Friday, June 24, 2011

father adam or father abraham - consuming vs. tithing

I have a little ritual here in Ensenada, Mexico while on vacation. In the mornings, while the family is still asleep I get up and go across the street from where we are staying to a little pavement cafe' for a cappuccino, the scriptures, some prayer. Okay, I also check twitter and facebook, I admit. But I've been blogging what I've been reading and thinking from the Cafe'Tu Taozo. All before my family surfaces!

Jesus redeemed us from the curse of our first father Adam by becoming a curse in our place. He was forsaken by His Father so that we could be adopted by Him. And he left us a better earthly model of a father in Genesis. Abraham, the father of our faith.

Abraham has feet of clay for sure, but the contrast between the two is stark. Yesterday we looked at Adam's doubt and disobedience versus Abe's faith and obedience. Here's another one. Adam took and consumed what was not his, while Abraham gave back what was not his. That Adam consumed the forbidden fruit is iconic. Abraham's generosity is less renown.

In Genesis 13 Abraham and Lot his nephew have a business disagreement.Their flocks and herds have prospered and there's not enough room in town for the both of them. Abraham ignored seniority, and lets Lot take the choice pasture. He takes whatever his nephew leaves. Lot considers the goodness of the land but ignores the wickedness of the Sodomites who kidnap him.His uncle has to go and rescue him and win back the stolen goods.

It is here that a mysterious figure named 'Melchizedek' appears to him, and breaks bread with him. Abraham gives him a tenth of the spoils of victory. It is from here that we get the idea of the tithe. In Hebrews 7, Jesus is called a high priest in the order of Melchizedek. It makes sense. We break bread with Jesus, and we still give him a tenth of what we earn. People have tried to disregard the tithe as law, but this was pre-law. Even Jesus affirms the tithe in Matt 26, adding that we are to keep our hearts in it, not allowing ritual to creep in.

But can I tell you a story that has brought the tithe alive in me? My wife and I have been married for almost 18 years. As far as I can remember, we have never missed a month of tithing. We simply settled it as a biblical conviction at the start. It is both stewardship and worship for us. This last month for the first time ever, though, I think I was tempted not to tithe.

Our elders had insisted we take two weeks vacation, which I appreciated, but we had nowhere to go, and no money to pay for a place. I honestly asked the Lord if he would let me off the tithe for once so that could have a nice vacation. I wrestled with God, asking him to prove Himself to me show Himself faithful. So we tithed. A few days later we were given 7 days at a house on the beach in Northern California. On the morning that we were to leave, someone came and gave us a financial gift that paid for another week of accommodation, plus spending money. The total value of what we received was about 4 times what we tithed. A powerful reminder that God is faithful. I am sitting typing this in a place I did not pay for. Not even the coffee!

Adam is such a common figure of consuming what does not belong to him. Abraham gives us a model of generosity that flies in the face of the rampant individualism and unbridalled consumerism of our day and age. Jesus empowers us to follow the model of our second father, not our first.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

father adam or father abraham?

So we established that we all have four fathers. Potentially anyway. We have our biological father and our first father, Adam, just by being born. We find our Father in heaven by being born again through faith in Jesus. In fact the bible calls Jesus the second Adam, who redeemed us from the curse of our first father by becoming a curse for us. Its here that we are empowered to follow the example of Abraham the father of our faith instead of Adam the father of our fallenness. There is no perfect father like God our Father, but God does give us a good, earthly example in Abraham.

A quick contrast between father Adam and father Abraham reveals one stark difference.
Where Adam's doubt led to disobedience, Abraham's faith led to obedience. This is essentially how we differentiate the two. In Genesis 12, God appears to Abraham and calls him to leave his father's house and 'go to a land that I will show you.'God's covenant was that He would bless him, make him into a great nation, and that all the people's on earth would be blessed by him. The condition is to go not knowing where he would end up. That was the kicker.

The nature of this covenant was very similar to God's intention for Adam and Eve' - 'be fruitful and multiply, fill the earth and subdue it.' They also had a condition. 'Do not eat of the tree in the middle of the garden.'That was their kicker.

Sometimes God keeps things off limits for us. Other times he keeps things mysteriously unclear. Essentially, He is testing our trust in Him and our willingness to submit to him as God, instead of asserting ourselves as our own god.

Will we echo Adam, like the poet in Invictus?
"My head is bloody but unbowed,
I am the captain of my soul,
I am the master of my destiny"

Or will we humbly echo Abraham? It's far less profoundly poetic than Invictus.
Obedient faith's potency is in its uncontentious simplicity.
"So Abraham left, as the Lord told him."

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Living with our Four Fathers.

Scripture says that we have four fathers, you know.

Of course we all have a biological father, who gave us our direct DNA. For some, that's all they got from him. The relationship with their human father has been difficult, distant, or even non-existent. Others were fortunate enough to receive the gift of loving discipline, affirmation and provision from their human father.

However, through our biological fathers, we also all have the DNA of Adam, our first father, who gave us the gift of original sin. Thanks Adam. His disobedience was like poison poured into the source of the river called humanity, and it has polluted every part of the human condition, corrupting our ability to reflect God's image accurately, like rust on a copper coin. Our first father's gift to us was not simply bringing sin into the world, it was that we inherited a sinful condition. We find ourselves in a state of disintegration from God and other people, and of moral and emotional disorientation.

But God our Father is a Redeemer. Straight after Adam and Eve tried to sew themselves skirts out of fig leaves to hide the shame of their sinfulness, God clothed them with animal skins. This was the first time an animal was killed. (animals were not killed for food at that time.) It was a glimpse of the Gospel.The Proto Evangelon. Something had to die to deal with our shame. Or Someone. There is only one perfect Father. And He spent the only Son he had on us to redeem us from the sin of our first father. The death of Jesus, the Son enables us to find our real Father.

There is a fourth father, though. His name is Abraham,and the scriptures call him the father of our faith. In Genesis, he is contrasted with Adam, our first father. Where Adam doubted God and it caused him to disobey Him, Abraham believed God and it caused him to obey Him.

He was not religious. He was born into a culture that worshiped false gods. But God the Father sought him out, and revealed Himself to Abraham in sovereign grace. He did not know any moral law. Abraham simply believed God and was made righteous through faith. He saw the Gospel in advance. But his faith was active not passive. It moved him to obey, to sacrifice, to journey with God.

The next few blogs, I want to contrast Adam and Abraham as two very different fathers. One a model of doubt and disobedience. The other a model of faith and obedience. Irrespective of how our human father was towards us, God the father has left us with two models and one choice. He has redeemed us from the curse of Adam so that we can walk like Abraham.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Bromance personified

This is an article in Christianity Today on a documentary about male heterosexual friendships. Its directed by Erik Santiago, one of the pastors on our team at Southlands Church. Of course, I'm biased because Erik is a close friend of mine and I also play a small role in the documentary, but I recommend the film highly for men's groups, both church and other. Check it out!

Monday, June 6, 2011

The Art of Tacking

The doldrums. The fear of every sailor. In some ways even worse than a storm. In a storm at least you get blown somewhere. The doldrums is the absence of wind, and ships sometimes sit motionless for days waiting for the right wind to pick up. A skilful sailor learns how to tack out of the doldrums. It doesn't matter if the wind isn't blowing in the right direction. Any wind will do. Tacking is the ability to take a cross wind and zig-zag gradually in the desired direction.

Life is sometimes like that, isn't it? Leading a church can sometimes be like that too, although you'd swear from some of my pastor friends' twitter and facebook posts, every Sunday in their church may as well be Pentecost! In all honesty though, not every season in our lives, or the life of our churches is a season where the wind is blowing strongly at our backs. At times like these you have to learn to tack. Be faithful with the wind that is blowing even if it is less powerful and more inconsistent.

We've come out of a season of intensity and momentum as a church, with the launch of two services, and our Urban Renewal gathering. We have run hard and God has been good. We have seen salvations, baptisms, some healings,the launch of some great new ministries, and many new people engage with our community. We have felt the fresh wind of the Spirit blow upon us.

Now we find ourselves in a slightly different season, with the spaciousness of summer upon us, as well the sadness of saying good-bye to some families headed to go and help some partner churches in other cities and states. It is easy to slump into the doldrums at these times, but God is a God of seasons, and he supplies us with the strength to bear fruit in and out of season. In fact, although there are slightly less people around, there continues to be a fresh wind of repentance and prophecy blowing on our community.

We begin the first redemption story of our 'Red Thread' series this Sunday. It's the story of someone that Jesus has redeemed out of a life of same-sex attraction. It's a story worth telling, and one well-worth hearing. We also have our 5 missional initiatives that we are calling every person in the community to engage in.

So let's not let down our sails in this season. Let's be all hands on deck, learning to tack, trusting God for the fresh wind of His Spirit, and for the cargo of the Gospel to be carried to new people and new shores.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Red Summer!

Rynelle and I have just returned from three magnificent days in San Diego, where we celebrated her 40th birthday together. After a helter skelter few weeks around Urban Renewal, it was a rare luxury to rest up, soak in the beauty of the West Coast, and reconnect without interruption.

I bet many of us are similarly dreaming of long lazy days stretched out on bright colored beach towels taking slow sips from exotic glasses...unless you are in the Southern Hemisphere, in which case your dream may be more about great coffee around a roaring fire. Whatever the case, here in California, you can't fight the endless summer. It is what it is. Its as much a part of life here as tacos and 6 - lane freeways. You have to roll with it. Even better, leverage it for the sake of the gospel.

While many students go home, and families tend to come and go, those who stay around do tend to have more time. Life slows down.

So we are taking 8 weeks to tell 8 stories of God's redemption in our community. Real people with real, radical accounts of the transforming power of the Gospel. From convicted criminals, to people coming out of same sex attraction, to drug addicts, to respectable but miserable marriages. And God has redeemed them all. And keeps on redeeming them. We will tell the stories in interview format and preach around some biblical stories of redemption.

And then we have 5 fun, creative, missional impulses to engage in. An art school for kids and teenagers, a weight loss campaign, a homeless outreach, an inner city mission and a marriage course. Practical, helpful ways to love our city.

Its a whole community on mission, trusting that our summer beach towel has God's redemptive thread running right through it.