely irresponsible, but he does it anyway.

Moses admittedly had a bigger bonus then most of us to. He heard pretty clear directions from God. It did not come off as cryptic. There was no wondering if this is what God wanted, or just Moses imagination. God’s directions were clear. Often when we try and follow God’s guidance we feel like we do not receive such clear instructions.

I have to wonder if that would change anything though. What would I have done if I was in the position of Moses? Would I have taken an action that by all reasoning appeared to be irresponsible? Moses would seem to be reckless and clueless by leading Israel into such a trap, but he did it because it was God’s desire for him to do so.

I don’t think we like to talk about this story. We don’t like to think that God purposefully leads us into dangerous situations sometimes. We don’t like that he leads us into something that provides hardship and opportunities to fear. It doesn’t fit with our man made version of God that is almighty protector who would never even consider leading us into harm’s way. He did though. The beginning of the story is unsettling. We don’t like hearing this sort of thing.

I think the biggest reason for disliking it though is because we will inevitably realize that sometimes we are going to be lead to the Red Sea. Sometimes we are going to be called to do things that will seem irresponsible to others. We will be seen as foolish, clueless, and even selfish. We don’t like this part of the story because it answers that question we never really wanted to know the answer to, “Just how far down this road do I need to go?” We don’t want to take foolish actions just out of random necessity, but sometimes we are called to do what in the moment appears utterly foolish.

We can’t stall out in fear at this point of the story though. After all, it is really only setting the scene for something much grander. When Moses heard God’s instructions it seemed for all the world as though God’s purpose was to lead Israel to certain doom. He even told Moses upfront that He was leading them into an ambush. We can’t miss God’s reasoning though. Why was He leading them into an ambush? It was so God could show his fully power and glory and he wanted his chosen people to have a front row seat. Sometimes God calls us to do the unthinkable. Sometimes he tells us to be irrational. Sometimes he tells us to look like the fool. In so doing He adds on one heck of a teaser, “Watch this”.

Logs and specks

“Judge not, that you be not judged. 2 For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you. 3 Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? 4 Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when there is the log in your own eye? 5 You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye. (Matthew 7:1-5).

This is an often quoted passage. When taken in its proper context it is an incredibly applicable warning for our lives today, but when misused it becomes almost impossible to use correctly. There are those who take this passage, and assume it means that we must not confront other people on their sin. We cannot express a hint of judging them since we are just as sinful. Confronting sin would make us a hypocrite.

There is no doubt this passage is warning us to refrain from being hypocrites, but is it really saying we can never point at the sin in another person life? Let me start by giving a couple point of what this passage is not saying.

1. This passage is not saying we should never confront sin. If that were the case we could never read parts of Scripture to others that mention various acts as sin. We could never put a criminal on trial. We would be required to live in an entirely postmodern society.

2. It is not saying you must be sinless in order to confront someone on their sin. It is not telling us we can only confront sins we have never dealt with. Either of these interpretations of this passage would be missing the major point in a big way.

So what is this passage saying?

1. It is telling us to keep our hearts in check. What is your attitude in confronting someone? Is it one of self-righteous? Is it out of a sense that you feel you personally have been wronged? Is it to guide them towards a better future? Is it to make them feel embarrassed? Is it to press your personal standards on them or to remind them of what God’s Word says? Our attitudes in confronting are crucial. It must always be with a sincere and humble heart.

2. Don’t cast out sentencing. It is one thing to confront someone on a sin, but it is another to cast sentencing on that action. We don’t get to choose what the punishment should be for their actions. We don’t really even declare their guilt. All we can do is point to their action, or at least how their action appeared to be from our viewpoint, and show how God’s word is calling them to a standard higher than that action. The difference may appear nuanced, but it is crucial.

3. Don’t call someone out on a sin you refuse to call yourself out on. You can’t hold yourself to a different standard than others. If you confront someone for appearing to be disrespectful to you, nut notoriously gossip about others then there is a problem. It becomes especially more complicated when you regularly do that sin in front of the person you are not confronting.

4. Don’t jump the gun. That whole getting the plank out of your own eye before removing the speck in someone else’s has a lot of different elements to it, but this is one that I think often gets overlooked. Sometimes we confront sin that is not sin, but simply our misunderstanding of someone’s actions, or what sin is. In other words, sometimes we confront people when they don’t need to be confronted.

I have a request for all my brothers and sisters in Christ. We need to stop quoting this passage whenever we are confronted, or see someone be confronted on their sin. The majority of the time I see this passage brought up, it is used out of its intended context. It is used to say that no human has the right or ability to confront another human on their sin. When we do this we throw things off. Not only do we sin by misusing God’s word, we also severely damage those who have opportunity to use this passage in the right way.

I have been in situations where I could very easily quote this passage to directly apply to a confrontational situation, but I never do. Why? Because it has been far to misused by those who are confronted and react with a negative spirit. It has gotten to the point where one cannot seem to quote this passage without appearing to be rebellious against confrontation. It needs to stop. What should you do if you are wrongfully judged by another? This passage actually gives an answer for that.

“For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you.” In other words, let God take care of it.

Remembering God’s creation

Sometimes I forget that God made everyone. I forget that people who have wronged me are God’s creation. I forget that God still cares about all of his creation. I forget that God seeks for his creation to find redemption. I forget that that search for redemption extends beyond myself, and the people I get along with. Sometimes I just forget that all people have value.

It’s unfortunately very easy to forget this. It is easy to let our negative thoughts dwell on those who hurt us in some way. It is easy to think horrendous thoughts to that internet stranger who made it their mission to humiliate you. It is easy to wish for retribution on those who seek to slander your name. It’s just easy to respond negatively to negativity. It is easy to hope for karma to enact swift revenge. It’s just really easy to forget.

King David’s interaction with Saul is a really interesting one. Saul is constantly on the hunt to kill David. There are multiple opportunities for David to strike out against Saul and kill him, but he always refrains from doing so. His reasoning is because God placed Saul on the throne, and he is still king. David would not dare act out against God’s handpicked person for kingship even though the Lord had departed from Saul. David refrained from killing Saul not for Saul’s sake, but because he was honoring God.

I think a loose connection can be made for us today with those we interact with. Obviously the average person we struggle dealing with is not a king handpicked by God, but we would do well to remember that they are God’s creation. Sometimes we do not honor a person because of who they are, but because of who their creator is.

When I lash out in my thoughts towards others I find myself lashing out against God’s creation. Now I will still grow angry when they sin. Anger towards sin is a good thing, but there should be other emotions taking place in there. I should never have hopes for revenge. Revenge simply is not in my job description. Revenge between mortals always leads to escalated forms of revenge. God is the one who sets things right.

Let’s take this idea, and put it as an application into a scenario. Let’s say someone has slandered your name. The gut reaction is to not only defend yourself, but to hurl back as much pain as you can. Say every dirty secret you know about the person. Point out all the flaws they have. I once had a guest lecturer in a class tell us a story about his time as a pastor where he was given horrible accusations by some people. The accusations he was given were far worse than anything I could even dream of facing. His gut reaction was to respond, and to do so with force. Not only would he clear his name, but he would make those who gave false testimony embarrassed for considering the idea.

Through his devotional time though he was reminding about how God is the one who brings about justice. God is the one who will fight for us. He put his faith that God would clear his name. So he kept low, and simply waited. Sure enough God let the truth come out in a way that left this man with a huge amount of integrity not just for being proven innocent, but for responding to the false accusations in such a way that kept anymore damage to others to a minimum. Those who harmed this man were still God’s creation. God would be the one to take care of it.

Do I pray for those who hurt me? Do I pray for those I don’t see eye to eye with? Do I pray for those who I just simply cannot seem to get along with? I’m not talking about one of those self-righteous prayers, “Dear Lord, please help so and so to realize what an idiot they are being and to see what a great person I really am.” I’m talking about the kind of prayer that requires an intense amount of humility. “Lord, help me to see where I have wronged others, give me the courage to fix the messes I have made, and fight for the integrity I have. Help me to see others the way you do. Help me to approach all conflict with the desire for restoration rather than retribution or embarrassment.”

I wish I could say I have this all figured out, but the truth is I am really low on the list of people who strive to do what is right in this area. It is a constant issue of focus for me. I pray to get better at it though. In the meantime I felt the need to share this lesson as it has been a lesson God is teaching me. I pray it is a benefit for all who read this.

Idols in the church

There are plenty of things we can make idols in our lives. Pretty much anything can have the potential of being an idol. I often find that there are things within Christianity and the church itself that we can often run the risk of setting up as idols in our lives. I would like to talk about a few of those briefly. I think it is crucial to be reminded of the risks.

1. A specific local church. Being involved in a local church is crucial. Enjoying being a part of that church is important. It is healthy to like your church, but sometimes we can run the risk of thinking all other churches pale in comparison, and that all members of other churches just don’t get it as good as we do. When we need to move away from that church family we always set it up on a pedestal looking for a church that can top it, and be like it in every single way. God’s church is more than just your local church.

2. Church programs. How much is your church our ministry doing? Are you having at least 2/3 events a month? If not then you better get on that because an active event church is a church that is spiritually healthy. Sometimes we can get so involved in doing church that we leave God on the sidelines.

3. Your pastor. This is such a dangerous one. I love preaching and teaching. It is something I absolutely love doing, and hope to do it for years to come. If you take everything I say as gospel though then we have a problem. That should be the case no matter who your pastor is. Seek God for yourself. Don’t just trust your pastor’s sermons to get you through life no matter how good they are. You may not realize this is the case, but think of the false teachers in this world who have people who follow them blindly. They have made their pastor their God. It always leads to pain and sorrow.

4. Worship style. This is probably one of the biggest emotional charged arguments in local churches today. Everyone has their preference. My preference admittedly changes. I have gone through times where I prefer the really loud, emotionally charged, energy crazed worship. I have also gone through seasons where I really just prefer quiet, methodical, meditating worship. Through all of that I have come to understand this much, if you demand for others to follow your worship style then you have severely tarnished the purpose of worship. Worship is not about us. There is no right style for worship. Chances are none of our styles today look anything like it did in the early church. We need to care more about the words, and the intent of our heart than what kind of beat is going on. This means we can’t assume hymns are automatically boring just because they are quiet. It also means you can’t assume louder music is less godly just because it does not match your personal tastes. That being said, we all have preferences and I always encourage people to make sure they find ways to be in a setting regularly where they can worship in a way that feels natural and comfortable for them. It is sad that this is the point I spend the most time talking about on this list when it should be such a small issue, unfortunately this is one of the most common idols in the church today on all sides of the argument.

5. A minor theological/doctrinal view. Sometimes we try and cram more needs into the gospel message then are really there. We make theological issues the issue. It always saddens me when I see someone who cares more about converting a Christian to their view on a certain interpretation of Scripture than they do reaching the lost with the gospel. Not only does it sadden me, but it continues to remain one of the most embarrassing acts one can perform for God’s church. Taking an interpretation of God’s word and making it an idol in your life is a low point.

6. A Bible version. Now this one may feel a bit outdated, but it is still pretty strong depending where you are. Everyone has a personal preference on what Bible translation works best for them. Preference is ok. Preference is even a good thing. It gets sticky though when you assume all other translations are inferior. Now there are some translations that are more accurate than others in terms of straight from the original language. If someone were to ask me what version would be good for a hardcore study on a topic in Scripture then there are some version I would suggest over others, but in the end most translations can be good to use for studying God’s word. There may be a couple I would not recommend, but in general this really shouldn’t be an issue. If you assume there is only one English version of Scripture that is inspired by God then you have created an idol. Ironically we see this happen the most with the King James version of the Bible. Sadly it is also one of the hardest to use for hardcore study since the translators cared more about showing off the English language than being careful to preserve the exact meaning of words in the text. There are other translations today that are arguably more faithful to the original text than the King James version. Don’t divine authority as an excuse for tradition and preference.

7. The biggest idol is you. What can the church do for me in my time of need. What can I get out of Christianity that will make me happy. What programs does this church have that I think I would enjoy? How energetic is this preacher so that I don’t need to work too hard at paying attention to his sermons? We all need to find a church family that we can connect with. It is those connections that help us grow, but we must not be so focused on ourselves that we forget the purpose of God’s church. Often we just become selfish and look for what we can gain from a church family. If everyone looks to take but never put anything in, then pretty quickly there is nothing for anyone to receive.

Pity for an evil person

I’ve had trouble knowing what to write about. I’ve tried several times, but nothing really seems to stick. My mind has been elsewhere a lot this week which is why the lack of posts have developed. Hoping next week goes better with that. Thankfully I have found something on my heart to write about for you all today.

I read a facebook conversation today. It was over an article called “Understanding Christopher Dorner”. Now I don’t agree with the article in question for the simple fact that it essentially tries to justify the evil acts of a murderer. However, the conversation that developed from this article got me thinking. It was really one simple phrase from the conversation. “How you can feel bad for an evil person is beyond me.” That phrase has echoed in my mind. It is a question we all ask ourselves.

Before I begin I want to make something very clear. I do not condone the actions of Christopher Dorner. He was a murderer who killed innocent people. He deserved justice for his crimes. What he did was profoundly wrong. I would never dream of justifying his actions. Actions require consequences.

However, the question of how I could feel sorry for an evil person is very different. I can believe in the need for justice for evil, but still pity the one who performs evil. I do pity those who do evil. I pity Christopher Dorter. I pity him for his twisted views in believing that murdering innocent people was the only option he seemed to have. I pity him for believing choosing evil was the best option. I pity him because there is really only one thing keeping me from being just like him. I found hope when he did not.

Christianity could use a little more pity for those enslaved to evil. We look at those who perform evil actions and often want to just holding them up to the responsibility for their actions. We want to exact punishment on them for their evil. It is true evil must be punished. It is true there must be consequences for doing wrong, but I think we forget the need for a secondary response. Why don’t we mourn for those enslaved to sin anymore?

Where are the tears for the souls lost to the enemy? We shed tears for the victims of those souls, but we never seem to mourn the ones who were enslaved into their own madness. This guy had to have some seriously messed up thoughts to do what he did. He was incredibly disturbed. Does that justify his actions? Absolutely not, but it does make me pity him.

What is keeping us from being like Christopher? What is keeping you and me from going off the deep end and doing evil? Have we even refrained from doing evil in our lives thus far? I know I haven’t. I’ve been a liar, murderer of my angry thoughts, filled with lust in my heart, manipulated others, among other things. I’ve done some evil things. You may respond, “But what Christopher did was far worse.” It’s true that Christopher’s evil actions had a more lasting and devastating effect on his victims, but I wish that he never did it in the first place. I wish that he had seen a different way to go about things. I wish that he had seen hope rather than whatever it was that pushed him further towards murdering others. Why? Because people who are now dead might still be alive. So yes, I will pity a man who does evil. I will pity him because he is incapable of seeing how destructive his evil has become. I will mourn for him because I know he could have made a better choice. I will mourn for him because I see version of myself without God’s grace in him.

I will be thankful for justice, but I will have a heart broken for the lost. Man who do evil are part of the lost.

Following the call wherever it leads

We fear change. I have often wondered why that is. What about change do we fear? We often say it is an issue of stepping outside of our comfort zone, but I have never been very convinced. I step outside of my comfort zone all the time, but still I have this inherent fear of change. This phenomenon eats away at me.

Two years ago I made some big changes in my life. I packed all of my belongings and moved out to Kansas for my first job as a youth pastor. I was fresh out college, engaged, and ready to embark on a new adventure. It was intimidating and scary. It was full of change. It was also exciting. There was something about being part of an adventure bigger than myself that is appealing. I think we all long for an adventure. I think it is a trait God has given all of us. It may take longer for others to discover this hunger for adventure, but it is a quality that is rooted in all of us.

It’s been two years since going down that new part of the road of adventure. The funny thing about the road we are on is it often has twists and turns that we never see until we arrive at them. My family and I have found ourselves at one of those turns. Every turn means change. God’s called us down one direction of the road that will change things drastically for us.

Yesterday I announced my resignation as a youth pastor here in Kansas. God has called me away to go to seminary to continue my education. It is a new time of change. It is a new adventure. It is both bitter sweet. Sweet in knowing I am following God’s leading, but bitter in leaving behind relationships and ministry I have invested in here.

In the back of my mind there has been this element of fear though. Change is coming, and that is always unsettling. I do not believe it is the change itself that brings fear though. I believe it is one the change shows us about ourselves that gives us fear. Change always exposes us. It always has a way of highlighting our flaws and struggles. Change always tells us how far we really have to go. It reminds us of the progress that remains to be made. It reminds us that no matter how far down this road we go, we still need to continue to go down it even farther. Perhaps the biggest thing change reminds us of is that all of this is so temporary. Simply facing the possibility of change can show all of these things.

I’ve written a lot on here lately about trusting on God, and following His leading even when we may not know all the details. It is that constant balance of being responsible, but also being willing to let God work. When this latest big change started to come into focus I began to get nervous. I played the what if game. What if I fail at this. What if I’m not cut out for higher education? What if people feel betrayed by my leaving? The what if game never ends with you winning. A possible door began to open for this feeling of God’s movement to become a reality. After praying and waiting on the Lord it seemed like there was an opportunity, but there were still risks. Following God always requires risk.

I was hesitant. I wanted to look before I leapt, and I was not all too confident about what I saw when I looked. It took my wife to remind me how we had felt God at work in our lives and began praying for clarity. We prayed for Him to keep our eyes open when He gave use the opportunity to move forward with the desire He placed on our hearts. We took the wisdom of an old professor in waiting on the Lord. The waiting went on for some time. During that time we wondered what God was trying to teach us while we were waiting. I think my wife and I would both now tell you the lesson was simply just to wait on Him. So we waited.

My wife had to remind me all I had been saying and writing lately. This was clearly God at work. This was clearly where He was leading us. I couldn’t live in fear of the what ifs. I couldn’t live in fear of my potential failures. I couldn’t live in fear of leaving behind the things that we cared about here. So I move forward boldly with my family. I move forward to face a road that has its own fair share of unknowns. I leave grateful for the opportunities I have had here. I leave appreciating what I had here, but moving forward for a new adventure. I’ll let that hunger for adventure drown out my fears again today.

No, it really isn’t the change itself that is scary. It is what the change forces you to face. Change forces you to face yourself. It dares you to ask one simple question.

It all truly comes down to this simple question.

Do you trust God?

Commanded to action

Peter’s emotions must have been a flooded mixture on during his first conversation with Jesus after his resurrection. So many things must have been running through his mind. I think perhaps one of the most prominent thoughts though was relief. Peter had ended things on an awful note with Jesus before his crucifixion. The man denied him three times after saying he would never do such a thing. Peter was overcome with guilt and shame. The death of Jesus for him marked the closing door of opportunity to ever apologize for his actions. It meant being unable to find some way to right a wrong. It would be similar to a child’s last words to a parent being, “I hate you” right before the parent dies in a car crash. Peter screwed up, and the one thing that could remove this guilt was something he believed would never be able to happen. He would never be able to hear the forgiveness of his friend.

Jesus rose from the dead though. We know the story. We even know the story of Jesus interaction with Peter. Three times Peter is asked if he loves Jesus. Three times equal with the three events of denying he knew his Lord. Peter got his chance to acknowledge his sin. He was given the opportunity to express his new found devotion to Jesus.

Those are all great things to be encouraged about and learn form in this passage. Meditating on this verse though has drawn my attention to a different element of this passage. It is a part so simple. It is one that sticks out to us three times upon reading it, but there are so many other things to focus on that we let this slip through the cracks. Jesus wants Peter to prove his love.

I don’t know why we talk about this too much. Maybe it is because we fear falling into a heresy of a works based salvation. Then again, maybe it is because we fear how we will not measure up. The implication in this passage is clear though. Jesus is telling Peter to perform a specific action if he really loves Him.

I love my wife. I tell her this often. Sometimes she may think I eve say it too often, but telling her I love her is never enough. There reaches a point that I need to show her that I love her. I need to do something to show my level of devotion. When we were dating I did not simply tell her I loved her. I showed her how much I loved her by giving her a ring. I show my love for her by doing things for her. My words would ring hollow after a while if I showed no actually signs of affection and devotion to our relationship.

Jesus is telling Peter to take care of others if he really loves him. As the ultimate shepherd Jesus is putting Peter to the task of tending to his flock. He is telling Peter to feed them on His word. Teach them what it means to follow me. Love them. Care for them. Help them when they are in need. Take action Peter.

The funny thing is this is not a call just to Peter. This is a call to God’s church. Take action church. Show your love to God. The Christian life doesn’t allow sitting down. It doesn’t mean you get to stand still. Yes, God has forgiven you of your sins. Praise Jesus for his saving grace. Praise the Lord God for his mercy and forgiveness. There is more to Christianity than being forgiven of our sins though! Yeah Peter, Jesus forgave you for denying him three times. He gave you three new opportunities to proclaim your love and devotion to him, but with each response of love and devotion you have been commanded to back it up with action.

Are we really grateful for God’s forgiveness? Do we really love Him for showing us mercy and grace? Then rise up church. Let us performs acts of love to our king and savior.