Monday, June 26, 2017

Who Else, but God?!!!


We live in an age of unprecedented wealth, knowledge, scientific discovery, and technological advancements.  Our world is often one of rationalism and reason, where the mysteries of the universe are simply there for us to unravel.  We observe the seasons and the weather, and do our best to predict the patterns of nature.  It’s not only possible to circumvent the globe in less than 36 hours, we’ve even landed on the moon!  The people at the Tower of Babel would envy us – we’ve actually made it to the heavens and we’ve learned how to translate almost any language in the world.

          The fact is, we live in a world that can be broken down into countless ologies.  If we want to understand the earth, we dig into geology.  If we are interested in how our bodies function, we slice into biology.  If we have trouble understanding why people behave the way they do, we define their actions through sociology.  And people who are obsessed with the future, sadly, sometimes gaze into astrology.  But in all of our studies, if we aren’t careful, we might ignore the ultimate source behind all that we witness in our world.  To answer the truly important – the really big questions in life – we need to wade into the waters of theology.  In other words, we need to engage in the study of God.

          Sometimes, when people begin to recount the numerous ways that God has been active in their lives, I get just a little uneasy.  If someone is convinced that God led them to the perfect parking space at the store, I begin to question if they really understand God’s overarching purposes for the universe.  But I must be careful not to become too cynical or jaded when people genuinely notice God’s hand at work in their lives.  I need to make sure that I don’t become so accustomed to the rational world in which we live, that I wind up leaving very little room for the divine presence to be seen and felt.  God is at work in our world, just as he has been at work in the history of humankind from the beginning of creation.  I need my eyes to be open to what God is doing all around me. 

          It was obvious that God was at work in the lives of the people of Israel in the book of Exodus.  But though his signs and wonders were so very clear, Pharaoh consistently hardened his heart to what YHWH was doing in the plagues and through the ministries of Moses and Aaron.  In fact, it was this hardness to God’s presence that eventually led Pharaoh and his army to a premature death in the waters of chaos.

          It’s interesting to look at this story in retrospect.  If you move from the earlier parts of Exodus to the middle, you come to a transitional passage in the 18th chapter of the book.  Here, the people are finally camped at the Mountain of God, Sinai, and Moses’ father-in-law, Jethro, has journeyed to this spot because he has heard about what God has done for Moses and Israel.  Though Pharaoh was blind to the maneuvers of YHWH, Jethro is not.  He sees that something special is at work, and who else could it be, but God? 

“Then Moses told his father-in-law all that the Lord had done to Pharaoh and to the Egyptians for Israel’s sake, all the hardship that had beset them on the way, and how the Lord had delivered them.  Jethro rejoiced for all the good that the Lord had done to Israel, in delivering them from the Egyptians.  Jethro said, ‘Blessed be the Lord, who has delivered you from the Egyptians and from Pharaoh.  Now I know that the Lord is greater than all gods, because he delivered the people from the Egyptians, when they dealt arrogantly with them.’  And Jethro, Moses’ father-in-law, brought a burnt offering and sacrifices to God; and Aaron came with all the elders of Israel to eat bread with Moses’ father-in-law in the presence of God.” (Exodus 18:8-12, NRSV).

          Scripture doesn’t tell us very much about exactly who Moses’ father-in-law is, or when he becomes a believer in YHWH.  What we do know is that he is a priest in Midian.  Recent discoveries have shown that shepherds who lived in Midian around the time of the Exodus worshipped a God they called YHWH.  So, it could be that Jethro is already familiar with the God of Israel.  At any rate, Jethro sees that Israel’s deliverance from Egypt and their safe passage through the wilderness could not be accounted for by anything but God’s grace and providence.  Who else, but God!

          Who else but God could lead Israel to Egypt in the first place?  It was God’s divine providence that saved the sons of Jacob so many years before.  Who else but God could save the life of the baby Moses through a reed basket and eventually lead him into the wilderness of Midian where he met his destiny at the burning bush?  Who else but God could deal plague after plague on the false gods of Egypt and Pharaoh, while still protecting his own people?  Who else but God could strike the first-born sons?  Who else but God could save the people through the chaos waters of the sea?  Who else but God could provide the people with something to drink when they were thirsty, not once, but twice?  And when they were hungry and longing for the pots of meat back in Egypt, who else but God could provide manna to eat?  When the Amalekites came out to battle Israel in the desert, who else but God could deliver them to victory?  If not God, then who else? 

          Jethro has heard of all that God has done for Moses and for Israel.  He has seen the Almighty at work.  He cannot help but proclaim that God is both sovereign and gracious!

          Jethro doesn’t seek a naturalistic explanation for the miracle of the sea.  And according to Jethro, it’s not just by coincidence that YHWH has led his people to the Mountain of God.  There is a deeper, far reaching, theological purpose for God’s actions on behalf Israel.  (This is another step in God’s eventual reclamation of the entire universe.)  God’s wonders are plain to see, and Jethro is willing to gaze in astonishment upon them.  And with his mouth, and with his life, he offers up praises to this God!  His God!

          God’s wonders in our world are also plain to see, but are we willing to see them?  If we’re not careful, we might find ourselves more in tune with the surrounding culture, than with what God is doing around us.  Through the good and the bad, God is at work, and yet, we might sometimes fail to give him thanks for what he is doing.  When we narrowly escape an accident on the highway, do we think, “Weren’t we lucky!”?  Or, when God uses one of our friends to encourage us and to give us advice, we might be quick to thank our friend, but slow to remember the God who gave that friend to us.  When we pray to God to deliver us from some difficult circumstance, and he does deliver us, do we chalk it up to our faithfulness in prayer, or do we give glory to the God who faithfully answers our prayers?  God is working wonders all around us, but we must have eyes that are open to see all that God is doing. 

          A Scottish man named Billy Wilson penned a song in 2000 which really resonates in our age of human self-sufficiency.  The song is titled, Father I Believe and the words make a powerful point.

Who says miracles don’t happen anymore?

And who says God can only do what we afford?

Why so many spend so long trying to ignore,

Every sign of life, every sign of hope, everything before.

Such a sad affair when living to deny.

Where every work of wonderful is written off in time.

The God of old responds to faith, but now he doesn’t try.

Isn’t that absurd?  Isn’t that a joke?  Isn’t that a crime?

Father, I believe!  Help my unbelief!

And if you tell me mountains will move, then I will walk as I believe.

A Syro-Phoenician lady, wasn’t due a thing.

She came for the crumbs from the table, but she left with everything.

Lowered into Jesus’ presence, lifted out of sin.

The hearts around him needed proof, so he left with everything.

Father, I believe!  Help my unbelief!

And if you tell me mountains will move, then I will walk as I believe.

I will walk as I believe.

          Wilson’s words especially hit home with the line, “Father, I believe, help my unbelief!”  Have you ever found yourself in a similar situation?  You have a little bit of faith, but you long to believe more.  We see God’s work all around us and we want to be like Jethro and let everyone know what God is doing in our lives and in the church, but we sometimes falter in our boldness.  Or, sometimes, when things don’t go as we would like them to go, we may find it hard to believe that God is still active and working.  But we need to trust that he is still working – even when we don’t see it, or when we don’t understand what he’s up to.  In these moments, we would do well to pray, “Father, I believe, help my unbelief!”

          And there are some things by God’s grace that we can do to more clearly see God’s work in our lives.  We must acknowledge that God is both sovereign and gracious.  First, by acknowledging God’s sovereignty we will be more open to let his kingdom reign into every facet of our existence.  There should be no areas of our lives that are not touched by God’s presence.  From the moment we rise in the morning, until the moment we drop our heads on our pillows, Christ’s presence should be evident in all that we say and in all that we do.  Secondly, by acknowledging God’s graciousness through our thankfulness to him and in our worship of him, we become more aware of what God is doing around us.  We should not relegate these times of thanksgiving and praise only to prayers before meals, devotionals, Bible classes, or church services.  They should be a part of every daily activity in which we participate.  Through this and the encouragement we receive from one another, we will be better able to see God and his actions in our lives and in this world.  Someone is at work in us – someone is at work in you – someone is at work in me.  And who else could that be, but God?!!! - Shay

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

A Musical Journey

We were on our way back from a High School mission trip to Montana when I bought my first U2 album.  The year was 1992 and I was 15 years old.  The record was Achtung Baby (actually it was a cassette tape).  Our youth group had stopped in Colorado Springs for the night, and to kill a little time before bed, our sponsors dropped us off at one of the local malls.  Most shops in malls don't interest me much, but record stores always have grabbed my attention.  I remember looking in the rock section and narrowing down my focus to one band, U2.  Having never listened to much of their music, I had become intrigued by this foreign group when some of my friends at Camp Blue Haven had played some of their songs that summer.  When I was younger, I remember seeing older teens wearing Rattle & Hum t-shirts at camp.  I had also heard people say that U2 was a Christian band. 

All of that combined to make me curious.  I really liked the sound of a couple of the songs I had heard earlier in the summer from Achtung Baby, namely The Fly and Mysterious Ways.  But having also seen the Rattle & Hum t-shirts a few years back, I was torn.  Should it be Rattle & Hum or Achtung Baby?  Going for the more recent release, I grabbed the Achtung Baby cassette and bought the first of many U2 albums.

The rest of that summer and into the autumn, Achtung Baby was on heavy rotation in my Walkman.  And over the next couple of years, I began to expand my U2 collection.  I worked my way backwards, skipping Rattle & Hum and going straight to The Joshua Tree (I bought Rattle & Hum a few months later).  As much as I loved Achtung Baby, the songs on The Joshua Tree were what I would describe as epic and cinematic.  They were the kinds of songs that could transport you to another time and place.  One of the first few times I listened to The Joshua Tree, I was riding in a car amongst the mountainous landscapes of northern New Mexico.  Later on, I remember how well the songs fit with the desert topography of my grandparents' place out in Far West Texas.  Achtung Baby introduced me to U2, but The Joshua Tree sold me on them.  It wasn't long until I had a copy of every U2 record and a couple VHS concert tapes to go with them. 

I'm not exactly sure why I grew to love U2 so much.  I've had various musical phases that have come and gone, but I've always stuck with U2.  I think it's partly down to the fact that they've always been about so much more than simply making music.  They're activists as well as artists.  And they are a Christian band, though they can't be put in a box like much contemporary Christian music.  In other words, they are a rock 'n roll band who happen to have a committed Christian faith, but they aren't what most people would call a "Christian band".  They're comfortable exploring some of the darker subjects, as well as the loftier and more uplifting motifs.  Faith must always be lived out in the real world and the vibe I get from Bono is that his faith is genuine and real.  So, I connect to U2 on multiple levels and I just really love the music they play and the songs they write.  So once I became a fan, I became a fan for life.

But it wasn't until the spring of 1997, after the release of the Pop album that I finally had the chance to see U2 live.  A friend and I travelled to Dallas, TX and caught the Popmart show at the Cotton Bowl.  I saw another show (with 3 of my cousins) on that tour in San Antonio later that year.  And then, in 2001, my cousin Brent and I drove down to Houston and saw Bono and the boys play on the Elevation tour in what used to be called the Compaq Center (this is now the home of Joel Osteen and his megachurch - Bono broke it in for Joel!).  A few months later, I introduced Juli to the U2 live experience at the Frank Erwin Center in Austin.  She was impressed.

We had tickets to the Houston show in 2005, but I sold them and made a handsome profit in the process.  I still kind of regret doing that, but it was probably the smart thing to do at the time.  I was already in trouble for buying Longhorn season tickets that year!  Then on October 12, 2009, my cousin Brent and I had got right up close to the stage for the 360 show in what is now called AT & T Stadium in Arlington.  Juli would have joined us that evening, but she was only 8 days away from giving birth to Ashlyn! 

So I've had the privilege of attending 5 U2 concerts on 3 different tours over the past 20 years.  This Friday, Lord willing, I'll attend my 6th.  And with this being the 30 year anniversary tour of The Joshua Tree, I'm especially excited to see and hear the sights and sounds as U2 play their most ambitious record live in its entirety.  The show will be in Louisville, KY, so it will also afford me the chance to go on a road trip, or one might say, a pilgrimage of sorts.  As Larry Mullen Jr. remarked in the film, Rattle & Hum, "It's a musical journey."  So it is! - Shay 

Thursday, May 25, 2017

The Epic Narrative of New Creation


“In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth, the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while the Spirit of God swept over the face of the waters.  Then God said, ‘Let there be light; and there was light.  And God saw that the light was good; and God separated the light from the darkness.” (Gen 1:1-4)

Thus, the epic narrative of creation begins.  The story of creation will twist and turn, with ups and downs, highs and lows, and a good few diversions and dead ends along the way.  In fact, just a few verses after the journey begins, we read the first account of the fall.  And then the next, and the next, and the next.  From Genesis chapters 3-11, humanity – all human beings - not just one couple in a garden, fall by taking their eyes off of their good creator and fixing them on themselves and the rest of creation.  This idolatry leads to more and more de-relational and de-creational sin. 

Though sinful humanity rebels against him, God doesn’t give up on mankind or his creation.  He sets in motion a rescue operation, whereby humankind and the creation will be set free from sin and decay.  Beginning with the call of Abraham, the Lord creates a people for himself, a people through whom all of the nations of the earth will find blessing.  But the story of Israel is itself fraught with sin and rebellion.  Kings and prophets are sent, without much long-term impact, and as time goes by, it becomes obvious that God will have to act in a new and dramatic way to reverse the curse of sin and destruction unleashed upon his wonderful world. 

The writings found in the prophet Isaiah look forward to a time when things will begin to work right again.  This new age is described in a variety of ways.  In Isaiah 11, we read,  “A shoot shall come out from the stump of Jesse, and a branch shall grow out of his roots…He shall not judge by what his eyes see, or decide by what his ears hear; but with righteousness he shall judge the poor, and decide with equity for the meek of the earth…The wolf shall live with the lamb, the leopard shall lie down with the kid…and a little child shall lead them…They will not hurt or destroy on all my holy mountain; for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea.” (Isaiah 11:1-9). 

Later on, Isaiah goes onto say in chapters 25 & 26, “On this mountain the Lord of hosts will make for all peoples a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wines, of rich food filled with marrow, of well-aged wines strained clear.  And he will destroy on this mountain the shroud that is cast over all peoples, the sheet that is spread over all nations; he will swallow up death forever.  Then the Lord God will wipe away the tears from all faces, and the disgrace of his people he will take away from all the earth…Your dead shall live, their corpses shall rise.  O dwellers in the dust, awake and sing for joy!  For your dew is a radiant dew, and the earth will give birth to those long dead.”  (Isaiah 25:6-8 & 26:19).

About ten chapters later, Isaiah says this, “Strengthen the weak hands, and make firm the feeble knees.  Say to those who are of a fearful heart, ‘Be strong, do not fear!  Here is your God.  He will come with a vengeance, with terrible recompense.  He will come and save you.’  Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf unstopped; then the lame shall leap like a deer, and the tongue of the speechless sing for joy.” (Isaiah 35:3-6). 

Eventually, in Isaiah 65 and 66, this transformed reality is described as new heavens and a new earth.  “For I am about to create new heavens and a new earth; the former things shall not be remembered or come to mind…for I am about to create Jerusalem as a joy, and its people with delight…no more shall the sound of weeping be heard in it, or the cry of distress…They shall build houses and inhabit them; they shall plant vineyards and eat their fruit…The wolf and the lamb shall feed together, the lion shall eat straw like the ox…They shall not hurt or destroy on all my holy mountain, says the Lord.  Thus says the Lord: Heaven is my throne and the earth is my footstool…They shall bring all your kindred from all the nations as an offering to the Lord…and I will take some of them as priests and as Levites, says the Lord.  For as the new heavens and the new earth, which I will make, shall remain before me, says the Lord; so shall your descendants and your name remain.  From new moon to new moon, and from sabbath to sabbath, all flesh shall come to worship before me, says the Lord.” (Isaiah 65:17-25, 66:1, & 66:20-23).

There are other Old Testament passages that say similar kinds of things, but
Isaiah gives us a pretty good idea of what many Jews of the 1st Century were expecting when the Kingdom of God would finally come and God’s will would finally be done on earth, as in heaven. 

The writer of the gospel of John paints a portrait of new creation for us through his seven signs.  The seven signs demonstrate that what Isaiah’s prophesy anticipated, was beginning to take place through the life and ministry of Jesus.  The abundant wine of Isaiah 25 is alluded to in John 2 when Jesus turns water to wine.  The healing of the official’s son in John 4, the healing of the lame man in John 5, and the healing of the blind man in John 9 remind us of the restoration to health that Isaiah 35 anticipates.  The feeding of the five thousand in John 6 points to God’s feast described in Isaiah 25.  When Jesus comes to his disciples, walking on the water in John 6, echoes of Isaiah 35’s description of God coming to save his people reverberates in one’s mind.  And just as Isaiah 25 and 26 look forward to a time when death is swallowed up forever and the earth gives birth to those long dead, so Lazarus’ resurrection in John 11 points to a day when the dead in Christ will rise to eternal life. 

The fact that seven signs are selected to awaken faith in Jesus the Messiah, the Son of God, looks back to the Genesis story of the seven days of creation.  But the gospel of John retells this story with a twist.  This isn’t just the old creation story, this is the story of new creation – the new heavens and the new earth that Isaiah 65 and 66 point us to.  We discover in John 1:51 that Jesus is the ladder, the bridge between heaven and earth.  Just as the temple had been the place where heaven and earth came together in Israel’s history, now Jesus is the place where heaven and earth unite.  In 1:46, the writer of John’s gospel invites us to come and see…come and see this story of new creation.   

One can’t escape the clear echo of Genesis chapter 1 in John 1:1-5.  “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.  He was in the beginning with God.  All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being.  What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people.  The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.”

Just as the Spirit hovered over the primeval waters of chaos in Genesis 1, so the Spirit descends upon the baptismal waters of Jesus in John 1:32-34. 

After passing through the seven signs mentioned earlier, we arrive at the climax of the gospel in chapter 19.  On the sixth day of Jesus’ Passover week, his dead body is taken down from the cross, and he rests on the Sabbath, the seventh day, in a garden tomb.  So, it’s no surprise that after Jesus rises from the dead on the eighth day, the first day of the new creation, Mary confuses Jesus for the gardener.  In John 20, we find ourselves back in the garden, back in Genesis, but this is a new genesis story, a story of regeneration.  As God breathed the breath of life into the man in Genesis 2, so Jesus breathes on his disciples and they receive the Holy Spirit in John 20:21-22.  The writer of the fourth gospel wants us to see that in the person of Jesus - through his life, death, and resurrection - God’s new creation has been launched.  The new creation has broken in, but it has yet to come to completion. 

We are living between the times, in the already, but not yet.  We live in the overlap of two ages – the present evil age, and the age to come, when God will renew, restore, and recreate all things.  Another John, John the prophet caught a glimpse of what that day will be like in the writing that we call Revelation.  He describes what he saw in Revelation 21. “Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more.  And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband.  And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘See, the home of God is among mortals.  He will dwell with them; and they will be his peoples, and God himself will be with them; he will wipe every tear from their eyes.  Death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more, for the first things have passed away.’  And the one who was seated on the throne said, ‘See, I am making all things new.’  Also he said, ‘Write this, for these words are trustworthy and true.’  Then he said to me, ‘It is done!  I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end.  To the thirsty I will give water as a gift from the spring of the water of life.  Those who conquer will inherit these things, and I will be their God and they will be my children.” (Revelation 21:1-7).

When God’s recreation of the cosmos is complete, he will dwell with us and we will be his people – living, worshiping, reigning and serving in his presence forever.  But, for those of us in Christ, God’s Spirit already dwells within us.  As the apostle Paul says in 2 Corinthians 5:17, if anyone is in Christ, there is new creation.  We don’t have to wait until Jesus returns to live meaningful, worthwhile lives.  There’s no reason for us to live our lives bound by the death and decay of the old creation - we don’t have to live lives of sin and slavery - we are free to live lives rooted in the new creation - now.  Eternal life, abundant life, begins when we rise from the waters of baptism and will continue when we rise from the dead in the age to come.  And it won’t be long until our King returns and the new creation is finally brought to completion.  John’s revelation ends like this... “The one who testifies to these things says, ‘Surely I am coming soon.’  Amen.  Come, Lord Jesus!  The grace of the Lord Jesus be with all the saints.”  (Revelation 22:20-21). - Shay

Monday, May 15, 2017

The Gateway Into the Age to Come

One of the most personal and moving stories in the gospels is that of Lazarus and his resurrection in John 11.  In this short narrative we see the fully human Jesus and his intimate relationship with the family of Mary, Martha, and Lazarus.  Jesus learns of Lazarus' illness and eventual death, but chooses to remain distant, rather than rush to Bethany.  When he finally does arrive, Lazarus has already been dead for four days and his stinking flesh is rotting in a tomb.

As Jesus approaches those mourning, Lazarus' sister, Martha, comes out to meet Jesus and says, "Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died."  Martha's sister, Mary, repeats this phrase to Jesus a few moments later, though, from a much more deferential posture.  "Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died."  Whole sermons have been and should continue to be preached on John 11:35 - "Jesus wept" - but it's also interesting to note the response of the other Jews near the scene in verses 36-37 of the text.  "So the Jews said, 'See how he loved him!'  But some of them said, 'Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man have kept this man from dying?'" 

This is a universal question.  We all have or will ask this question at some point.  "Why couldn't the Lord have prevented _________ from dying?"  Why my grandmother or my grandfather?  Why my friend?  Why my mother, my father, my brother or my sister?  Why my wife, my husband, my son or my daughter?  Why them?  And more pointedly, why now?  We can identify with Martha and Mary.  "Lord, if you had been here, ________ would not have died!"

Death is inevitable for all of us.  It's not a matter of if, but when.  But the writer of the gospel of John wants to share an antidote for death with his readers.  That antidote is resurrection, and resurrection is one of the major themes in his gospel. 

The mainstream Jewish view of the eschaton (end times) featured the bodily resurrection of God's people.  John's gospel is in step with this theology as he records Jesus' affirmation of the resurrection as the gateway into the age to come.  Jesus even affirms that his own voice will signal the final resurrection of the dead.  Let's read together John 5:25-29, "Very truly, I tell you, the hour is coming, and is now here, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who hear will live.  For just as the Father has life in himself, so he has granted the Son also to have life in himself; and he has given him authority to execute judgment, because he is the Son of Man.  Do not be astonished at this; for the hour is coming when all who are in their graves will hear his voice and will come out - those who have done good, to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil, to the resurrection of condemnation."

The writer of John's gospel presents much of his teaching on the meaning of Jesus through 7 signs.  The sign of the resurrection of Lazarus is the 7th, and most significant of the signs, but the 1st sign is also important as it relates to resurrection.  Have you ever noticed how the 1st sign, the sign of Jesus turning water to wine begins?  John 2:1 says this.  "On the third day there was a wedding in Cana of Galilee..."  I believe something else of significance happened on the third day!  This is no accident.  If you read further in John 2, after Jesus turns the water to wine, you will notice that John tells the story of Jesus cleansing the temple much earlier than the 3 synoptic gospels.  In John's gospel, Jesus cleanses the temple near the beginning of his ministry, whereas in Matthew, Mark, and Luke, Jesus doesn't perform this act until the last week of his life.  Jesus did not cleanse the temple twice.  John has simply rearranged the chronology for theological purposes, namely to link the cleansing of the temple to this 1st sign.  Notice the interaction between Jesus and his opponents after he shuts down the temple operations.

"The Jews then said to him, 'What sign can you show us for doing this?'  Jesus answered them, 'Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.'  The Jews then said, 'This temple has been under construction for forty-six years, and will you raise it up in three days?'  But he was speaking of the temple of his body.  After he was raised from the dead, his disciples remembered that he had said this; and they believed the scripture and the word that Jesus had spoken.'" (John 2:18-22).

By linking the 1st sign of turning water to wine with the cleansing of the temple, and with Jesus then linking the cleansing of the temple with his own resurrection, the writer of John's gospel is alerting the reader to one of his major themes.  He wants us to see that the story he is telling is the story of resurrection. 

As one continues through the gospel and the other signs, eventually one is brought to the 7th sign and the story of the resurrection of Lazarus.  The 7th sign points to where this story has been going from the beginning, to the ultimate resurrection - Jesus' own eternal resurrection from the dead. 

But let's leave Lazarus in the tomb for a little while so that we can overhear an important conversation between Jesus and Lazarus' sister Martha.  This conversation points even beyond Jesus' resurrection to the bodily resurrection of all who will put their faith in him.

"When Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went and met him, while Mary stayed at home.  Martha said to Jesus, 'Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.  But even now I know that God will give you whatever you ask of him.'  Jesus said to her, 'Your brother will rise again.'  Martha said to him, 'I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.'  Jesus said to her, 'I am the resurrection and the life.  Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me, will never die.  Do you believe this? '  She said to him, 'Yes, Lord, I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, the one coming into the world.'"

Of course, Jesus does call Lazarus out from the tomb, still wrapped in the burial cloths.  He was raised from the dead, but his death was not an eternal resurrection.  The body which came out of the tomb on that day eventually died again.  Nevertheless, his resurrection is the gospel of John's second most important sign and points to Jesus' own resurrection, the ultimate sign of who Jesus is.  Jesus is the resurrection and the life - no one comes to the Father but through him.

Lazarus' resurrection not only points to Jesus' resurrection, but it also points to our future hope of resurrection.  And just as springtime and Easter reminds us of the resurrection of the Son of God, it should also remind us that one day, God will give eternal life to all who have put their trust in Jesus.  That eternal life will begin with the bodily resurrection from the dead.  Resurrection is the gateway into eternal life in the age to come in the renewed creation. 

G.K. Chesterton's poem The Convert captures some of these ideas well.

After one moment when I bowed my head
And the whole world turned over and came upright,
And I came out where the old road shone white.
I walked the ways and heard what all men said,
Forests of tongues, like autumn leaves unshed,
Being not unlovable but strange and light;
Old riddles and new creeds, not in despite
But softly, as men smile about the dead

The sages have a hundred maps to give
That trace their crawling cosmos like a tree,
They rattle reason out through many a sieve
That stores the sand and lets the gold go free;
And all these things are less than dust to me
Because my name is Lazarus and I live.

For those of us who have placed our lives in the hands of the one who died and rose again, may we never lose heart, because our future is bright.  Our hope - through Jesus - is resurrection. - Shay


Monday, May 8, 2017

Intimately Involved

Many are unaware of this, but the book of Genesis actually provides us with two different creation accounts.  In the first story (Gen 1:1-2:3), we catch a glimpse of the all-powerful, transcendent God of creation.  He's the God who speaks everything into existence.  Even humanity is spoken into existence by his powerful word.  God speaks, and creation is.

Then, if we read on, we discover a different perspective on creation.  In the second account, we see a different side to this God.  Whereas the first creation narrative stresses God's transcendence, the second story emphasizes his immanence.  In Genesis 2:4 and following we see a God who is near.  This God is the God who gets his hands dirty.  He forms the man out of the dust and breathes into his nostrils the breath of life.  The Genesis 2 creation story provides us with a much more intimate portrait of God. 

We need both perspectives to truly understand the God that we serve.  We need to know that he is all powerful and that he is the creator of everything, but we also need to see that he desires to be intimately involved with his creation.  We especially need to see that God desires to be intimately involved with the crowning achievement of his creation - human beings.  God not only created everything, he created humanity to live in relationship with him.

This God is my God and he created me, individually.  Though our modern world tends to focus too much on the individual, there is a Biblical basis for highlighting the importance of each human being.  God not only desires a relationship with all of his people collectively, he also desires a relationship with all of us individually.  In fact, God was intimately involved in our very formation.  He "knit us together in our mother's womb." 

I remember, nearly 8 years ago, standing in the doctor's office and staring up at a TV screen during Juli's sonogram.  I remember seeing our daughter Ashlyn's black and white form on the screen as she grew and developed within the security of her mother's womb.  A line from Psalm 139 was stuck on a repeat loop in my mind, "I am fearfully and wonderfully made."  The Psalmist writes this line because he's aware that God knows him far better than he even knows himself. 

"For it was you who formed my inward parts;
you knit me together in my mother's womb.
I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.
Wonderful are your works;
That I know very well. 
My frame was not hidden from you,
when I was being made in secret,
intricately woven in the depths of the earth.
Your eyes beheld my unformed substance.
In your book were written all the days that were formed for me,
when none of them yet existed.
How weighty to me are your thoughts, O God!
How vast is the sum of them!
I try to count them - they are more than the sand;
I come to the end - I am still with you." (Psalm 139:13-18, NRSV).

The God who created all of the amazing landscapes - from the Atlantic seaboard to the Pacific coast...the God who created the Great Plains and the Rocky Mountains...the God who created the lush landscapes of Ireland and Scotland, as well as the deserts of the Sahara and Arabia...the God who created the rainforests in Asia and South America, is the same all powerful and amazing artist who breathed the breath of life into our nostrils.  He's intimately involved in all of our lives.  He has a plan for his creation and he has a plan for each one of us within his creation.  God is not only the creator of the cosmos, he's also the sustainer of the world.  And he's providentially involved in each one of our lives.  Psalm 139 helps us to know our God.  But even more so, Psalm 139 reminds us that our God intimately knows us!  We can say the amen with the Psalmist - we are indeed, fearfully and wonderfully made. - Shay

Monday, May 1, 2017

The Top Ten Spiritual Disciplines

Discipline is a bad word in our modern world.  Probably since the Romantic movement, the idea of perspiration, rather than inspiration, seems inauthentic, or perhaps, even phony.  And yet, we all know that most worthwhile things in life, require time, effort, practice, and yes, discipline. 

We've all seen poorly disciplined children create havoc and headaches for those they torment.  A poorly disciplined sports team gets beat - a lot (see the Texas Longhorns football team and Arsenal football club).  Those with no financial discipline suffer the consequences.  An undisciplined person who eats poorly and refuses to exercise, usually looks worse, feels worse, and quite often, lives a shorter and less healthy life.  Smart kids typically do well in school, but disciplined kids often excel in the academic world.  I could go on and on and on.  But I won't.  You get it - discipline is important.

Okay, I'll go on just a little more.  Even in the world of the arts, discipline plays a crucial role.  The writer, the painter, and the musician spend hours and hours working at their craft.  In fact, it's been said that most skills in life take at least 10,000 hours of practice before one becomes competent in a given field. 

But for some strange reason, when it comes to spirituality, discipline is not looked upon as favorably as it is in many other arenas of life.  I think that there is an assumption that in spiritual matters, inspiration far outweighs perspiration (once again, the Romantic movement, as well as some post-Reformation thinking contributes to this view). 

But anyone who has had a long and strong relationship with Jesus will confirm that practicing spiritual discipline is essential for growth in one's knowledge, understanding, and application of the Christian faith.  However, practicing the spiritual disciplines is more of an art, than a science.  There are a variety of disciplines to engage in and a variety of ways to engage those disciplines.  Here's a short list of some common spiritual disciplines that have been practiced over the past 2,000 years.  In fact, let's just make a Top 10 List... 

1. Prayer
2. Bible Study
3. Worship
4. Confession
5. Mediation
6. Solitude
7. Community Life
8. Service
9. Fasting
10. Silence

One could add several other disciplines to this list, and one could of course put this list into a different order.  Which disciplines do you find the most helpful?  Which ones would you add to this list?  Are there any you would take away?  How can the body of Christ grow collectively and individually in our practice of the spiritual disciplines?  Talk amongst yourselves... - Shay
 

Thursday, February 23, 2017

I Will Walk on Irish Soil Again

One year, seven months, twenty-three days, and twelve hours ago, Juli, Ashlyn, and I left Dublin, Ireland to resume our lives in the USA.  Throughout the nearly twenty months since, I've been flooded with fond memories of the people there who touched our lives, and of the place that left an indelible mark on my mind.  Because of our Irish sojourn, we will never be the same. 

We love Burleson, TX, but we miss Dublin too.  I miss hillwalks on Howth, and pretty much, hillwalks everywhere in Ireland.  In fact, I miss walking all around Dublin's Fair City.  I miss those rich conversations with friends over coffee (or other black beverages).  I miss the trad (and other kinds of) music and the sense of community that forms at gigs, sessions, and concerts.  I miss the passion experienced while watching a big football (soccer) match in a pub with other fanatics.  I miss train trips across the country and even DART trips across Dublin.  I miss the buses and the Luas, as well as driving on the winding country lanes and roads.  I miss the energy of Dublin City Centre. 

I miss the faith conversations at Dublin Coffee Shop Bible Study and Theology on Tap.  I miss worshiping with brothers and sisters at Ranelagh Christian Church.  And most of all, I miss the organic worship and Bible study with North Dublin Christian Community. 

Though I miss all of these things and all of these people, in a little less than 33 hours, Lord willing, I will walk on Irish soil again.  This trip will be short, but I pray that it will simply be the first trip of many over the next few months and years.  May the road rise to meet me... - Shay       

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

David Worley


I first met David Worley in September of 2002.  My wife Juli and I had just moved to Austin so that I could attend Austin Graduate School of Theology.  After placing membership at Brentwood Oaks Church of Christ, Juli and I attended a welcome meeting for new members in the chapel on a Wednesday evening.  David Worley was the “shepherd of the month”, so he sat down with us and another new member to share Brentwood’s story and to answer any questions that we might have.  I don’t remember much of what he said that evening, but I do remember coming away aware that David had a strong Christian faith and that he was passionate about the church.

A year later, after Brentwood’s youth minister left, Juli and I were approached by the BOCC elders about the possibility of filling in on an interim basis.  David was the first elder to speak with us about this possibility, and after we initially turned it down, David and Rayford Walker met with us again and convinced us to give it a shot.  In truth, I didn’t feel prepared to take on the responsibility, but David and Rayford reassured us that God often calls those who least expect it.  He even quoted Robbie Burns, “And would some power give us the gift, to see ourselves as others see us!  It would from many a blunder free us.” 

My part-time interim position with Brentwood eventually evolved into a full-time role and I was blessed to serve as youth minister for seven years.  Throughout that time, I met with David and Rayford numerous times, often at David’s office, otherwise known as Texspresso.  I sometimes would receive one line, or even one word emails from David while he was traveling in such far-flung places as Asia and Russia.  I had to work to decipher the exact meaning of these enigmatic messages, but I usually figured it out before too long.  In our elder’s/minister’s meetings, David was always a calming presence.  He was quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to anger.  So, whenever he did speak, it was always worth a listen.  Over a decade ago, when our youth center was badly in need of a remodel, David was instrumental in making sure that it got done. 

David was in fact instrumental in numerous good works around the world – too many to count – too many to mention.  In 2011, while Juli, Ashlyn, and I were living in Dublin, Ireland, I received an email from him with one simple question.  “What’s your address?”.  I figured, if he’s not in Ireland already, he will be soon.  Sure enough, a few days later, a taxi dropped David to our door.  He didn’t stay long, only a couple of hours, but those two hours were an encouragement to me and my family.  David had taken time out of a business trip to London to pop over to Dublin to encourage and exhort us to remain faithful in our work.  I was always confident that David was faithful in supporting us and our work through prayer to the Father. 

When we returned home from Dublin in the summer of 2015, it was disappointing to discover that David was battling cancer.  We only saw him a couple of times after that, but he remained in our prayers until the end.  Just a few weeks ago, I learned that one of my cousins has cancer.  I emailed David and he graciously emailed me back with some helpful information.  To the very end, he showed care and concern for others.  David will be missed, but his legacy lives on.  And we can all look forward to seeing him again in the age to come. – Shay

Saturday, February 11, 2017

The Center of it All...

I'm so thankful for the hope and optimism that children bring to this world!  Even when they realize that the world is not a perfect place, they still seem to exude a positive attitude in the face of strife and difficulty.  The future is overflowing with possibilities in the mind of a child.  And their innocence brings joy in the midst of cynicism.

I've learned a lot from my daughter Ashlyn the past 7 & 1/2 years.  And I was reminded of a truth last Sunday evening.  Before kissing her goodnight, we typically read a couple of stories (one being a Bible story) and pray.  On this night, instead of reading a Bible story, I thought I would talk to her about what she learned in Sunday school.  I've done this sort of thing on many occasions, and normally Ashlyn can tell me exactly what the story was about.  However, on this evening, her mind could not recall the exact details of the story.  To try to prompt her, I asked, "Was the story about Jesus, or was it from the Old Testament?"  Her response was, "Of course it was about Jesus, it was a Bible story."  Duh!  I should not have needed to be reminded of that.  The whole Bible, Old and New Testament, is ultimately about Jesus!

The apostle Paul believed this to be true.  He writes in Colossians "He (Jesus Christ) is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation; for in him all things in heaven and on earth were created, things visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or powers - all things have been created through him and for him.  He himself is before all things, and in him all things hold together.  He is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, so that he might come to have first place in everything.  For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, by making peace through the blood of his cross." (1:15-20, NRSV).

The Son was there in the beginning, he entered into space and time in the man Jesus in the middle, and he'll be there when heaven and earth are reconciled in the new creation.  So as Ashlyn reminded me, "God's mystery, that is, Christ himself" (Col 2:2), is splattered across the pages of the entire Biblical narrative.  As Paul says in 2 Corinthians 1:20, "In him (Jesus) every one of God's promises is a 'Yes'"!

This is good news for me right now (and always).  I've been stressed out the past several weeks for a number of reasons.  I've felt the kind of stress that disturbs your sleep, gnaws at your gut, and gets into your bones.  I know that this too will pass, but in the meantime, I need to see the world through the eyes of a child and I need to be reminded of Paul's words in Romans 8:31 and ff, "What then are we to say about these things?  If God is for us, who is against us?  He who did not withhold his own Son, but gave him up for all of us, will he not with him also give us everything else?...Who will separate us from the love of Christ?  Will hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?...No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us .  For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord."  Thank you Lord. - Shay

Monday, January 30, 2017

For the Alien...

I usually steer away from blatant partisan politics.  I don't mind discussing political ideas on an issue by issue basis, but you won't find me rooting for politicians, much less political parties like I cheer on the Horns and Arsenal FC.  As a sports fan, I pull for my team regardless of who is coaching or how well we are doing.  When people align themselves to specific politicians or political parties, it can sometimes distort their perspective and they fail to criticize their man, woman, or party.

It is my opinion that Christians are best served by political independence.  If they choose to vote, they should vote based on their convictions arising out of their faith, but they should always be willing to criticize the poor policies and actions of any elected official, whether they voted for them or not.  Equally, they should be quick to applaud the strong decisions made by those for whom they did not vote.

Having lived overseas for 6 & 1/2 years, I feel like I have a unique perspective on things both inside and outside of the United States.  One of the things that continues to frustrate me about American culture is its insularity.  I cringe when I hear people say things like, "The US is the greatest country in the world."  Many of the people I've heard say this have never visited another country, much less lived in one.  Every country in the world has its fair share of flaws, as well as its beauty and strengths.  I find it incredibly disturbing to think that so many American Christians spend time praying for our nation and then fail to pray for the nations of the world.

Throughout the Biblical story, God has always held a soft spot for the widows, the orphans, and the aliens.  God longs for his people to give a voice to those without a voice.  Often, the outsiders are the ones closest to God's heart.  I have probably not been as aware of those on the margins as I should have been in the past, although I have reached out from time to time.  I have testified in immigration court on behalf of a friend who was granted political asylum in this country based on my testimony.  And yes, he is from one of the countries on the present ban list.  When in Ireland, we befriended dozens and dozens of immigrants, as well as the local Irish.  Juli and I offered to take in a teenage asylum seeker from a Muslim country a few years back (a country also on the present ban list).  He declined our offer because he would have lost some of his state benefits, like medical care had he taken us up on our offer.  He eventually was granted asylum and is living a productive life in Ireland.  I say this, not to blow my own horn, but to let the reader know that though I am not a "Mother Teresa" as it relates to this issue, I have had the opportunity to interact with some beautiful people from some beautiful places in the world and God has blessed me and my family through those encounters.  All humanity has been created in the image of God.

My Christian convictions do not allow me to support the recent executive actions of my president.  I will not allow fear to overcome my faith.  If Christians really believe what we claim to believe, then we should not cower in a corner, but we should be the first to provide a voice for the widow, the orphan, and yes, the alien.  I love John's vision toward the end of Revelation where the nations stream into the new Jerusalem in the renewed creation.  "And the city has no need of sun or moon to shine on it, for the glory of God is its light, and its lamp is the Lamb.  The nations will walk by its light, and the kings of the earth will bring their glory into it.  It's gates will never be shut by day - and there will be no night there.  People will bring into it the glory and the honor of the nations." (Rev 21:23-26, NRSV).

If this is what God's will being done on earth as it is in heaven looks like, then as God's people we have a responsibility to work for that reality in the here and now.  Let's not just pray those words, but let's put those words into action.  And if we do it, I believe we'll meet some beautiful people along the way. - Shay


Monday, January 16, 2017

The God Who Will Act Again

As recently as 50 years ago, families were spending thousands of dollars constructing underground bomb shelters to protect them and their closest neighbors from an impending nuclear holocaust.  There was widespread fear of a Soviet dominated communist world.  This period in history was marked by conflicts in Korea, Cuba, and Viet Nam.  In American schools, children were instructed in the fine art of what to do in case of an ICBM strike.  It’s humorous to think of children crawling under their desks in such a scenario – as if that would protect them from nuclear fallout!  A couple of decades later, the Cold War was still a reality.  The movie industry made money from Cold War themes, creating films like Red Dawn, Rambo, and Rocky IV.  In hindsight, these films seem silly to us now.  But at the time, the fears and anxieties that spawned these cinematic adventures were real and prevalent.  Some today feel like maybe we’re entering a new Cold War.  Time will tell.

          But let’s go back in time further than 50 years.  Let’s rewind to 2500 years ago.  God’s people, the Judeans remain in exile, while the nations of the near east are in a state of flux.  The Babylonian Empire is in free-fall.  Fear and anxiety is widespread.  A new global power has stepped onto the stage and it’s unclear what the geo-political landscape will look like when the dust finally settles.  As Cyrus, King of Persia makes his move and marches against the nations of the coastlands of the Caspian, Black, and Mediterranean Seas, the people tremble – they’re afraid – they try to encourage one another, but it does no good.  Most of the people have put their faith in gods that are not.  They’ve invested their future in idols – false gods who have no power to deliver them.  To get the full picture, let’s take a look at Isaiah 41:1-10. 

Listen to me in silence, O coastlands; let the peoples renew their strength; let them approach, then let them speak; let us together draw near for judgment.  Who has roused a victor from the east, summoned him to his service?  He delivers up nations to him, and tramples kings under foot; he makes them like dust with his sword, like driven stubble with his bow.  He pursues them and passes on safely, scarcely touching the path with his feet.  Who has performed and done this; calling the generations from the beginning?  I, the Lord am first, and will be the last.  The coastlands have seen and are afraid, the ends of the earth tremble; they have drawn near and come.  Each one helps the other, saying to one another, ‘Take courage!’  The artisan encourages the goldsmith, and the one who smooths with the hammer encourages the one who strikes the anvil, saying of the soldering, ‘It is good’; and they fasten it with nails so that it cannot be moved.  But you, Israel, my servant, Jacob, whom I have chosen, the offspring of Abraham, my friend; you whom I took from the ends of the earth, and called from its farthest corners, saying to you ‘You are my servant, I have chosen you and not cast you off’; do not fear, for I am with you, do not be afraid, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my victorious right hand.” (Isaiah 41:1-10, NRSV). 

           Why are the people of the coastlands so afraid as Cyrus makes his move?  Because they realize they don’t possess the military might to oppose the Persians.  And their idols are merely the creation of humans – they must be propped up by human means and human methods.  They nail down their idols so they won’t fall over in the middle of the night.  They try to pump each other up, saying to one another that their creations are good and they shall not be moved.  But God has seen this all before.  He was there in the beginning; he’s seen kingdoms rise and empires fall.  He’ll be there in the end.  He’s in the middle of the present as well.  Cyrus doesn’t know it, but it’s YHWH who’s behind his rise to power. 

          As the coastlands are in an uproar, as they tremble and quake, and call upon their gods who can’t even stand up on their own, Israel has no need to fear.  They’ve put their faith, not in their own creations, but in the God who created the cosmos out of nothing.  They’ve put their trust in one who’s delivered before in the Exodus, and who will deliver again through a man and an empire that doesn’t even call upon his Name.  Israel has nothing to fear because they are YHWH’s chosen servant; they’re a part of his plan.  They’re God’s instrument in bringing about the reconciliation of the nations.  God will not abandon his people.  He will strengthen them and allow them to share in his victory.  And that’s good news for a people who were told that their God was nothing – that their God could not deliver them.  That’s good news for a people who up until this point, didn’t seem to have much hope.  That’s good news for a people who’ve been in exile for 50 years. 

Looking back historically, we know that soon after these oracles were delivered – Cyrus, the Persian King allowed the exiles to return to Judea and rebuild their temple.  The God who had acted previously, had acted again! The God who acted then is still active in our world today.

          Though the fear of global communism is no longer present in our world, there are a lot of other concerns which cause a great deal of stress and anxiety in people.  As I mentioned earlier, there is a renewed fear in the potentiality of another Cold War with Russia.  Global terrorism has become a dangerous reality.  Not to mention, we are days away from a new, unproven president’s inauguration.  We are facing a lot of unknowns.

          And since the age of the Enlightenment, our world has offered any number of idols to deal with the problems people face.  People want something to put their trust in, but unfortunately, people far too often put their hope in things that ultimately cannot deliver.  Over the past 100 years, we’ve seen the rise and fall of the communist ideal.  After periods of recession and depression, we’ve been reminded that capitalism doesn’t solve all our economic problems either.  We’ve seen that military might doesn’t always make right.  The war to end all wars only led to more wars.  Technology was supposed to make our lives easier and more efficient, but people are busier today than ever – lives are chaotic and out of balance.  Science has discovered amazing things and has given humanity numerous benefits, but it has not created a perfect world.  And the materialist/reductionism which science spawned is merely a new kind of Pantheisitic idolatry – it’s a philosophy that claims that the only thing that’s real is what can be observed scientifically.  So people end up worshiping the laws of nature, rather than the creator of those laws.  Politics is still politics, need I say more? 
        Just like the old paganism, this neo-paganism isn’t about conforming to God’s will; it’s about creating a god who can be conformed to our will.  But there’s a problem with this sort of god – it’s only as powerful as we are and we soon find that we’re not nearly as powerful as we thought.  Human self-sufficiency has been found insufficient.  By now, it’s obvious that the age of reason didn’t solve all our problems, but neither will an age of so called post-modernity – an age of pluralism and moral relativism.  These new idols are no more persuasive or powerful than the old ones, because like the idols of old, these idols are propped up by human methods and as we have seen in history, they inevitably fall.

          We are at times tempted by the illusions of our modern idolatries.  On the one hand, we’re tempted to put our trust in these man-made institutions and on the other hand we’re discouraged as we look around and it seems as if God’s Kingdom isn’t really coming.  It seems that we’ve been in exile for far longer than 50 years and when we see the world through merely human eyes, things appear to be getting worse, not better.  But God has another word in all of this and it’s not simply a word of judgment, but also a word of grace.

          And this word of grace could only come to us from a God who is more powerful than we are – a God who is not bound by our circumstances – a God who can step into our lives from the outside and act on our behalf.  Hope in a dark world can only come to us from a God who can enter into space and time and make a difference.  This word of grace could only come to us from the God who revealed himself to us in the person of Jesus Christ.  He’s a God whom we didn’t bring down, but a God who has brought us up.  This is the message the church needs to be reminded of and this is the message that our world so badly needs to hear.

          The God and Father of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ is the personal God who was at work in the history of Israel.  And he’s the personal God who is still at work in our world today – in our past, in our present, and certainly in our future.  This God did not forget his promises to Abraham.  He did not forget his promises to the slaves in Egypt.  He did not forget his promises to David, or the Judean exiles.  And this God did not forget his promises to his own Son.  He did not abandon him to the grave and he will not abandon us either.  The God we know and serve isn’t a god of wood or stone.  He isn’t the god of Greek philosophical speculation.  He isn’t simply the god of Pantheism, or Deism, or reductionist materialism – He’s the God who has acted and will act again.  He will not abandon or cast off his people!

          For those of us who have put our trust in Jesus, through God’s grace, we have the opportunity and the responsibility to share this message.  On the one hand, we are to call our modern ideologies what they are always in danger of becoming – modern idolatries.  And on the other hand, we have the responsibility to share with a hurting world God’s message of grace.  Let’s remind ourselves once more of God’s word to his people.  “Do not fear, for I am with you; Do not anxiously look about you, for I am your God.  I will strengthen you, surely I will help you, Surely I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.”

          We encounter God’s word of grace as we embark on the year 2017.  We may all feel anxious as we face the unknowns of the weeks and months ahead.  And it may be that you’re personally coming to grips with some unknowns in your life as you begin this new year.  Maybe you’re facing financial problems – you may have issues at your work.  You may be dealing with family or marital problems.  Maybe you’re carrying emotional burdens.  It may be that you are in the midst of a health scare – some kind of illness, or medical problem that has arisen.  Whatever you may be facing, you can be sure that the God who acted on behalf of Abraham, the God who acted for the exiles in Judea, and the God who most clearly acted in the person of Jesus Christ will continue to act on your behalf - the God who acted before, will act again. - Shay