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Sunday, October 20, 2023
Divine Exposure: The General
A few years ago, I wrote a book about my life called, “God, Golf and Grace”, and some of you have read it. It’s a hundred stories spanning 50 years and, in chapter 18, I tell a story of being in church at Key Biscayne Presbyterian
Church. It goes like this:
One fall Sunday morning, I was sitting in my spot on the right side of the square sanctuary. Steve is an expository preacher who regularly preaches through a book of the Bible in line-by-line, paragraph-by-paragraph style. Unlike topical preachers who search for texts that address a theme they wish to get across to their listeners, expository preaching takes the Scripture as it comes, forcing the preacher to submit to the text rather than the other way around. Throughout my time in Miami, Steve was preaching through the Gospel of John.
In the middle of chapter 17, Jesus is deep in prayer, talking to His Father about the welfare of those who His Father has given Him. Steve pointed out that this prayer clearly underscores Jesus’ belief in the sovereignty and immutability of His Father. He knows that, regardless of what happens to Him and His disciples throughout the ages, His Father can be trusted to secure them because of who He is.
As he neared the end of his message, Steve told of a ship that was struggling to find its way in the midst of titanic wind and waves. The radar man shouted to the Captain that dead ahead, about three miles away, he saw the lights of another ship. So, the Captain got on his ship’s radio and said, Please alter you course 10 degrees to the south.” Within seconds there was a reply, “Alter your course 10 degrees to the north.” At this, the Captain was miffed, so he sent a second message, “Alter you course 10 degrees to the south. I am a U.S. Naval vessel!” Less than a minute later a response was received, “Alter you course 10 degrees to the North!” By this time, the distance had narrowed to less than a mile and the Captain was indignant, “Alter your course 10 degrees to the south or I will blow you out of the water, I am a battleship!!” In less than 10 seconds, came reply, “Alter you course 10 degrees to the north. I am the lighthouse.”
That was 1979, and yet, I’ve never forgotten that story. Why? Because it captures so well the God of Scriptures. In the face of all our good intentions and hubris, He is the One who stands firm and says in the midst of any storm, “I am the lighthouse!” And no encounter in Scripture demonstrates that truth any clearer than the one the pre-incarnated Christ has with Joshua in Joshua 5:13-16. It’s a profound encounter that tells us so much about God and us.
Unfortunately, over the years, the story of Joshua fighting the battle of Jericho has been turned into a moral tale taught to children. Even a song was written in 1922 to reinforce the misinterpretation of the events surrounding Israel’s first battle in the Promised Land. As is the case in most moralistic teachings, the emphasis is squarely on the wrong person and the lessons derived are the exact opposite of what God intends.
Sunday, October 15, 2023
Divine Exposure: The Wrestler part 2
Did you hear about the student who rushed into the office of his faculty advisor just after midterms? He said, “I need help bad.” The professor asked, “What’s your explanation for that?” The student replied, “I think I spent too much
time on that one subject.”
Well, there’s one subject far too few Christians spend time on and that’s, “Christophanies.” The word Christophany comes from the Greek word ”Christos,” and “Phaneroo“ which means “to appear.” You say, “It sounds like the word ”Theophany,” and it is, but far more specific.
In the Old Testament, there are numerous appearances of the second person of the trinity. In Genesis 3, Adam and Eve “heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden.” In chapter 12, verse 7, and again in chapter 17, verse 1, we’re told that “The LORD appeared to Abram” and spoke to him.
In Exodus 24, we read that “Moses and Aaron, Nadab, and Abihu, and 70 elders of Israel went up (Mount Sinai), and they saw the God of Israel.” In Exodus 33, we read that “The LORD used to speak to Moses face to face, as a man speaks to his friend.”
There are also numerous Old Testament appearances of someone described as “The angel of the Lord” but who is – unlike other angels – treated as worthy of worship and who is identified as God Himself.” In a remarkable passage, the Apostle Paul, in I Corinthians 10:4, speaks of God’s people in the Old Testament being led through the wilderness by Christ. Jude is similarly explicit about the identity of the one who delivered God’s people from Egypt. He says, “I want to remind you that Jesus, who saved people out of the land of Egypt, afterward destroyed those who did not believe.”
So, Jesus Christ is present in the Old Testament and that helps us to answer an otherwise thorny question. How is it that God, who Paul calls “The invisible God,” appeared to Abraham and Moses or could be spoken of as meeting face to face with a man? How is it that God, who tells Moses, “You cannot see my face and live,” the same God who appears to numerous people in the Old Testament. Paul answers those questions plainly in Colossians 1 when he says, “Jesus Christ is the image of the invisible God.” In fact, it’s Jesus who makes the invisible God visible.
What this means is dramatic! We serve a God who desires to be known. More than that, He is a God who desires intimate interact with those He calls and commands. Throughout the Bible, God repeats this stunning promise to those He loves, “I will make my dwelling place among you and walk among you.” Nowhere in the Old Testament is that more profoundly seen than in Genesis 32 and His wrestling with Jacob. Think of it. The same Lord who walked on water, healed the sick, delivered the demonized, died on the cross and arose again was the One who wrestled with Jacob all night.
This encounter is so profound and the Lessons derived so impactful that it’s taken us two weeks of focused attention. This Sunday, we continue our study of this great text in a message entitled, “ The Wrestler part 2.” I look forward to digging into it with you!
Sunday, October 8, 2023
Divine Exposures: The Wrestler
For the past month, we have been examining places in the Old Testament where God exposes Himself to people at the most critical moments of their lives and they’re transformed. They’re changed forever and what has been particularly interesting to note is that He always shows up in different ways, depending on the uniqueness and circumstances of the individual.
For instance, when He comes to an 80-year Moses in “the west side of the wilderness” near Mount Horeb, He shows up as a voice calling to him out of a bush that’s on fire but is not consumed.
When He comes to Job after 37 chapters of carnage and complaint, He comes in a whirlwind and challenges him. When He comes to a vulnerable Egyptian slave woman, named Hagar, who has been driven away from the household of Abraham, the Lord comes to her as the Angel of the Lord, the pre-incarnate Christ and speaks gently with her.
When He comes to the greatest prophet of God in the Old Testament, in his deep dark despair, He comes not in a tornado, or an earthquake, or in fire but in a whisper and suddenly Elijah learns the truth about himself and the God He serves.
This week, we look at another amazing exposure of God that is often read quickly with little thought. Indeed, many biblical commentators only scratch the surface of this stupendous encounter. Here in Genesis 32, the Lord of Hosts, the God of the universe, condescends to wrestle with Jacob all night.
He doesn’t come to him as a voice, or a whisper, or a whirlwind, He comes as a wrestler! Think of it. He comes to a 97-year-old Jacob with over 2/3’s of his life behind him, and He wrestles him on the ground all night.
They wrestle throughout the night but, in the earliest of the morning light, Jacob is transformed. He’s utterly changed. The encounter is so significant that God even gives him a new name.
There is so much to see in this story that we will work through it this Sunday and next Sunday. As in the case of each exposure, there’s so much truth to absorb and connections to make with our own lives. I’m looking forward to digging into it all with you!
Sunday, October 1, 2023
Divine Exposures: The Whisper
Years ago, I had a professor who wrote a book entitled, He Gave Us Stories. It is the study of the Old Testament. In the preface he writes,
“Lay people commonly emphasize the ministry of the Holy Spirit and neglect careful study. They often appeal to the words of Paul, ‘No one knows the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God.’ (1 Corinthians 2:11). Since the spirit is our teacher, these believers prepare themselves by searching exclusively for spiritual guidance.
I remember once talking with a friend who had given a lesson from the story of Jacob’s Ladder, (Genesis 28:10-22). Most of his comments were helpful, but at one point he remarked that Jacob’s Ladder represented ‘the way we climb up to God through our diligence’. Sometime later, I suggested that a more careful reading would not have led to this conclusion, but the opposite. ‘The ladder was a symbol of God’s grace. The angels, not Jacob, went up and down the ladder,’ I contended. The distinction seemed obvious to me, so I was surprised when he disagreed.
‘No,’ he insisted, ‘The Holy Spirit told me this is what it means. And that’s good enough for me!’ No amount of discussion or examination of the text could move him from his position. He had rejected careful study for what he thought was spiritual enlightenment.”
Now I’ve witnessed much of the same kind of thinking in myself and others throughout the years. Though John Calvin has famously said that the Bible is “God’s baby talk”, it is nevertheless, quite challenging, to say the least. That’s one of the reasons that when God delivered the Scriptures to us, He didn’t communicate truth through lectures or essays, but through stories. And there are many reasons for that.
Stories draw us in. Stories are engaging. They’re existential; we all have stories that illustrate some truth we’ve learned. Stories are immensely relatable. In fact, sometimes we can miss the point of a story by jumping too quickly to our own story.
When the Apostle John wanted to present the Gospel of Jesus Christ to his 1st century learners, he began with a story every Greek speaking person would understand. He says it this way, “In the beginning was the Logos (the word), and the Logos became flesh”!
When the prophet Nathan wanted to confront David, the king, with the gravity of his sin, he told him a story. When Jesus wanted to communicate the essence of His Father’s character, he told the story of the prodigal son.
But of all the stories of Scripture, few are as dramatic as the story of Elijah and the prophets of Baal. You find it in 1 Kings 18 and 19. It’s in this story and it’s aftermath that we again see another marvelous divine exposure. Unlike God’s encounter with Moses in the fire of the burning bush, or with Job in the whirlwind, God comes to Elijah in a whisper. And what a whisper it is!