Jesus and the I AM—Part 1

Clouds _housetopGenesis 1:1 tells us that “in the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.” In Exodus 3:13-14, God is addressing Moses by way of a burning bush that is not consumed by the fire. God, the same One as in Genesis 1, is calling Moses back to his Hebrew people to proclaim that God will soon deliver them from Egyptian enslavement. Moses asks God whom should he say sent him, and God answers, “Thus you shall say to the children of Israel, ‘I AM sent me to you.’”

A few thousand years later Jesus and the Pharisees are embroiled in a heated exchange (John 8:13ff). This is a discussion with deep spiritual ramifications as the Light of Jesus and the darkness of Satan collide. The Pharisees are laying hold of the statement that Abraham is their father while at the same time proclaiming Jesus to be a liar. Jesus has proclaimed them to be of their father, the father of lies, Satan; while He then states the titanic phrase, “Before Abraham was, I AM” (John 8:58).

The Pharisees were so stunned and angered by this statement that they took up stones to throw at him. In essence, they were so incensed that they wanted to kill Him then and there. But what made them so angry?

The Pharisees were well aware that God proclaimed Himself to Moses as I AM. They also knew that this I AM was the very same God that created the heavens and earth. And now, standing in front of them was a carpenter in sandals calling Himself I AM. No, Jesus did not bluntly blurt that He was God. Instead, He made statements to this fact that include this exchange as well as the other six I AM statements. He also backed up this claim through His many miracles.

But think about this; how would you have responded if you were a Pharisee? How do you respond now? In John 11:25-26 Jesus tells Martha that “I AM the resurrection and the life. Whoever lives and believes in Me shall never die. Do you believe this?” This very same question applies to you and I today, do you, do I, believe this?

If we’re honest, this is a tough thing for us to grasp. Jesus understands that. One of the reasons why God came in the flesh, why this Emmanuel, God with us, came in human form, was so that we could begin grasping this. The creator of the heavens and the earth became man so that we could actually see Him, experience Him, and follow and have salvation faith in Him.

This leads us to begin considering the differences between eternal and infinite. But that will be Part 2 next week.

Prayer Bench & MRI Update

Bench

Just a quick note today. The picture depicts an extraordinary spot to sit and pray, ponder and contemplate. It is a spring that pops out of the ground in the interior part of Black Butte Ranch near the Paulina Pool complex. The brook really does babble over moss covered rocks and winds its way down a slope lined with tall pines, firs and aspens. I can’t help but praise God in such a glorious setting.

The wind whispering through the trees reminds me of Jesus talking with Nicodemus in John chapter three about the Holy Spirit. ‘Nic’ was pondering the idea of being born from above when Jesus stated, “The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit” (verse 8). I’m sure that left Nic scratching his head.

The brook and its soothing noise reminds me of being washed by the water of the Word (see Ephesians 5:26).  As I drink in the truth of Scripture I am being cleansed; sometimes the cleansing is through encouragement and sometimes through conviction.

Brook

I can go on, but I’ll wait to install other components of my “bench time” later.

To close, I want to say thank you for so much positive response on my MRI post last week. I was not expecting so much love and support. Reading through posts on my Facebook and blog site brought tears to my eyes—thank you all for your prayers and thoughts.

The MRI results do show considerable spinal degeneration but none needing another surgical intervention, thank God. My surgeon has said I need right elbow surgery to fix nerve impingement; but an elbow, while important, is not the spine!

Thank you again my friends and family, may God bless you with more of himself in your lives.

Church Fires and Ducks

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“Our church is on fire,” read the text. Janey got the same message. Incredulous, she went to the fount of breaking news, Facebook. There it was, posts from staff and even a reference to the local paper. Our church was indeed on fire. It had already been confirmed there were no injuries—praise God—but it was a three-alarm fire with firefighters from two different municipal jurisdictions, Salem and Keizer. When the smoke cleared, it was determined an upstairs wall-heater in a storage room had accidentally been turned on.

Just Hours Later

The insurance adjuster responded quickly and within hours of the blaze a professional cleaning company was on site with a swarm of workers and equipment. The building was not a total loss, but damage, especially from smoke, is extensive. The final tally is still undetermined, even after a week. Evidently smoke, when mixed with water vapor, turns into an acid and permeates any surface it possible can, drywall, carpeting, paint, computers, everything. Just cleaning up is a massive enterprise.

Yet we persevere. We recall God’s sovereignty and praise Him that passersby pounded on the church doors and called 9-1-1. We are thankful for quick and competent emergency responders. We pray blessing over their lives. We also start reflecting on what we need to learn though this.

Why? No, What!

Most of us are not asking God the ‘why’ question but the ‘what’ question: “What are we to learn from this?” Have we become too complacent? Too comfortable? To worldly? Maybe, maybe not.

What we do know, however, is that God is our refuge:

God is our refuge and strength,

A very present help in trouble.

Therefore we will not fear.

—Psalms 46:1-2a

We also know that our families, church and immediate, are intact and we are reminded that church is not a building or even a specific locale; church is people and relationships seeking Jesus together.

Ducks

Then the Ducks lost, actually, got thumped, in the national championship game. But what’s interesting is days before the game, their offensive coordinator, Scott Frost, told Fellowship of Christian Athletes something to the effect that when you are “all-in for God,” even if you lose, you won’t be shaken because your life is built on the Rock, Christ Jesus. Amen! (http://savingourfuture.com/2015/01/oregon-offensive-coordinator-scott-frost-god-first-video/).

I have been a life-long Duck fan (class of ‘84) and so was my father (class of ’58). We used to go to a lot of games in the ‘70s; we didn’t do much else together, but we did share Duck sports. So sometimes when I see them lose I also start to miss my dad a bit. Oh well, God is still God.

What’s the Point?

The point I’m rambling on about is God is the point, He is sovereign, He is trustworthy, and He will always be there through big stuff (church fires) and the little stuff (favorite teams losing and lost memories). Yes, we shouldn’t get too comfortable this side of Heaven, so maybe the disruption of these events are really to shake the dust off worshipping Jesus to then spark greater desire to move closer to Him.

Draw near to God and He will draw near to you.

Cleanse your hands, you sinners; and purify your hearts, you double-minded.

—James 4:8

Christmas Lessons and ‘Frankenflu’

tissues

Christmas is over and the family is suffering from a raging cold or flu thing—or a combo of both (I call it ‘coldenflu’, could also be ‘Frankenflu’). It is very hard to be cheery, to entertain and to be thankful when you have a fever, body aches, fog-brain and spontaneously explode in sudden bursts of coughing and sneezing. Eew!

But we got lots of neat stuff, which means we need to weed out the neat stuff from last year. We had fun times with family and friends, though I hope they don’t come down with this. The food, I’m told anyway, was great (I couldn’t taste it). The weather, while not a winter wonderland, was decent; so much so, that I could not resist the urge to put on my new pair of Asics to go for a short but wheezy run (which may explain why my recovery was slowed).

Who’s Will?

But the main lesson to be learned through all of this may be from the Book of James where it says “you ought to say, ‘If the Lord wills, we shall live and do this or that’” (4:15). We had everything planned out, even taking vacation at the same time; we were going to do fun family and church things then try to escape to Central Oregon for a few days. Instead, we barely slogged through the gatherings but come Christmas morning we were all feverish, hacking and coughing and worse. We are in no condition to travel far, except to the gym to sweat this out (I’m no longer contagious), and last night we all slept for 12 hours!

Perhaps the other glaring lesson, prominent by its absence, is the whole point of the season in the first place, celebrating the birth of our Lord and Savior. The new iPod took hours to set up due to a myriad of incompatibilities with Windows 8, at some point I need to clear out old clothes so I can safely store the new ones, but I am enjoying my new headphones—finally good quality sound not attached to squishy ear buds that always fall out of my ears.

But where’s Jesus? 

I don’t think we forgot Him; instead, what I am figuring out is my adoration of Him is not dependent on my carefully thought-through plans, or my fool-proof meal prep, or even my desire to be away in the mountain air for bouts of contemplative prayer; my adoration is more deeply forged in trials that make adoration that much more difficult—sickness. Do I still adore Jesus in my fever and chills? Do I still adore Jesus when my body aches so much I can’t sleep? Or do I just adore Him when my plans work out according to my will?

Well, I do still adore Jesus, but I will admit that this Christmas has been one of the most challenging ones for adoring Him. Yes, I admit that I had bouts of less than stellar thinking and of blaming and of frustration. Yet I felt His patient presence even in my valleys. Today I’m not tip-top by any stretch, but I feel recovered enough to understand this is temporary; sort of like our existence on earth. So while this Christmas is not one I ever want to repeat, I am thankful that Jesus is still Lord, still Savior, and still loving me; even in my shakiness, wavering, and general unpleasantness.

Birds of a Different Feather–What We Learn from the Birds

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“That whoever believes in Him should not perish.”

—Jesus, John 3:16

“One of the biggest problems in our families, churches, and missions is that we often insist that others think and judge in the same way we do.”

—Lingenfelter and Mayers, Ministering Cross-Culturally, p. 64

I enjoy this picture because we see different birds of different kinds and sizes all hanging out together on the same log. There’s no bickering, no pushing and shoving, just hanging out in the neighborhood. They’re not comparing the size of their beaks, the color of their feathers or what they consider to be their favorite dinners. They’re just hanging out together.

What about us? Are we like the birds? Are our churches like this log, where all who come feel welcome? Would Jesus even feel welcome or would we expect Him to be like us? Do we expect people to fit in our box or do we accept them as they come? Didn’t Jesus accept you and me as we once were? What if Jesus said instead, “Whoever is right-handed with blue eyes and a Southern accent will not perish?” Clearly implying everyone else is doomed in spite of their faith in Him.

But He didn’t say that then and He doesn’t say that now, but do we? Are we as accepting as Jesus? Are our arms as wide open as His?

Sure, it is often challenging to get to know someone that is different than us; most cultures gravitate to those like them because there’s a commonality and a shared heritage that we draw comfort from. We like what is familiar. But Jesus encourages us to expand our comfort zones. No, we don’t all have to go on a foreign mission, but we can introduce ourselves to the new person in the lobby, or the homeless person in rags at the food bank or to our neighbor that flies a flag of a rival sports team.

The ‘whoever’ Jesus is speaking about may be thousands of miles across the globe or may only be across the room; all you have to do is approach them in love and let the Holy Spirit guide your words. Who knows, you may be able to touch their heart, or…they may be able to touch yours.

Fog Lines and Parables: Guidance for Cyclists and Souls

ImageA 47-degree Friday morning and I’m on my bike. Turning north onto River Road I had to fight to stop second-guessing why I was doing this. Sunrise was at least 50 minutes away so I was riding solidly in the dark, cold and wind. My headlight is like a billion lumens and I had the LED tail light rippling its red brightness, sending the message, “Here I am, don’t kill me!”

All was good, except possibly my sanity.

Then I turned east on Quinaby and all was not so good. It’s an older country road with no shoulder and no fog line, which never seemed to matter during daylight rides. Coming down at me from the slope of the I-5 overpass was a set of car headlights in bright mode; these lumens must’ve been like a trillion because I couldn’t see. I was already fighting against watery eyes due to the chill wind and now I was riding blind; I literally couldn’t see the road. I knew I was somewhere near the edge, but with no fog line I couldn’t tell how close. If I rode off the edge I’d crash into a soggy gully which, considering I have a neck fusion, could cause me significant physical harm.

What do I do (aside from pray)? Only thing I could do was gravitate slightly to the middle of the road while hoping not to float into the direct path of Mr. Highbeams. Thankfully there was no one behind me, otherwise I probably would have just stopped and walked my bike to the edge; and nobody likes to stop in the middle of ride!

Mr. Highbeams passed and I breathed a thankful sigh of relief. Once my sight adjusted to the dark again I picked up my pace to get to the next road, it had a fog line. With a fog line I can ride faster and with more confidence. Several more roads ahead of me were even more countrified than Quinaby, no fog lines, narrower and riddled with cracks from seasons of baking and chilling through the years.

This got me thinking about guidance; because really, what is a fog line but guidance? It helps me see and stay on the right part of the road so I don’t fling myself into some gully or farmer’s field awaiting the blades of harvesters. What other guidance do I rely on? Well, my life is filled text books, health policies and the parables of Jesus. For instance, Jesus teaches us to help those in need regardless of how different or similar they are to us (Luke 10:30-37). He teaches us about forgiveness and mercy (Matthew 18:21-35). And He teaches us about being watchful (Mark 13:35-37).

Speaking of being watchful I hit yet another road without fog lines. But now the sun is shining in streaks of pink and orange through the patchy clouds gathering in the threat of a coming storm. It’s then I realize my body has been gripped in the tension that comes from knowing I have put myself in danger. Now as the light emerges, the danger passes and the tension drains.  Even though the ride was only 16 miles, I’m exhausted—but I’m alive!

Maybe I’ll get that indoor trainer after all.  

Herons Flock? Early Morning Cycling and God’s Surprises

001I glanced off to my right on one of my early morning rides. The sun had been up for about five minutes so when I looked right, I looked right into the sun (I totally forgot that right was also east). This two-lane country road was vacant except for a lone cyclist in a bright red jersey (that’d be me; I wanted to make sure bleary-eyed, under caffeinated drivers saw me). On each side of the road are large cow pastures. In the field on the right was a gigantic sprinkler with big earth-mover wheels. I think it runs off a big water pump in the center of one those round fields you usually only see from the air.

Anyway, standing in the misty spray was a lone and large Blue Heron. Or so I thought. I had to look again, because I love viewing wild life (the natural kind, I had enough of the other wild life as an undergrad—and what little I actually remember is more about mysterious bruises and pounding headaches). I’m fascinated by the bird’s long, slender neck and needle-like beak. Then I saw another one, then another and then…a whole bunch of them! About 20 were gathering in rather loose proximity to each other, apparently all of them basking in the swirling mist of the sprinkler heads. I always thought they were solitary birds. I would have stopped to take a picture but I didn’t want to slow the awesome momentum I had in my blistering pace of 18 mph (all right, I heard that snicker…so I’m not Jens Voight, but I do ride a Trek).

Later on, I told two of my colleagues about this as we were waiting for one of those dreary, late afternoon meetings. Neither of them believed me so they whipped out their smart phones in a race to ascertain the truth. It was sorta like a phone-on-phone High Noon scenario, I can just see Gary Cooper jangling in spinning spurs, whipping out his Android and….oops, I digress. Anyway, Susan won the race and found out that Herons occasionally flock in an effort to round up prey in a Heron-induced circle of breakfast. Apparently they eat rodents from time to time as well. Who knew (except early morning cyclists, and, of course, Google)?

Every now and then I run into one of these fascinating nuggets of discovery. This was something I would have never known had I not been cycling early in the morning. And as a person of faith I could only smile at God’s creativity with all the varieties and oddities of life right here in my own proverbial backyard.