Saturday, December 24, 2011

So, why do we give?

So, this is a question I never really thought about too much. "Why do we give?" I thought that the answer to this question was self-evident. As a Christian, we give because God has given to us. We give because we follow a God who is gracious. We give because  we love others and want to bring joy to them. We give because there are needs to be met. We give because we can and because we should. Seems self-evident. 

However, I have learned in the past couple of days that this is apparently not so self-evident. In two separate Facebook posts, I was encouraged to give for these three reasons: 1. so that I will not lose my place in heaven, 2. so that I will not lose my blessings, and 3. so that God will give to me. Now, that seems sad to me. If I give to get, is it a gift? Hmmm. Just not sure what to do with this. I am sure that we give because we have been blessed, not in order to be blessed. Giving gifts to get gifts strikes me as so un-Christian. Thoughts? 

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Jer 29:11, Vol. 1. Does God have a plan for you?

I have begun my study of Jer. 29:11 in earnest. For those who don't know, I am working on two papers for an academic conference in March. One of them will be an exegetical study of Jer. 29:11, asking "What does Jer. 29:11 mean?" The other will look at how Jer. 29:11 has been used in the church, in various ministries, and by individual Christians. I have intentionally written Jer. 29:11 several times in this first paragraph because I wanted to represent the ubiquitous nature of Jer. 29:11 in today's evangelical church. In coming weeks, I will probably address the verse several times in the blog, as well as in my sermon at Cypress Oaks Church on January 1. 

So, my question for today, "Does God have a plan for you?" Well, it depends. I suppose that we could read many scriptures to support the teaching that God has a plan. God's sovereignty demands at one level that God has a plan, theoretically. The problem here is what Walter Brueggemann calls individualization of scripture. You see, the "you" in Jer. 29:11 is plural, not singular. (In modern English, we do not distinguish second person in form, only in usage.) The promise in this verse was not to an individual, it was to the people of Israel, particularly to those in exile because of sin, but that will be another blog. We have a tendency to individualize everything in our culture. For instance, many people reading this blog believe that the Bible says to God, "Who am I, that you are mindful of me?" Actually, Psalm 8 says, "What is humanity, that you are mindful of him?" Again, we have taken a word about humanity in general and made it about the individual. And, Psalm 8 is not a promise at all, rather the psalmist is marveling that God would have any care about humanity. Why would the majestic, creator God, after all, care about this puny little mammal on a small seemingly insignificant planet in a huge universe? But, this blog was about Jer. 29:11, not Psalm 8, wasn't it? I ramble sometimes. ("Oooh, shiny!") 

To conclude, whatever Jer. 29:11 is about, I must believe that Jer. 29:11 is not a promise to every individual that God has a plan for his or her life. It may be true that God has a plan, but this is not the promise of Jer. 29:11. It just isn't. Well, more to come.   

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Why did God become man?

I have been reading N. T. Wright's Surprised by Hope. In this Advent season, Wright suggests that we have tended to emphasize some of the reasons that Jesus came to earth, but have neglected an important gospel message on the topic. I think he is right. See this post from College of Biblical Studies (CBS) to make my point: Now, I am not insulting CBS. I appreciate their work in Houston. Their Christmas post just happened to come on the day that I was thinking about this. Now, none of what is in that article is incorrect (Jesus did come to pay the penalty sin, reveal God, reconcile, redeem, and be an example.).

However, the gospels present Jesus' entry into this world as the inbreaking of God's kingdom (or Kingdom of Heaven). This world was completely transformed because Jesus was born, lived, died, and rose from the dead. Jesus came to reconcile the world to God. And, that reconciling was accomplished by his resurrection power. Now, we are involved in the reconciling of this world to God. That daunting task was given to us by none other than Jesus himself. Fortunately, Jesus did not leave us alone. He has risen to be with us forever, and the Holy Spirit is present to empower and embolden us!

God became man to transform the kingdom of this world into the kingdom of heaven. This has been our advent theme at Cypress Oaks Church. I'm glad to be a part of that. Gungor's "Heaven" has become something of a theme song. That's all for now.

Monday, December 19, 2011

A prodigal's memory

My first blog. So, what do I say? I preached a sermon in 2010 entitled "A Prodigal's Memory." I was struck by the fact that the prodigal son decided to return home when he remembered his father's household. He remembered that even the servants had a better life than he had created for himself. 

His older brother also had a memory. He remembered that his son had deserted the family home, squandered the family wealth, and (most likely) broken his father's heart. Since this older son had remained home and faithfully served his father, he held contempt and bitterness for his younger, wandering brother. His father's love might lead him to forgive this prodigal, but he, the older brother, would not forgive and forget. 

We are so influenced by memories. We have good memories, bad memories, and lost memories (you know, the things that you wish you could remember! I know there are also memories you wish you could forget!). I want to have a prodigal's memory. I want to remember that my Father (God) will welcome me home--even when I have wandered away from him. He will love me. He will forgive me. He will give me things that I do not deserve. In the same way, Jesus calls me to forgive others. So, my prodigal's memory will also enable me to show grace to others. 

Isn't Christmas all about grace? I think so.