Archive for February, 2009

No Turning Back

February 25, 2009

Margaret Thatcher left her mark on history as the conservative, no-nonsense Prime Minister of the United Kingdom from 1979 to 1990, the only woman to have held that position. She joined Ronald Reagan in fighting the Cold War and enacted free-market reforms in her beloved Britain. Her tough-talking style earned her the nickname “Iron Lady.”

Baroness Thatcher developed a “no turning back” commitment in her life. She entered office during a time of difficult economic decline. Sound familiar? Her solution was to reduce government intervention, stimulate free-markets and encourage entrepreneurism. It worked but not without a fight. During a 1980 Conservative conference, Thatcher said to her wavy political constituents, “You turn if you want to. The lady’s not for turning.”

Ruth, the young Moabite woman found in the genealogy of Jesus Christ in Matthew 1, was not for turning either. When faced with a crossroads in her life, she made a powerful commitment to her mother-in-law Naomi and to her God.

But Ruth replied, “Don’t urge me to leave you or to turn back from you. Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God my God. Where you die I will die, and there I will be buried. May the LORD deal with me, be it ever so severely, if anything but death separates you and me.” When Naomi realized that Ruth was determined to go with her, she stopped urging her. Ruth 1:16-18

You might have recited Ruth’s words at the marriage altar. Marriage is a “no turning back” commitment that a man and woman make to each other in the presence of God, family and friends. The bride and groom pledge their solidarity by vowing, “For better or for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish; from this day forward until death do us part.” Divorce is not an option for couples who adopt a “no turning back” commitment to their marriage.

Some say that America is at a crossroads as Great Britain once was. Will we maintain our commitment to the vision of the Founding Fathers? Will we choose to embrace the Judeo-Christian values that formed the foundation of our great nation? And what about our free-market economy and the entrepreneurial spirit that drives it? Will we shrink back from it and move toward socialism and more entitlements? Indeed, we are at a crossroads that requires commitment, tenacity and resolve.

More important than America’s future is a “no turning back” commitment to following Jesus. One day a man pledged to follow Jesus. However, first he wanted to go back and bid farewell to his family. Jesus replied, “No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for service in the kingdom of God” (Luke 9:62).

Do you possess a “no turning back” commitment to the Lord Jesus Christ? The lyrics to an old hymn say it well. “I have decided to follow Jesus. No turning back. No turning back.”

A Photomosaic Life

February 22, 2009

Robert Silvers is the artist who combined digital technology with photography to create what he calls Photomosaic art. What exactly is a Photomosaic? I’m glad you asked.

A Photomosaic is a big photograph that is actually made up of thousands of little photographs. From a distance you see the big picture, but it takes a closer examination to see the smaller pictures used to create art image.

Silvers invented his unique technology while he was a student at the MIT Media Lab. He dazzled the art world, has won numerous awards, and includes Mastercard, Disney and LIFE magazine among his corporate clients.

The National Gallery in London selected Silvers’ portrait of Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates for their “Painting of the Year” exhibit, highlighting influential art in the 21st century.

What does this have to do with a Moabite named Ruth and her story found in the Bible? Like a Photomosaic, the Book of Ruth is a little picture in a much bigger picture.

My friend Dr. Tom Builick taught me to always look for the upper and lower story in God’s word. By the upper story he meant the big picture of God’s redemptive plan. By the lower story he meant the more immediate tale in the text. The Bible is full of little stories that make up the much bigger story that is actually God’s story.

The upper story or big picture in Ruth shows how God’s redemptive plan unfolds through one more family, one more generation. The lower story or little picture is about a young Moabite woman named Ruth who marries Boaz, her kinsman redeemer. They give birth to a child who becomes the grandfather of King David, the line from which Messiah came.

It’s easy to get lost in the big picture and to conclude that our puny lives really don’t matter. But Ruth dispels that myth. Yes, God has grand plans and grand purposes that he will fulfill in the grandness of time and eternity. But Ruth helps me see how the little picture of my life fits into God’s big mosaic.

The Bible’s Ruth is part history book, romance novel, and theology of God’s grace. It starts with a famine and ends with the birth of a baby. It shows us how God works out his plan of redemption in spite of Israel’s spiritual anarchy. It’s a story within His Story. It reminds us that no life is insignificant. Even a poor peasant girl from Moab has a place in God’s story.

The Book of Ruth also reads like a romance novel. Everybody enjoys a good love story. This one doesn’t disappoint. A beautiful girl from Moab becomes a young widow when her husband dies unexpectedly. She moves to Bethlehem with her mother-in-law, Naomi, who is also a widow, albeit bitter because of her hard life. They are poor, so Ruth begins gleaning in the fields to put food on the table.

In those days, gleaning behind the harvesters was like standing in line for food stamps. Boaz, the owner of the field, notices Ruth. He is also her near kinsman, a relative. They fall in love and get married despite a complicated legal battle. Ruth and Naomi are redeemed from a life of poverty. Boaz and Ruth have a baby named Obed who becomes the grandfather of King David from whom the Messiah came. Ah, that’s what this story is all about.

Ruth is better than a Harlequin Romance and an important link to the lineage that leads to Messiah. She is one of four women to appear in the genealogy of Jesus Christ found in Matthew 1. The book also teaches us something about God. The providence of God and the grace of God are powerful themes that emerge from this beautiful story.

So, the next time you’re tempted to think your little life doesn’t matter, remember Ruth. Yours is a Photomosaic life too.

Does God Tweet?

February 13, 2009

If God joined twitter, I suspect more people would follow Him than @GuyKawasaki and @AlGore combined, but then again maybe not.

I follow people on twitter because I believe they might say something, in 140 characters or less, that is relevant to my life and ministry. Sometimes a link gives me the breakthrough I need. At any given moment a pithy quote captures my spirit. On most days simply feeling connected to a friend is enough to make me look forward to their next tweet. How much more should I read and follow God’s tweets.

The truth is God does more than communicate in 140 character increments. He speaks. He shouts. He announces. He proclaims. Sometimes He whispers. Yes, He sends messages through angels, prophets, priests and apostles, even His one and only Son. And no, He doesn’t need a new technology platform like twitter or Facebook or Ning to get his message across.

Long before social media emerged as a networking tool for personal and business reasons, God communicated the old fashioned way. He wrote a book with way more than 140 characters. The Book is actually 66 books within a book and penned by human authors who over 1600 years were moved by the Spirit of God to record Holy Writ. They used scrolls not twitter. I wonder how many tweets it would take to communicate God’s message in the Bible at the rate of 140 characters per tweet.

Far more important than me catching up on your latest tweets, or sending out a narcissistic twitpic of me standing in line at the Home Depot, is reading and absorbing the Word of God into my community-starved spirit.

Did I say community? Isn’t that what this explosion in social media is all about? We are starving for real connection in the digital age because we were created for community, hard-wired for connection. The one God in three persons who made us in His image enjoys perfect community as Father, Son and Holy Spirit. No wonder we are becoming twitter-holics.

Because all Scripture is inspired or God-breathed, all of it is relevant (2 Tim. 3:16). Nothing God says lacks relevancy. Every jot, tittle and tweet is worth reading, studying, pondering and applying to my life. It’s all part of a search that’s happening deep in the core of my being.

You might be wondering, “Does God follow my tweets?” Yes, he does. More than you can imagine. Jesus said, “But I tell you that men will have to give account on the day of judgment for every careless word they have spoken” (Matthew 12:36). Think about that. One of my followers did and replied, “If God tweeted, at least we know He’d be following everyone, regardless of whether they follow Him.”

So what are you waiting for? Follow the one true God not @FakeGod. Better yet, pick up a copy of his love tweets to you called the Bible and read it. You’ll never be the same if you choose to follow Him.

And for what it’s worth, don’t forget to follow me on twitter.

The Start of Something New

February 7, 2009

God loves to start new things. If you have any doubts about that, go to BibleGateway.com or some other Bible software that allows you to search by key words and type in the word new. And then read through the list of Scriptures that talk about the new things God is doing and be amazed. As I said, God loves to make new things. For example,

“Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.” Lamentations 3:22-23 NIV

“I will give them an undivided heart and put a new spirit in them; I will remove from them their heart of stone and give them a heart of flesh.” Ezekiel 11:19 NIV

“Yet those who wait for the Lord will gain new strength.” Isaiah 40:31 NAS

“See, I will make you into a threshing sledge, new and sharp with many teeth. You will thresh the mountains and crush them and reduce the hills to chaff.” Isaiah 41:15 NIV

“See, the former things have taken place, and new things I declare; before they spring into being I announce them to you.” Isaiah 42:9 NIV

“Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past. See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? Isaiah 43:18-19 NIV

“Honor the Lord with your wealth, with the firstfruits of all your crops; then your barns will be filled to overflowing, and your vats will brim over with new wine.” I love Proverbs 3:9-10 because it reminds us that when we put God first in our finances, he does something new. New wine begins to flow. New crops appear at harvest time. Hey, this sounds like a great way to stimulate the economy, doesn’t it?

“The time is coming,” declares the Lord, “when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah.” Jeremiah 31:31 NIV

“He put a new song in my mouth, a hymn of praise to our God.” Psalm 40:3 NIV

“Sing to the Lord a new song.” Psalm 96:1 NIV

There was something new and refreshing about Jesus’s ministry. Some embraced the newness while others did not. He spoke in practical tones about pouring “new wine into new wineskins” (Mark 2:22), gave his disciples a new command to “love one another” (John 13:34), and during a meal with his closest followers hours before his crucifixion he offered them a “new covenant in My blood” (Luke 22:20).

Do you need a fresh start in life? A second chance? The apostle Paul says that a follower of Jesus Christ is a “new creation” where “the old has gone, the new has come!” (2 Corinthians 5:17). The writer of Hebrews speaks of a “new and living way” found in Jesus (Hebrews 10:20).

Fast forward to the last book of the Bible and you’ll find John’s vision of the apocalypse including “a new heaven and a new earth” and Him who sits on the throne saying, “Behold, I am making all things new” (Revelation 21:5).

Whew! There’s more but that’s enough to get our juices flowing, don’t you think?

Most of us like new things. We get excited about new clothes, new cars, new houses and new furniture in our houses. Every day we have the opportunity to accept or reject new ideas, plans and visions.

Every four to eight years we elect a new president that provides new leadership through a new administration. New faces, new ideas, new promises and new policies flood our Nation’s Capitol. When the new leadership in Washington starts talking about new taxes everybody groans, except those who write the legislation but then don’t pay their taxes (sorry, I couldn’t resist).

Some of us enjoy meeting new people. The Joneses are getting to know some new neighbors who moved in across the street.

What does all this have to do with you? Ask yourself this question: what new thing is God up to in my life today? Start by embracing each new day as a gift from God and the start of something new.

Is Noah's Ark a Toy Story?

February 2, 2009

If Fisher Price was the last word on the subject, one would think Noah’s Ark was simply a cute children’s story or a fairy tale with a “happily ever after” ending. But thankfully Fisher Price is a toy manufacturer and we know the difference between toy stories and good theology, or do we?

What parent or grandparent has not visited Toys R Us and bought their toddler a plastic Noah’s Ark with a boat full of animals to enjoy? At the risk of sounding like Captain No-Fun, is there a danger in turning Noah’s Ark into a bathtub toy? Does the toy-making and the cartooning of the biblical story simply reinforce the skeptic’s belief that Noah’s Ark is a myth?

Churches are famous for creating Noah’s Ark themes for their children’s ministry, and why not? A boat full of animals is a kick for the kids and parents. Some parents bring their kids to church two by two making it double the fun. At check-in, parents learn that Johnny is in the lion’s room. Roarrrr. And Julie gets to hang with the pandas. How sweet.

However, did it ever occur to us that the story of Noah’s Ark is about a holy God who once brought catastrophic judgment upon all the evil people on the earth? God did this because “the LORD saw how great man’s wickedness on the earth had become, and that every inclination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil all the time.”(Genesis 6:5). To be true to Noah’s story, perhaps we should toss a few dead carcasses around the children’s ministry rooms. Maybe all the volunteers should dress up like disaster relief workers.

Skeptics and some church-going people still believe the Fisher Price and Toys R Us version of the story. However, the prophets, Jesus and the apostles saw it differently. There’s no mistaking that Jesus, for instance, believed Noah was a real person and that God actually destroyed all the inhabitants of the earth, save Noah and his family, by flooding the planet with water as the book of Genesis records.

In fact, Jesus linked two historical events in biblical history. He talked about his Second Coming happening at a time in the future that looked much like the “days of Noah.” Read Matthew 24:37-39 slowly and carefully,

As it was in the days of Noah, so it will be at the coming of the Son of Man. For in the days before the flood, people were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, up to the day Noah entered the ark; and they knew nothing about what would happen until the flood came and took them all away. That is how it will be at the coming of the Son of Man.

Jesus speaks of a day yet to come when his return to earth will take indifferent people by surprise. Evangelists and preachers like Noah will have been warning of impending judgment. But people who are busy living their lives will ignore the proclamation of truth right up until the time judgment falls again upon the earth, this time by fire, according to the apostle Peter,

By these waters also the world of that time was deluged and destroyed. By the same word the present heavens and earth are reserved for fire, being kept for the day of judgment and destruction of ungodly men (2 Peter 3:6-7).

What sobering words these are from the apostle. If Noah’s Ark is a toy story, so too is the Second Coming of Jesus Christ and the judgment by fire that follows. But Noah’s Ark is no “once upon a time” tale. Thousands of years ago a real disaster took place that changed the world forever, and another one is on its way. Are you prepared? Are you onboard the “ark of salvation?”

Good theology might not contribute to the bottom line of a popular retail store, but it’s always better than a toy story.

Ron Jones is a pastor whose greatest passion is to introduce people to Jesus Christ through anointed biblical preaching that transforms lives.

 

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