Monday, December 17, 2012
God with us. The tragedy in Newtown, CT this last week brings these words into stark relief. God with us. We watch that kind of evil unfold and ask why? We wonder how such things could happen? We get a glimpse into the darkness that resides in the hearts of men and find ourselves shocked at what we see. But we shouldn't be. The whole sordid tale of humanity is marred by a whole lot of ugliness. We cry out for answers and for safety. The anti-gun crowd and pro-gun crowd are gearing up for the inevitable clash over gun regulation. I read an article this morning about the connection between psychotropic drugs and school shootings. Investigators are looking at the shooter, his mother, his family, his background and his mental illness for an answer into why. We want answers and we want to see that it never happens again.
It will happen again. Sin is, unfortunately, a present reality for the human experience. We don't like to talk much about sin anymore -- not even in churches, but it is what it is. Jeremiah 17:9 tells us, "The heart is deceitful above all things, And desperately wicked; Who can know it?" We tend now, in our culture, to judge God according to the standards of man. God can't be good or even real because people are judged. I wonder how many people who don't believe in Hell are now hoping that Hell exists -- at least for Adam Lanza anyway. This kind of event knocks us off of our easy platitudes and wishful thinking. Man struggles enough with Jesus. The history of man without God is ugly.
God with us. God help us, because we so desperately need Him. Culturally we seek to marginalize God until tragedy strikes. We don't want Him in the public discourse. We don't want Him in our schools. We don't want Him in our politics. Have your religion, but keep it to yourself. We tell kids that they are just animals like all the other animals and then we wonder why they behave like animals. You're just another monkey off the family tree, not a very special person, created in the image of God. We make life cheap by killing some 50,000,000 unborn babies and we wonder why people don't value life. Morality and virtue are outdated and subjective. The United States of America has never been a theocracy, but it has been a nation with a God consciousness for most of its existence. Despite revisionist history that is just the truth. If you don't believe me forget what some people now say and go back and read the history -- it's all there in black and white and pretty darned clear.
God with us. That's what Christmas is all about. The answer was not in the law or in the hearts of men or the strength of men or the goodness of men. God became the answer, in part, because there is no other answer. Never has been. In a sin riddled world the answer to the question is still Jesus. What question? Every one that matters. Sadly, Jesus was the answer for Adam Lanza. Jesus is the answer for these children who have gone to the presence of God. Jesus is still the answer for those who are left behind.
In Jeremiah 8:22 the prophet asks the question, " Is there a balm in Gilead?" In Matthew 12:20 we read about Jesus: "A bruised reed He will not break, And smoking flax He will not quench, Till He sends forth justice to victory." Our prayers are with those left behind in Newtown. Our hearts go out to them. There are lots of victims here. As we search for answers, maybe, just maybe some will find the real answer.
'For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten son that whosoever believes in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life." (John 3:16)
Saturday, October 27, 2012
Jesus was talking to his disciples as they crossed the Sea of Galilee. The disciples, according to Mark's account, had only one loaf of bread between them. Jesus began to talk to them about the leaven of the Pharisees and the leaven of Herod. Leaven was a well known euphemism for sin. While the Pharisees would have been mightily offended at being included in a conversation about sin (they would have understood the reference) that involved them and Herod, in their own way they exhibited a hardness of heart no less than Herod's.
As Jesus was talking his disciples either missed the point or were not paying attention. They missed the point a lot so that would not have been surprising, but it is also possible that they were hungry and forgot to bring bread and were not really paying attention as Jesus was talking. Jesus jars them back to reality by asking, "Do you not yet see or understand? Do you have a hardened heart?"
It's easy for us to miss the point. Sometimes we do have a hardened heart and just don't want to hear it. We want to be angry or bitter. We don't want to hear about forgiveness. We have a finely tuned theology and we don't want the Word of God to interfere with that. A hardened heart can blind us to a truth that is right in front of us. A truth that will set us free if we will only let it. Selfishness, anger, sin, and pride all contribute to a hardened heart.
But sometimes we are distracted too. Ever been in a conversation and someone was talking and you realized you had zoned out and just missed a big part of what they were saying? It happens to just about everybody at some point. Sometimes we're just distracted. I think the disciples were distracted. They were more focused on the fact that they forgot bread than on Jesus. If they had been paying attention to Jesus they wouldn't have been worrying about bread. Ironically, this was right after Jesus had fed 4000 with seven loaves of bread and a few fish.
The enemy will try to get you into hardness of heart, but he works in distraction too. He has a lot of weapons available. He'll use life, good things, bad things, fear, worry, resentment, entertainment -- the list could go on and on. He wants to rob us of the powerful and get us hung up on the mundane. I'm reminded of the story of Mary and Martha in Luke 10. Martha was hustling and taking care of everyone while Mary was sitting at Jesus' feet and listening. Martha complained to Jesus that Mary wasn't helping. In Luke 10:41-41 we read Jesus' response, "Martha, Martha, you are worried and bothered about so many things; but only one thing is necessary, for Mary has chosen the good part, which shall not be taken away from her."
Sometimes we do have to get things done. That's obvious, but the dishes and the cleaning and the food or whatever Martha was doing could have waited. She was so focused on the mundane that she was missing a powerful moment. We're not told Martha's response. I like to think she threw down her dishrags and sat down next to Mary. Hopefully she didn't go off grumbling about how Jesus just doesn't understand.
Tuesday, June 26, 2012
Sunday, June 24, 2012
Tuesday, June 19, 2012
Monday, June 18, 2012
Thursday, June 14, 2012
This story exhibits in stark detail the problem of how religious observance can seem right and good, but be totally cut off from the heart of God. The Pharisees were great at looking good, but they had serious heart problems. They cared more for the minutiae of the law over everything else. In this encounter Jesus healed the man and the Pharisees sought to kill Him! They didn't really care that he was actually healed. They only cared about their interpretation of the rules. They missed the point.
Sometimes we do the same thing. We miss the point by focusing on what matters less. We get caught up in plans and programs and agendas. We fall prey to the wrong attitudes. We miss ministry opportunities. We see people through the lens of failure and not through the lens of potential. We lay down compassion for law. We lay down love for judgment.
I think the irony of this story is in the Pharisee's approach in asking Jesus, "Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath?" Somehow I just don't think a lot of healing was going on when Jesus wasn't around. They had apparently seen Him heal (or they wouldn't have asked the question), but were too blind and jealous to grasp the fullness of the Messiah. So they chose to play petty games and attempt to trap Him.
Compassion is not all that matters, but it does matter a great deal. Somewhere between legalism and spiritual anarchy there is a place where God is honored. It's a place where misdirected compassion that leads to humanistic narcissism can't exist, and yet it's also a place where the rules become subservient to the heart of God. That's where true ministry takes place. Ministry that changes lives. It's a place where love flourishes and fulfills its purpose. It's a place where we can really seek the best for others because we actually care for them as people. It's a place that reflects the heart of God.
Sunday, June 10, 2012
Wednesday, June 6, 2012
Friday, June 1, 2012
Wednesday, May 30, 2012
Monday, May 28, 2012
Saturday, May 26, 2012
For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life. (Romans 5:10)
The love of God is an incredible thing! It is interesting how two people can look at the same circumstances and come to different conclusions. The atheist looks at the world with all of its suffering and pain and concludes that there cannot be a God. The believer looks at the world with all its suffering and pain and see the desperate need for God.
We were God's enemies and yet He made it possible for us to enter into His kingdom. The humanist worldview (which has infiltrated the church to some extent) is that man is good. History brutally lays waste to this notion. The reality is that Jesus died for us, not because we are good, but because God is good. That's a truth that will set you free!
Sunday, May 20, 2012
Tuesday, April 3, 2012
I love this story. I think what I particularly like is the response of Peter and Andrew. They immediately quit what they were doing to follow after the Lord. There is no greater call than the call of Jesus to follow after Him.
People sometimes reject the call of God simply out of unbelief, but often they reject it because they have things in their life that they do not want to lay down. We would rather the call of God come without any expectation. We often want to give lip service only to the Lordship of Jesus Christ. Romans 10:9 tells us "that if you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved." Confessing Jesus as Lord is more than just an intellectual belief. It is a confession of allegiance to Him.
It doesn't mean we are going to get everything just right or never sin or make a mistake. It does mean we ought to want what God wants. If God says something is wrong then it is wrong, regardless of my feelings. If He calls something good it is good. His ways are right and perfect.
A good check on our hearts is to consider what are those things in my life that I would have trouble letting go of if the Lord asked? We create idols so easily. It may be an attitude, a belief that doesn't accord with the Word, or something we are doing. I love the picture of Peter and Andrew. They left their nets. Sometimes we create nets that ensnare us by holding onto things the Lord would have us give up. We need to be like Peter and Andrew and be willing to lay down our nets and follow after Him. It is always worth it. There is no one like Jesus!
Saturday, March 31, 2012
We believe in one God,
the Father, the Almighty,
maker of heaven and earth,
of all that is, seen and unseen.
We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ,
the only son of God,
eternally begotten of the Father,
God from God, Light from Light,
true God from true God,
begotten, not made,
of one being with the Father.
Through him all things were made.
For us and for our salvation
he came down from heaven:
by the power of the Holy Spirit
he became incarnate from the Virgin Mary,
and was made man.
For our sake he was crucified under Pontius Pilate;
he suffered death and was buried.
On the third day he rose again
in accordance with the Scriptures;
he ascended into heaven
and is seated at the right hand of the Father.
He will come again in glory
to judge the living and the dead,
and his kingdom will have no end.
We believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life,
who proceeds from the Father and the Son.
With the Father and the Son
He is worshiped and glorified.
He has spoken through the Prophets.
We believe in one holy catholic and apostolic Church.
We acknowledge one baptism for the forgiveness of sins.
We look for the resurrection of the dead,
and the life of the world to come. AMEN.
Thursday, March 29, 2012
Gospel means "good news." It is the most wonderful news in the history of mankind. Because of His great love God has poured out His grace on us in Christ Jesus and paid for us to have eternal life with Him forever. It is a gift -- we can't earn it -- all we have to do is receive it by faith. It requires some humility to be able to receive the gift, but that's pretty much all. Once we become born again and start walking with the Lord then He works in our lives to change and transform us. Our walk with Him then becomes a relational proposition. We have responsibility to do certain things to grow and the Lord helps us in ways we sometimes see and sometimes don't. Our walk with the Lord is the pinnacle of the human experience. We can now truly love Him, but only because He loved us first (1st John 4:19).
One thing we don't like to talk about too much anymore is that the Gospel is good news because there is bad news. Paul speaks to judgement in 2nd Thessalonians 1 that leaves little room for debate. People argue about Hell and what it may or may not be. I even saw an article by a Universalist titled, "What in the Hell is Hell?" It was basically a mocking critique on the concepts of Hell and eternal judgement. There is little debate that the New Testament writers (in accordance with the Lord Jesus) all viewed judgement as a real event. There is very little else you can do with a Paul's statements like "dealing out retribution to those who do not know God and to those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. These will pay the penalty of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord." I'm not sure how else you take that. I'm amazed how Universalists cherry pick Paul. The intellectual inconsistency is staggering.
For some reason we lose sight of the fact that we are just messengers. Unbelievers get really offended if you believe the historical tenets of the Christian faith. We don't create the doctrine and we have no vested interest in seeing someone go to Hell. I find it somewhat ironic that people who reject Christianity get offended by believers who actually ascribe to historical, Biblical Christian beliefs. I'm not sure they are always quite as confident in their beliefs as they pretend to be.
Somewhere deep down that God spark sure seems to gnaw at people. That is the love of God that woos and calls to them. God is full of mercy and compassion and it is His desire that no one perish. And yet, people do when they refuse to accept the wonderful free gift that is laid out for them. The gospel is the best news in the history of mankind, but part of what makes it such great news is that there is truly bad news for those who reject Jesus.
Tuesday, March 27, 2012
Sometimes when we read a verse like this we can almost let ourselves be stymied by the second half. We get hung up on thoughts like, "I can't seek God with such an impure motive" or "How can God really bless me if I seek Him so He will give me the desires of my heart?" Those thoughts aren't bad and actually reveal a heart that wants to honor the Lord, but we do need to get past them.
There are some things that we can consider that will help. The first is that we rarely seek God with a perfectly pure heart. Being human, we have issues, and we bring our issues wherever we go. The good news is that God is the fix for our issues. Seek the Lord and let Him deal with the issues. As you press into Him the impurities of your heart will begin to melt away. The Lord wouldn't have given us such a wonderful promise to hang us up in its application.
The other thing that helps is just to get after the first part of the verse. Delight yourself in the Lord. The second comes because of the first -- it really is a sowing and reaping in our walk with Him. Ask Him to help you do it. Press in and spend time with the Lord. Spend time in worship and prayer and in the Word. As you spend time with Him you will begin to delight in Him.
Sunday, March 25, 2012
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. (John 1:1)
What we believe about Jesus Christ is absolutely central to the Christian faith and our walk with God. Jehovah Witnesses believe that He is was the son of God, but not God Himself. Mormons offer up a pretty convoluted view of Jesus where Jesus is a son of God along with Satan, and earned deity status through righteous works. Islam teaches that He was a great prophet. A lot of people believe that he was some sort of sage or good teacher or revolutionary. All those beliefs, while containing a portion of the truth, are false because they deny the full power and glory of Jesus Christ.
The challenge before us in rightly interpreting and understanding the Word of God is always in dealing with the sections that challenge us. The books of the Bible were not written as large collections of individual sayings. Context, continuity, and consistency matter. Some understanding of the Old and New Covenants will help us to understand the whole. Grasping the whole truth of Jesus Christ will help us to see the Word and God's pursuit of mankind in all its fullness.
I love Colossians 1 and the statement Paul makes about Jesus Christ--
He is the image of the invisible God.
All things were created by Him and for Him.
He is before all things.
By Him all things consist.
Paul makes a powerful case for the deity of Christ. Jesus is more than a good man or teacher. He is the very one who created all that we see and by Him all things consist. That word consist in the Greek means placed or banded together. He came to redeem His very creation that He holds together. That is powerful!
In Luke 24 the resurrected Jesus encountered two men on the road the Emmaus. They spent some time together in conversation and in verse 27 we read how "beginning at Moses and all the prophets, he expounded unto them in all the scriptures the things concerning himself." I would have loved to have been a part of that conversation.
Philippians 2:11 tells us that one day "every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father."
I find it interesting that one common thread of false teachers is that while they claim to honor and respect Him they always deny the full reality of who He is. It's easy to like the partial Jesus. Find the verses where Jesus said things we like (Judge not seems to be a favorite) and ignore the ones that make us uncomfortable. That one about denying yourself and taking up your cross and following Him seems to be particularly onerous to some people. We want Jesus the lamb, but not Jesus the judge. We want the Jesus who ate with tax collectors and sinners, but not the Jesus who said, "Go and sin no more." We want a Jesus who makes us feel better about ourselves without actually challenging us.
The real Jesus is far more awesome than we can often conceive. He is worthy of our worship and worthy of our lives. Knowing and walking with Him is the pinnacle of human achievement. He changes everything. He is Lord and He is God!
Saturday, March 24, 2012
There are a number of common threads that run through both the Old and New Testament and testify to God's love and pursuit of mankind. Even though we know that grace and truth culminate in Jesus (John 1:17) we find shadows throughout the Old Testament of what was to come. In Daniel 9 we find Daniel praying for his people. Daniel offers up a prayer of repentance, hope and restoration.
Daniel approaches the Lord in the only way we can -- with humbleness of heart and trust in God's compassion. One of the issues we have in the Church today is our struggle to balance the love of God without making an idol of humanity. In doing so we too often embrace a subtle form of humanism where God can only be good if His chief aim is to please man. We raise our belief and sin above God and above His Word. Universalism is a great example of this. Judgment is such a terrible concept that we can't reconcile it with a loving God, so we declare all men saved, whether they realize it or not. We pick and choose Bible verses to back our point and ignore the rest. Paul becomes totally schizophrenic and his writings are now totally inconsistent, but we feel better. Another example is homosexuality. People generally want to be nice so they go along with the argument that God must have made some people that way, ignoring what both scripture and science say about the matter. Homosexuality is no longer an act, but an identity, but what it really has become is an idol -- something held higher than God and what He has said.
But back to Daniel. Daniel approaches the Lord with no excuses and no justification. Man is subservient to God. God is the one who is holy and righteous and full of mercy and compassion. Man is the one who has sinned against God and ignored his long suffering kindness and ongoing warnings. God is on the throne, not man. Just as it can truly only be. Daniel prayed, "we are not presenting our supplications before You on account of any merits of our own, but on account of Your great compassion." That is how we approach God and we can do so boldly, as His children, if we are born again. We don't approach God through our good works and we don't have to hold back because of our shortcomings, and yet we do have to approach humbly.
Humility means we lay our lives before Him -- not my way but yours O Lord. We don't approach God in our own righteousness, neither do we presume upon Him to accept what He has said is wrong. Both ways are idolatry because both attempt to raise man above God. Faith in Jesus is rooted in humility before God. It's not about getting everything right, but there ought to be a desire to want what God wants, regardless of how we personally feel, or even our ability to live up to it. That's a heart God can work with. Anything else is pride and vanity.
What attitudes and beliefs have you held above God's Word? There is no problem or sin that is too great for Him. It was for freedom that Christ has set us free. Freedom is not the ability to do whatever I want. That will only lead to bondage. True freedom is found in God. He is, after all, the only truly free being.