Wednesday, December 25, 2013

The Christmas Presence

In the beginning, God was here, happy to just be with us. His creation was so good and he seemed to enjoy spending time with the piece of it that was specifically made in his image. But then man decided that he thought he could find a better god in himself, then when that failed in thousands of other “deities” throughout the millennia. Since God is a righteous and jealous God, he couldn’t just live here with people who were pushing him away. So he withdrew his presence from us but still kept a close watch over his prize creation.
Yet he was not content for it to stay that way. Being jealous for his people, He was determined to draw them back to himself so he could once again live among them. So He called out a people to be his own from among the nations and set them apart. He delivered them from incredible bondage by the mighty power of his hand and he made a covenant with them. He appeared in a huge storm cloud over the mountain with thunder and lightening and He gave them the law so they became the first people on earth to know exactly what God expected. Thus his people grew to know him like no other people since the beginning. Then, when they had agreed to abide by the covenant and make themselves a holy people, he told them to make him a special tent so he could come and live among them, almost like in the beginning. This tent was beautiful. It was constructed generous portions of fine gold, precious metals and fabric, every piece of which was a gift from the people who wanted to contribute to the construction of this new dwelling place of God. And so, through a system of blood shed for sin, separation by a veil and special intermediaries called priests, God was once again able to come and live among his people. His cloud came and filled the tent and his fire was seen burning in it every night. Yet it was not like the beginning because of the degrees of separation between him and his people. Especially when the people forgot the covenant and began sinning once again. Then God’s presence would lift from among them because they clearly did not want to live with Him. Along with it, would go his protection and provision, and the people would suffer.
Eventually, through many ups and downs, God brought his people into the land that he had promised them and established them in it largely by the hand of the mighty and obedient hand of King David, the “man after God’s own heart.” He wanted to build God a house so he wouldn’t have to live in a tent anymore, but God said, “No, But I will build you a house and your dynasty will last forever” So instead, his son built God a house which was one of the most beautiful buildings ever seen and God came and lived in the house which they called the temple and his presence was with his people there in Jerusalem. Yet there was a problem, the people still had rebellious hearts and they soon turned away from God once again. It was not long before it got so bad, that God had to remove both his people and his presence from the land in hopes of drawing them back to himself a few decades later.
It was around that time that the prophets wrote about a day when God would mend the core problem and give men new hearts to replace their rebellious ones. Only then could He hope to live among them forever. So although he brought his people back into their land and they rebuilt the temple there, that was not his final plan. Rather, they were to wait for one who was to come and change them from the inside.
So finally, on the chosen day, God came to earth; but this time, He’s not in a storm cloud with thunder and lightning, He’s not in a mysterious cloud living in a tent separated from his people, but rather in the form of a baby like one of our own. He so desired to just be with us, that he was willing to come right down to our level and be one of us. From there he went on to show us what kind of an abundant life we could be living with him as our master. He did the work that it took to give us new hearts, to the point of shedding his own blood. He walked with us stride for stride and being himself the cornerstone, he set the standard for the foundation stones of the apostles and prophets, and thus, the basis for a new building in which his presence could dwell among us. This would be the house he promised to David, but this house was not made from mere cloth, and skins; or even stones and cedar like the temple building. This time, his house is known as the church, its structure is the people of God who, together form the new dwelling place of the almighty right here on earth. It is not made from gifts of Gold or precious metals, but rather people who offer themselves willingly because they want to be a part of the house where they can invite people in to come and get to know the God who not only made them, but loves them more deeply than they can imagine.

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Isolation vs. Solitude

I used to think that isolation makes for good solitude, 
Now I know that it just breaks relationships.

I love my students. That's the whole reason I moved here, I've left my old home and begun forging a new one. I've given of my time and resources. Pretty much everything the last few years has been dedicated to being able to serve my students better here at Tanalian Leadership Center. 
So then I have to ask myself, why is it that when they actually lived here with me, I kept finding myself pushing them away? Well, after a good summer of time to ponder, some bold people who are willing to speak truth into my life and more than a few encounters with the Word of God, I feel like I'm beginning to understand. The one phrase that kept playing through my mind since last spring was "Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves." (Philippians 2:3)  Those words haunted me and they began to make all the times I said "no", "not now", "I need my sleep" or generally avoided connecting with people taste bitter in my memories. 
Something was wrong and had to change. 
I didn't get what it was yet because I always had a reason when I did those things. It was well thought out rational for every time. Usually it had something to do with taking care of myself and not letting people walk all over me and my boundaries. Boundaries are a good thing right? I had endless reasons for all of these choices but it wasn't till I listened to a book called "Crucial Conversations" that I had a lightbulb moment. That's when I realized that most of those reasons were made up after the fact as a justification or what they call a "clever story." My story sure sounded great but I made the choice because I was selfish then came up with the story about how it was unselfish afterward. 
So what was driving these choices besides just raw, fleshy selfishness. Well, I think it came from having a very introverted personality and feeling like I need lots of space to function well. My attitude was
"If I just keep people far enough away, perhaps I can have the solitude I need."
And while, yes, I need my solitude, it turns out that isolation is not the way to get it. I end up like Jonah. I wonder if he thought, 
"What I need is a nice vacation on the other side of the Medeterainian. Perhaps I'll hear God more clearly from over there perhaps he's not really telling me to do the last think in the world I would want to do.
I don't want to be like that. 
I think what I need to learn to do is find true solitude at the proper times so I can connect with my Lord. I could take a lesson from Jesus on that. He had no problem dissapearing in the mornings to go to the garden and pray. I'm pretty sure he even turned his cell phone off (Gasp! It has that setting?) 
But then when I come back I need to remember the reason I'm here, to connect with the people I love, then do that.  

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Guiding principles for Teaching at TLC

The following I wrote just recently as a way to concisely state my convictions about teaching in the context of Tanalian Leadership Center (TLC). The these principles have evolved from many conversations with native leaders, native students, fellow missionaries and many years of observations. Since all those things are ongoing, I expect that these principles will continue to evolve over the years. For the time being, these are the basic principles under which I attempt to operate.

1. Teach like you are the first Bible teacher they have ever had.
2. Good teaching has the students in mind; great teaching has the their students in mind.
3. Information is a slave to transformation.
4.To teach from the heart is to listen with the heart.

1. Teach like you are the first Bible teacher they have ever had.
This is a principle to remind the teacher not to put unrealistic expectations on the students that they should have a prior understanding of Biblical terminology and concepts. Until the overall culture of Southwest Alaska is one that gives a biblical foundation and worldview to all of its children, TLC will seek to serve those who have not had such an opportunity by offering it to them in a way that each individual student can understand.

2. Good teaching has the students in mind; great teaching has their students in mind.
The TLC teacher must remember that we only seek to be the snowball that starts the avalanche of spiritual multiplication and discipleship in Southwest Alaska. As such, it is equally important that we build both the students’ competency and confidence. Any school can give a student information, but at TLC we seek to empower the student to become not only a student, but one who makes disciples of the next generation. Thus it is critical that the teachers in this program avoid a model that relies on “the expert” from an outside source but instead focuses on the Word as the source of truth and each person’s ability to read and understand it as the skill of utmost importance.

3. Information is a slave to transformation.
According to this principle, the transfer of information serves only as an agent for transformation. Thus the teacher should not be overly focused on helping the student learn the information but should target the heart. In a biblical understanding, the heart of a person is the core of their being in which their true beliefs reside and from which all actions and attitudes flow. We do not seek behavioral modification or memorization and regurgitation, but rather heart transformation relying on the power of the Word of God and his Spirit to work in the hearts of people. The TLC Teacher’s job is to allow exposure to the Word and interaction with it in such a way that it encourages students to take it to heart and helps them process what that means. This principle also implies that the teacher’s Job is not only exposing people to the word, but equally as important, praying for the hearts of the students and their receptiveness to the Word.

4.To teach from the heart is to listen with the heart.
A teacher’s job is first to listen then to teach. When teaching the Holy Scriptures, that involves listening on multiple levels. On one level, the teacher must listen carefully to the writer of the scriptures to hear the message they were intending to communicate. On the next level, the teacher must also pray for an open mind and heart to hear from the Holy Spirit. The Spirit is the one who teaches the believer and if the believer wishes to teach others, they must first be open to hearing and responding to what God wishes to teach them. Once there has been true heart change, then passing that same message on to the students will be natural and effective. A teacher who has been changed by what they have learned will be easy for students to trust and therefore should have an open door to speak from the heart to the heart.

Friday, February 8, 2013


The other day in Bible class, as we were looking at the story of Job, one of my students asked, "How could Satan stand in the presence of God? I thought that God could not have evil in his presence?" We discussed that a little and it got me thinking. I eventually came to the other difficulty that God seems to be present everywhere and given the undeniable existence of evil, not only is evil allowed in the presence of God, but God's presence necessarily penetrates the territory of evil. And if God wanted to avoid evil, why in the world would he come to earth in the form of a human?

Thus was launched into pondering the true nature of the doctrine we call omnipresence which simply put, says God is everywhere. Well, that's nice and it's fitting for an all powerful God, but if we stop at simply everywhere, that kind of steals the thunder right out of the voice of God when he says that he will dwell in us and among us. Of course He does, He is everywhere, which means that he also dwells in and among Satan, his followers and the heathens right? Well, I'm hoping that his presence means something different among the wicked vs. his people. But what exactly is that difference?
Here's what my investigation turned up.
  • At the burning bush, his presence made even the dirt holy.
  • At the Exodus, he personally lead his people out in a pillar of cloud and fire (Ex 13:21)
  • Later he had them build a special tent  so that he could dwell in that as they wandered the desert (Num 9:15) 
So it appears that He is present in specific places in a special way.
Once Israel enters the Promise Land, There are some rather comical stories about his presence in the Ark of the Covenant. I Sam 4 tells the story where Israel attempts to win a battle by bringing the Ark into the camp so that "their God would be with them," yet they were still defeated and the Ark was captured.
Apparently God wasn't in the box. 
But then the Philistines bring the Ark into the Temple of Dagon their pegan god and the idol ends up falling on it's face before the Ark.
So apparently God was in the box.

(O.K. brief pause for a cheesy joke. What do you call a guy with no arms and no legs and no head lying on the floor? A Da-gone Idol. Lol.)

Moving on.
Finally, when Israel settles down in the promise land and David brings enough stability to build Jerusalem as the capital, the Ark is moved there. David builds himself a nice house and then realizes that the Ark is still living in a tent. That's just not right. So he says I'm going to build God a house. At first he prophet Nathan says,
"sure, go for it."
 But then after actually talking with God, he comes back and says something to the effect of,
"just kidding, basically here's what God says,
'I'm going to build you a house in which you will have a ruler forever.'"
(Andrew's Paraphrased Version of II Sam 7)

 and along with that he says that David's son will build God's house, the temple. 
So the Temple is built and God shows up in his cloud again and makes himself at home in the temple, among his people in a special way. Yet YHWH doesn't seem to be contained by those beautifully decorated walls very well and still seems to have pervasive and perhaps even invasive presence in other places. 
  • Jonah tries to run from his call to Nineveh and is thwarted by "YHWH, the God who made the land and the sea." The concept of which scared the pegan sailors right out of their canvas pants. 
  • Clear over in Susa, Esther "just so happens" to be queen to a king who is tricked into ordering a genocide of the Jews, but it "just so happens" that the tables are turned and the provoker is poked / skewered on the gallows. 
So although God is aware of all things in all places at all times, and in some sense perhaps he is present, it appears that he likes to be present in a special way in certain places at certain times. Especially when it comes to being in and among his people. 

So what does this look like today?

Eph 2:19-22
"So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Chist Jesus himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit."
(ESV, Emphasis mine)

In the context, Paul is talking about the meaning of being one in Christ as the church. As we unite together in love as members of the church, we actually become the New Testament version of the temple. And just as God dwelt with his people and was present in a special way on in the temple he is present in a special way in united believers today.

Now as we unite, we are the house that was promised to David and Jesus is the king in the house.

And that's not even to mention the concept that we are also the body of Christ. (See the last sentence in Eph 1)