The Adirondack Region

Yesterday I took a break from posting anything as I wanted to focus on the Thanksgiving gathering. This year I’m spending it with my brother Jayson and his wife, Jennifer, and their adorable son, David. They live in the bitterly cold Adirondack region. My mom and stepdad are here as is my youngest brother Adam and his wife, Jess.

There’s four inches of snow on the ground. There’s ice, too. The latter made for interesting driving. Now, here’s the thing about cold weather. My two brothers and I grew up in South Florida, so our experience with cold weather occurred at different times. Adam moved away to Boston for college, so this Adirondack weather is familiar. Jayson is another story.

Back in 2009, he moved to the Adirondack region for his current wife. The cold weather was a huge adjustment for him. Shoveling snow, scraping off ice from the windshield, and wearing layers became the norm. If you see Jayson right now, it’s as if he’s always lived up here. Besides his wife, I see what attracted him to this area: it’s a small town feel versus big city, the scenery is gorgeous, and the people are built tough.

Frankly, the cold weather up here in the Adirondacks doesn’t bother me that much. All I need are the layers, and it’s alright. In many ways, it’s a welcome change of pace from experiencing the same weather year round in Los Angeles. The most difficult aspect for me with the Adirondack region is the rural nature of it. I’m a city guy through and through, so I need more action. I don’t enjoy the 30-40 minute drives into the nearest city; however, I do enjoy the quiet, the stillness. It’s a breath of fresh air from noisy LA.

I’m going to end this with the following verse: “And they went away in the boat to a desolate place by themselves” (Mark 6:32). This verse relates to the apostles needing a time of rest in the midst of their busy lives at the urging of Christ. There are times when life is so busy, so hectic, that desolate places like the Adirondack region offer refreshing solitude. How many Americans struggle to find rest during the holidays, let alone their actual lives? Where are the desolate places for you to find rest?

Celebration in the New

Ancient Israel celebrated together as a people to honor their God and his deeds in their lives. Each feast listed in Leviticus chapter twenty-three focused on a specific time in the calendar year. Those celebrations contained food, fellowship, worship, prayer, and gathering together as one people. Little did the Israelites know that the first three feasts found direct fulfillment in the person and work of Christ. The Passover feast prefigured our Lord’s death, which atoned for the sins of believers throughout all history. The firstfruits celebration pictured Christ’s resurrection, which the apostle Paul alluded to in 1 Cor. 15:20, 23. Lastly, the feast of weeks foreshadowed the birth of the church at Pentecost.

All of the apostles including one hundred other disciples remained in Jerusalem in obedience to Christ’s words after he ascended into heaven. Fifty days later at Pentecost, the Holy Spirit descended upon the 120 in fire and power. Soon after the coming of the Spirit, Luke recorded that 3,000 people came to faith in Christ (Acts 2:41, ESV). This was a massive revival in the hearts of the Jewish people, which came on the heels of Peter’s famous sermon. How did this early group of converts celebrate these new happenings? They gathered together in order to celebrate their God and his work in their lives. Here are the final five verses from the second chapter of Acts:

“And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. And awe came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles. And all who believed were together and had all things in common. And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need. And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved” (Acts 2:42-47, ESV).”

Each time I read those verses in Acts 2, I can’t contain my joy over the early church’s celebration. I’d love to teleport back in time in order to join them. This wasn’t a celebration for the sake of itself. No. These early Christians devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching (doctrine), to fellowship (doing life together), and proclaiming the Lord’s death until he comes, which Luke alluded to with the words “…the breaking of bread and prayers…” (Luke 2:42, ESV). The early church understood its foundation and purpose. Even though Luke failed to include believer’s baptism in his list, I think such an ordinance finds itself in the subtext given the new converts being added by the Lord (Luke 2:47, ESV). At some point, those new believers would’ve been baptized given the Great Commission.

When today’s church gains new converts by the preaching of the gospel in the power of the Spirit, a celebration is in order. We must praise the Lord for the increase because he gave it. If our cups run over, then let’s rejoice till we overflow. The early church serves as a model for all churches today. We must keep the church’s focus clear and simple: sound teaching (preach the gospel), gathering together in his name, and administering the ordinances of baptism and the Lord’s supper until Christ comes back. If we’re faithful to those few things, the Lord will add to our numbers. There will be an increase, a revival. All that is needed from us is to present our five loaves and two fish in faith. Once we’ve done that piece, then we can sit back and watch Christ to multiply our meager offering.

Celebration in the Old

Yesterday I wrote about celebrating my engagement to Charity with a portion of our family and friends. I ended the post with a passage from Jeremiah 30:19a where it says “Out of them shall come songs of thanksgiving, and the voices of those who celebrate.” The inaugurated reality of that verse took place at the party. Did we sing songs? No. Did voices celebrate in praise with words? Yes. When the wedding takes place next March, many who attended the engagement party will have their opportunity to sing praises. The mirth of that day will be glorious.

Now, it seems to me that our little party this past weekend hinted at similar gatherings in the Old Testament. In the book of Leviticus, Moses records several feasts in the twenty-third chapter. The Lord called these feasts holy convocations or worship celebrations. Each of the feasts had been spelled out by the Lord in order to give him the honor due his name. These Old Testament worship celebrations coincided with the agrarian calendar. What this means is that the celebrations were to be held at specific times throughout the year. Thanksgiving, Christmas, and birthday festivities are the closest modern-day equivalents in the United States to those worship celebrations in Leviticus chapter 23.

Because the engagement party is only a one-time event Charity’s life and mine, we will have an anniversary date for our marriage. It will occur every calendar year on March 1st. For the lack of a better word, this is the appointed time or season to commemorate our union. When we reach particular anniversary, milestones in our marriage, the gathering of family and friends will take place. Those milestone moments will resemble the old testament feasts. There will be laughter, prayer, singing, food and fellowship and solemn moments. Most importantly, these celebratory moments require God at the center because he would be the reason for our union and its benefits. The same held true for the people of Israel in the Old Testament.

If the very first feast or celebration was the Passover meal, then God had a purpose for them in remembering what was done. Despite their great numbers, the Israelites had no power in themselves to break free from Egypt’s grip. In fact, the Lord told Moses and Aaron that he would harden Pharaoh’s heart prior to setting them free. God called Moses and Aaron to perform all of his words to the letter before Pharaoh and his people. When the time came for Israel’s deliverance, the Lord instituted the Passover celebration in order to remind his people of who he is and his works among them. One can only imagine the joy of freedom for God’s people. Shortly thereafter, more feasts had been added to Israel’s calendar.

Why do I mention all of this? I’m seeing the Lord orchestrate events within Charity’s life and mine, which require celebrations to remember who God is and his work in our lives. Just like the Israelites, Charity and I are powerless to affect true change in our lives. We have experienced spiritual growth and healing precisely because of God’s amazing work in Christ by the person and work of the Holy Spirit. He chose to bring us together, to deliver us from bondage to sin…He did those things for his glory and honor. It’s only right to celebrate what God has done. It’s only right to set aside time to give God the honor due his name. The best part about this is that certain events in Charity’s life and mine occur every year during the same month and day. This removes all decision stress for those particular celebrations.

During this Thanksgiving holiday, take the time to read over the twenty-third chapter of Leviticus. This Old Testament book has garnered a bad rap over the years. Because of the intense detail in performing the law, the sacrifices, and the feasts, it’s customary to skip over Leviticus due to sheer boredom. Let this time around be different. When reading over the feasts in Leviticus twenty-three, reflect on the Thanksgiving feast in your home. Will you set aside time to worship, to pray, to feast, to fellowship and to proclaim who God is and what he has done? And remember, each time anyone of those things is done over the course of this weekend, your family is doing something old, something ancient, something that goes back thousands of years…

Celebration

Over this past weekend, Charity and I enjoyed an engagement party in our honor. The people who gathered represented a mix of folks from our personal and professional lives. There was good food and drink and fellowship. The hosts rocked it all evening, but that’s to be expected from Tamara and Jessie. They have been Charity’s travel companions over the years while Tamara is also a colleague. It was Tamara who planned the engagement party, which I appreciated quite a bit. She handled all of the details while allowing her joy to spill over into the whole evening. A good word phrase would be contagious joy or celebration.

There were two separate activities on the evening, which contributed to the party atmosphere. The first required folks to write down as many words as possible out of Charity’s name and mine. One of my good friends, Patrick, promptly told me that he had every intention on winning this contest. After everyone had the same amount of time to jot down their words, Tamara went down the list of numbers to determine the winner. Sure enough, Patrick had the most words at 33. He bested two others by one, thereby winning the contest. The other activity didn’t involve the group, but Tamara instructed the party guests to write down date night activities.

Between the two above activities, the food, and the fellowship, the overall atmosphere was celebratory. I had fun seeing Charity’s friends and family meet my friends. Call it a collision of two worlds. There still remains more colliding with the future rehearsal dinner, wedding, and reception. In the end, I think you get the picture. There was a reason to celebrate, and Tamara and Jessie made it happen. Their joy led the way for a memorable evening, which has paved the way for more memorable evenings to come. I’m reminded of the following words: “Out of them shall come songs of thanksgiving, and the voices of those who celebrate” (Jeremiah 30:19a, ESV). Good times lie ahead in the near future.

“God’s image lies in disrepair. Since their ousting from the garden, Adam and Eve left a trail of sin and brokenness in their relationship that humanity has followed blindly for centuries. We still bear the divine image. God in his faithfulness still upholds us as male and female, capable of becoming good gifts for each other. But the brokenness of that image is our inheritance as well. Gratefully, God can restore us. He can resurrect what is true in us out of the mire of relational and sexual brokenness. That restoration occurs one layer at a time, one man and woman at a time, through the cross of Jesus Christ. He longs to unveil the beauty of his original design in us and empower those weakened by sin and brokenness to love well” (Andrew Comiskey, Strength in Weakness, Chpt. 2, pp 47-48).

The Broken Image, part II

“God called Adam and Eve to care for the garden together. The one condition of their reign was they not partake of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil (Gen. 2:16-17). Their freedom depended upon their living without the fruit of that tree. But disobedience enslaved their freedom to love. The pair’s refusal to obey God became the basis for the broken image, the tendency fallen humanity possesses to act unnaturally.

“Sin wars against our native desire and capacity to uprightly love God and others. Anderson wrote, ‘Disobedience…is therefore a denial of one’s own humanity…To live in such a way as to resist the Word and will of God in favor of our instinctive rights and desires is to live inhumanly’ (Ray Anderson, On Being Human: Essays in Theological Anthropology, pp 83-84).

“While obedience frees people to be good gifts to God and others, sin demands concealment. The third chapter of Genesis clearly describes the effects of sin upon the image bearers. First, Adam and Eve sought to hide from each other by clothing themselves (Gen. 3:7). No longer unashamed, they covered their genitals so as to conceal themselves from each other. The fig leaf conveyed shame and separation from pure trust in the other’s love.

“For the first time, each was self-conscious and uncertain of his or her identity in relation to the other. They were also conscious of the other’s uncertainty. Responding to the other became risky. Each experienced the threat of his or her need for the other. Adam and Eve were then capable of more than love–they could withhold love and deceive and damage the other. “Not surprisingly, the two also hid from God (Gen. 3:8). Having disobeyed, they took matters into their hands and fled the threat of exposure and punishment. The potential for separation from the Creator was conceived, and humanity ever since has borne its deadly consequences” (Andrew Comsikey, Strength in Weakness, Chpt. 2, pp 33-34).

The Broken Image, part I

Knowing My Place

Earlier this month, I posted an article titled “Quality versus Quantity.” The heart of the article grew out of Luke 17:5-6. Jesus responded to the apostles’ petition to increase their faith by teaching them to have faith the size of a mustard seed. It’s not clear from the passage if Jesus’s parable on the mustard seed comforted or frustrated the apostles. That being said, Jesus answered their heartfelt request by opening their eyes to the power of seemingly puny faith due to its character and source: himself. When the apostles (and all believers) placed their faith in Christ at salvation, this provided access to the divine nature as spoken by the apostle Peter in 2 Peter 1:3-4. Regrettably, I don’t have enough space to devote to unwrapping Peter’s words. The key takeaway is the established fact of believers being granted access to the divine nature in Christ, through the Spirit, thereby receiving all the corresponding benefits.

What was so important about re-emphasizing the objective fact of redemption in Christ? According to Ephesians 2:4-5, the work of salvation within the redeemed demonstrated God’s power to make dead men come alive in Christ. Prior to being born again, all believers had no ability to respond to a holy and righteous God. There was no opportunity to live for him or even enter his presence for worship. I was dead to God. We were dead to him. God the Father changed our dead reality through Christ’s atoning sacrifice, which the Holy Spirit brought to life through his regenerating power. When I have meditated on this fact, I have sensed my heart break in gratitude toward the Father. What did I have in me for the Father to do this? There wasn’t any good in me. I was lifeless. When God chose me in Christ, he demonstrated grace and mercy: grace, because I was given what I didn’t deserve (redemption), and mercy, because I didn’t receive what I deserved as a sinful creature (wrath).

Up to this point, the following questions may have sprung up within some reading this post. How should I live for Christ in light of his finished work of redemption on the cross? What does it look like to live for Christ as a redeemed person at home? in the workplace? as a student? as a spouse? as a parent? My redemption, our redemption, had consequences for Christ: death on a cross. In the present, God has worked through circumstances and people in my life in order to test or prove the reality of my salvation in Christ (Phil. 1:27-30, ESV). Thus far, every relationship and circumstance has been an opportunity to testify to others about Christ’s work in me. My words and actions have displayed, continue displaying, and will always display Christ to varying degrees. This has crucial implications in my serving and the church’s serving in God’s presence.

Because acts of service to the Lord were impossible spiritually dead, now, alive in Christ, I’m welcomed into the Lord’s presence. Serving the Lord has meant something more than a duty. It has grown into a privilege, but there’s more growth to be lived out. Our Lord issued a reality check in the area of serving him. Luke recorded the following words of Christ about believers serving in the Master’s presence: “Will any one of you who has a servant plowing or keeping sheep say to him when he has come in from the field, ‘Come at once and recline at table’? Will he not rather say to him, ‘Prepare supper for me, and dress properly, and serve me while I eat and drink, and afterward you will eat and drink’? Does he thank the servant because he did what was commanded? So you also, when you have done all that you were commanded, say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done what was our duty” (Luke 17:7-10, ESV).

To be honest, Luke 17:7-10 generated plenty of offense within me two years ago. I kept wanting the Lord to bless my obedience with tangible blessings: recognition from others, increased responsibility within the church, success at work and establishing a much more solid, life foundation. From my perspective, some areas displayed progress while others either stagnancy or regression. When I studied this passage in Luke 17 with my mentor, I turned blood red. How could the Lord say this to me? I didn’t want to accept him as sovereign over my circumstances. Things weren’t adding up no matter how I turned things over in my mind. If God was sovereign over my circumstances, then why were prayers bouncing back to me unanswered? Where was the breakthrough or the promised blessing?

When I examined my heart in light of Luke 17:7-10, I realized that my expectations of breakthrough and blessing needed to be sent to the cross. The Holy Spirit revealed to me that I viewed my master as a genie, or as someone who was in debt to me. Little did I know that I was indebted to him, and will remain indebted to him forever. Why was that true? It all goes back to the work of redemption. My master made me alive when I was dead to him. There wasn’t any good thing in me that said to the Lord, “I’m so righteous and faithful, save me.” My pride came tumbling down two years ago. Now, please don’t misunderstand me. I expect God to save, heal and bless; however, I’m able to expect those things only because I’ve been made alive in Christ. According to the passage in Luke 17, humility is an essential posture for God’s servants (his people). I’m not entitled to his generosity. This is a hard truth, but it’s truth nonetheless.