Monday, December 12, 2016

Short Selling God

 
People are always trying to put God in a box. We want to explain Him, catalogue Him, put boundaries on Him, codify Him, put Him on a lease, and cover Him with rules and regulations. There were some of these folks in Jesus’ life. One group were called Sadducees, and because they did not believe in the resurrection, they tried to find very unique ways to explain it away.  They tried some clever arguments on Jesus, and His response is classic. “You are mistaken, not understanding the Scriptures, or the power of God.” (Matt.22:29)  This is where we often go wrong in our lives. We either do not know the Scripture or the power of God, or both. I have been studying the Scripture for a mighty long time and I am still discovering things that God does and promises He will do for His children. I think I have reached a point in my life where I am tired of hearing folks tell me what my God cannot or will not do.
I guess I am just simple enough to believe that when Paul says He “is able to do exceeding abundantly beyond all that we ask or think according to the power that works within us,” he means it. (Eph.3:20) Let that sink in. He not only can do what we can ask or imagine, but exceeding abundantly beyond that. Or, what about that Scripture we often quote: “I can do everything through Christ (Him) who gives me strength.” (Phil.4:13) Really?  Do I actually believe that? 
I am coming to realize that the greater work of God is in the heart of man. Creating worlds, parting seas, raising dead people, and multiplying the loaves and fishes is pretty amazing, but changing a sinner into a saint is just plain awesome. Transforming a loser into a winner is wonderful. Healing the wounds inside and binding up our brokenness is fantastic. The renovation of the heart as Dallas Willard calls it is the marvel of the ages. I long more these days for lives to be changed, marriages to be remade, children to be reclaimed, churches to be revived, relationships to be reconciled than I do for God to help me win the lottery (guess I would have to actually buy a ticket to win).
But isn’t God in the “inner” business? Paul wrote much on this subject. One example is found in Colossians 1:9-12: “For this reason also, since the day we heard of it, we have not ceased to pray for you and to ask that you may be filled with the knowledge of His will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, so that you may walk in a manner worthy of the Lord to please Him in all respects, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God; strengthened with all power according to His glorious might, for the attaining of all steadfastness and patience, joyously giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified us to share in the inheritance of the saints in light.” Such a long sentence, and an even deeper prayer. Pray that one and expect it to come true in your life and see what you get.  We say we want God to touch our lives, but do we really want this kind of powerful transformation?
It is a mistake to not know the Scriptures and the power of God.

Sunday, September 4, 2016

The Tale of Three Disciples

 I know my picture gives it away, but I am going to ask you anyway. Which three disciples were at the trial of Jesus, or at least in close proximity to the Council Chambers?  Let us backtrack first. Jesus is in the Upper Room with the Twelve. At some point Judas leaves. The Eleven stay and listen to Jesus teaching, until at some point they sing a hymn and go out. On the way to the Mount of Olives Jesus offers His high priestly prayer (John 17). He goes into Gethsemane (The Olive Press), leaves eight disciples at the entrance, and takes three a little farther into the garden. These were Peter, James and John. He asks them all to watch and pray. They don't. They sleep. He prays a similar prayer three times with sweat like drops of blood. This is intense. As he finishes a large posse arrives led by Judas, the betrayer. He kisses Jesus, there is a brief skirmish, and Jesus is taken into custody. The Eleven flee, but two of them do not go home. Judas, I believe, stays with the posse with Jesus in tow.

Now here is where you have to do your research. You will need to read sections of Matthew 26-27; Mark 14-15; Luke 22; John 18. I am not going to do your homework for you. Read it for yourself and see what you think. So after fleeing Peter and John double back and watch where Jesus is being taken. He is taken first to Annas, the retired high priest, for an informal interview. Next Jesus goes to Caiaphas, the real high priest, who also conducts an informal interview. From here Jesus is taken to the Sanhedrin, the Jewish Ruling Council, for a formal trial. Meanwhile John, who knows the high priest, is able to gain entrance into the courtyard outside where the trial was being conducted. Peter comes with him.Judas (read carefully) has come to get his thirty pieces of silver from the high priests and elders. Judas "saw that He (Jesus) had been condemned "(Matt.27:3), which happened in the Council. Now we know that the money was thrown into the sanctuary (Matt.27:5), a word used for the temple. Here is what I think happened.

Jesus was led out to be taken to Pilate. As He entered the courtyard the rooster crowd, Peter denied the Lord for the third time, and their eyes met. John saw this. Judas was also there. To get to Pilate's residence from the Council Chambers, they had to pass by the temple. I believe that Judas was stricken with remorse, and as they went along tried to give the money back and wash his hands of the matter. But, the chief priests and the elders will not take it. Judas breaks from the group, runs into the temple courts as far as he can toward the temple, and throws the money into the temple, more than likely seen by a temple guard who collects the money and returns it to the chief priests and elders as Judas runs off to hang himself.

This is some drama! Jesus had opportunity to see Judas and Peter conscience-stricken. One who runs away to weep bitterly, and the other who runs away to commit suicide. How could you even imagine the grief Jesus was feeling in that moment. But, John? What of John?  Did he run?  I don't think so. I think he stayed long enough to figure out what was going to happen, and then he went to get Mary, and some other women and took them to the Place of the Skull. Three disciples, one a denier, one a betrayer, and one a loyal servant. All three needed redemption. One did not accept it. I would like to think I would be John on that early morning. But, I don't really know.



Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Spit

It runs down the face of Jesus. It is humiliating. It is contemptible. It is rude. It is disrespectful. It is provocative. It was completely unnecessary. They spit on my Lord!

The Biblical history of spitting in someone's face is interesting. Remember when Miriam, Moses' sister who protected him from the Nile crocks when he was a baby, took part in a rebellion against her little brother in the wilderness?  God's wrath against her gave her leprosy. Aaron pleaded for her healing. But God said a strange thing. "Had her father spit in her face she might have been sparred." (Numbers 12)  It is strange because it is likely their father was dead at this time. And, it is strange because why would him spitting in his daughter's face have prevented her getting leprosy? I think what God is saying is that spit in the face is more humiliating that leprosy that causes one to be removed from the community. There is shame in the spit.  The second Old Testament reference is in Deut.25:9 has to do with a man who will not marry his dead brother's wife to raise up children to his brother. The woman is to take his sandal off, hand it to him, and spit in his face as a sign of contempt. The third reference is to Job. He describes himself as a byword, one on whom men spit. Whether they literally spat on him is not the point. Job was looked on with contempt because everyone assumed he must have sinned. (Job 17:6) By spitting in Jesus' face the Jews were indicating that Jesus had sinned and was worthy of not just contempt of court, but of death. Jesus predicted this would happen (Mk.10:34; Lk.18:32). 

So here Jesus stands with the spit of a temple guard running down his face. This burly soldier with less than stellar hygiene daring to spit in the face of the Christ, the Son of God! It was meant to insult and belittle. It was meant to reduce Jesus to a nobody, unworthy of even the least respect. But, how could Jesus resist retaliating? Now let's get real here. Someone comes up to you, starts mocking you, perhaps cursing you out, and then as a sign of utter disrespect spits in your face, what would you do?  I know what my gut reaction would be. Such an insult would merit return fire.

Today we see the equivalent to this in politics. Someone is attacked. What do they do? Hit back harder. We see it in the world of law enforcement, on both sides of the equation. Whether it is an officer or a civilian, when one shows signs of disrespect to the other, it often evokes a reaction. Even if the spit is not literal, it still is symbolic spit. Our nature is to spit back. Then, the spitting contest begins to see who can spit the most, the farthest, and the longest. How do we end up? Everyone is covered in spit. The whole world seems to be covered with spit. We are slipping down in spit. We are wading through spit. We can't seem to wipe it off fast enough before we are hit with more spit. We are drowning in spit. I know that is gross. It is gross. It is true though.

Perhaps God may be the last to spit. Revelation 3:16 says that our lukewarmness makes God sick enough to spit us out of his mouth. So perhaps we should swallow our spit. Or better still do what Jesus did when he spat on the ground, made some mud, put it on the blind man's eyes, told him to go and wash, and made him see. (John 9) We can turn a symbol of humiliation into a symbol of healing.


Monday, August 15, 2016

The Slap

  Do you remember the scene from Patton when he ridiculed and
slapped the shell-shocked solider?  It was one of those scenes that made you cringe, like when the Donald opens his mouth. (Ok, I may pay for that one. But if he can be PC-incorrect, then it is open season.) At least Patton thought he was doing what was right by telling a soldier to man up and deal with war. But, it wasn't a good move. That slap cost Patton more than he thought he would have to pay.

In John 18:19ff we have the story of Jesus meeting with Annas, the previous high priest. Once a high priest, always a high priest. It is like once a president you are always "Mr. President." Annas' son-in-law Caiaphas was the actual high priest at the time. After Jesus' arrest the first stop was a visit to Annas. The old man was up very early for this meeting. Perhaps he thought, like Herod did later that morning, that Jesus might show him some miracle. That would be worth rising early. So Annas begins to question Jesus about his disciples and his teachings. It would make their job much easier if they can get Jesus to inform on his followers and to incriminate Himself. Jesus has no plans to do either. He has already asks for His disciples to be left alone.

As for His teachings, this was a matter of public record. There are no emails, video recordings, or newspaper accounts, but there were many eye-witnesses. All that was needed was to ask them. Jesus has been very public for the past several days. He has showed up early and stayed late teaching in the temple courts. This was fresh evidence, easy pickings for anyone looking for truth. So Jesus suggests to Annas that he ask those who heard Him.

SMACK! This response immediately got Jesus a blow or slap across the face. Some temple guard decided that Jesus was being a smart aleck, and hauled off and slapped His face. The blood rushed to the surface, and Jesus' face turned red. There may have been a hand-print there. The bruising process may have started. The man slapped Jesus. Can you believe a man would slap Jesus? This was the first of many slaps Jesus would receive that morning. This man, whoever he was, got in the first lick. I don't ever remember being slapped. But, I did box once. But, I cannot imagine slapping Jesus.

But, have I? Do I when I sin and know it?  Do I make his face turn red, when it is mine that should be red?  Did he take the humiliation of a slap that I deserve? God please forgive us for slapping Jesus.

Five Gospel Cups

Billions of people every day put a cup of something to their lips. My cup, or more correctly "mug", is filled with dark roast coffee, black and hot. It is what I do each morning around 6:00 AM. I have a date with my coffee pot. The cup is merely a means to an end, i.e. to make it possible to get the coffee from my hand to my mouth without burning myself. It works.

A few days ago as I was seeking to know Jesus better through my morning studies (which comes immediately after getting the coffee), I noticed there are five different cups mentioned in the Gospels. I found them to be interesting, especially as I looked inside to see what they contained. I came to understand that each one of these cups had something to do with me. Let's take a look.

The cup of kindness is the cup of cold water mentioned in Matthew 10:42. To give someone a cup of cold water in the name of a disciple of Jesus insures one will receive a reward. Mark says "Whoever gives you a cup of water to drink because of your name as followers of Christ, truly I say to you, he shall not lose his reward." (9:41 NASB)  Following Jesus leads to many acts of kindness being unleased on the earth. Jesus infects us with grace and this grace spills out through cups of mercies all around the world. Expressions of kindness abound because of Jesus.

The cup of persecution comes up in Jesus' discussion with his disciples over who is greatest. (Matt.20:20ff)  Jesus asks these greatness-seekers if they can drink the cup he will drink. They were a little too quick to say "yes." So he informs them that they will indeed have to consume what pools in the cup of persecution. It may seem a bitter cup, but it is really a privilege to be able to share in the sufferings of Christ (Phil.1:29).

The cup of hypocrisy is a dirty one, at least on the inside. (Matt.23:25,26) This might also be called a cup of conviction. Jesus was trying to bring the Jewish leaders to conviction when he described them as dirty cups. It is unfortunate that all of us have downed the contents of this duplicitous brew. And, we have to do so with a smile so no one knows what is truly in the cup.

The cup of remembrance is a weekly cup. (Matt.26:27) We lift the grape juice to our lips and allow a few minutes of contemplation on the most significant event of history. It is serious, yet it is celebratory. It is bitter, yet sweet. It centers us. It fortifies us. It nourishes us.

Then, there is the cup of redemptive death. (Matt.26:39) It is the cup that Jesus alone prayed to be removed, and Jesus alone had to drink, once for all. It was filled with all the vile dregs of sin and depravity; all the stench and disease of human wickedness; all the malice and vulgarity and blasphemies imagined and expressed by man. Jesus lifted the cup to His lips and downed it in one gulp, taking into Himself the sins of us all, so that we would not have to drink from this cup.

Tomorrow morning when you lift that cup to your lips for your morning joe, take a minute to think about the five gospel cups.

Monday, May 2, 2016

Spiritual Adaptation

 Aren't you tired of having to change? There is always something new to learn. There is always something new required. It is confusing. My wineskin is stretched. Perhaps Darwin was right, adapt or die. It is survival of the fittest out there. It touches every area of living: education, business, politics, family, and even church. I have spent a good part of my life trying to find the balance between status quo and change. I have stood between those wanting rapid change and those wanting no change. I have try to moderate, mediate, meditate, and modulate those matters which threaten to murder our ministry. But perhaps we need a new paradigm for ministry to match the fast pace of change which we are experiencing. I am going to confess right up front that I don't like what I am proposing. It goes against my grain. But, it is necessary and I see no way around it. The alternative is to die. So when the alternative is death, then it makes it a little more imperative to think outside the box.

On the battlefield, you have to quickly adapt to the enemy. In business you have to quickly adapt to the competition. In traffic you have to quickly adapt to the other drivers. In medicine you have to quickly adapt to the new procedures and drugs. In reaching the lost we also have to quickly adapt to the challenges presented by an ever-changing society who walks different paths and hears in different ways. Of course I want to be clear that adaptation does not include changing God, Jesus, the Holy Spirit, the Word of God, or the nature of salvation and church. But, the ancient truths need to be mobilized in modern vehicles.

Adaptation is about finding out where people are. I mean literally, "Where do they live and what paths do they walk down?" I have started mapping out the major features around our church neighborhood. Within about five miles of our building we have four parks, three medical facilities, one hospice center, three public schools, and eight churches. We have one new apartment complex and one new sub-division being built. We have high end homes and low-income houses, including trailer parks near us. We have at least four shopping areas nearby. We have one assisted living facility. And, yes there is a Star Bucks. So where should we be if we want to meet people with whom we can share the gospel? We have to adapt and be where people are.

Another adaptation is to know how people experience spiritual things?  This one is hard and has a lot of land-mines to it. It is clear to me that there are at least five ways: music, relationships, innovative learning, fun/play, and meaningful service. The question is whether we are willing to adapt our methods (not message) in order to reach people with the truth of the gospel in ways that connect with them. The problem we have is that we are not very quick to adapt and therefore we lag behind a fast changing society, so that when we are making a change the society has moved on to something new. We seem to be a day late and a dollar short, as they say. I said I don't like this. I like routine. I like predictability. But, I have to admit routines don't last very long these days and society is anything but predictable. This is why we have to know what the essentials are and not have too many sacred cows. We might need to sell some cows to survive. 

In essence I am saying we must become lighter on our feet. We have to be more like 21st Century special force units instead of 20th century tank units. Can the Spirit adapt quickly to the changes of this world to lead us to victory? What do you think?

Friday, April 29, 2016

Structure

   In John 16:13 Jesus tells His apostles that the Spirit of Truth is coming and when He does He will guide them into all truth. Notice three other places where this word "guide" is used. The first is Matthew 15:14/Lk.6:39. Jesus says that the Jewish leaders are blind guides, and if the blind lead the blind then they will both fall into a ditch. I am constantly amazed at well-trained guide dogs for the blind.  A blind person can travel across town with an experienced canine companion, crossing streets, walking around obstacles, avoiding unexpected hindrances, all without chasing a stray cat. These dogs are trained to get their friend to where they are going without harm. Blind dogs do not make good guide dogs. Just saying!

The second place I find "guide" is in the story of Philip and the Ethiopian. This African is riding along in his chariot reading Isaiah 53 in his new KJV (I threw that in to see if you were listening) without understanding who was the subject of the text. Philip asks if he understands his reading, and Candace's treasurer says, "How can I unless someone guides me?"  That chariot was heading for a theological ditch until Philip arrived. He now has a guide, and the rest is history, i.e. a new brother in Christ.

The third Scripture in Revelation 7:17 is about a shepherd who guides the sheep to springs of water. How important is that?  A large part of the shepherd's job is to get the sheep to places of survival, from one oasis to another.

There is something in common in these passages. Is the idea of structure. "How so?" you ask.  Another word for a guide is an instructor. Do you see the our word? Structor! An instructor bring structure into a person's other wise destructive life. Do you see structure in destructive? An instructor who gives instruction leads to construction or reconstruction, not destruction, unless something causes an obstruction. A guide in concrete work frames the path, putting limits on the wet, poured concrete so that it actually forms a clear, smooth, consistent pathway. This is what the Spirit of Truth is doing. He provides a framework for the disciples' learning, setting boundaries. He tells them to go here, not there; look at this, not that; stop here, go there, listen to this, ignore that, pursue this, and run from this. Philip brought structure into the life of the eunuch. The framework looked like a cross. When this man was baptized he became obedient from the heart to that form of teaching to which he was committed. (Rom.6:17)

Jesus' aim in sending the Spirit was not merely to provide them with a written New Testament, but to provide them through the work of the Spirit a newly shaped life. Just as a personal trainer reshapes your body; just as a coach reshapes a team; just as drill sergeant reshapes a man to be a fighter, so the Holy Spirit reconstructs us according to truth. He is keeping us out of the ditches and on the road which leads to living water. Do you need that kind of structure in your life?