The Most Important Bible Verse

Disclaimer: Dr. Gibbs was the reason I first paid attention to this verse. Largely because of his influence in my life as an academic and friend, but also because the class received +5 points on any assignment where you wrote the reference at the top of your work.

Sunday night at The Refuge we talked about this verse as well as the covenant that God made with Abram. It’s not a passage that you’d care to read your child as a bedtime story. And if you’ve ever read how God and Abram “cut” this deal you were probably so grossed out that you missed the deep connotations of the most important verse.

You quickly go from this:

5 He [the LORD] took him [Abram] outside and said, “Look up at the sky and count the stars—if indeed you can count them.” Then he said to him, “So shall your offspring be.”

To this:

He also said to him, “I am the Lord, who brought you out of Ur of the Chaldeans to give you this land to take possession of it.”

But Abram said, “Sovereign Lord, how can I know that I will gain possession of it?”

So the Lord said to him, “Bring me a heifer, a goat and a ram, each three years old, along with a dove and a young pigeon.”

10 Abram brought all these to him, cut them in two and arranged the halves opposite each other; the birds, however, he did not cut in half. 11 Then birds of prey came down on the carcasses, but Abram drove them away.

Just what a crisp evening under the stars needs, animal carcasses.

But in the midst of all of that imagery, and all of that work (and it would take a while to gather and slaughter these animals) we find, for an extra +5 points, Genesis 15:6:

Abram believed the Lord, and he credited it to him as righteousness.

That’s it. Abram believed.

With the government shutdown, and all these talks about debt ceilings and America’s credit score we’re all too familiar with what it means to be credited with something. It’s like going to Starbucks and being credited with a free drink, or getting $20 of extra care bucks at CVS.

Except it’s better.

It’s even better than someone saying to our government “Hey, that debt you have. Forget it. It’s covered.”

Righteousness means to be made right with God. It’s God saying “You and I… we’re good.” And all Abram had to do was believe. He trusted God. He wasn’t credited righteousness because he had moved away from home, or because he had the animals available to be slaughtered, or because of his potential. He was credited righteousness because he believed God and that was all God needed.

If Abram doesn’t believe God, the history of the Old Testament falls apart. Father Abraham would be just plain old Abram. Because he believes God he is made right with God. In this passage grace is extended, with no strings attached.

So here are a few things that we can take away from this passage:

  • God keeps his promises.
    • In the rest of Genesis 15 God makes a blood covenant with Abram. Typically this would be done by both parties, but God is the only one to take part in this covenant.
  • God takes covenants seriously.
    • If either of them broke the covenant it’s not a pretty picture. See Jeremiah 34:18-20.
    • So don’t make promises you don’t plan to keep.
  • It’s ok to ask God questions.
    • Abram did. In Genesis 15:8, Abram wants to know how God will keep his promise.
    • Pray and make sure you are on the same wave length.
  • After we’re made right with God there is work to be done, and we may not see the fruit of our labor.
    • God tells Abram that there will be a long (400 year) process and that he won’t make it to see it fulfilled, but Abram trusts that God will come through.
    • Sometimes it’s easy to sit at the top of the mountain and not want to move, but God doesn’t allow us to sit around. There are people who need our help, and need to know about the Good News of Christ. God isn’t just sitting up in a cloud, so get to work in your local church. Find out how you can serve Christ in your congregation and in your community.

Firetrucks and Faith

My granddad was a fire chief in Virginia, and as a result I’ve always loved firefighters. At the first church I served I had 4 students that were explorer fire fighters. At any given time during youth group I’d hear the radios go off and they would sprint out of the doors yelling back “Sorry!”.

This image caught my eye on Facebook the other day. The Ford page posted about a concept vehicle that was “pushed into service” by tornadoes in Texas. Ford showed this F-550 concept firetruck in Houston:

Image

According to the article, most concept vehicles rarely see outside the showroom floor. Most concepts aren’t even fully functionally. This truck had 2 miles on it when it was called upon to actually go to work. After it was finished it was cleaned up and continued on the showroom circuit, (“Ford rescue concept truck pressed into service to help tornado victims“).

Looking through the comments from fans of the article numerous people wanted them to leave the truck covered in mud and ash. They said that it would be a fitting tribute to what this truck was capable of doing and to the people behind the concept.

As I thought about that I began to wonder about what our (Christian) Sunday morning worship services convey. Do people look at us and think, “That’s a great looking group of people, it’s nice that they get out of bed and get dressed up on Sunday, but can they do anything?” Do they see showroom quality Christians that “aren’t fully functional” or do they see us motivated by the Spirit and “pushed into service”. The list price on this truck is $150,000. But if it just sits in a showroom it isn’t worth anything.

There are times in our faith journey when God calls us to do something at that very moment and we have to choose what we will do.

Matt told me once, “If God is telling you to do something and you ignore it, it’s going to bother you.” Immediately I thought, “How long will it bother me? How long will God wait for me to respond? How long do I have to do something? What happens if I don’t do anything?”

When he calls will we respond to him or roll over and go back to sleep? Will our faith be one that does good?

The Lord came and stood there, calling as at the other times, “Samuel! Samuel! ”

 

Then Samuel said, “Speak, for your servant is listening.”

-1 Samuel 3:10

Francis Chan and C.S. Lewis

I made fun of Chris about a year and a half ago about how long it took him to read Crazy Love by Francis Chan. Confession… I’ve taken longer. Over the past week I’ve began reading Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis. I’ve read it before, but it was so long ago and I read the book so quickly that, sadly, I missed a lot of what Lewis wanted to say. Mere Christianity has been a good read, but I didn’t really expect Lewis to disappoint.

“I hope you will not misunderstand what I am going to say. I am not preaching, and Heaven knows I do not pretend to be better than anyone else. I am only trying to call attention to a fact; the fact that this year, or this month, or, more likely, this very day, we have failed to practise ourselves the kind of behaviour we expect from other people.” –Mere Christianity, Chapter 1.

Instead of reading more of Chan I opted to take the advice of an acquaintance and watched a couple of interviews on Youtube. I was curious when I read the title “Erasing Hell by Francis Chan” and immediately thought that this was some type of rebuttal or acknowledgment of Rob Bell’s recent book “Love Wins” which I have not yet read. The video was humbling and I look forward to reading more about Chan’s journey through scripture about what Hell is and isn’t.

Chan’s humble approach to the subject of Hell isn’t an approach I’m used to seeing in the South. I expect to see one of two things when people talk about Hell. The first is that they don’t talk about it. They avoid it and try to revert back to an idea of only a loving God, but seem to forget the justice of God. The second is the typical (and annoying) in your face, turn or burn approach. This approach tends to harp to hard on the justice and anger of God and forgets about the love, grace, and mercy that we expect from a perfect Father. I can’t wait to read “Erasing Hell”, but take a look at Chan for yourself…

Weed in a Can… No, Seriously

I have to admit, I did a double take when I saw this ad at a gas station in Greenville on Easter. All I could think was “Seriously?” Fortunately, it doesn’t actually contain weed.

However, it is a alcoholic malt beverage. According to an article in the Bay City News, the company Jeremiah Weed, says that “the new line of malt beverages is more male-centric than other premium adult beverages.”

While the beverages may claim to be “more male-centric” I doubt that I’d catch a man’s man with a pink can in his hand. It seems to me that the targeting is two fold. There first target is obviously men, but the second, consequently, are teens. My argument stems from the fact that Jeremiah Weed’s new beverage was stored closer to the energy drinks than the other alcoholic beverages. Sure, the individual store is responsible for the placement, but a teen is much more likely to see the product if it’s next to the sodas and Monsters.

I’m no guru on culture and advertising (Walt Mueller is), but I hate it when companies push the controversial limit to promote their product. I wouldn’t have put the picture up, but I hope that parents/youth workers/teens will see this and recognize the danger… that and I didn’t think anyone would believe me.

Valve Covers, Engine Trouble, and Spirituality

It wasn’t long ago that I noticed I’d lost significant power from my truck. Climbing hills it struggled and would downshift to make it through areas it use to have no issue with climbing. I checked the hood and noticed a ton of oil leaking from the valve cover. It was a blown valve cover gasket.

So I called one of the guys in my youth group (“Noch Noch” who is also an avid Ford enthusiast) and we tore into the beast. Sure enough, it was blown. It looked awful with pieces cracked, oil saturated, and pieces that looked just plain terrible. So, we cleaned everything, replaced the gasket with a brand new one, and waited to fire it up. When we finally did it was back in business. Problem solved.

Almost… I knew that was too easy.

About a mile away from my house my engine stalled on me. Dead a red light I begin pushing this 4,000lb obstacle out of the street. It wouldn’t start and when it finally did it sounded horrific. I made it to the church, but again with very minimal power. When I arrived I saw oil leaking from the cover… blown again. So I got it home, parked the truck, and prayed to a carpenter about an engine. I prayed he’d know someone that could tell me what happened… He did.

Here was the conversation at the youth Christmas party:

Hank: We did everything by the book. Except I didn’t have a torque wrench so I just tightened the bolts in really tight.

Jay:  It only needs to be hand tight.

Hank: But I thought you needed to make sure they had enough torque.

Jay: You do, but it’s not much. If it’s too tight you’ll warp the valve cover and you won’t have a solid seal.

So I consulted the book to find I need about 5 ft lbs. of torque. Needless to say, the valve cover was warped. I did it the best that I could.

The best I could. Jay could’ve done it better. Sometimes we put too much pressure on things and then wonder why they didn’t work. The fact of the matter is that there are some things that can take a lot of pressure, and there are some things that can’t. There are parts to my truck that need to have over 100 ft. lbs. of torque, and others that only need to be hand tight. I’m thankful that in youth ministry I have people (both volunteers and students) that are at different levels. Some need to be pushed really hard and some just need to know you’re there. The key is to push (or challenge) everyone, but we have to know how much is too much and how much isn’t enough. How do you know the right formula in your spirituality?

How do I know what my torque setting is? How do I know where I am in my relationship to God? What do I need to do to grow closer?

Unfathomable

Imagine yourself standing on the corner of one of the busiest, biggest cities you’ve seen. How tall are the buildings? What sounds can you hear? Do you see the taxis? Or the person trying to get one? What about the vendor on the corner? Can you smell the fumes of the exhaust mixed with the restaurants tucked away in those massive buildings?

Whenever I think of the city I don’t think of Columbia, Greenville, or Charleston. I think of New York. I can still remember stepping off the Amtrack walking around the corner and standing at the entrance of Madison Square Gardens. Macy’s was just down the street. People were everywhere!! Some had suits and briefcases, some with ball hats and shopping bags. I couldn’t believe it. I’d arrived.

Here I was straight out of South Carolina. Literally. I drove from Greenville to NYC in a day. Fortunately, I didn’t drive up alone. My wife’s parents went with me. Just the three of us. Well… the three of us and their dog Amy. We left around 3 am and arrived just outside of New York around 9:30pm. After a not so relaxing night on the sofa bed in Kristie’s parents’ hotel room (that’s right not only shared a ride, but also a room) the next morning I woke up, knocked on Kristie’s door and off we went to the city. Exhausted I’m sure my southern accent was obvious. I felt so out of place, but I really didn’t care. I was in New York. Who cares if I’ve got a massive camera around my neck and I’m snapping shots every chance I get? IT’S NEW YORK!

Empire State, Sean John

The whole city seemed super sized. The buildings, the fashion, the prices, the sales lines, the lights, the billboards, even the candy shop. I could hardly believe the M&M shop. From floor to ceiling there was candy. It’s a kid’s dream come true, and parent’s nightmare, and a cash cow for local dentists.

We tried to walk to Ground Zero. New York is a little bigger than Greenville. Trying to walk from one side of the city to the other was a little ambitious. The size of the crater was huge. I couldn’t believe just how much room the Twin Towers took up. Let me explain, a Greenville city block is not the same as a NYC block. I honestly think you could fit the city limits of Greenville within Ground Zero. It was huge.

Looking back I describe my initial reaction to New York as being awestruck. Exploring the city with Kristie is still one of my favorite memories. But as I read the scriptures I can’t help but think of how BIG the Father is and how incredibly small I am. It blows me away to think that the biggest, most extravagant things on this planet are merely an ottoman to God. Imagine that when God kicks back to relax He sits on Mars, lays His head on Jupiter, and props His feet on Earth. And that’s still an understatement!! Then imagine that he took so much time to sort out the little details. And not just little, but like microscopic, not yet discovered details of life. Like the fact that before you were born He knew how many hairs would be on your head. He is both able to see the incredibly big picture, and at the same time intricately cares about the ity bity details of our lives. The fact that other religions refer to God as some superior being that should strike fear into your heart, or that He is some small god that has to be prayed to in a specific way or else He can’t hear you makes me laugh. The fact that I call my God, abba father, dad is incredible. No other “religion” holds a candle to my relationship with my Father.

The Highway Patrol, a Manager, and a Jerk

This weekend was incredible working with the students of Lexington UMC and some great volunteers. Palm Sunday kicked off Holy week and the ball now begins to roll quickly through Maunday Thursday and Good Friday to the celebration of the resurrection of our Lord! For a staff person at a church this is a fun, but crazy week.

As if I needed to experience a night with the highway patrol, a restaurant manager, a USDA certified… donkey (being very, very nice with my very, very limited name calling vocabulary.)

Yesterday, I had the opportunity to meet with a group called the Lexington One Community Coalition (LOCC) at a local Mexican restaurant. Of course I wasn’t going to miss a free meal! So Kristie and I RSVP’d and went to investigate what kind of serious conversation the LOCC could conjure up  at a Mexican restaurant.

They had some incredible information about local middle and high schools across the Columbia, SC area. The conversation centered mostly around the perception of alcohol among teens and how it continues to be the #1 substance that teens choose to abuse. We talked about how we could impact our communities by doing simple things. Overall, I think it was a productive meeting. There was a police officer, aka Po-po, at the meeting who reported on house parties, DUI related deaths among teens, and what kinds of problems the local police are facing and how LRADAC has teamed up with police and fire fighters to improve our communities.

I wish I would have snagged his card or badge number or something so I could get in touch with him. I had no I clue that I could have used this connection later.

After wrapping up lunch, dropping off Kristie, finishing up work at the office I went home to see my wife (on a week day!!). When I got home Kristie had got so caught up in cleaning the house, doing laundry (which I was, am, and will always be grateful for), and going through that stack of papers that I some how forgot about, that she completely forgot about the delicious meal that we had both been talking about making for days. Oh well. At least the house was clean right? So what are we going to do for dinner???

We got in the car and began driving down I-20 towards the mall. Kristie had the Garmin in the passenger’s seat and began searching for places to eat. We play this game of asking, “What do you not want for dinner?” Not mexican, not a deli, not even dinner. Ugh, we’re both just hungry and I cannot think of what I wanted to eat. Maybe we could grab a bite at…

That’s when I saw the lights flashing.

Not the lights of a silver Dodge Charger, but the lights of a white 15 passenger work van in my side mirror. He was swerving in and out of traffic and hitting the perfectly paved bumps of the South Carolina Interstate so hard his headlights looked like they were flashing as he hit one bump after the other. I had a semi behind me, a sedan in front of me, and a car in the lane beside me.

I knew this was going to be bad.

As he approached the car beside me… hold on, as he nearly ran into the car beside me he abruptly applied his brakes and swerved behind me. Headlights flashing he wanted me to slide over, but there was a car beside me and one in front of me… AND WE WERE ALL GOING THE SAME SPEED. All except this lunatic in the Indy-Car inspired work van. Needless to say Kristie freaked out, and I needed to get out of this guy’s (or girl’s) way. We were able to slide over, at which time the van tried to bully the sedan out of his way.

I use to have an aggressive bit of road rage

but now I have a cell phone. Go ahead jerk, bully your way in and out of traffic in your blatantly obvious white Ford E-250 work van with a South Carolina permanent tag # _______. Yes I had the tag number and yes I was quickly in touch with a highway patrol officer giving a detailed description of the van, mile marker, and that he took I-126. Now I don’t have road rage, because I know someone else could take care of the problem.

Moving on Kristie and I decided to opt out of a real dinner and go for breakfast. There is this 24 hr breakfast place on close to the mall that looks like something out of the 50’s.

Only moments after walking in you could sense tension. Exhausted from the day, we took our seats to enjoy supper at a nearly 9 at night. To gain some perspective you need to know that Kristie and I sat on the same side of the booth and yes we are “that couple”.

Before our waitress could bring our water both of saw what looked liked a really cute 12-18 month old boy eating dinner with his seemingly frustrated father. The boy had food all over his face and looked like he’d been playing in his food. Maybe dad was upset that more food was on the baby than in the baby, I don’t know. Kristie and I have a ton of friends that are pregnick right now and we have talked about when we will have our own little one (it will not be anytime soon). Of course Kristie is looking at the little boy and I’m looking at the menu.

What happened next infuriated me and Kristie to a level which is borderline explosive.

I heard a man cursing at the top of his lungs. I looked up and the man had grabbed the little boy, slung him into a different seat and was within an inch of his face screaming and cussing at him. At this the little boy began to scream and cry. He was terrified. The man continued to scream “Stop your crying! Why can’t you just stop with all your…”

My blood pressure peaked. How could you scream at a child!? Much less at 9pm?! I knew that if I didn’t get me and Kristie out of that restaurant that someone would be leaving in an ambulance and I was not going to let it be that little boy. The waitress apologized and we went to our car. From there I saw another waitress approach the man and walk away. It looked like they were taking care of the problem.

As Kristie and I vented and cried over what the future might hold for that little boy I felt convicted. I should have said something to the man, but he looked strung out on something. I should have contacted the manager immediately, but I wanted to make sure my wife was safe. I should have called the police and had the man thrown in prison.

I decided to call the restaurant and speak to the manager to follow-up with what had taken place and to see what had happened with the man and that little boy. It was not a fun conversation. When the manger said “I’m sorry you left. I’ve been told you and your wife left because the baby was crying so lou” I cut him off and explained.

“It wasn’t the baby’s crying. I completely understand that a baby cries. They laugh, they cry, they throw fits, they throw food, they spit up, but when a grown man uses force to try and intimidate a helpless child; when he curses at his son, when he grabs an 18 month old and throws him into a chair… I don’t have the tolerance for a man that ignorant, and maybe he needs someone to throw him around so that he’ll understand that his behavior won’t be tolerated. As an American you should exercise your right to refuse service to men of that character and have an officer escort him to jail.” I was fuming.

I can handle a lot of pressure and a lot of pain. You can talk behind my back, you can say hurtful things, and I’ll find a way to restrain my flesh and mouth and I’ll be able to move on later. But when someone abuses a child, much less in front of me… I can’t handle that. It stirs up something in my core. There is no fuse, only ignition. And it’s not just me, I’m reminded of the passage:

“If anyone causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to be thrown into the sea with a large millstone tied around his neck.” – Jesus

I get the feeling this wasn’t said with a smile and a halo. In this verse, I see the lamb of God for the child, but a mighty lion for the guilty party. A lion that would destroy his adversary without mercy. There are lines that get crossed where the focus that was once on grace and mercy changes to one of the ferocious, brutality of the lion. It’s when the primary focus becomes the safety of an innocent child and the feelings and well-being of the abuser is secondary.

Christ wouldn’t have allowed this. I’m not quite sure what he would have done in this situation. As a matter of fact, I don’t think he would have had the chance to do anything because Peter would have jumped over the table. Some days I’m more like Peter.

I think Jesus enjoyed the simple and pure things in life like the laugh of a child, the beauty of creation, and the comfort of good friends. But my Jesus loves people. Not just the people who love Him, but all people. And not this fictional, cheap love, but genuine love for each and every person. And I think Jesus has favorites, those that know Him and that He knows, and those that are innocent because they haven’t had the chance to get to know him.

Kristie and I eventually ended up at IHOP, only a mile or so away from our house. Four pots of coffee later K.B. and I finally settled. I still wonder what life has in store for that little boy. Will he end up like the man sitting beside him, or will he end up like his real Father above? And what should I have done differently? Or did I do what I needed to do? Was it enough?

I hope that people will reach out to those that are hurting. Not just those that suffer the ins and outs of a normal day, but those that come from abuse and neglect. Those who haven’t had a dad that tries to live the example of the Father. Those who have never known the love of Christ to be shown through another person.

As followers of Christ there are three things that are required from us daily:

And what does the LORD require of you?
To act justly and to love mercy
and to walk humbly with your God.

Grace and Power,

Hank