The Gospel or the American Dream?

This morning I'm thankful that God's version of the Gospel was not, and is not, what I see as often the normal Western version of it. If it was God's version, He would have never journeyed to the cross. Remember Jesus' words in Luke 9:23-24 Then he said to them all: "Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will save it."

The West has confused the American Dream (comfort, convenience, security and safety) with the goals of Christianity. If Jesus would not have these amenities when He walked this earth (as a sign that they are not the GOAL of Christianity, but blessings along the way), then we should be careful not to make them our goal. If we turn Christianity into being "blessed" whether by protection, affluence or comfort, we change it entirely. The true Gospel that vexes the powers of darkness, is that God be glorified through my life, whatever it costs me.

Our attitude towards Christ and His church

For I am the least of the apostles, unworthy to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God.   1Co 15:9  

I’ve often that my attitude towards God is reflected in my attitude towards church.  I realize this is not a hard and fast rule (what some might call a cause and effect relationship) but there is definitely at the very least a level of correlation between the two.  Theologically and Biblically speaking, Paul talks about the church being the “Body of Christ”, and us as “members” of the Body.  So it makes sense that our attitudes towards Christ would be reflected in our attitudes towards the church (the visible manifestation of Christ in the world) and our view of church would also teach us about how we see Jesus Christ.  To ignore the connection between the visible church and invisible Christ would be to lobotomize much of the New Testament teaching on the subject.  It is my hope in this blog to help us right-size our attitudes towards both Jesus Christ, and the church for which He died.

For example, I had a very presumptive and dare I say, consumer attitude towards the Church at one point in my life.  I worked for the Church, received an income from the Church and to my discredit, I at times I complained about what I described as “crappy” insurance that didn’t cover much and cost a lot; I also complained about other facets of my job.  One way that God deals with such attitudes is to take everything away and build appreciation and gratitude into one’s life (you’ll have to see the movie “Ultimate Gift” on this issue).  God put me in a place where I worked about 80 hours a week, lost 25 pounds, body mind and spirit falling apart and I came to understand the value of what I have now.

But there’s more:  When I became a Christian in my early 20's, I was basically discipled by several different Pastors in the first ten years of my ministry (from age 25-35, essentially).  I learned from these men – whether I agreed or disagreed – and am thankful to all of them for that role.  However, at some point as my career in the church grew, I really lost sight of why the church was important.  I became jaded and frustrated at what I saw in terms of some sinfulness in people, and eventually Robin and I stopped attending church altogether (in about 2007) when we didn't work for the church.  Then God took me through a really tough time (the sudden loss of my father, and owning a restaurant and having no money) and guess what … I was ALL alone without any Christian men who knew me and could support me!  It was not THEIR fault.  They were around, but I had basically pushed everyone out of my life.  It was then I remember in tears telling Robin I REALLY needed some Christian men in my life.  I had fallen away from having a good relationship with Christ, and everything in my life was falling apart.  I came to understand not only the need for Christian men, for fellowship, for support but also why we need the Church – for worship, for discipleship, for care, for accountability and most of all to lead us to Jesus!  And at just that time of realization, God called me to The River and the first thing I began doing was building fellowships of men meeting together regularly – both for myself and for them!

So here’s the point.  Analyze your relationship to the Church, and it will teach you a lot about how you view Christ.  Do you use the church or do you love her?  Do you complain because it isn’t what you want it to be, or do you work with all your might (like Paul could say) to make it beautiful, as the Bride of Christ?  Do you give financially to Christ through the Church because you want it to succeed as His hands, feet and voice in the world? When you look at where you are putting your money that will tell you what you truly value (Jesus said, “where your treasure is, there your heart will be also). 

How we give (if we give) of our time, talents, energies - and the attitude with which we give - will  teach us a lot about how we view Jesus as well as His Bride.  So I encourage you to analyze your relationship to Jesus, and that will teach you a lot about how you view the church; analyze your view of the church, and that will teach you a lot about how you view Jesus.

I say this NOT to manipulate or judge anyone else.  I judge myself (says I, and says Paul) and it is God who judges me.  I am convinced and convicted that I’m a sinner and I need to continually reflect, confess and repent for my bad attitudes towards Jesus, and towards His Bride.  I say this for your thoughts and prayers, but only as one who can honestly say is a “chief of sinners”. 

Pastor JT

And he put all things under his feet and gave him as head over all things to the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all.  Eph 1:22-23

 

 

How to respond when God leads you into the wilderness

Friends, the following is taken from a daily devotional I've been writing for the season of Lent.  I felt it was especially apt for what some of us go through this time of year, so I'd post it to those who have subscribed to our River blog.  Regards, JT

 

Exo 14:11-12  They said to Moses, "Is it because there are no graves in Egypt that you have taken us away to die in the wilderness? What have you done to us in bringing us out of Egypt? Is not this what we said to you in Egypt: 'Leave us alone that we may serve the Egyptians'? For it would have been better for us to serve the Egyptians than to die in the wilderness." And Moses said to the people, "Fear not, stand firm, and see the salvation of the LORD, which he will work for you today. For the Egyptians whom you see today, you shall never see again.    

 

When the Israelites encounter their first testing after the amazing exodus from Egypt and Passover of God, what do they do?  First they cried out to the Lord (verse 2), that was a GOOD thing.  However, that goodness was short lived.  These three verses reveal three critical mistakes that the people of God make in their time of testing:

 

They begin to mistrust Moses' leadership - what have you done to us?  Why have you taken us out just to die in the wilderness.  They were happy to trust Moses when things were rosey and they were being emancipated from pharoah's hand, but what about when the Egyptian armies were coming in the distance, and it didn't appear that Moses had made the right decision? 

 

Therefore they begin to mistrust God's leadership - Moses was God's anointed leader.  Moses was simply following God's commands, yet their questioning of Moses was questioning God's leadership in their life.  God had told them He would take them to a Promised Land, but now they clearly did not trust either Moses or God's leadership.

 

They begin to complain - it would have been better for us to serve the Egyptians.  Really?  Do they so quickly forget what it was like under Pharoah ... the genocide of their infants, the cruelty in labor having to build enormous monuments to foreign gods and cities of hubris?

 

This is a sad moment for the people of Israel:  They forget their experience in Egypt, and the slavery of Pharoah; they questioned God and His leader; they complained and they wanted to go back into slavery rather than forward with God into the Promised Land.

 

Application: 

 

Lent is a time of revisiting who WE are, and who GOD is.  For me it has been a very painful time, honestly, as I've seen areas of my life where I depend on myself, rather than trusting in God; where I've seen selfish ambition rather than surrender; where I've seen complaining and return to the slavery of my old self rather than moving into the new self God has for me in Christ.

 

Where are you in this passage?  Are you trusting in God's leadership in your life, even if He leads you like His Son into the wilderness.  Do you trust Him, or do you complain?  What is He showing you about yourself?  Are you able to take what you seen to Him in genuine confession and repentance, moving forward to the promised land of bearing the image of His Son - or are you really heading back to slavery to pharaoh (satan)?

 

These are hard questions, but important questions for all of us.  Who are we, who is God, and where are we truly headed emotionally, spiritually?

 

Prayer: 

 

Adoration:  Lord thank you for your leadership.  Thank you for taking us out of the hand of pharaoh and leading us to new life in Yourself.

 

Confession:  Lord, please forgive us when we don't trust you and when we don't trust those whom You have appointed over us.  Lord, when we go through times of testing, forgive us when we complain and gripe.  Teach us to trust You and others. 

 

Thanksgiving:  We bless you for testing, and what we see in ourselves as a result of what you allow us to go through.  You led Israel into the wilderness to test them as they were threatened by Pharoah's armies, You led Your Son into the wilderness ... we know You lead us into trials and testings.  We bless you for your Sovereign wisdom and understanding.

 

Supplication:  For faith, for trust, for integrity, love and hope.  For joy in surrender, and peace in contrition. 

 

 +++++++++

 

The River Exists to:

 

Encounter the Lord

Establish our Faith

Equip for Ministry

Engage the World 

 

Exo 14:11-12  They said to Moses, "Is it because there are no graves in Egypt that you have taken us away to die in the wilderness? What have you done to us in bringing us out of Egypt? Is not this what we said to you in Egypt: 'Leave us alone that we may serve the Egyptians'? For it would have been better for us to serve the Egyptians than to die in the wilderness." And Moses said to the people, "Fear not, stand firm, and see the salvation of the LORD, which he will work for you today. For the Egyptians whom you see today, you shall never see again.   

 

When the Israelites encounter their first testing after the amazing exodus from Egypt and Passover of God, what do they do?  First they cried out to the Lord (verse 2), that was a GOOD thing.  However, that goodness was short lived.  These three verses reveal three critical mistakes that the people of God make in their time of testing:

 

They begin to mistrust Moses' leadership - what have you done to us?  Why have you taken us out just to die in the wilderness.  They were happy to trust Moses when things were rosey and they were being emancipated from pharoah's hand, but what about when the Egyptian armies were coming in the distance, and it didn't appear that Moses had made the right decision? 

 

Therefore they begin to mistrust God's leadership - Moses was God's anointed leader.  Moses was simply following God's commands, yet their questioning of Moses was questioning God's leadership in their life.  God had told them He would take them to a Promised Land, but now they clearly did not trust either Moses or God's leadership.

 

They begin to complain - it would have been better for us to serve the Egyptians.  Really?  Do they so quickly forget what it was like under Pharoah ... the genocide of their infants, the cruelty in labor having to build enormous monuments to foreign gods and cities of hubris?

 

This is a sad moment for the people of Israel:  They forget their experience in Egypt, and the slavery of Pharoah; they questioned God and His leader; they complained and they wanted to go back into slavery rather than forward with God into the Promised Land.

 

Application:

 

Lent is a time of revisiting who WE are, and who GOD is.  For me it has been a very painful time, honestly, as I've seen areas of my life where I depend on myself, rather than trusting in God; where I've seen selfish ambition rather than surrender; where I've seen complaining and return to the slavery of my old self rather than moving into the new self God has for me in Christ.

 

Where are you in this passage?  Are you trusting in God's leadership in your life, even if He leads you like His Son into the wilderness.  Do you trust Him, or do you complain?  What is He showing you about yourself?  Are you able to take what you seen to Him in genuine confession and repentance, moving forward to the promised land of bearing the image of His Son - or are you really heading back to slavery to pharaoh (satan)?

 

These are hard questions, but important questions for all of us.  Who are we, who is God, and where are we truly headed emotionally, spiritually?

 

Prayer:

 

Adoration:  Lord thank you for your leadership.  Thank you for taking us out of the hand of pharaoh and leading us to new life in Yourself.

 

Confession:  Lord, please forgive us when we don't trust you and when we don't trust those whom You have appointed over us.  Lord, when we go through times of testing, forgive us when we complain and gripe.  Teach us to trust You and others. 

 

Thanksgiving:  We bless you for testing, and what we see in ourselves as a result of what you allow us to go through.  You led Israel into the wilderness to test them as they were threatened by Pharoah's armies, You led Your Son into the wilderness ... we know You lead us into trials and testings.  We bless you for your Sovereign wisdom and understanding.

 

Supplication:  For faith, for trust, for integrity, love and hope.  For joy in surrender, and peace in contrition. 

 

 +++++++++

--------------

 

The River Exists to:

 

Encounter the Lord

Establish our Faith

Equip for Ministry

Engage the World



Living a life of Sacrifice -- lenten devotional day 5

Exo 2:15-25  When Pharaoh heard of it, he sought to kill Moses. But Moses fled from Pharaoh and stayed in the land of Midian. And he sat down by a well.  (16)  Now the priest of Midian had seven daughters, and they came and drew water and filled the troughs to water their father's flock.  (17)  The shepherds came and drove them away, but Moses stood up and saved them, and watered their flock.  (18)  When they came home to their father Reuel, he said, "How is it that you have come home so soon today?"  (19)  They said, "An Egyptian delivered us out of the hand of the shepherds and even drew water for us and watered the flock."  (20)  He said to his daughters, "Then where is he? Why have you left the man? Call him, that he may eat bread."  (21)  And Moses was content to dwell with the man, and he gave Moses his daughter Zipporah.  (22)  She gave birth to a son, and he called his name Gershom, for he said, "I have been a sojourner in a foreign land." 

We left off yesterday with Moses having fled Pharoah, but now living in Exile in Midian.  Moses, the adopted son of Pharoah, the future emancipator of God’s people, is also murderer and stranger in a foreign land.  What is he going to do and who is he going to be?

The next scene opens Moses by a well; enter seven women who gather water in troughs to water their flocks.  This is not an unimportant event in a desert land of Arabia, north of the Red Sea.  I lived in Israel for a year; one of my friends at age 25 died in the middle east from dehydration.  Water is a serious thing for people and animals.  The text says that some shepherds drive the women away, so this may indicate that the women are actually in a bad way because not only the women but the animals (a key source of income) require water to live.  This is the opposite of hospitality, it is victimization for the women and their animals and someone is needed to actually rescue these women from the ungodly deeds of the roughians.  A reminder also that shepherds were one of the lowest classes of the middle East, noteworthy because they were one of the groups God showed His glory to in the birth of His Son, and also one of the groups that Jesus aligns with in His humility as the Great Shepherd.

Continuing with the story, Moses risks his own welfare for these women, and their animals, who are unknown to him.  Interestingly enough, he is described by the women as an Egyptian (!) – he probably looked and talked like one.  Moses’ first act is to risk his life for these women!  If the shepherds are heartless enough to turn away animals and even possibly humans from much-needed water, certainly killing some random Egyptian isn’t out of the question.  Yet Moses begins his time in the wilderness by acting as a mediator, a type of Christ, for these helpless ladies.

The act is clearly so important culturally, and spiritually, because the sister’ father is appalled (and even possibly angry) that the daughters did not invite the savior to the house; they bordered ingratitude and offense for not doing so for the selfless Egyptian traveller.  So thankful is the father for the act, and impressed by the humility of Moses, is that the father gives a daughter in marriage to the stranger and Moses’ future is changed in the act.  The scene now changes from Moses the homeless wanderer who sits by a well after running as a convict, to Moses the savior and beneficiary of God’s blessing.

Application:  

There are so many applications, my mind is racing!  Perhaps your mind is landing on several.  The one that cries out to me this morning is how God blesses our hearts to sacrifice ourselves for others, just like He blessed Moses’ heart of sacrifice for people he didn’t know.  In this way, Moses WAS and we can BE like Jesus of whom it is said:

1Jn 3:16  This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers.

Joh 15:13  Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.

Php 2:4-8  Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others.  (5)  Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus:  (6)  Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped,  (7)  but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness.  (8)  And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death— even death on a cross!

We know the result of God’s blessing on Moses’ life.  He went from wanderer and alien to having a wife and a home.  No small thing when you think your life is essentially OVER like I’m sure Moses did.  So powerful was this blessing after the wilderness for Moses that he named his first child after the experience! 

The rest of the story for Jesus is:

Php 2:9  Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name,

Php 2:10  that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth,

Php 2:11  and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.   

So here’s the punch:  The next time God opens up a door for you to be the seed that falls to the ground and dies … die.  Sacrifice your own interests, your own welfare for the sake of others – even someone you do not know.  The promise from Scripture is that if that’s where God IS, and we keep in step with the Spirit, He will bless it for the Kingdom and bless you for it.

Prayer:

Adoration:  Jesus the Lamb of God who sacrificed Himself – and continues to live a life of sacrifice in His people through the Holy Spirit.

Confession:  For how difficult it is for me, for us, to do this.  For our selfish ambition and conceit (Phillipians 2:3).  Lord forgive us for being so self-preserving …

Thanksgiving:  For others who have blazed the path of self-sacrifice before us.  First, Jesus, but also for many others who have shown us this better way and STILL even today martyr themselves both figuratively and literally for the love of God, His Kingdom and others even unbeknownst to them.

Supplication:  That God would help me, us, our church and His Church throughout the world to live like this … the iconic Church; a far cry from the idollic church that in contrast would seek to build and grow like a religious WalMart.  Pray that God would help us to lay down our lives for the world and not seek to build ourselves off of it.

Joh 12:24  I tell you the truth, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds.

 -------------------------------

I’ve included a cool testimony from Ross and Jen Wilsie about the power of prayer AND the power of when we seek God through prayer and worship.

Jennifer and I just wanted to take a sec to say THANK YOU to all of you who have supported us and prayed for us thus far in our pregnancy, especially recently concerning our baby's position.  Some of you have heard the good news, but for those who haven't, our baby is head down and rarin' to go!  (Well, rarin' may be a bad word choice... we'd have a whole other set of problems if it was actually rarin').  But anyway, we attribute it solely to God's merciful hand through your (and our) prayers!  Jonathan and Robin, thank you for taking the time to pray over Jennifer after the service yesterday... it was a special time that gave us peace.

Also, Jennifer spent about an hour listening to worship music and praying last night, and she specifically asked God to move the baby by 11:15 this morning (when we had an appointment with a doctor who was going to perform a procedure to manually turn the baby).  So we headed into the ultrasound room with the doctor, clueless and laughing at him when he said, "Let's hope I find the head where it's supposed to be and you can be on your merry way!"  About 5 seconds into the ultrasound, he said, "Yep, there it is.  You're all done."  We were speechless.  Anyway, I'll stop going on and on, but so many things have fallen into place and so many people have gone WAY out of their way to help us... God has been good, and we can breath a sigh of relief…

One very cool thing about it is that Jennifer went upstairs last night intending to do one of her Hypnobabies CDs (the one that's supposed to help a baby turn), but she sensed that she should spend that time in prayer and worship instead.  Go God, and go Jennifer for being obedient to Him!



Lenten Devotional

If you wish to receive forty days of devotions by email, please email me (JT@TheRiverNRV.org) and I'll add you to our list.  This will be the only of our devotionals that I'll post to our blog, and I do so because this list is different than our congregational list.  To be added to our congregational list, please email me.

Note about Lent devotionals:

These devotionals can take you ten minutes or one hour, if you’d like.  Do what you can, and don’t get discouraged if you miss a day.  Having two or three times with the Lord in a week is much better than zero!  Don’t let legalism get the best of you; do what you can and don’t beat yourself up for what you can’t do. 

God loves to spend time with you, so don’t let satan get the upper hand; remember that we are always the prodigals son, returning from the world to be in the presence of our loving Father.  He always lifts His robe and runs to us the moment He even SEES us in the distance! 

My suggestion is to find a quiet place, and if possible a regular time when you can be with God without being disturbed or self-conscious.  I often start by listening to worship songs on YouTube or a CD, to get the prayer-furnace going.  The Word often comes best on the heels of worship!  I recommend also using a journal so you can write down thoughts or prayers. 

Know that I as your brother, friend and Pastor, am praying that you Encounter the Lord, are Established in your faith, Equipped for ministry and that through Lent, are enabled to Engage the world with the love of Jesus.

JT

DAY I:

Exo 1:1-14  These are the names of the sons of Israel who came to Egypt with Jacob, each with his household:  (2)  Reuben, Simeon, Levi, and Judah,  (3)  Issachar, Zebulun, and Benjamin,  (4)  Dan and Naphtali, Gad and Asher.  (5)  All the descendants of Jacob were seventy persons; Joseph was already in Egypt.  (6)  Then Joseph died, and all his brothers and all that generation.  (7)  But the people of Israel were fruitful and increased greatly; they multiplied and grew exceedingly strong, so that the land was filled with them.  (8)  Now there arose a new king over Egypt, who did not know Joseph.  (9)  And he said to his people, "Behold, the people of Israel are too many and too mighty for us.  (10)  Come, let us deal shrewdly with them, lest they multiply, and, if war breaks out, they join our enemies and fight against us and escape from the land."  (11)  Therefore they set taskmasters over them to afflict them with heavy burdens. They built for Pharaoh store cities, Pithom and Raamses.  (12)  But the more they were oppressed, the more they multiplied and the more they spread abroad. And the Egyptians were in dread of the people of Israel.  (13)  So they ruthlessly made the people of Israel work as slaves  (14)  and made their lives bitter with hard service, in mortar and brick, and in all kinds of work in the field. In all their work they ruthlessly made them work as slaves.

The story of Exodus begins with Israel, the chosen child of God, being oppressed and afflicted by the careless, ruthless and heartless enemies of the God of Israel.

Our spiritual exodus was secured by Jesus who also endured careless, ruthless and heartless oppression by the enemies of God.  As one reads the Gospels, we see increasing intensity as Jesus turns His face towards Jerusalem (Luke 9) and is unwilling to change His course of action from the cross (even though the religious, the crowds or His disciples constantly opposed, rejected or misunderstood His purposes).  Yet unlike Israel, Jesus went into the wilderness, into suffering and temptation WILLINGLY, knowingly … surrendered to the Father.  Jesus, the 2nd Adam, led us into our spiritual Promised Land (the Kingdom of God) to show that He would not die but THRIVE in the place where the 1st Adam failed.  Because of Jesus we ALSO have the power not to DIE under temptation, duress, pain or suffering, but THRIVE in the midst of it (see James 1).  We do so not because of our own might, but because of the presence of Jesus in and through us, who gives us victory.

Action step: 

Perhaps God has also allowed you to go through trials, like the people of God.  What are those trials that face you today?  Write them down on paper … no matter how big or small.  Sometimes they feel overwhelming, but after writing them down you see there are only five, or three or two.  Get them out of your head, they may look less powerful when you just see them on paper.  Lift those trials up in prayer.  If Jesus were right next to you (which He is), what will you say to Him?  Pray as you are talking to your best Friend (which you are).  Write next to the trial what you are realizing about God, life or yourself through that trial.  Like Israel, could there be strengthening and maturity coming as a result?  How about compassion?  I encourage you to thrive in the wilderness like Israel, and Jesus, and not be dismayed.  See Joshua 1 for what God told Joshua.  Why did He need to hear this?  What was Joshua feeling as he, a typology of Jesus, stood on the verge of the wilderness. 

Prayer: 

Adoration – what is it about the Father, Son and Spirit that you adore today?

Confession – what is it you realize about yourself that you want to tell him, or others?

Thanksgiving – what are you thankful for, keeping you from sins of covetousness, jealousy and ingratitude?

Supplication – who has God laid on your heart to life up in prayer?  Ask specifically … you pray to a loving, powerful and generous God.

Our Trip to Belize


This is a semi-brief summary of our trip to Belize:

Nineteen of us went from The River to Belize Jan 6th -15th, 2010.  We were able to frame, side and roof a kitchen for Toledo Christian Academy (see www.TCABelize.com) on an existing slab.  We were able to DIG over 300 feet of ditches to provide water run-off so that roads on the TCA campus are not spoiled.  Turned up a few critters (just tarantulas)!  We were able to PAY all construction costs (over $4000) through financial gifts AND building those costs into the funds each person provided.  Four people participated in medical work via a village clinic and also going to remote villages where medical help is scarce.

We established GREAT rapport with kids, teachers and staff at TCA (about 100 there total) through playing volleyball and soccer with the kids, conversations, etc.  It was clear to them that we were there to serve and love them through our work and through God's love expressed. 

We were able to carry tons of sands and 1000 cinder blocks up to the third floor (not a typo) of the LOL orphanage (see www.LOLMinistry.com).  The temps the first day was in the 90's!  While there, we had incredible worship and teaching and prayer together each day in the mornings and evenings.  God visited many of us in very powerful and meaningful ways.

We had a lot of fun snorkeling in the Cayes:  we swam with giant sea turtles, manta rays and had the experience of our lives.

We went caving at Blue Creek, an amazing system of caves that goes for DAYS with water running through. 

I and a few others had a conversation with a witch-doctor who is an influential elder in a mayan village.  he told us that he wants to confess his sins and give his life over to Jesus.  I kid you not it about threw me off my rock!  I told him, 'now is a fine time to do that' but he hesitated, telling us that he felt more comfortable doing that as a part of a three-day process.  I understood later from another local Belizean who knows him, that this is because there are many in that village who practice such sorcery and 'bush magic' which also include animal sacrifices and other such rituals.  So the elder's suggestion that this be more elaborate of a process was wise.  I told him that when we're back we would like to work with him (with the support of other Belizean Christians) to walk through that process, if they don't walk through that beforehand.  Please pray for him (Cervi) and his village at Blue Creek, and pray for us again as we return and see him first thing!

and much more ...

We gave a presentation on Sunday at The River about what God did and we had over 23 people sign up that day, interested in coming on the next trip (May 14-21 tentatively).  On that trip we will be holding a soccer camp from 1-4pm (that is the high point of their soccer season in Belize, a very important national sport for them), providing $2500 US for a soccer FIELD, God-willing, providing at least 10 computers for a computer lab (with wireless internet/networking), among other things. 

WE NEED MANY DIFFERENT GIFTS FROM JUST PLAIN SERVING (SNACKS, ETC) TO SPORTS, TO WORKING WITH KIDS, TO DOING ODD JOBS (LIGHT CONSTRUCTION) TO COMPUTERS ... SO IF YOU HAVE A GIFT WE CAN USE IT!  CONSIDER COMING IN MAY!

Here is a link to LOTS of pictures:  www.theriver.smugmug.com
Here is a link to a powerpoint slideshow (five minutes short):  http://www.megaupload.com/?d=5BJJ5SXV

you have to wait for 40 seconds to download by clicking 'regular download' (under premium download)

Sola Dei Gloria


Existing in Culture: Conviction WITH understanding

I have been challenged this month to continue to live as a person of conviction WITH understanding, rather than as either a person of understanding WITHOUT conviction, or a person of conviction WITHOUT understanding.

What amazes me about Jesus is His ability to wield uncompromising truth WITH understanding that others are coming from a different place with a different life-story.  If we were to apply this to our own relationship with God, compared to Him we are ALL coming to Him -- Who has perfect knowledge, wisdom and intelligence -- with a broken story and a drastically sinful and different place.  Yet even with Perfect attributes of goodness, justness and love, He is compassionate and understanding that we are 'in process' -- not where He is and God-willing, not where we will be as we are changed into His likeness.

So first, it is important that we stay true to being people of unfeigning CONVICTION to the "true truth" of the faith passed down to us (I Cor 11:2).  Even though others may disagree, misunderstand and even misrepresent what we as Christ-followers believe, say or do, we must NOT change or accomodate the veracity of the Message of Jesus in the Scriptures to fit what culture wants to hear, what is vogue or comfortable.  This is CONVICTION.   

Yet in addition to conviction, Jesus also wielded incredible UNDERSTANDING of our frailty and depraved estate.  What was it about Jesus that prostitutes, drunks, derelicts, outcasts, liberals, crooked politicians and the super-religious could all approach Him -- all starting from a different place?  I believe Jesus wielded compassionate and sympathetic understanding WITHIN His convictions.  Understanding means that we realize people have a journey and a process so we relate to them with respect, tenderness and love.  Isn't this how WE want to be treated by God when our distorted views and LIVES (!) don't match up to His?  As the Scriptures say, 'a bruised reed He does not break and a smoldering wick He does not snuff out'.  So what WE ask from God (mercy, compassion) we must also be willing to measure out to others.

Remember that Jesus never interrogated people as to all of their 'views' before they could get to Him ... they came to Him (like we did) where they WERE, with all of their junk and imperfections.  And He in their mercy over time, corrected and loved them to where He was.   Let's do the same.

So how far are you willing to go with your understanding? Only as far as your comfort level, or God's comfort level?  I think His comfort level with people's journeys is much higher than ours.  I'd like to suggest that when others hold different views about even very emotional and super-charged issues (just like in Jesus' day):  abortion, sexuality, health care, role of government, other religions and more ... let's not abuse them.  Let's listen to them, love them with understanding, respectfully and thoughtfully disagree ... but love them as we would want to be loved if we but for the grace of God were in their place.  God will fix their views and lives JUST AS He in His mercy will continue to fix our distorted and broken views (and lives) over time.  As we say regularly in the Lord's Prayer:  Forgive us our trespasses AS WE ALSO forgive those of others...

Lord, make me an instrument of your peace;
where there is hatred, let me sow love;
where there is injury, pardon:
where there is doubt, faith ;
where there is despair, hope
where there is darkness, light
where there is sadness, joy
O divine Master,
grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console;
to be understood, as to understand;
to be loved, as to love;
for it is in giving that we receive,
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned,
and it is in dying that we are born to Eternal Life.           St. Francis of Assisi

JT

PS  Interesting fact:  The Pharisees came to power soon after the temple was destroyed by the Babylonians; because of its destruction, a system for righteousness was needed (since sacrifices could not be made and the temple could not be accessed).  In this leadership and righteousness vacuum, a group emerged who developed a system -- an extraBiblical one -- to 'make up' what righteousness was ... this group eventually became known as the Pharisees.  They were the conservatives, the upholders of righteousness (for good and for evil), and the protectors of truth.  Some of these were devout and pious people who truly loved God.  But others put heavy weights (hundreds of laws) on God's people, disabling them from getting to God, while not even 'lifting a finger' to help others with the weights they COULD bear.  Jesus condemned the Pharisees because even though they were convinced about the truth, the way they operated in culture actually disabled them AND OTHERS from having true access to God and eventually resulted in their rejection of God-in-the-flesh, Jesus.  If we are not careful, we can also distract and disable ourselves AND OTHERS from understanding who Jesus is by putting too many things that are not central, in our and their, way.  Conviction WITH understanding.

 

PPS  26 Brothers, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. 27 But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. 28 He chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things-and the things that are not-to nullify the things that are, 29 so that no one may boast before him. 30 It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God-that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption.   31 Therefore, as it is written: "Let him who boasts boast in the Lord."     1 Cor 1:26-31

Allowing space in the Church for Questions

"What is God doing in my life or in this world!?" is not an uncommon question.  People ask it all the time, and right we should!  Questions are a part of being human, of reaching out to God, of seeking to answer our anxt when fairness, justice, love, truth and goodness seem inscrutable.

Next week The River begins a four-part series on 'Questions We Ask', looking at 'what is the purpose of life and my life imparticular?' (this Sunday March 14), 'what is justice and where is it?' (March 21), 'what is truth and how can we know it?' (Mar 28) and 'are miracles real and who says?' (April 4 -- Easter).

I am SOOOOO excited about this series for many reasons. One is that we need to be reminded that God is very much OK -- even involved -- with our answer-seeking!  Read the book of Ecclesiastes, or Job, and see how God desires that we seek Him out!  But secondly,I'm excited because the CHURCH needs to be as excited as God is with spiritual questioning.  Otherwise, if all of us are asking the questions but the Church is not willing to deal with such questions, the Church is not where people are; we are 'out of touch'.  Finally, I am excited for some questions to be answered, and some to remain unanswerable!  I believe this will clarify for us what can be known and what can't versus either NOTHING being knowable OR everthing being clear.

For example, I am slowly preparing for ordination exams.  The frustrating part of such exams is the amount of material there is to review:  church history, Bible, theology, ethics, Book of Common Prayer, polity and so forth.  However, I noticed a big difference in my own confidence when last week I went from "I DON'T KNOW what I don't know" to "I KNOW what I don't know"!  When I saw this transition happen, I grew in confidence of what I KNOW that I KNOW while having a comfort level with what I did NOT KNOW (as well as what I will probably never know (because I don't have time to study it))!

In the same way, part of wisdom is to be clear on what we CAN know, and what in this life we CANNOT.  This will increase our confidence level in what we know and also give us comfort with what God has left as dubious.  READ THESE NEXT LINES TWICE!  People who dogmatically espouse either complete unknowability OR all-knowingness (I believe) create a god of their own making; either a God who cannot competently communicate who He is (certain religions and belief systems such as deconstructionism, radical postmodernism, etc -- a bit ironic, isn't it that a GOD couldn't correctly say what He is) OR a God who is so tied to our predictions and our own making that He ceases to be God (the dangers of radical fundamentalism, humanism and naturalism).

I pray, trust, and diligently believe that God will clarify for us what is knowable from that for which we must wait to see Him face to face.  I hope you can find a person or a place that will accept you for who and where you are; yet a person or place that loves you too much to not lead you to Surety beyond where you can go alone.

jt

Learning from Jonah

I'd like to tell you all what we at The River are learning thus far from the book of Jonah, and encourage you to listen to the first two weeks online, if the content seems like something that would be beneficial to you.  In this first blog I want to deal solely with the content of week one.

The first week we talked about why I believe the book of Jonah is a completely factual, authoritative book: 

1.  Jonah was a real person who was written about in a book that is historical in nature, and respected by Biblical and non-Biblical scholars alike.  We know Jonah's father's name (Amittai), where he was from (Zebulun near Nazareth), what his occupation was (a prophet) and even when he lived and served (under Rehoboam II in the time of Amos 800-750BC).  Jonah did not just show up in the book bearing his name, before that he had rightfully prophesied the restoration of Israel's borders and therefore proved himself to really be a prophet (if what prophets predicted didn't come through, they would lose their job and even their life).  

2. If God is truly God -- having created oxygen, water, depth, mammals and all life -- could he not also keep a man alive in a fish (or His Son alive from the dead)?

3. Jesus spoke about Jonah, the fish and the repentance of the Assyrians as a historical and reliable event, comparing our belief in it to our belief in His death and resurrection (Matthew 12).

So if we can trust that God actually DID this historically, what may God have for us to learn from this event?  First, like Jonah, we all run from God.  I told a story of when I was running down my street, tripped on a curb with my hands stuck in my pockets, unable to stop myself from face-planting into the cement.  Similarly, it is VERY hard for us to stop our momentum when we're running from God; we often face-plant into many situations in life that God never wanted us to and that could have been avoided had we kept close to Him.  In that way, we're not much different than Jonah. 

Secondly, the first week of Jonah reminded us that God obstinately pursues us, the lost objects of His love.  God pursued Jonah and even manipulated the oceans to reach him.  Would he not, and does He not also NOW change circumstances in our lives to reach us?  I believe so.  God not only loved Jonah, He also loved the Assyrians, as brutal and sinful they were (historically they were notoriously barbaric); this is why He sent Jonah to preach to them.  Finally, God in His mercy pursues us.  He not only pursued the world by sending Jesus Christ as a reliable, historical event (even Josephus and other non-biblical scholars validate the crucifixion of Jesus of Nazareth) ... God sent HIs Son -- as the Image of the Invisible God -- to point you and me to Him.  Even today God pursues us with His Spirit, leading us into fellowship with Him and one another.  The question of course is as we read this, will we run TO God, or AWAY from God...

What a glorious message this is to us as we watch -- spectators to the Jonah story; both uplifting and convicting!  Hear the full sermon (at www.therivernrv.org/sermon-archives) and may God take all of us, when we sprint away from Him, to the dry land of His grounding Presence.

JT

Being Distracted by Good Things

In C.S. Lewis' book, The Screwtape Letters, one of the jobs of the lessor demon Wormwood is to distract his Christian assignee by preoccupying his subject with GOOD things; this is in order to keep him away from doing the BEST things.

I am convicted in my own life that I need to hit my knees and pray for myself and others ... that God would help us to be faithful to the BEST things, not spend a majority of our time on the 'GOOD' things.  But how do we know what is BEST?

It is what I see repeated over and over in the Bible, specifically in the New Testament:

Read the Bible, pray and worship in your secret closet (heart) and home.  It is what Jesus did when He wasn't with people.

Allow that love to influence those around you, especially your spouse, kids, family, but also of course, friends.  Develop people to lead like Jesus did.

Keep in community with others who love Jesus, meet in the temple courts and house to house.  It is what Jesus did -- joining existing community or created new ones.

Share that love with those who don't yet know God through deeds, and when necessary, words (that was St. Francis' mantra).  Share it not to conform them to your view, but to Christ.

Summary:  All the other stuff that religious and spiritual people DO may be GOOD (talking, writing, reading, debating, etc) but I believe they are distractions from the BEST.  Until we begin to DO THESE simple things that Jesus did, I doubt we, or the world, will change much.

I stand very much in the need of prayer; unlike you, Jesus, I am easily distracted.  Lord, help me not to lose sight of you amidst the waves, or fall asleep in the garden while you grieve.

JT