Blog Tour #3, My Entry: In Search of The Search

God created mankind upright, but they have gone in search of many schemes. – Ecclesiastes 7:29

In one respect I think we can say that people are always searching for something. There’s some unmet need, some empty place that needs to be filled, some missing component that has left our hearts lacking. Epic poems and long novels have been written about the search for … that unidentifiable something. So I do stipulate that this is a realistic expectation for many. Most? I don’t know.

Overstimulated and Overwhelmed” is how one article describes the condition so many are facing today.

“This overstimulation can come from a variety of sources including excessive noise, multitasking, and cluttered surroundings.  Overuse of electronic media is a modern phenomena particularly linked to issues of anxiety, depression, and isolation.  This is unfortunately wide-reaching, as the average American spends most of their waking hours (about 11) on electronic media and internet.”

Can we make the case that we are so intent on searching for meaning and connection with God that we’ve exhausted ourselves? Or could we make the case that we’ve exhausted ourselves and the search is no longer interesting to us. We’ve given up.

…There is no one who understands; there is no one who seeks God. – Romans 3:11

Maybe it’s just me, but American Christians (some? most?) are suffering a slump of sorts. Any search we can identify seems to be on hold while we explore some of those ‘many schemes‘ the wise man wrote about in Ecclesiastes. Sometimes I feel that the spiritual search has fallen off of our radar while we seek fulfillment and excitement elsewhere.  If that’s true, why is this?

Could it be that we have taken our eye off of the Savior? Instead of intentionally being committed disciples of Jesus, we sought to have bigger, better, brighter experiences in life, in relationships, in worship. Something to make us feel something.  Have we chased after the experience but forgotten to love and serve the people around us in the name of Jesus?

“I began to wonder if what we were doing in evangelical circles had more to do with redeeming ourselves to culture than it did with showing Jesus to a hurting world, a world literally filled with outcasts.”
Donald Miller, Searching for God Knows What

God has promised that if we search for HIM, He will be found. Jesus said that if we seek the Kingdom first, our other needs would be met. 

You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.- Jeremiah 29:13

But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. – Matthew 6:33

And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him. -Hebrews 11:6 

For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened. – Luke 11:10

If you are feeling empty these days, look in the mirror and ask that person if they have been searching for God with their whole heart. I can’t prove it, but I think there are many people suffering from a spiritual emptiness they cannot identify. It’s not that they do not desire God. It’s more than that. It is that somehow the noise and distraction of life has kept them from desiring to desire God. The search for the Search has been put on hold. Indefinitely?

How do we break out of spiritual disenchantment and renew the search for the Search? How do I learn once again to be captivated by the beauty of the Savior and in awe of the power of the Father and feel the holy fire of the Holy Spirit? I hope you’re not looking for something to dazzle you here. I can’t offer you more of the stuff that has us numbed to the Spirit’s call. I can only think we must go back to basics.

Have I been spending time in the Word? I’m going to suggest paper, not screen. Too many distractions and temptations when we’re staring at the glow. Break free.

Have I asked God to reignite the passion for Kingdom living in my heart? Am I talking to Abba about the distance between us?

What have I done for someone else lately? Not for pay, not for recognition, not for anything except the opportunity to serve.

Have I been quiet? No tv, no small screens, just you and God and… no words. (It’s ok if you fall asleep… fall asleep in His presence… He loves you. You can grow in this area of listening prayer.)

Am I walking alone or do I have fellow disciples to serve, study, pray and love alongside?

Contemporary Christian group Building 429 sang a song about The Space In Between Us. That’s what we’re trying to bridge. Regaining the search for the Search is my desire for us.

God, for the days when I’m so distracted by the world around me and in front of me, give me the energy and strength to turn it off, turn away, and turn toward you. Grow within me the burning desire to know you more completely and serve you more faithfully. I not only desire to seek you, I desire to desire to seek you. Thank you for knowing what that means. Amen.

 

Resources

Overstimulated And Overwhelmed: Sensory Overload, Anxiety, And Depression

Blog Tour #1: Peter Horne

For the past few years, Peter Horne has organized a “Blog Tour”. It’s a way for several bloggers to share ideas and introduce themselves to new readers. I always look forward to this and am grateful for Peter’s organizational skills. This is the first in the series about What Are You Seeking? I hope you enjoy the weekly posts and you’ll check out the great blogs of these impressive writers. JED

What Are You Seeking… Really?  By Peter Horne

Several weeks ago I was having a conversation with someone about worship. Suddenly, it dawned on me how much my thought process differed from other worshippers. 

  1. There are some people who come to church each week asking “Will they sing the songs I like?” “Will the sermon meet my needs?” “Will my friends be there?” “Will my prayers be answered?” “Will my life be improved?”
  2. Then there’s another group of people who come wondering who God will bring this week. They’re praying for opportunities to speak encouragement into someone’s life. They’re looking around for people they can meet and serve, and hoping that some first-time guests will attend this week.

At first glance, I hope that #2 seems more spiritual, more godly, more mature. Generally speaking, I agree. But generalisations have exceptions. We should bear in mind that we all have times in our lives where we need to receive rather than give. We need to be served rather than serve. Additionally, at some point, almost all of us walked through the doors of a church as guests with a list of questions asking whether this was the right church for us.

We were seekers seeking.

Some of us knew what we seeking. Others found the object of our search only when we stumbled upon it. We were all seeking.

Jesus asked a crowd of people a similar question in Matthew 11:2-15. Jesus’ cousin John has been imprisoned by Herod and sends messengers to Jesus. It seems that John wants confirmation that his ministry and now suffering were for the right reason, that they were worthwhile and that they mattered.

Jesus responds by giving a list of examples from his ministry, such as “the blind can see” that can be connected to messianic prophecies in the book of Isaiah such as Is 61:1-3. But then he turns to the crowd and asks this important question:

“Who did you go out into the wilderness to see?”  Who were you seeking?

Matthew 3:5 records that, “People went out to him from Jerusalem and all Judea and the whole region of the Jordan. Confessing their sins, they were baptized by him in the Jordan river.” That’s a lot of people going to see and hear John the Baptizer. Now, some years later Jesus asks, “Who did you go out into the wilderness to see?”

He gives some choices: “Was it a reed, blown in the wind, waving this way and that?” “Was it someone in fine linens who’d make your life more comfortable and prosperous?” “Or did you go to see a prophet.”

Jesus knew well that people came to see him for a variety of reasons: Entertainment, financial gain, truth-seeking, overthrowing the Romans, or protecting the status quo.

This blog series challenges us to reconsider our motives as we follow Jesus.

  • Do we participate in his kingdom out of obligation or passion?
  • Does our status as adopted children of God seem real to us, or a theoretical concept?
  • Do we worship to please others, or because we love God?
  • Do we desire to participate in expanding the borders of God’s kingdom, or do we like our church the way it is?
  • Do we long to grow our relationship with God, or are we comfortable with our current level of knowledge and commitment?

What are you seeking? Really?

Imagine you had the opportunity to interview Jesus like you might interview the leader of a church you’re considering attending. What would you ask him?

  • Jesus, will my relationship with God be restored if I follow you?
  • Jesus, will my relationship with my husband be restored if I follow you?
  • Jesus, will my family finally accept me if I follow you?
  • Jesus, how much (or little) money do I need to give you to make you happy?
  • Jesus, will I still get to do the things I really enjoy doing?
  • Jesus, can I keep my friends?
  • Jesus, how much time will I need to give you each week?

Without putting on your holy hat, what would you ask Jesus? What are you seeking… really? Will you take 10 minutes and make your list? When you’ve done that, pray over it. Read it to Jesus and see how the Holy Spirit moves your mind.

Peter Horne moved to the United States from Australia in 1999 to pursue training for ministry. Having filled the roles of children’s minister, youth minister, and college minister in various locations around the US and Australia, he now gladly serves as the minister for the Lawson Rd Church of Christ in Rochester, NY. You can find more of his writing on his blog: www.aussiepete.wordpress.com. He also writes to equip multi-ethnic churches at www.culturalmosaic.org.

 

 

Joseph’s Run

The Narrative Lectionary leads us farther into the Old Testament story this week by pointing us to Genesis 39. If there is an ancient story with more contemporary ties, I don’t know what it would be.

Bible students are familiar with the long arc of the story of Joseph. He was the 11th son of Jacob and a favorite son. It was upon Joseph that the coat of many colors was bestowed. Joseph had dreams of his brothers bowing down before him. As unlikely as this was (from a human perspective), Joseph showed little discretion in telling his brothers about it. They hated him for his favored status and his delusions of grandeur. Sibling rivalry, it appears, is an ancient reality. So they sold him to some Ishmaelite traders (Thankfully, Reuben talked them out of killing him. That’s what big brothers are for!). They dipped his colorful coat in animal’s blood and cold-heartedly told their father that Joseph was dead. I guess they learned deception from the master of it. Uncle Esau almost killed their father over a lie and the loss of a blessing, but that’s another story. Our text finds Joseph in the next chapter of his life, a slave in Potiphar’s house.

No one would think Joseph was a lucky guy, but he did get taken down to Egypt where one of Pharoah’s officials bought him. It became obvious to Potiphar that the Lord was with Joseph and he gave him the keys to his house and business to oversee everything.  It became obvious to Potiphar’s wife that “Joseph was well-built and handsome” (vs. 6) and that she wanted to seduce him. He did refuse, out of loyalty to Potiphar. But Mrs. Potiphar continued “day after day” … until she cooked up a plan to bribe him into sleeping with her.  He didn’t give in, and she put her plan into motion. She produced “evidence” that he had tried to sexually assault her.  For this, he was put into prison. In prison, by the way, the warden could see that the Lord was with him and he gave him responsibilities. 

This story is epic. We won’t cover the ascension to a powerful position as a ruler Egypt. We can’t get to the reunion with his brothers and father. We can’t talk about the offer for Israel and his people to come to the land of Goshen. And how that all led to 400 years of slavery and the Exodus. We are anchored in this one episode – an episode that many times we read over quickly to get to the exciting part of the story. But we shouldn’t move too quickly, for there are some important things here in our text. 

*Joseph suffered several injustices that we often see today.

– He was a victim of human trafficking, being sold by those who had power over him.

– He was a victim of human slavery. Although he was treated well and given responsibility, we cannot lose sight that he was a slave against his will.

– He is a victim of racism, as he is typecast here as a slave because of his background. Potiphar’s wife exclaimed, “This Hebrew…”

– He was a victim of sexual harassment. There was someone with power over him demanding sexual favor. 

– He was a victim of wrongful accusation. He was not believed. 

– He was a victim of incarceration because of false circumstances.

– He was a man of integrity, running away from temptation.

Human trafficking, slavery, sexual assault, wrongful accusation, false imprisonment – did this story come from this week’s headlines? The injustices this Hebrew young man faced would leave anyone bitter, resentful, and disinterested in a God who would let this happen. But that is not his attitude. 

*The Lord was with Joseph. Four times in this text the Scripture says that the Lord was with Joseph. From a human perspective, that’s not quite evident, is it? We generally believe that when life is good the Lord is with us. How many times when misfortune or injustice strikes do we say ‘the Lord is with us’? 

Our text leaves us with Joseph in jail and his life story unresolved. In a way, that is good, because that describes our own situations. We don’t know how everything is going to turn out. What do we do when life has given us one hurt after another? Not just general unhappiness, but the kind of hurts that leave scars and make us wonder if we’re going to survive. A few overall observations about considering that ‘the Lord is with us’ in our times of pain…

*The Lord is with us if we are with Him. Many ungodly people wonder why bad things happen and God doesn’t do anything about it. While I do believe God hears every prayer, for those who have rejected God in their lives we shouldn’t wonder if the Lord is with them. In light of what we know, He allows us to wander away and go out on our own and be prodigal children. So everyone who suffers and injustice does not do so as one who is with the Lord.

*The Lord is with us but that doesn’t remove suffering.  Joseph suffered in multiple, dehumanizing, painful ways. The idea that living for God only results in good things happening in life is false. One only has to look to Christ on the cross to know that godly living does not remove suffering. In some ways, people can suffer because they live for God.

*The Lord is with us so we can act in godly ways during distress. When faced with a crisis many people abandon the Lord, others seek him more deeply. Joseph continued to serve God and he was ultimately rewarded to be in a place of power. It was during this time of power that his brothers came and bowed before him and begged him for help (not knowing he was their brother). This is the perfect time for revenge. Everyone in a position of power over him had sought to harm or treat him in inhumane ways. It was during this time he used his power for good. Although Joseph doesn’t know what the future brings as we read our text, we do not see him mistreating others. 

*The Lord is with us and in His presence tells us….

– He knows our hurts.

– He hears our prayers.

– He gives us strength and grace for endurance.

– He empowers us to make a difference. 

– He will never leave us.

– He ultimately will rescue.

In our day Joseph could have used a #metoo hashtag and could have spoken out against sexual harassment. He could have named the one who attempted to molest him. He could remind us of the destructive practice of human trafikking. He could have spoken out against slavery.  In these ways Joseph is very real in our world. Whatever hurts you have experienced, whether we named them this morning or not, I encourage you to find your hope in the Lord who is with you.

 

Grace Beyond the Curse

We only have a few more chapters to share from SURRENDERING TO HOPE.  It is my prayer that these sketches will give you an idea of the scope of pain and struggle that the authors of this book relate, and how each one finds guidance and hope in Jesus.  That same hope is available to you, dear friend. In your pain, you are not alone.

This is certainly a message that Jim Holway needed. His story contains many elements of painful experience that might have defeated many men. Jim was born in Seoul, South Korea. His mother was Korean, his father was a U. S. Soldier who had no intentions of raising a family. Before he was a year old he contracted polio. Because he was mixed race, he was treated with contempt by his culture. Ultimately, unable to provide the kind of care and help he needed, his mother put he and his brother up for adoption. In the orphanage, his half-brother contracted tuberculosis of the spine.

While it might have seemed like the end of the world, this was one of the first demonstrations of grace in my life … At every turn, when things could have gone quite badly, God found a way to break through the gloom and darkness to provide a ray of light and hope. But it was a ray I would not be able to see for half a lifetime.

The two hurting brothers were adopted by John Holway and his Japanese wife, Motoko, and raised in Manassas, Virginia. Multiple health problems continued to plague Jim, the resulting complications of polio. But that was not the only painful problem Jim faced. His parents were not Christians, and his mother was “physically, emotionally, and verbally abusive”. This and the effects of the divorce of his parents led him down a path of drug and alcohol abuse.  Further risky behavior ended with an arrest.

When Jim was nineteen a group of college students fro Freed-Hardeman College came to Manassas on an evangelistic outreach mission.

Their warmth, love, and acceptance led me to the healthy relationships for which had longed my entire life. In Jesus and his family, I found the belonging for which I had been searching. I followed the campaign group to Freed to attend school.

It as there that he met Kathryn and they moved to Argentina to do mission work. They had two children and adopted a third. The painful problem with polio seemed in the far distance and he was able to do all he wanted to do.  Upon moving back to the States, however, post-polio syndrome struck.

I hope you’ll pick up a copy of SURRENDERING TO HOPE to find out how Jim faced yet again the physical debilitating challenges in front of him. After noting the pain he now lives with he writes:

God has been watching over my life, and every time Satan made a move against me, God countered that move with divine grace. I can’t choose the pain or discomfort I feel, but I can choose my perspective in response to that pain.

I don’t know what pain you are facing today, but reading about Jim’s struggles and how he turned to God to find grace is truly inspirational.

Jim and Kathryn Holway

 

Jim Holway is Field Coordinator for Latin American Mission Project (LAMP), and Minister, Sunset Church of Christ, Miami, Florida.

 

 

 

 

In the next post about Surrendering to Hope, we meet a minister who manages to find gifts from God in the midst of his shattered dreams when divorce becomes his reality.

Surrendering to Hope is edited by John Mark Hicks, Christine Fox Parker, and Bobby Valentine. It is published by Leafwood Publishing.

Abram’s Choice

Now the Lord said to Abram, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you.  I will  make of you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing.  I will bless those who bless you, and the one who curses you I will curse; and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed. – Genesis 12:1-3 NRSV

Abram, as I see it, has kind of a sudden prominence in the Genesis story. There’s not much lead up to God’s amazing promise in this text. With Adam, we knew he was God’s first created human. With Noah, we knew that he stood out among all the people of his generation. With Abram? All we know about him is that he is the son of Terah. Terah gathered up his family in Ur of the Chaldeans and headed to Canaan. But he never got there. He stopped off in Haran and settled in there. Terah died without ever moving to Canaan. He left behind two sons (one had died) and their families. Abram was one of those sons. And he had a message from God to uproot from Haran and make his way to an undisclosed location. It’s not only undisclosed to us, it was undisclosed to Abram.

By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to set out for a place that he was to receive as an inheritance; and he set out, not knowing where he was going. – Hebrews 11:8

I suppose when one hears the voice of God there is some motivation to do whatever that voice says. Noah built an ark, indicating there was no doubt in his mind about what God wanted him to do. On one hand, we might say Abram had no choice in the matter. On the other hand, it seems to me that Abram’s choice was to obey this message from God – a God one wouldn’t think Abram knew. 

As I read it, Abram kept getting messages from God with affirmations of amazing promises. In response, Abram kept on responding in the belief that God would do what He said he would do. 

Hoping against hope, he believed that he would become “the father of many nations,” according to what was said, “So numerous shall your descendants be.” – Roman s 4:18

And that promise (spoiler alert) was fulfilled, but it took a long time. In the meantime, Abram tried to make it come about by figuring out how to help God keep his promise. It was, after all, in his best interest for those promises to come true. When the promised son became a reality, the truth was demonstrated once again that our timing and God’s timing aren’t often in sync. But that’s another text. So much of the story of Abram depends on his answer to this call. Abram’s decision. I know the matter of ‘choice’ has vast theological turbulence among Christian thinkers. But I don’t only think Abram decided to follow God in this instance, but over and over throughout his life.  Abram’s choice to follow God …

Cost him everything.

Gave him everything.

Complicated his life.

Simplified his life.

Challenged his thinking.

Enabled his faith.

No distrust made him waver concerning the promise of God, but he grew strong in his faith as he gave glory to God, being fully convinced that God was able to do what he had promised.  – Romans 4:20-21

There’s a reason Abram is the father of the faithful. It’s not because he was perfect, flawless, without failures. It’s not because he was a charismatic leader. It’s not because he figured out how to give God what he wanted. 

He believed God. He believed God above the idols of his youth. He believed God when he took the first steps in a direction toward an unknown destination. He believed God before he ever received one of the promised blessings. He believed God when his body was dead but a promised son was still on the horizon. He believed God when he took Isaac to the mountain in Moriah. 

Thus the scripture was fulfilled that says, “Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness,” and he was called the friend of God. – James 2:23

To have that kind of faith, to just believe God, in this age of skepticism is an amazement. How many ‘friends of God’ are there today? What decision do you need to make so that you can demonstrate that you believe God? What choices are in front of you? Where will that lead you?

The life of faith is not a life of mounting up with wings, but a life of walking and not fainting. It is not a question of sanctification; but of something infinitely further on than sanctification, of faith that has been tried and proved and has stood the test. Abraham is not a type of sanctification, but a type of the life of faith, a tried faith built on a real God. “Abraham believed God.” – Oswald Chambers, My Utmost for His Highest

One more thought. By the end of our text, Abram pitches his tent. He chooses a spot between Ai and Bethel. Ai means “heap of ruins” and Bethel means “House of God”. So we leave our hero someplace between ruin and riches, defeat and victory. I think this is where we all live. But where we go next is a choice. 

What thoughts do you have as you read Genesis 12:1-9?

Narrative Lectionary for this week is Genesis 12:1-9. Gospel Reading is Matthew 28:19-20.

Still Wrestling

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UPDATE: Winner of the book giveaway is Cecil May, III … picked at random from those who entered. Thanks for reading and participating. Another book giveaway coming soon!

Thanks for checking out this blog post today. Be sure to read through the post to find out about a book giveaway!

I can still remember being stunned beyond belief the day the phone rang in my office at Forsythe Church of Christ in Monroe. It was my friend Mark from the Mississippi Gulf Coast. He called to tell me that the wife and child of one of my best friends had been killed… murdered. Maggy and I began preparations to head down to the Coast to offer what support we could. Les Ferguson, Jr was living a nightmare, and we were helpless to do anything but tell him we loved him and would be there for him.

Over time Les has chronicled his journey on a blog called Desperately Wanting to Believe Again. Nowadays the blog is titled simply, Les Ferguson Jr. Writes. And Les does write, he’s written a book called Still Wrestling. This book begins with a chilling account of the loss that Les and his family endured. In vivid and heartbreaking detail Les shares both what happened and his response in trying to deal with the many complications of this loss.

The honesty with which Les writes will draw the reader in. But not only as an observer of what has happened to him, but as a participant in the struggles of life that have significant challenges for all. A few highlights from the book…

Over the days, weeks, months, and now years that followed, I wrestled with God, wrestled with myself, and wrestled with my faith community. I am still wrestling. I suspect I will be wrestling as I draw my last breath.

But this I promise: unless you have lost a child, you cannot comprehend the level of grief, pain, and suffering I am trying to describe.

There is no going back for me. The hands of time cannot be rewound. All I know how to do is move forward. Sometimes bravely. More times than not, tentatively and fearfully.

In my thinking, God wanted me to accept and serve something fundamentally different from the God I had known before. In the horror of tragedy, he wanted me to trust him. In the horror of tragedy, I was convinced he was unworthy. So, I ran.

Yes, I have mourned the loss of me. The connections, the location, the friends, the life I once had. It all went away. And faster than you might believe.

As it turns out, my tragedy simply shined a light on the brokenness that was already there.

In most of the chapters, Les centers in on a Biblical character who has had significant life losses and struggles. In the retelling and examination of these stories we are reminded that though our losses may be different, the God who sees us through them is the same.

But I see myself in each character. I feel his pain. I share the struggle. I am just as human as every person we’ve studied. … I am not alone. And neither are you.

In the end, Les centers his faith in Jesus Christ. However, this is not a book that denies the ongoing pain of loss. I appreciate the way that Les balances out the pain and the faith that seem opposed to one another.

I have fallen. I will fall again. But here is the good news: In Jesus Christ, I am more than the sum of my mistakes, failures, sins, and epic disasters. Because Jesus was and is the ultimate Savior, a day will come when my value and worth will be seen completely in him.

That’s the Jesus I want to know. The Jesus who leaves you weak and trembling. The Jesus who unequivocally declares that love and service to others—even death on a cross—is what matters. It’s not our arguments. It’s not our differences of opinion. It’s not our posturing. None of that matters. It’s Jesus. Only Jesus. All Jesus. He is our doctrine. Everything flows from him. He is the invitation!

Discussion questions follow each chapter, making it suitable for a small group or class. I read the Kindle edition which was excellent and performed perfectly. 

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Ah, the giveaway! Thanks for reading this far. I’m going to offer one free copy of Still Wrestling to one reader of this blog. All you have to do is leave a comment letting me know if you’d rather have a paper copy or Kindle edition. I’ll choose from those who leave a comment in a week or so.

I appreciate Les for bringing us along on a journey he never wanted to take. We don’t always get to choose our journeys but we do get to choose our Savior.

No matter how hard the path seems, out here hope remains.

JED