Restology

RestologyThe Center for Disease Control and Prevention posted an article on their website entitled, “Insufficient Sleep is a Public Health Epidemic,” which documented research from the past decade on sleep-related behaviors. According to their research, thirty percent of adults report getting an average of less than or equal to six hours of sleep per night when they actually need at least seven to nine hours of sleep per night. In other words, many people fail to get the rest they need even though it is an essential part of a healthy lifestyle. More importantly, many Christians fail to recognize that rest is an expectation of God.

God recognized mankind’s need for rest. He knew that we need rest to function at our best and to recover from fatigue. Remember, God’s the one that designed the human body; therefore, He knew it was going to get tired and need an avenue through which it could recharge. As a result, our God, who knows what we need even before we ask (Matthew 6:8), demonstrated a concern for our rest throughout Scripture.

Go back to the Old Testament and you will discover that God provided instructions to the Israelites which demanded a time for rest. Under Mosaic Law, God instituted the weekly Sabbath Day to be a day of rest so that workers could recover from their toil. This day of rest was so important to God that He protected it by establishing the death penalty as the consequence for failure to observe it (Exodus 21:12-17). Though we are not required to observe the Sabbath Day as they did under Mosaic Law we would be wise to recognize that God was legislating a day of rest to ensure that His people made time for recuperation. If rest was so important to him that it made it into His top ten commands then shouldn’t it still be important to us?

Ultimately, rest is means of trusting God. It It is a reminder that the Lord is in control, and, therefore, everything will be okay without our involvement since He is involved. David realized this. When he was fleeing from his son Absalom, who was trying to usurp the throne, he wrote, “I lay down and slept; I woke again, for the LORD sustained me” (Psalm 3:5). In another psalm he wrote, “In peace I will both lie down and sleep; for you alone, O LORD, make me dwell in safety” (Psalm 4:8). David is also famous for identifying the Lord as the one who “makes me lie down in green pastures” (Psalm 23:2). In these passages King David demonstrated trust in God through rest.

Solomon, who is arguably the wisest man other than Jesus to ever walk this earth, said, “It is in vain that you rise up early and go late to rest, eating the bread of anxious toil; for he gives to his beloved sleep” (Psalm 127:2). In other words, Solomon indicated that rest is a gift from God. In fact, Jesus is the One who invited us to rest when He said, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28). Today, let us recognize that rest is not a bad activity because it prevents us from accomplishing something. Instead, rest is essential because it allows us to function at our best, and shouldn’t we be prepared to offer God our best on a daily basis?

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Just Like Pluto

Just Like Pluto

Last week NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft became the first spacecraft to fly by Pluto, and it sent back never before seen images as well as scientific information of the former planet. Yes, I said the former planet. You may recall that back in 2006, the same year that the New Horizons spacecraft was launched, we found out that our science textbooks have been wrong for more than seven decades. On August 24, 2006 the International Astronomical Union downgraded Pluto from a planet to a dwarf planet along with other orbiting objects that are part of what is called the Kuiper belt.

Really this demotion should not have been a big surprise since Pluto has always been different. Its orbit, unlike that of the other eight planets, is elliptical rather than circular and inclined rather than flat. Because of this unusual orbit it sometimes comes closer to the Sun than Neptune. Additionally, Pluto’s mass is quite small. In fact, it is not even the ninth most massive object orbiting the sun, which you would expect if it were our ninth planet. Another dwarf planet named Eris, which was discovered in 2005, is actually more massive than Pluto. What may be even more surprising is that Pluto is approximately one third of the volume of our moon! As a result, Pluto lost its title as a planet because it did not conform to planetary standards.

Pluto’s demise based on its nonconformity is a reminder of our divine expectation to be different. Paul instructs us in Romans 12:2 to “not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.” Likewise, John instructed us in 1 John 2:15 to “not love the world or the things in the world” because, as verse 17 adds, “the world is passing away, and the lust of it; but he who does the will of God abides forever.” In fact, according to Peter in 1 Peter 2:11, our identity within this world should be that of aliens and strangers (NASB), sojourners and exiles (ESV), or even pilgrims (NKJV).

But in what way or ways should we be different? According to Peter’s remarks following his identification of us as aliens, our difference should include our obedience to government (1 Peter 2:13-14), our respect of people (1 Peter 2:17), our love of the church (1 Peter 2:17), our fear of God (1 Peter 2:17), our lack of retaliation (1 Peter 2:18-24; 3:9), our fulfillment of marital roles (1 Peter 3:1-2, 5-7), our modesty (1 Peter 3:3-4), our unity in faith (1 Peter 3:8), our compassion (1 Peter 3:8), and our humility (1 Peter 3:8). In other words, being different means that we adopt a different value system than that which drives the world. In fact, that was Paul’s point in Colossians 3:2 when he wrote, “Set your mind on things above, not on things on the earth.” He indicated that our value system derives from heaven and possesses a heavenly reward; therefore, we willingly refuse to conform to the world, just like Pluto.

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The Great I Am

The Great I AMIn Exodus 3 Moses encountered a bush that was burning without being consumed, and through this bush God presented Himself to Moses, commissioning him to be the individual that would return to Egypt and rescue His people out of bondage. But Moses was afraid. Offering excuse after excuse, Moses attempted to weasel out of God’s assignment.

Moses’ initial response was, “Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh, and that I should bring the children of Israel out of Egypt?” (Exodus 3:11). Did you catch those first three words – “Who am I?” God called Moses to take on this special assignment and all Moses could do was look at himself and see all of the inadequacies, all of the failures, all of the flaws, all of the past mistakes. It is as if Moses was saying “I’m nobody. I don’t matter. Do you know what I did in Egypt? Do you know why I left that place? Do you know what those Hebrew slaves really think of me?” All Moses could do was think of all the reasons he wasn’t qualified.

But notice God’s response. He said, “I will certainly be with you” (Exodus 3:12). In other words, God said it didn’t matter who Moses was, where Moses had been, what Moses had done, why Moses left Egypt, or how unqualified Moses thought he was. All that mattered was that God was on his side.

But that wasn’t good enough for Moses. He wanted proof and that need for proof resulted in Moses’ attention switching from “Who am I” to “Who are you.” This is evidenced by Moses’ next great concern which centered around whether or not the Israelites would believe him. He said, in Exodus 3:13, “when I come to the children of Israel and say to them, ‘The God of your fathers has sent me to you,’ and they say to me, ‘What is His name?’ what shall I say to them?” In other words, Moses didn’t just want God’s promise of support, which was guaranteed in the previous verse, but he wanted proof of God’s identity. He wanted a means by which he could prove to the Israelites that he was not just making this mission up.

It was at that moment that God identified Himself. He told Moses, “I AM WHO I AM…Thus you shall say to the children of Israel, ‘I AM has sent me to you’” (Exodus 3:14). This was God’s opportunity to describe Himself, to define Himself, to identify Himself by whatever means He so chose. This was the moment when He decided what He wanted man to call Him, and He chose, “I AM.” He included no adjectives, no descriptors, no action verbs. He simply used a short ambiguous phrase – “I AM.”

But really, what more fitting title could there be for God? That name implies thoroughness. God encompasses all that is good, holy, perfect, righteous, and beautiful. That name implies consistency. God is ever present and unchanging. That name implies originality. There is no other God. He is the one and only.

Ultimately the point that God was trying to make with Moses during this interaction was that it didn’t matter who Moses was; it only mattered who God is. Moses was so caught up in himself and all of his excuses that he failed to really see God – the One who made a bush burn without destroying it. You see, it didn’t matter who Moses was; it only mattered who God is.

The same holds true today. You may be focused on your own inadequacies, deficiencies, and failures when all that really matters is whether or not you “fix [your] eyes on Jesus” who is “the author and perfecter of our faith” (Hebrews 12:2). We are God’s “workmanship” so all we have to do is let go of our excuses and let God bring to fruition the “good works” which He “prepared beforehand” to be accomplished in and through us (Ephesians 2:10).

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What is Blasphemy?

What is BlasphemyIn Colossians 3:8 Paul identifies blasphemy as one of sinful characteristics that Christians are to “put off” along with anger, wrath, malice, and filthy language. But what is blasphemy and how might we commit it? Growing up I was taught that blasphemy was equivalent to using the Lord’s name in vain, which we are instructed not to do in the Ten Commandments (Exodus 20:7). Is that all it entails or is it something more?

The word “blasphemy” is an Anglicanized form of the Greek noun blasphemia, which derived from two other Greek terms, namely blapto, which means “to injure” and phemi, which means “to say.” Thus, blasphemy can be defined simply as “injurious speech” much like slander. In fact, both blasphemy and slander are terms used to translate blasphemia in certain New Testament passages depending on the translation you read (cf. Colossians 3:8 & Mark 7:22 in NKJV & ESV). Since the word “blasphemy” by its very definition implies a sin of the tongue, let us begin by examining how one blasphemes God verbally.

Verbal blasphemy of God occurs when His existence or deity is either denied or demeaned. Peter states that there will be false teachers who “bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them” (2 Peter 2:1). He then goes on to charge these false teachers with blaspheming “the way of truth” in the very next verse (2 Peter 2:2). Thus, it appears that Peter is equating a denial of God’s existence and/or involvement in salvation as a form of blasphemy.

Elsewhere, Paul told Timothy that he had “handed [Hymenaeus and Alexander] over to Satan that they may learn not to blaspheme” (1 Timothy 1:20). How did these two individuals blaspheme? Based on the context of the preceding verses, they blasphemed God by rejecting the faith (1 Timothy 1:18-19). Thus, a denial of faith, which implicitly denies God’s deity, appears to be another form of blasphemy.

Additionally, we have the example of King Sennacherib who in 2 Kings 19:22 is accused of blasphemy by God. Venturing back to 2 Kings 18:28-35, we see that he, via his military commander, blasphemed God by ridiculing, challenging, and reducing God to an inferior position. Based on the attitude and actions of Sennacherib, we can deduce that an exaltation of the self above God and a belittling attitude toward God are considered blasphemous.

Thus far we have seen that blasphemy is typically a verbal sin, occurring when God’s existence and/or deity is denied, demeaned, or even challenged. But our involvement in the sin of blasphemy is not just limited to what we say. We can also be guilty of causing blasphemy via our disobedient and hypocritical behavior.

In Ezekiel 20:27, the prophet Ezekiel, speaking on behalf of God, says, “In this too your fathers have blasphemed Me, by being unfaithful to Me.” In the following verses God describes how the nation of Israel repeatedly ventured into idolatry and thereby were unfaithful to Him (Ezekiel 20:28-31). In this instance, blasphemy is not identified as a verbal sin but a behavioral one. But how can “injurious speech” be associated with unfaithful behavior? Throughout this same chapter God repeatedly said that He “acted for the sake of [His] name, that it should not be profaned in the sight of the nations among whom they lived” (Ezekiel 20:9; cf. 20:1420:22). In other words, Israel’s unfaithfulness provided an opportunity for those that did not worship Yahweh to blaspheme His name. And this was not the only time that God associated His people’s disobedience with the potential of blasphemy among the nations. Such blasphemous opportunity was attributed to David’s affair with Bathsheba when Nathan said, “by this deed you have given great occasion to the enemies of the Lord to blaspheme” (2 Samuel 12:14). Thus, Scripture indicates that when the people of God fail to obey Him they give everyone else a reason to reject and ridicule Him.

The apostle Paul recognized this unfortunate reality as well. In Romans 2:17-24 Paul admonished his Jewish readers for living hypocritically and stated in verse 24 that because of their hypocrisy “the name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles.” Because such disobedient behavior can give rise to blasphemy, Paul instructed servants to “count their masters worthy of all honor” in order to prevent “the name of God and His doctrine” from being blasphemed (1 Timothy 6:1), and he instructed wives to behave righteously toward their unbelieving husbands so that “the word of God may not be blasphemed” (Titus 2:4-5).

As followers of God we must be careful to not only avoid verbally blaspheming God, but we must also be careful to avoid vicariously blaspheming God as a result of our unfaithfulness. Remember, the goal of every Christian is to “Let your light so shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 5:16; c.f. 1 Peter 2:11-12).

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Reference Point

Reference PointOn day six of the ill-fated Apollo 13 mission, the astronauts needed to make a critical course correction.  In fact, the correction was so critical that had they failed to make it they might never return to Earth.

You may recall that an oxygen tank exploded on Apollo 13’s Service Module, forcing the astronauts to shut down the onboard computer that steered the craft in an effort to conserve energy that was necessary for their reentry to Earth. This presented a unique problem because the computer was their navigational tool. Its lack of availability meant that they lost their primary means of accurately steering the craft.

In order to make the necessary course correction they were going to have to burn the main engines for thirty-nine seconds and simultaneously maintain the trajectory of the craft. Since they would not have the computer’s navigational assistance they would have to steer the craft manually. This was a dangerous maneuver because a slight navigational miscalculation could send them careening uncontrollably into space.

Astronaut Jim Lovell came up with a solution. He determined that if they could use a fixed object in space as a reference point then they could maintain their trajectory. As shown in the 1995 hit movie, Apollo 13, a controlled burn commenced for thirty-nine agonizing seconds as Lovell focused on the Earth through a tiny window as his reference point. Ultimately, by not losing sight of that fixed reference point, the three astronauts avoided disaster and safely returned home.

Just like the Apollo 13 mission, you and I are in need of a critical course correction. All of us have sinned, and as a result of our sin we are headed toward certain destruction. Paul described this in his letter to the Romans when he said, “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” then added that “the wages of sin is death” (Romans 3:23; 6:23). Thus, because we have sinned we are in need of a course correction to avoid sin’s consequences.

But God in His great love has provided the means for a course correction. As the most popular verse in the Bible says, “God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16). In other words, God sent Jesus to alter our course. Because Jesus died in our stead we can be forgiven of our sins (Acts 2:38), and walk in newness of life (Romans 6:4), setting our course for the eternal destination of heaven. Thus, Jesus Christ is the focal point of those who wish to receive eternal life. That is why Scripture calls on us to “fix our eyes on Jesus” (Hebrews 12:2). If your eyes are set on Jesus then they are set on the only reference point that is “the same yesterday and today and forever” (Hebrews 13:8).

 

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A Letter from Jesus

Letter from JesusThe second and third chapters of Revelation record seven letters written by John but authored by Christ to seven different churches. In each of these letters Jesus said, “I know your works” (2:2; 2:9; 2:13; 2:19; 3:1; 3:8; 3:15), which indicates His knowledge of and concern for what is happening in all of His churches. It is this awareness that led Jesus to praise the work, attitudes, beliefs, characteristics, and practices of some congregations, but it is also this awareness that led Jesus to criticize the work, attitudes, beliefs, characteristics, and practices of other congregations.

But Jesus didn’t just offer praise and criticism; he offered a challenge. Those churches that received praise also received encouragement, a challenge to persist. Those churches that received criticism also received a warning, a challenge to change. Jesus, in effect, identified what was right and wrong in each church then either challenged that church to persist or warned them to change.

While studying these letters I started to wonder what Jesus would write to my congregation.

  • Would Jesus praise us for our works, labor, patience, and abhorrence of evil (2:2) or express disappointment over the fact that we left our first love (2:4)?
  • Would He praise us for our endurance through difficulties and encourage us to be faithful (2:9-10) or accuse us of being dead and warn us to repent (3:1-3)?
  • Would Jesus praise us for our allegiance to Him and commend us for not conforming to the world (2:13) or express His disappointment over our willingness to compromise and challenge us to change (2:14)?
  • Would He praise our love, service, and faith, acknowledging our efforts to do more for Him today than we did yesterday (2:19) or accuse us of accommodating our faith in order to adopt sinful behaviors or false teaching (2:20)?
  • Would Jesus praise us for utilizing the opportunities He opened for us (3:8) or condemn us for being lukewarm (3:15-16)?

Today I challenge you to consider what Jesus would write to your congregation. Would He offer praise or condemnation? Would He encourage you to keep doing what we’re doing or challenge you to change? Maybe the best way to answer that question is by asking yourself, “Is my life worthy of Christ’s praise or is it only deserving of His criticism?”

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The Expectation of Community

Expectation of CommunitySearch the Scriptures and you’ll quickly discover that God intends for His people to exist within a community rather than in isolation. This is evident in the fact that He established His covenant  with the nation of Israel in the Old Testament and the body of Christ in the New Testament. No matter which Testament you explore, His covenantal relationship is made with a community.

Not only does God intend for His people to exist in a community but He is the One who recognized our need for it. Remember, it was God who declared, “It is not good that man should be alone” (Genesis 2:18), and, as a result, He created the first community by giving Adam a companion (Genesis 2:21-22). Thus, God is the designer of community.

Maybe the reason God placed so much emphasis on community is because He Himself exists within one. God the Father, Jesus the Son, and the Holy Spirit all exist as a unique community that we refer to as the Trinity or Godhead (Genesis 1:26; Matthew 3:16-17). The fact that God, who is all powerful, all knowing, and eternal, exists in community should cause us ask ourselves, “If God exists in a community then who am I to assume that I don’t need to exist within a community?”

Unfortunately, many today fail to grasp the importance of community. They believe that following Christ is something that can be done in isolation. While becoming a follower of Christ is an individual decision, Christ did not intend for it to be an individual journey. This is evident in His prayer for all believers to be “one”  (John 17:20-21). He was not just praying for unity but for cooperation because the one thing He knows about community is that there is strength in numbers. Remember, it was the Godhead who acknowledged the unstoppable power of community at the Tower of Babel (Genesis 11:6-7).

The reason community is so powerful is because it provides support (Ecclesiastes 4:9-12), accountability (Galatians 6:1-2), encouragement (Hebrews 3:13), resourcefulness (Romans 12:4-8), maturation (Ephesians 4:11-16), and a sense of belonging (1 Corinthians 12:20-26). Paul even went so far as to say that we reach our full potential (i.e. “a perfect man”) in the community of Christ because of “what every joint supplies” (Ephesians 4:11-16). So the question each of us must consider is whether or not we are a part of God’s community by both the decision to become a disciple and our contribution to and participation in His community.

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