Monday, October 2, 2017

Vegas Lessons

Jesus describes two types of tragedies in Luke 13:1-5. The first was state terrorism carried out by Pilate on some Galileans whose blood was mixed with their sacrifices. The second was a horrible accident when the tower of Siloam fell on 18 people in Jerusalem killing each one. Just as in John 9 and in the book of Job, Jesus knew it was the tendency of man to explain such events as retribution for sin. Reduced to a maxim it was concluded that bad things happen to sinners. We often don't say the corollary to it, i.e. if you are good nothing bad will happen to you. Don't you wish things worked that way? Well maybe not, since "there is no one righteous, no not one." (Rom.3:10) So, if we all were to get what we deserve for our sins, no one could be saved from the cruelties of life or the fires of hell.

So today, like the rest of the world, I awoke to yet another horrific scene of death in Las Vegas, often called "sin city." I know when I visited that city a few years ago, I felt a little dirty. With a slogan like "what happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas," what do you expect? But before we connect the dots and conclude some kind of divine retribution on the partiers of Vegas (BTW this was a country music concert), we need to be reminded of Jesus' words in Luke 13. Were those killed by Pilate and those on whom the tower fell worse sinners than others who escaped these horrors?  Jesus says, "I tell you 'no.'" But Jesus did add, "But unless you repent, you too will all perish." What is Jesus saying? Since we all are sinners, then we all need to repent of our sins. Such front page news stories serve to show that horrible things happen to all people at times for often unknown reasons. But, there is a day that is coming when destruction will come upon all mankind. No one will escape. No one will be able to plead personal righteousness as an exemption. 

So what is the response we should all give to our sins? Jesus' answer is "repent." Since we do not know what any day or night will bring, we live in a state of repentance before a holy God, not to attempt to avoid being in the line of fire of an evil gunman, but to avoid waking up on the otherside of death before a just and holy God unprepared. What does Vegas show us? It shows us that life is unpredictable, there is a day of death for all of us, and some will die "innocently" and tragically. But, whatever day it is, and however we die, there is one thing we all have in common, i.e. we will meet God. In the meantime, we are like unproductive fig trees needing some digging and fertilizing so that we can bear fruit. Much attention will be given in the coming days to how can we avoid this happening again. Less attention will be given to how can we live in such a way that if it does happen again (and it will in many other forms), will I be in a right relationship with God? 

May God bless the families of those who died, and the victims who are recovering, and all those who will forever be affected by this event.

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Casual To Captive: Evaluating the Culture

Casual To Captive: Evaluating the Culture

Evaluating the Culture

Culture is like soup, the more stuff you add to it the more difficult it is to name. Chicken Noddle is easy. Culture soup comes with a very complicated recipe. I am participating in a project that seeks to map the "culture" of children and youth in our county. Gaining an accurate picture of this slice of local culture is difficult to paint. Whatever we come up with will be inaccurate, but hopefully enough of a character sketch to catch the perp. 

Jesus raised a few questions about his generation that could serve as a template for us today. I am not sure if Jesus could be described as a social scientist, but He had a pretty good fix on his culture. But, I assure you the questions He raises are not typical of our modern social scientist. See what you think of his list based on Matthew 12:22-45.

1) To what power and authority does the culture ascribe Jesus' work today?
2) Does culture even recognize Jesus at work today?
3) Does our culture recognize the kingdom rule of God on their lives?
4) In our current culture is Jesus able to gain entrance into most houses/homes/hearts so as to bind the strong man?
5) In this culture are most gathering with Jesus or scattering the work of Jesus?
6) What fruit do we see in our culture that indicates whether our tree is good or evil?
7) In this generation, what do we treasure?
8) What words are being spoken in this culture?
9) Does this generation seek more evidence than we have been given to prove Jesus' authenticity?
10) More specifically does the resurrection of Jesus impress and draw people to Jesus?
11) What is the state of our house/heart, i.e. full of demons, unfilled, or filled with good?
12) Do people in our society tend to return to states from which they have been freed?

These questions call for honest soul-searching? Jesus had an answer for each of these questions in his generation. Do we have answers for ours? What evidence would we present to prove our case? Can we also see the evidence in the lives of some who are swimming upstream in this world? Do we live with the contrasts? Are we good at seeing our own lives in relationship to the culture? Being able to warn someone of the dangers of our age demands that we accurately understand the nature of these dangers, be honest about our participation in those things that are anti-Jesus, and, most importantly, offer a Jesus solution for our culture. 

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


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.