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Running On Empty

Pastor Reid Olson of Crossroads Church of Greeley teaches on 2 Kings 4:1-7.

Elisha-Art

Elisha is tasked with the matter of injustice where a widow is close to experiencing the abduction of her children into human trafficking for debts to be paid. With God’s direction, the widow gathers empty jars for a miracle to save her. What would you do? Would you gather empty jars from neighbors and await the miraculous work of God? Would you take matters into your own hands? Join us to see what “running on empty” looks like according to your faith.

 
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Posted by on October 14, 2015 in Leadership, Media, Ministry Calling, Sermons

 

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The Burning Bush Meets Real Life

I like reading the Old Testament of the Bible. It’s interesting to pictures some of the events from today’s perspective looking back into history. In reading it, we find that the God of history interacts the same with us today.

I read Exodus 2 & 3 about the beginning of Moses’ life and see the complexity of how God cares for his people and is concerned for their suffering. When we face suffering in life, chronic pain, long-term disability, injustice and oppression today, we can rely on the divine interaction of God who is concerned for us and takes joy in our healing, redemption and reconciliation from a sinful world.

Pastor Marty Gale from the Jewish Celebration Congregation in Loveland, Colorado helped reveal to me some further truth about the burning bush event in Exodus 3 recently.

When God came to meet with Moses from the midst of a burning bush, God is concerned for the suffering of His people. He draws Moses closer to Himself by igniting a bush without consuming it on Horeb, the mountain of God. Moses draws closer, but is told that the location is Holy ground and must keep his distance. Pastor Marty enlightened me by saying that the word “bush” is not in the Hebrew text, rather it’s the word sneh, which is thorn. English translations prefer the word bush because of the story it provides, but Acacia-wood thorn bush is the appropriate translation.

Thorns come from Genesis 3:18, where Adam must cary the curse of his sinful action into the rest of his days while harvesting the earth and tilling the ground. Thorns are a representation of sin, for they are introduced into creation as a result of sin. Thorns represent sin and sinful man.

God mentions in Genesis 6:3, that His Spirit will not contend with mankind forever, meaning that God is working out a plan to make His presence dwell with sinful man and combine the relationship as originally intended in creation. When God encounters Moses at the event of the burning “thorns”, His fire from heaven is from within the thorn bush, rather than consuming it. Fire from heaven is God’s present reality all throughout the Old Testament as representation of God’s presence. Elijah calls down fire from heaven a number of times as judgment from God on sinful humanity. The fire by night and pillar of cloud by day are representations of the Holy Spirit of God leading wandering Israelites through the wilderness as a guide. Fire is present in the Holy of Holies in the tabernacle to represent the presence of God. Even James and John the “sons of thunder” in Luke 9 ask Jesus if they should call down fire from heaven to consume the Samaritan town for not believing that Jesus is the Messiah. Jesus reassures them that the timing for such things was inappropriate.

How will the Holy fire of God ever come to dwell with the sinful thorn of humanity?

We read that the thorn of Acacia wood is woven to make a crown for Jesus to wear at his crucifixion. He dons the sin of man upon his brow where blood is mingled down upon his face. His willingness to take the sin of humanity upon himself at the cross is the mark of God’s presence dwelling with humanity forever.

In Acts 2, the culmination of the burning “bush” event takes place when, 7 weeks after Passover, at Pentecost, the Spirit of God like a violent rushing wind blows through the room where the disciples were gathered and what appeared to be ‘tongues of fire’ came to separate and rest on each one of them. The fire of God is present and dwelling with the thorn of mankind, but is not consuming them. The fulfillment of the burning bush in Exodus 3 takes place after the power of the resurrection of Jesus, and the church is born with power from God as divine presence and human thorny sin dwell together.

Finally, the Apostle Paul, who suffered a thorn in his flesh in years of ministry, writes words of God’s reconciliation to the church in Corinth about God’s burning mission for His new bride.

2 Corinthians 5:17-21, possibly my favorite collection of missional scripture, tells the church in Corinth, and correspondingly tells us as believers in Christ, that we are reconciled to God. Not by work that we have done, but by the ever generous grace of God who reconciles us to Himself through the blood of Jesus Christ, so that we might have the ministry of reconciliation. We who believe in a God who is concerned for our suffering, are to become reconcilers for those who feel hostile to God.

The old way of life, separation from God – distance from the divine due to our sinful thorn, is gone now. The new way of life has come. New life living is forever inaugurated in the blood, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, so that our thorny sinful lives might be filled with the divine fire presence of God from within and not consumed. God is not distant from us any longer. We have been drawn near to God to dwell with His divine nature in Christ through the Holy Spirit and become missionally reconciling to our neighbor.

Suffering is real. I read today in the Associated Press that “as many as 2.4 million people may be victims of human trafficking worldwide at any given time, calling it “a shameful crime of modern-day slavery.”. Suffering is chronic and crime is a trillion dollar business. It’s an example of the thorn of humanity taking aim at the claims of God and questioning His concern for relief of human suffering.

When reading the text of the Old Testament, the calling of God in the burning “thorn” bush to Moses and fulfilling it’s metaphor in Acts 2’s Pentecost presence of the Holy Spirit from within sinful humanity… we see that God dwells with his people once again, but doesn’t rely on the unstable vow of humanity, rather God relies on His Covenant Promise to Abraham in Genesis 12 that one day “all peoples on earth will be blessed through you [Abraham].”

We suffer & it is not fair. The thorn of sin is a curse we must endure, but thanks be to God who is concerned for our suffering, hears our cries and is quick to rescue, send the Redeemer in Christ Jesus and reconcile us to God. May we come to know that our reconciliation to God, His Holy Spirit fire dwells within us and does not consume us or destroy. He fills us so that, like a burning thorn bush, we become ministers of reconciliation.

 
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Posted by on April 23, 2012 in Sermons

 

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Why would you even say something like that…?


“If I had a nickle for every time a students has used that excuse with me… ‘my brother died, and I had to leave your class today’, I’d be a wealthy man. Prove it!” barked the professor at a local university.

Maybe a little context might help.

Over a year ago, as a pastor, I had the honor of performing a funeral for a local family whose son passed away over Christmas break. The funeral was attended by nearly 600 of this 23 year old kids’ friends and family. It blew the capacity of our sanctuary out and people were standing in the narthex outside the doors of the church to listen and grieve with the family.

The little brother of the man who had passed away was composed and poised as he came forward during the service to pay honor to his big brother and say a few words. He sauntered up to the stage, taking his deliberate time to soak in each moment ascending the steps to the pulpit, slowly turn around and gaze into almost every set of eyes that were welling with tears throughout the entire sanctuary. Honestly, I thought he would never speak because he was so riveted in focus on every face in the house. It was a 3 minute pause, and with unforgettable grace, he cleared his throat, began nodding his head with lips persed… and said, “Well, I guess I win the (insert brother’s name) look-alike contest.”

The congregation breathed a sigh, even laughed a little because the tension in the room was so heavy, and enjoyed his 3 minutes of memories of his brother. With a blown kiss to his mother, followed by the slow, deliberate saunter back down the stage steps to his chair by his father, he sat down. It’s a moment I will not soon forget. As far as funeral settings go, it’s one of the top “Made to Stick” memories that slipped into a moment in time as effortlessly as anything I’ve witnessed.

A month later, this little brother decided to go back to school and begin his freshman year at a local university. He was sitting in his class, when a panic attack hit him concerning the recent loss of his brother. He picked up his things, stood up in the middle of the professor’s lecture, and walked out of the room. The professor witnessed this, what he thought was a defiant act of rejection to his lecture (small, insecure professor that he must be) and decided to give the class a pop-quiz on the spot, so that little brother would lose points for the year.

The next class session, insecure professor spoke to little brother by saying the quote above… “Do you know how many times I’ve heard that excuse, ‘my brother died’? Prove it!” So little brother, without saying another word, returned home to his grieving mother, asked for a copy of the recent death certificate, and returned to insecure professor with the proven draft … sauntered into class with confidence, handed the document to his professor and took his seat.

Kudos to you little brother. My hat’s off to your second act of “Made to Stick” public response.

Reader: I don’t know about your style of leadership, but as a leader, teacher, professor, parent or pastor, how do you react to what seems like public rejection of your teaching or leading? Do you lead like this insecure professor did?

Granted, I don’t know what sort of things were going on in the professor’s life that day, that week, or month. I don’t know if professor was dealing with the emotional tide of potential job loss, or impending performance reviews, or personal rejection. I am not trying to do the same thing to this unknown professor by rejecting him along with his actions, like he did to little brother. I’m just wondering if he couldn’t have shown a little more grace in the situation.

Jesus Christ’s little step-brother, James tells us in his letter (James 1:19-20) “My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, because human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires.”

What is the kind of righteousness that God desires? Really… I read this as righteousness that is slow to become angry, that’s the kind of righteousness that God desires. Is it wrong to become angry? Certainly not, Jesus became angry at the denigration of the temple in his ministry. God expects Christian leaders to be righteously angry at the injustices in the world regarding sin. But to become humanly angry enough to throw a pop-quiz in class when a kid leaves your lecture, so that he might do poorly on a grade… that’s inappropriate anger.

“Quick to listen, slow to speak.”

You know what the redeeming factor is in this account of the little brother? He didn’t blow up at the professor. He didn’t get emotionally tied into his mother’s feelings when she questioned this professor’s actions. He didn’t respond, like I would have, in writing a letter to the dean of students trying to get Mr. Insecure Professor slapped on the wrist for treating a student like this, or even getting him fired. Nope. Mr. Little Brother just took it in stride, along with his grieving process, and did what the professor asked of him.

Little brother showed more grace, more honor, more deliberate “slow to become angry” (if at all) than I could have in this situation.

My perspective of leadership has grown by hearing about what not to do when feeling personal rejection… “prove it!”, and what TO DO when questioned (fairly or unfairly) about my actions.

What kind of leadership have you seen that reminds you to be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to become angry? How are you learning in this journey of “the kind of righteousness God desires”?

 
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Posted by on February 9, 2011 in Leadership

 

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