Growing Through Connect Groups

By: Deron Vaupel, Ministry Administrator

In my time at enCompass, I’ve had the privilege to be a part of several different Connect Groups – Dads Group, Men’s Groups, House Groups, Sunday Morning Connect, etc. Of all the different ways I’ve been a part of the enCompass community, my involvement in these groups has probably been the most meaningful. I’m generally someone who prefers interactions in smaller groups of people, and the relationships that have been built in these different groups have been quite formative in many different areas. A couple examples:

For the past several months, I’ve been getting together with other dads from enCompass every Tuesday night to discuss a book about raising life-ready kids. There’s something special about younger dads coming together with ‘seasoned veterans’ to talk about our mistakes, successes, challenges, and hopes (not to mention the interspersed YouTube videos). We’ve learned a lot from each other about different ways to teach our kids and how to incorporate our faith into the day-to-day of parenting. I might even go so far as to say that we’re all (at least a little bit) better dads because of this group. This group has been a great respite for me and a source of a lot of wisdom.

Sunday morning Connect Groups always have a lot to offer. While the topics vary quite a bit, following along with the sermons or focusing on more topical content, the discussions are always rousing. There’s usually a range of generations represented, which means a lot of different perspectives when it comes to interpreting scripture. There’s something unique about young adults and retired people interacting over topics of faith. Over the past year, I’ve had the privilege of leading several of these sessions, and I’m always challenged and energized as a result of the time we spend together.

Connect Groups exist at enCompass to give people different opportunities to grow in their relationships with God and others. Along with the other ministries of enCompass, they’re guided by 3 core values: Belong, Grow, Serve, and over the years, I’ve experienced each of these values to varying degrees. For me, when it comes to building a meaningful relationship with God and others, I’m not sure there’s any better way.

Even though some groups are wrapping up for the season, my encouragement to you is this: If it’s been awhile since you’ve been a part of a group, start thinking through what it might look like to join something in the near future. If you’ve never been a part of a Connect Group, see what will be a good fit for you. Or you could even consider what it might look like to lead one yourself. You may have the perfect idea for something new, and the passion to make it happen – and who knows…there might be someone else looking to connect in the same way. If you fall into one of these categories, I’d love to talk to you more. Click here to get in touch with me.

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The Way to Destroy Death

When the Roman army came to arrest Jesus, Peter pulled out a blade and cut one of the soldiers. That is how we deal with evil isn’t it? Someone wrongs us and we pull out a knife or a fist or a loud voice and we enact justice. We solve problems by wielding power.

But Jesus did something odd. He told Peter to put away the weapon and then he healed the man who had come to kill him. Then he willingly surrendered to the mob that carried him off to his death.

What is going on here? Why didn’t Jesus fight back? He could have called down an army of angels to take him off the cross but he chose not to. If he had to power to stop it why didn’t he use it? Why would an all-powerful God hold back at all?

The answer simple… Jesus knew something that the world doesn’t understand. There is actually a force that exists which is greater than raw power.

That force is called love.

Paul wrote to the Romans, “God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). Death was the inevitable sentence of humanity. We were enslaved to it. No one could escape its grip. But Jesus didn’t have to die. He was without sin and therefore not bound by it. Yet he chose it freely.

In The Loin, the Witch and the Wardrobe, C.S. Lewis wrote, “…when a willing victim who had committed no treachery was killed in a traitor’s stead, the Table would crack and Death itself would start working backward.”

Jesus did fight back against evil. But his way of fighting is different from ours. The enemy he came destroy was death. And the way to destroy death is not by killing.

The way to destroy death is by dying. And by rising again.

Erik S.

For more reading:

• Luke 22:47-53: Jesus’ Arrest
• Luke 22:54-62: Peter’s Denial
• Luke 22:63-71: Jewish Trial
• Luke 23:1-7: Trials with Pilate & Herod
• Luke 23:8-25: Final Verdict

Many thanks to Erik for filling in for me while I was away on a family vacation. His insights from Scripture are a very welcome and encouraging addition to our reflections on the Cross of Christ. I’ll be back at blogging next week, as we continue our journey toward Easter Sunday.

The day the music died

When we talk about the death of Jesus, we generally look for someone to blame. There are a number of options. Judas betrayed Jesus for payment. His friends fell asleep, leaving him isolated in his pain. Peter denied knowing Jesus and hid in a dark corner. The religious leaders and the Roman army hunted him. All of these people had a part in his death.

And then there is humanity as a whole (us included). We had life and we forfeited it. We caused everything to fall apart. Jesus came to put it back together. Part of that process involved him getting killed. So we all bear responsibility for it.

All of that is true. There were countless human actors who helped carry out the plot to kill God. And yet this explanation is vastly incomplete. The gospel writers mention another force at work that is often missed even though it is clear in the text. Consider the following:

“Then Satan entered Judas…” (Luke 22:3)
“Simon, Simon, Satan has asked to sift all of you as wheat.” (Luke 22:31)
“Pray that you will not fall into temptation.” (Luke 22:40)
“But this is your hour – when darkness reigns.” (Luke 22:53)

While human beings were involved, there was more going on here. Dark forces were reigning and influencing and acting to bring about the death of Jesus. Satan is identified as the fuel that propelled the engine forward. This should not surprise us. Back in Genesis God said that the serpent would strike at the heel of Eve’s offspring (Genesis 3:15).

You may be thinking this is giving Satan too much credit. It seems as though he overpowered God – as though he won. As the songwriter sang, “Satan laughed with delight the day the music died.”

Satan was heavily involved in the death of Jesus. But that is not the full story either. He is a real force in the world but Satan cannot overpower God – not even close. So who else is responsible for the death of Jesus?

Jesus made it very clear. He said no one took his life from him, he laid it down. That’s it. He died on purpose. Why? So he could destroy death by rising again. And so we could rise with him.

Blessings,
Erik S.

PS. Thanks to my friend Erik Swenson for blogging for me while I’m away on a road trip with my family. He’s helping us turn the corner towards Easter–a time we seek a stronger and deeper understanding of the death and resurrection of Christ. ––Kevin

Below are some texts to take the conversation further.

• Luke 22:1-6: Judas’ Betrayal
• Luke 22:7-23: Last Supper
• Luke 22:24-30: Disciple’s Argument
• Luke 22:31-38: Peter’s Challenge
• Luke 22:39-46: Prayer at Gethsemane

Exile & Return: Here Comes the Sun

Little darling, it’s been a long cold lonely winter;
Little darling, it feels like years since it’s been here.

Here comes the sun, here comes the sun,
And I say it’s all right.

Little darling, the smiles returning to the faces;
Little darling, it seems like years since it’s been here.*

After seventy years living as refugees, our Old Testament exiles are finally returning home. Bruised, battered and defeated, they meander back to their native soil with lofty dreams of restoring their devastated fatherland.

It would never be the same. Gone were the days of King David’s military might and King Solomon’s majestic splendor. Slowly they hammered together a humble temple for worship and cobbled together city walls for protection. Their era of international renown was now a very distant and rather bittersweet memory.

It would never be the same. It would be better.

It’s true they would never again occupy a kingly palace or initiate far-reaching reforms. Yet their new generation of prophets envisioned a future without boundaries and an influence far beyond their own land and lifetimes. In the closing chapter of the Old Testament, their prophet Malachi offered this vision for their future:

“ . . . for you who revere my name, the sun of righteousness will rise with healing in its rays. And you will go out and frolic like well-fed calves.” Malachi 4:2

Sounds like spring was in the air as God’s family finally headed back home.

The nation took the first step of the journey home we continue today. Bruised, battered and defeated, we also return to God with lofty dreams of restoring our lives, families and communities. We’re often left with bittersweet memories of a life that didn’t turn out as expected.

It will never be the same. It will be better.

As the spring-like wind of God’s Spirit breezes into our lives, we discover that our joy, peace and love isn’t held hostage by current circumstances. We have a future without boundaries and an influence far beyond our own land and lifetimes. We are no longer ordinary citizens—we are now kings and princes in a kingdom without end.

As we celebrate the coming Easter season, I pray that the power and love of Christ will carry you forward with unimaginable hope and grace.

Kevin
enCompass Church

* “Here Comes the Sun” was written by George Harrison—the Beatle shadowed behind the star personas of John Lennon and Paul McCartney. It’s a warm reminder that us less-known types can still offer enduring hope to many others.

This week’s Scripture readings: Each link offers the entire day’s readings, listed in succession via Bible Gateway—just keep scrolling down to read the next selection of verses.

  •  Captivity: Ezekiel 6:1-10; 37:1-14; Daniel 1. Divinely disciplined for their self-destructive behavior, God’s people must adapt to a new land and a new lifestyle. None of us like unwanted change—but learning to trust God in unfamiliar terrain is always the foundation for building a resilient faith.
  • Return: Ezra 1, Daniel 9. After his people’s seventy years of exile, God is on the move again. He moves the heart of Cyrus—the commanding king of the free world. More importantly, he moves the hearts of his people towards repentance, humility, and greater hope for their future. When we stop trusting in our own ability and start believing in the goodness of God . . . amazing things begin to happen.
  • Restoration: Ezra 3:8-13; Nehemiah 1:1-2:8; 8:1-3, 9-12; Zechariah 8. The rebuilding process for the nation, worship, temple and city would be a slow, often painstaking ordeal for God’s people. In our instant “microwave ready” society, we want God to make quick changes to our lives and future. Sorry—it almost never works that way. Following God requires on-going faith, determination, patience, and a spiritual vision beyond our own lifetime.
  • The Scattered. Esther 3:8-11; 4:13-17; 7-8. Back in the colossal Persian Empire, a young Jewish girl astonishingly becomes queen of the land. That’s all fine and dandy until she’s required to put her own neck on the line when her people are threatened with genocide. What might be God’s astonishing call on your life for our world today?
  • The Coming Kingdom. Ezekiel 34:11-31; Malachi 2:17-3:4, Zechariah 3. The Old Testament closes with both stern warnings and epic hope. It’s real easy for us humans to quickly forget the hard lessons of our past. And it’s also easy for us humans to get lost in our daily routine and forget the grander vision God has for our lives, churches and world.

Thanks for joining along in our journey through the Old Testament. I hope you’re enthused to continue on as we seek hope and inspiration from the life, death and resurrection of Jesus in the weeks leading into Easter.

The Prophets: Endless Words.

“Then the Lord reached out his hand and touched my mouth and said to me, “I have put my words in your mouth. See, today I appoint you over nations and kingdoms to uproot and tear down, to destroy and overthrow, to build and to plant.” Jeremiah 1:9-10

Words get slung around everyday. Experts express. Politicians persuade. Buddies banter. Couples communicate. Pastors pontificate. Gals gab. Colleagues confab. Teens text.

Do any of these words actually stick?

The Old Testament prophets might have asked the same question. During his people’s darkest days, God designated a diverse group of delegates to deliver his directions. Depressingly, it landed on deaf ears. Despite his prophet’s eloquent efforts, the nation remained undeterred in their self-destructive decline.

The prophet Jeremiah might have had it the roughest. This sensitive-souled spokesman was commanded to speak out against a society that had been spinning out of control for a 300-year span. After years of futile forewarning, he helplessly watched the hated Babylonians obliterate his once-proud homeland. (Jeremiah’s succinct little Lamentations graphically describes the deep scars this event left on his own soul.)

The powerful poetry of the prophets fell pathetically short of saving the nation. Was it all a waste of words?

Well . . . no. Fast-forward 2,500 years and look at us. We’re still listening to the prophet’s words. God’s words might not reach everyone at one time, but they’re plenty strong enough to reach many people throughout all times.

Researchers estimate that we’ll speak about 450,000,000 words in our lifetime. Will any of them stick?

As God’s eternal word resonates within us, our own words become far more likely to resonate within the lives of others.

Kevin
enCompass Church

This week’s Scripture readings: Each link offers the entire day’s readings, listed in succession via Bible Gateway—just keep scrolling down to read the next selection of verses.

  • Rift & Rebellion: 1 Kings 12. The rebel Jeroboam successfully leads a coup against King Rehoboam and the House of David—establishing complete independence for the northern ten tribes of Israel. Later he manipulates the public religious system to solidify control over his constituents. It’s a bold move that will backfire—the new nation loses its historic identity as the people of the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.
  • Good Kings, Bad Kings: 2 Kings 17:1-23, 2 Chronicles 34. The northern tribe of Israel would experience a succession of 19 kings—all of them essentially corrupt and self-focused. The southern nation of Judah would fare a bit better—with 8 of their 20 kings courageous enough to step forward and seek reform for the nation. These good kings remind us that it’s never easy to reverse a debilitating downward spiritual trend.
  • Elijah & Elisha: 1 Kings 18:17-40, 2 Kings 2:1-14. Some of the best possible stories from Scripture come out of the extraordinary events emanating from these two prophets. We haven’t seen miracles like this since the time of Moses. Despite the steep spiritual decline of the northern kingdom, God keeps going out of his way to get their attention. What has God done in your life to get your attention?
  • Prophets Speak—and Write. Isaiah 5:1-7, 11:1-10, Jeremiah 25:1-14, 29:10-14, Hosea 6. Though the poetry of the prophets is sometimes difficult to understand, they all offer a vision of God as both a tenacious fighter and a passionate lover. God desperately wants his people to return to him, yet is repeated exposed to their constant rejection. Do you know of any modern-day prophets who seem to endure rejection from others?
  • Judgment: 2 Chronicles 36:11-21, Lamentations 1. After all the warnings, pleading and dire predictions, God can no longer withhold judgment from his people. The great city of Jerusalem, along with Solomon’s formerly magnificent temple, is leveled and burnt to the ground. Would the nation ever rise again? Tune in next week for our stirring conclusion to the Old Testament’s epic story.

Samuel & the Kings: Do you hear what I hear?

A thousand years into the Old Testament saga of God’s people, we land on this sad little commentary:

In those days the word of the LORD was rare; there were not many visions. 1 Samuel 3:1

God had guided Abraham, endured Jacob, blessed Joseph, empowered Moses, and encouraged Joshua. Yet as this nomadic nation finally became new homeowners, they somehow lost God.

Could God be found again?

The book of Samuel opens with a tender story of a brokenhearted woman who yearns for a child of her own. In desperation, Hannah makes a rash vow: “God, if you give me a child, I’ll give him right back to you.” Her request is granted and she courageously follows through—dropping off her utterly adorable 3-year old Samuel to grow up in the temple at Shiloh.

The nation of Israel would become great benefactors of Hannah’s heartrending sacrifice. From his earliest years, her young lad possessed a truly remarkable gift. For a nation headed off its rails, Samuel’s unique ability would steer them back on course.

What was his specialized skill?

Samuel could hear God’s voice. Through learning to listen to God, Samuel redirected the forlorn people back to a place of experiencing greater peace while achieving their highest purpose.

In our era, it’s easy to be cynical about people who claim to hear from God. Whether it’s the slick TV preacher who informs us that God is telling you to send in your money or the suicide bomber who destroys in God’s name, we rightfully question the personal motives and emotional stability of those who claim to hear from God.

Yet let’s not let the few crazies among us keep us from seeking to hear God’s voice. Like Samuel, we’re also invited to allow God to re-direct our lives toward a place of greater peace that reveals our highest purpose.

I’ve never found it easy to hear from God. My restless heart and racing mind often cloud up my soul. Yet as I slowly read Scripture and invite it’s words to shape my prayers, a certain settling seems to occur. My whirlwind of thoughts and stormy emotions eventually blow through to allow in a sense of peace and purpose that’s often remarkably powerful.

I pray you can sense remarkable peace and clarity of purpose as you continue your life-long pursuit of listening to God.

Kevin
enCompass Church

This week’s Scripture readings: Each link offers the entire day’s readings, listed in succession via Bible Gateway—just keep scrolling down to read the next selection of verses.

These readings present the compelling character development of four very prominent leaders. From my perspective, the storyline of 1 & 2 Samuel into 1 Kings portrays some of the best real-life drama ever crafted.

  • Samuel: 1 Samuel 3; 8:4-22. At a very early age, Samuel learns to listen to God’s voice. That doesn’t mean, however, that what he would hear would be easy on his ears. Samuel struggles with the transition of the nation towards a king, and uses this change of plans as an opportunity to prepare the people for the difficult journey ahead. I wonder: what person(s) has God brought into your life to prepare you for difficult transitions?
  • King Saul: 1 Samuel 10:17-27; 13:5-15; 15:10-23. Here’s a swing and a miss. The first choice for king quickly turns sour. Lurking underneath King Saul’s natural good looks and commanding presence lay significant insecurities and a tendency towards panicking under pressure. Though Saul would remain in office for a full 40-year stint, God and Samuel start the search process for a new leader.
  • King Saul vs. Young David: 1 Samuel 16:1-13, 18:6-16. David emerges as the unexpected heir to the throne. Everyone adores him, except King Saul—whose personal paranoia is driving him towards a mental breakdown. This isn’t unusual: when young leaders emerge, the established order tends to push them back down. What younger person in your life deserves some much needed prayer, support and encouragement?
  • King David: 2 Samuel 7:1-17, 12:1-15, 1 Chronicles 28. David emerges as the Old Testament’s most charismatic leader. His heart for God, love for people and skill in leadership are all truly spellbinding. His dramatic fall from grace is equally gripping. After all the highest of highs and lowest of lows, he completes his life’s journey by empowering his impressive son Solomon to carry forward God’s calling for the nation.
  • King Solomon: 1 Kings 3:1-15, 2 Chronicles 5; 1 Kings 11:1-13. No one gets off to a better start than Solomon. His natural humility, God-given wisdom and visionary planning bring the nation to the pinnacle of worldwide prominence. Sadly, it wouldn’t last. Solomon’s achievement swells his self-centeredness and corrupts his own soul. Success isn’t always what it’s cracked up to be, is it?

Joshua, Judges, Ruth: Hornet’s Nest

My recent reading in the Old Testament book of Joshua created a bit of a buzz.

The God of Israel says . . .

“The citizens of Jericho fought against you . . . but I gave them into your hands. I sent the hornet ahead of you, which drove them out before you . . .” (Joshua 24:11-12)

Hold it. The hornet? What’s that?

This bugged me. So I conducted a little theological ornithological research project.

I discovered that biblical scholars don’t all fly the same direction in regards to what “the hornet” really means.

  • Some believe “the hornet” refers to an actual army of angry wasps God stirred up ahead of Joshua’s army. In climates like Palestine, deadly hornets (individually sized up to three truly terrifying inches) can swarm and sting—causing excruciating pain and even loss of life for humans and livestock. Maybe this explains why some of Joshua’s enemies seem ready to surrender before any battle actually begins.
  • Other scholars view “the hornet” as a metaphor for God’s Spirit. The word from Hebrew translated “hornet” is unclear—so it could mean “terror” or “panic”. It’s possible that before Joshua’s army ever appeared, God had already invaded his enemies with an unnerving bout of internal anxiety.

Either way—one thing’s clear: God swarmed ahead of Joshua’s army.

When facing our own battles, we tend to feel alone and vulnerable—as if we approach a fully fortified enemy who has long prepared for our arrival. Yet is it possible that God’s stinging Spirit has buzzed ahead for us in each spiritual skirmish? This happened with Jesus. When he descended into any spiritual battle scene, most every evil spirit got scared and scampered away.

We all have battles to face this week—encounters with our anxiety, conflicts with our conceit, bouts against our bitterness, and fights to sustain our faith. Let’s stop living in fear of these enemies—knowing that God’s Holy Hornet has already been released. He’s stirring up true terror against our most troubling spiritual adversaries.

Battle on,

Kevin
enCompass Church

This week’s Scripture readings: Each link offers the entire day’s readings, listed in succession via Bible Gateway—just keep scrolling down to read the next selection of verses.

  • Joshua, the Jordan, & Jericho: Joshua 1:1-9; 4:1-14; 5:13-6:21. After 400 years of slavery and 40 years of wandering, Abraham’s family is finally ready to enter their Promised Land. Joshua has been prepared to lead this charge. Over the past years what has God been preparing you to pursue?
  • Conquest of the Land: Joshua 14:6-15; 23; 24:11-28. Getting older doesn’t necessarily require getting softer. The inspiring examples of the aging Caleb (chapter 14) and Joshua (chapter 23-24) offer a brave new vision for the challenge of our later years.
  • The Judges Cycle: Judges 2:6-23. After all they had endured, you’d think that settling into the Promised Land would create happiness and bliss for the people of Israel. Painfully, their very nice living conditions produced some very bad lifestyles. It’s a stern reminder: a life free of pain often leads to a fall far from God.
  • Deborah, Gideon, & Samson: Judges 6:1-16, 16:4-31. God uses some truly flawed people to produce some rather remarkable results. I guess that means there’s hope for us all. Even when we are at our worst (Samson is most notable here), God doesn’t give up on his plans for our lives.
  • Ruth: Ruth 1, 3:1-13. After the ugly downward spiral of the storyline of Judges, the sweet little saga of Ruth offers a warm ray of sunny hope. I deeply appreciate the character of Naomi (Ruth’s mother-in-law). She’s brutally honest in her despair . . . and quite clever in navigating towards a future hope.

Exodus-Deuteronomy: Restless Hearts

You might notice a certain pattern while reading through the stories of our spiritual ancestors:

  • Adam hid away from getting caught.
  • Noah floated away from certain destruction.
  • Abraham walked away from his boyhood home.
  • Isaac dug away to find good water.
  • Jacob slithered away from most every conflict.
  • Joseph was sold away by his own family.
  • Moses sped away from murder charges.
  • The Israelites moved away from their Egyptian oppressors,
  • then later backed away from their own Promised Land.

These folks don’t settle down very easily, do they?

From this list of nominees for most nomadic, I’d give the nod to Mr. Moses. After forty years of moving through Egypt’s elite educational system, he took a long distance transfer to a four-decade stint picking up after somebody else’s sheep. For retirement he returned to Egypt as a miracle working tour guide who took a massive entourage on a wild forty-year ride though a winding wilderness wasteland. For all his wanderings, we wonder: what awards did Moses earn as a platinum rewards travel member?

Notice the opening line of his acceptance speech:

 “Lord, you have been our dwelling place throughout all generations.” (Psalm 90:1)

Though never given the opportunity to settle into a nice neighborhood, Moses discovered a different kind of homecoming each day. For all his decades on the road, he found God’s presence offered him a genuine sense of security and comfort.

On the surface, we appear significantly more settled that our spiritual ancestors. Most of us keep living in the same homes, enjoying the same friendships, sending kids to the same schools, working at the same jobs, possibly even driving the same cars. Yet underneath all the familiarity, we’re often quite restless. We’re searching for something more—yet unsure of the next best turn to take on the road of life.

What’s our next step toward a more settled life?

We can try to learn what Moses eventually discovered: only God goes with you through all your life’s meanderings. Put in a more clichéd way: Home happens to be a place in your heart, not necessarily where you hang your hat. Despite our rather restless nature, God is always waiting and wanting to offer us a genuinely warm-hearted welcome.

As you read excerpts from the account of the Israelites wanderings this week, I pray you’ll encounter St. Augustine’s great discovery: “Our hearts are restless until they find their rest in You.”

Kevin
enCompass Church

This week’s Scripture readings: Each link offers the entire day’s readings, listed in succession via Bible Gateway—just keep scrolling down to read the next selection of verses.

  • Moses & Pharaoh: Exodus 3:1-4:17, 7:1-7. After forty years of meaningless labor, Moses is in no mood to ignite a revolution. Yet God won’t take no for an answer. Pharaoh’s rather stubborn, too. Guess who wins this epic battle of wills?
  • Passover & the Red Sea: Exodus 12:24-36, 13:17-22, 14:10-14, 21-31. Two truly historic moments in the history of God’s people: The Passover Meal (the symbolic celebration of God’s protection over his people) and the Crossing of the Rea Sea (God’s miraculous rescue of his people from their enemies). These two events will be highlighted repeatedly throughout the entire story of the Bible—culminating in the life, teachings, death and resurrection of Jesus.
  • Ten Commandments & God’s Presence: Exodus 19:16-20:21, 33:12-34:9. God dramatically demonstrates the power of his presence to all the people, and then later reveals the compassion of his presence to his friend Moses.
  • The 12 Spies: Numbers 13:17-14:25. Just when you think it’s all going to turn out just fine, a simple reconnaissance mission ends horribly. The fear of 10 leaders creates an unstoppable wave of panic and regret throughout the entire camp. We all get scared sometimes—just be careful how you choose to express it.
  • The Wilderness Experience: Numbers 21:4-9, Deuteronomy 6:1-19. The extra forty years in the wilderness won’t be easy on anyone. Yet the people needed to learn to trust in God’s plans and accept God’s authority. That’s the same lessons we learn best during the difficult seasons of our own faith journey.

Genesis: Milky Way & Peanut Butter

We tend to view God differently.

Some of us marvel at God’s mesmerizing mastery. As the gifted artist and brilliant engineer of the cosmos, God orchestrates the making and running of our universe. The spin of the planets, the blunt force of nature and the complexity of human DNA create cycles of increasing awe. Life in the Milky Way Galaxy is indeed quite a miracle.

Others among us warm our hearts in the presence of God’s intimacy. The Spirit of God guides us through our lives’ small twists and turns. We might experience God’s friendship as much while spreading peanut butter on our Tuesday morning toast as while singing hymns in a stone-arched cathedral. God’s companionship during a simple breakfast like this can seem equally miraculous.

Which God do we meet in Genesis?

While opening the first pages of the Bible’s epic story, we witness the unfolding of most everything we know:

  • The beginnings of our incomprehensible universe.
  • The beginnings of our little planet and all its quirky accessories.
  • The beginnings of the first breath and divine dignity of human life.
  • The beginnings of our maddening bent toward self-destructive behavior.
  • The beginnings of family life—including a tragic early case of domestic violence.
  • The beginnings of divine retribution as an entire civilization gets washed away.
  • The beginnings of our world of nations, languages, cultures and human industry.

The cosmically-charged universe opens up before our eyes. It’s the majestic God of the Milky Way at his very best.

Yet after 11 chapters of celestial concentration, God’s gaze shifts exclusively towards one strangely obscure little family. God catches up with a man who might as well be making his Tuesday morning breakfast. Starting in chapter 12, the Conductor of the Cosmos walks together with Abraham through an astonishing array of personal experiences:

  • Through the pain and panic of personal infertility.
  • Through the confusing birth of an unwanted child.
  • Through the shenanigans of an indulgent nephew.
  • Through the ironically hilarious birth of long anticipated son.
  • Through the heart-wrenching near death of his teenage boy.
  • Through the hopes and prayers of his son’s courtship and marriage.
  • Through the twisted meanderings, tragic missteps and tenuous survival of the next three generations of Abraham’s truly tumultuous family dynasty.

What kind of God have we discovered in Genesis? We’ve found a God who’s both powerfully cosmic and personally close—an ever-present Spirit who’s equally comfortable masterminding the Milky Way as he is watching melty peanut butter drip down our little pinky.

As you read and reflect on this week’s verses from Genesis, I pray you’ll sense God’s power infusing significance into your most mundane experiences.

Kevin
enCompass Church

This week’s Scripture readings: Each link offers the entire day’s readings, listed in succession via Bible Gateway—just keep scrolling down to read the next selection of verses.

  • Creation & Fall: Genesis 1:27-31, 3:1-19: The majesty and tragedy of the human race occurs in quick succession in the opening chapters of Genesis. It’s not difficult to notice our dangerous curiosity toward sin and our knee-jerk ability to blame everyone else for our problems.
  • Judgment & Division: Genesis 6:5-8, 11:1-9: In order to fulfill the purpose of his original design, God must bring both tragedy (a massive flood) and confusion (language barriers) to his creation. While these acts might cause us to question God’s love, in both cases you’ll notice his deep pain and regret over these necessary decisions.
  • Abraham & Isaac: Genesis 12:1-4, 15:1-6, 22:1-18: God makes big promises to Abraham . . . then takes a very long time to fulfill them. What purpose might God have in waiting so long? It’s a question we’ll all need to answer during difficult times in our journey of faith. Abraham’s quick devotion to God’s commands challenges our own tendency to drag our heels through our own personal struggles.
  • Jacob: Genesis 28:10-22; 32:22-29: Why would God continue his promises through Jacob? He demonstrated an unsavory bent towards manipulative selfishness—with both God and his own family members. Yet the “Great Nation” promised to Abraham would be forever associated with Jacob’s new name: Israel—the God wrestler. Guess that means God continues to love us even when we keep fighting with him.
  • Joseph: Genesis 37:2-11, 41:37-41, 50:14-21: Just when you think the whole family clan has become corrupt beyond repair, along comes a single bright hope: Joseph. Though a rather precocious youth, his life’s severe trials reveal in him a steely resolve to do what’s right. Enjoy watching his life unfold—he’s one of the few Old Testament individuals of truly noble character. He also might remind you of another man who was sold for pieces of silver, endured unthinkable abuse, yet brought forgiveness and salvation to many.

Luke 9: Pop Quiz

Jesus’ disciples have worked through quite a cram session of divine discoveries over the past months. Lame people are leaping, party animals are praying, Pharisees are fuming, evil spirits are sputtering, and even a few formerly dead folk are sitting up to pay attention. After all these experiences, Jesus must be wondering: did anything stick for my students?

Thus in the middle of a session on prayer, Jesus unexpectedly passes out a pop quiz. It seems easy enough—just two short questions. (Luke 9:18-27)

Question #1: According to popular opinion, who am I?

The disciples look up to think for a moment, then put their heads down and start writing.

“A John the Baptist kind-of-guy” jots one disciple.
“A man of grand miracles like good ol’ Elijah” scribbles another.
“A prolific prophet from our prestigious past” offers one particularly articulate pupil.

Their answers all aligned quite nicely. The public continuously marveled at the astonishing array of miracles Jesus invoked while broadcasting God’s message to the masses. Jesus’ mastery clearly earned him enshrinement amongst the historically elite Prophetic Fall of Fame.

On to the next question.

Question #2: Who I am to you?

The disciples scrunch their faces as they consider the possible answers. After all the time logged with Jesus and all the energy he had poured back into them, they most certainly did not want to get this one wrong.

Seems that only Peter had the courage to put down his best guess.

“The Messiah.” he cautiously writes.

Folding his quiz in half, he hands it back to Jesus and waits.

Jesus opens Peter’s paper to review his responses. After a slight pause, the teacher looks up to offer an affirming nod to his most out-going student. Peter lets out a sigh of relief, tilts back his chin, and opens up a wry smile laden with a not-so-subtle hint of personal superiority.

Jesus quickly tears up the paper and throws it away. Peter’s brow furrows as the disciples look around at each other.

Why not publically promote this disciple’s insightful answer?

Throughout Israel’s tumultuous history, many legendary prophets had graced their land. A prophet served a truly high and holy calling—to speak for God during a specific season. Yet “The Messiah” fit an entirely different category. There were lots of prophets, but only one Messiah. This much anticipated “Anointed One” would build an enduring kingdom of God-like power and authority.

The disciples struggled with all this. They fancied themselves as future national administrators—perched together with Jesus on his platform of lofty political aspirations. Jesus knew differently. A dramatic military conquest wouldn’t ignite his reign. Rather, his inauguration would commence high on a cruel cross.

The disciples aced the first quiz, but failed the next few exams. They anticipated achieving greater power and control. Jesus led them toward greater service and sacrifice.

Just like the disciples, it’s easy to ace Jesus’ quiz and fail his exams. Many days I long for Jesus’ power to sweep into my life and conquer any enemy that threatens my personal effectiveness. I want Jesus to make me more impressive. Yet he’s not that kind of Messiah. He’s not leading me towards greater notoriety—but rather toward greater humility. Jesus offers his impressive power—the power to accept his joy and experience his grace each battle-tested day.

I pray we’ll experience Jesus’ astonishing strength through all the tests we might be yet to take.

Kevin
enCompass Church

This week’s Scripture readings (Links to Scripture provided via Bible Gateway)

  • Luke 9:1-9: Jesus pushes his disciples into the deep end of the ministry pool by sending them on a no-expense-paid missions trip. This would obviously accentuate their need to depend completely on God’s provision—a direct challenge to the way we spend most of our daily lives.
  • Luke 9:10-17: One of Jesus’ most famous miracles—the feeding of the 5,000. Jesus expresses a seemingly limitless compassion for crowds of people . . . and always enjoys getting his followers involved when pulling off his epic miracles.
  • Luke 9:18-27: Peter’s great confession . . . and Jesus’ call to follow. The invitation to “pick up our cross daily” doesn’t sound very appealing on the surface, until you recognize that many people try to build themselves a perfect life—only to discover that it’s truly empty. Following Jesus isn’t easy, but it does indeed offer the fullest life possible.
  • Luke 9:28-36: You might start to notice a pattern here—when Jesus prays, big things happen. God’s voice is heard again—for the first time since Jesus’ baptism. While God the Father spoke directly to Jesus at his baptism, this time he seems to be directing his comments toward Jesus’ disciples (and thus to us, too).
  • Luke 9:37-43: No mountaintop experience lasts forever. Jesus’ frustrated expression “you unbelieving and perverse generation” seems likely to be directed at his disciples. The story ends well, however, as everyone involved gets both inspiration and relief from God’s powerful intervention.
  • Luke 9:43-56: Jesus’ great power keeps inflating the egos of his disciples—not the intended result. They have a bent towards wanting to create their own private club as power players. Jesus keeps trying (not very successfully to this point) to redirect their energies towards serving and encouraging others.

AND NOW A WORD FROM OUR SPONSOR . . .
I hope you’re enjoying our journey through the life of Jesus. However, we’re going to make an epic shift next week—heading all the way back to the beginning pages of the Bible. enCompass Church is embarking on a six-week excursion through the Old Testament. Thus, our blog and Scripture readings will support this cause. As we’re rounding the corner towards Easter season in mid-March, we’ll jump back into the life and times of Jesus. Since Jesus seemed to really like the Old Testament, I hope you’ll enjoy the journey of these next weeks, too.