Thursday, October 25, 2012

Grinning God

This week my wife captured a beautiful moment. It describes what my words cannot. The body language and the smiles tell of more than a moment of play; these two live wires commune with Creation. They, without realizing, celebrate God's gift and in so doing experience joy. God intends as much.

God did not explode his creative brilliance on a galactic canvass so we could escape it. He breathed life into existence for us to enjoy. When God birthed humanity onto the created scene, his first act toward us was a blessing (Gen. 1:28-30). He says, "Run through the grass; splash in the streams; feel the wind in your face; hold each other and laugh; drink deep the nectar of life." God did not create an amazing world so he could command you to spend the rest of your life trying to free yourself from it. Communion with life, creation, and existence is spiritual...deeply spiritual. Sometimes we think sin is: 'the full engagement with this life," when, in reality, sin destroys our ability to fully engage this life as God always intended.

The psalmist senses the joyful design of Creation (Psalm 104:24-28):

What a wildly wonderful world, God!
    You made it all, with Wisdom at your side,
    made earth overflow with your wonderful creations.
Oh, look—the deep, wide sea,
    brimming with fish past counting,
    sardines and sharks and salmon.
Ships plow those waters,
    and Leviathan, your pet dragon, romps in them.
All the creatures look expectantly to you
    to give them their meals on time.
You come, and they gather around;
    you open your hand and they eat from it.
God does not want you to spend your entire life wishing you were elsewhere, wishing Jesus would come and bring an end to this horrible place. (Jesus will actually come to complete this place.) He wants you to ENJOY life. Here are a few things I enjoy. Perhaps it will jog your memory to the joy of this life.
  1. FOOD. I usually maintain a strict diet but every week I have a Fat Day. On this day I celebrate food. There are no rules, no calorie reading, and no fat grams counted. On Fat Days I pursue carbs and butter. I celebrate and enjoy flavors and spices. I look forward to Fat Day.
  2. RELATIONSHIPS. I'm not the most relational person in the world. I don't have the gift some have of making everyone they meet feel like their best friend. I'm a true motivation comes from within. But, I love people and I crave two kinds of relationships: deep transparent relationships where I feel a soul-connection and silly, goofy relationships. My best friends are those who love me in spite of knowing the blackness of my soul, but who I also spend hours with laughing and talking about nothing of importance or value. I enjoy Mary Beth because she is more familiar with my soul than any other person alive. One reason I enjoy my boys is because they make me laugh.
  3. NATURE. I feel most alive when I'm on a trail, camped on the bank of a lake, or kayaking through a river. I see God clearly in the intricacies and details of his natural world. One of my dreams is to hike the Continental Divide Trail.
  4. SEX (with my wife). Sex is destructive outside God's design, but God designed sex for far more than procreation. God wants us to enjoy sex with our spouse. I do. 
  5. RUNNING. I run a lot. Some days I don't feel like it, but I still do it. Running is a celebration of human freedom. There are no courts, no out-of-bounds, no rules. You just go...and I enjoy it. Often I find God in the run.
These are a few of the things I enjoy. I believe God wants me to enjoy them. What about you? Are you taking time to enjoy the gift of LIFE God so graciously provides?

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Blind Legends and Dreamers

The screen biography of Ray Charles staring Jamie Foxx provides many heart-wrenching moments. In one particular scene, lost and held captive by his blindness, the seven-year-old Ray falls in the center of his shack. Completely disoriented, he screams for his mother to rescue him. He quickly comes to the conclusion she is absent, and so he fights and crawls his way back to reorientation.

The power of the scene lies not is Ray's individual perseverance but in what the movie-goer sees that Ray cannot. While he crawls petrified across the floor desperately looking for an object to give him his bearings, the viewer can see Ray's mother present the entire time, tears streaming down her face. She knows his current struggle will save him in the future. Ray was confident his mother was absent in the moment of desperation, but in spite of his feelings, his reason, and his experience, she was present. Her presence was not limited by his awareness!

That's what I love about the Joseph story. Unlike Moses, Joseph had no burning bush coffee-talk experience with God. Unlike Abraham, three angelic visitors did not show up for pancakes and eggs. Unlike Isaiah, Joseph did not see God in the temple. Beyond a god-given gift to interpret dreams, Joseph did not have a "spiritual experience." He spent the majority of his life believing God was with him, but uncertain. He lacked the hard evidence other biblical characters accumulated.

Finding himself in the belly of a well alone and afraid, I'm sure God seemed aloof. When his brothers sold him to a camel caravan as if he were a goat or donkey, he might of thought God was out to lunch. Standing trial for false accusations of rape..."Uh, God? Where are you?" And finally, in the cold Egyptian dungeon, no one knowing he is there, not one to hear him scream, to cry, no one to answer his loneliness...I'm sure God was gone, at least in his mind.

Sometimes we develop a superhuman perception of Joseph, as if he were bullet proof, able to deflect the ammo of life without so much as a flesh wound. But Genesis tells a different story. His brothers, reflecting back on their choice to sell Joseph, remember how he screamed and begged for his life (Gen.  42:21). After Pharaoh releases his cup bearer from prison, Joseph pleads with the cup bearer to fight for his freedom from a false imprisonment (Gen. 40:14-15). Joseph cries. He cries a lot, disturbingly so. He cries from fear, from loneliness, from unresolved pain and hurt. He cries. He cries because he has had a difficult life. Yes, Joseph was faithful but it was not easy. He did not show up in the dungeon announcing to the prisoners, "Guys! Attention! You look around and see a dungeon, prison bars, cold floors and no food, but I see a house of God, a church waiting to be built. Will you sing with me, 'Our God is mighty to save...'" He begged to get out of prison. Not until his 56th year of life does Joseph have the capacity and the hindsight to look back and recognize that God was with him all along (Gen. 50:19-21)

Joseph had moments, I would assume many, where he doubted God's presence and rightly so. There in lies the power of the Joseph story, because despite Joseph's awareness of God, the narrator is clear, "The Lord was with Joseph..." Perhaps while traveling through the desert as an Ismaelite slave, or facing false accusations of rape, or suffering alone in the dark cells of Egypt Joseph struggled to find evidence of God. But God WAS there. He was there working. He was there whether Joseph knew it or not.

God's presence was not limited by Joseph's awareness, and the same is true for you. God's presence is not limited by your awareness! You may be in a season of your life when God seems absent. You may look around at the chaos and dysfunction and find no evidence, no data, no proof of God. Your feelings are legit. Your emotions are warranted, but you are wrong. God is with you. Don't rely on your senses; rely on Joseph's testimony. God IS with you!

[If you would like to hear TCOC messages on the story of Joseph. Listen to our Messy God series HERE.]

Monday, October 8, 2012

Messy God: The Story of Joseph

Life gets messy. Sometimes life gets messy because you choose sin. Sin always makes a mess of things. Other times, life gets messy because the consequences of other people's sin snuggle up next to your comfortable life. Either gets messy. The good news? God is a messy God. He dives headfirst into our mess and stays there until he leverages it for something beautiful. 

Genesis 37-50, the story of Joseph, paints a vivid picture of a messy God. Over the next two months I will be teaching through the story of Joseph (October 14 - November 18). I pray Joseph will help you see God in the midst of your own mess.