Isolation

We thought we were isolated before.  How about when you can’t leave the house at all?  Fifteen or twenty years ago in Kansas City I could shovel a foot of snow from a driveway.  I’m not going to try it now.  Friday is not that far away.  We can hold out.

Right now my world seems out of joint.  I’m suffering not from a lack of ideas but from a multitude of ideas and my mind won’t settle on one.  They say you should write something every day but it’s hard when your mind wanders.

Each of the four gospels is written from a particular viewpoint and we see things about Jesus that serve that viewpoint.  If we only read one gospel, we will miss some things about Him that are important.  There are denominational Jesuses and Jesuses of individual congregations.  Some things are emphasised and others are ignored or soft pedaled.  I need to know all of Him.

There are times when Jesus gently rebukes the disciples.  He says with a wry smile,”Where is your faith?”  Other times He sternly rebukes them with “Where is your faith?  Don’t you remember the five thousand fed?  Remember when people were healed at your touch and demons were cast out at your command?”  And there are times when He just shakes His head and says, “You just don’t get it, do you?”

I like the pictures of Jesus with the lamb in His arms, Jesus surrounded by children, Jesus laughing with His disciples.  There are paintings of Jesus cleansing the temple but those were bad people, right?  Not me.  Not us.

I need to know all of it, all of Him.  Need to feel the joy and the peace.  Need to hear His tender voice, His gentle rebuke, and His stern warning.  I need to know Jesus.

I don’t just need to know Jesus who can make my life better.  I need to know Jesus who is life.

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Another Swing

I took on a challenge.  Post something seven days in a row.  I made it six days.  God rested on the seventh day.  Right?  But that wasn’t the deal.  That wasn’t the challenge. So here I am writing the seventh a day again.  I wrote and posted about Luke 6:27-31 that I wasn’t satisfied with.  Then I wrote something else that didn’t satisfy me and didn’t post.  I can’t seem to get past it, that passage.

“But I say to you who hear: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, and pray for those who spitefully use you. To him who strikes you on the one cheek, offer the other also. And from him who takes away your cloak, do not withhold your tunic either. Give to everyone who asks of you. And from him who takes away your goods do not ask them back. And just as you want men to do to you, you also do to them likewise.

Sometimes people read the Bible looking for excuses.  Sometimes people read the Bible looking for justification for their lifestyle.  Sometimes people read the Bible looking for reasons to condemn others.  I know I have been guilty of all those at one time or another.  

We read the Bible and we see Jesus healing the sick, feeding the five thousand, surrounded by children, holding the lost lamb in His arms. We’ve seen the pictures.  But I read the passage above and it terrifies me.  To Jesus the Christian life is one of total vulnerability, total trust in the One who saved us.  It’s a high wire act without a net.  How many of us are living that way?  I know I’m not.

The Christian life is more than slogans and tee shirts.  Jesus is more than slogans and tee shirts.  Jesus is radical love and He expects us to live radical love.  And radical love takes radical faith.

It’s easy to read the Bible and find Jesus walking the countryside and spouting memory verses and slogans.  What if we read the Bible to get to know Jesus, really get to know Him?  I think we would find that He really means all that stuff in Luke 6:27-31.  We would find that He lived it before the world while on this earth.

And I think He would say to us, “Go and do likewise.”

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Jesus Was A Radical

Let’s talk about the easy carefree life of a Christian.  Luke 6: 27-31

“But I say to you who hear: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, and pray for those who spitefully use you. To him who strikes you on the one cheek, offer the other also. And from him who takes away your cloak, do not withhold your tunic either. Give to everyone who asks of you. And from him who takes away your goods do not ask them back. And just as you want men to do to you, you also do to them likewise.

Love your enemies.  That sounds tough but we can handle it.  We just think of it as a goal, a concept, a philosophy.  Jesus didn’t really mean…  The same goes for turning the other cheek and giving your coat.  We’ve heard those since we were seven years old.  Over the years they have gotten a little skinned over, shaded with a patina of rust.  We know they are there.  We know we should but well, you know…

Then we come to this:  Give to everyone who asks of you.  And from him who takes away your goods  do not ask them back.  

Did you know that was in there?  It sounds pretty specific, doesn’t it?  Hard to make that an attitude or a philosophy.  I read a paraphrase somewhere that said ‘Lend when you know there’s not a chance in the world you’ll get paid back’.

That doesn’t sound like wisdom, does it?  That’s why we give to the church.  They have the resources to discern where and to whom to give.  Still, there are times when the Holy Spirit will give a nudge and whisper ‘give’.  And I think God sometimes tells us to give even to a scammer.  You don’t know when or how the Holy Spirit will use that to reach a lost soul.  Besides, obedience is acting when it doesn’t make sense.

So we give.  We give first of all because we obey.  That’s reason enough right there.

Second we give because it instills a spirit of generosity in us.

Ah, but there is a third reason.  We give because it liberates us from the tyranny of money and the lie of security.  We cling to our money because we think we can depend on it when problems arise.  But how much money is enough?  John D. Rockefeller was asked how much money was enough and he said ‘A little more.’  If money is my security then I always need more, a little more.  We cling to our security blankets and miss the joy of knowing total dependence on God.

So what is your security blanket?  It’s not just money you know.  A job.  An unhealthy relationship.  Facebook.  YouTube.  Solitaire.  (Ouch.)  Don’t think about giving up.  Just think about giving…to God.

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What Matters

The one service in our Church every year that is the most meaningful is the Good Friday service.  I can’t remember because that was almost a year ago and I have trouble remembering last week.  I can’t remember what week the Church was closed for in person attendance but I know it was close to that Good Friday.  I know the anticipation was already building.

A lot has happened in the last year.  We’ve gotten good, a little too good, at placing blame, at pointing fingers.  Maybe it would be good to take a step back and clarify who is really responsible.  We talk of conspiracies here, there, and everywhere but the real enemy we face is Satan.  Satan is less concerned with who wins the argument of sexual orientation or abortion than he is in spreading fear and hate.  And he’s doing a pretty good job of that.

The number one thing he wants to accomplish, though, is to stop the talk about Jesus, about the crucifixion and the resurrection.  Does it seem to you that he’s doing a pretty good job at that too?  We make a lot of noise, a lot of fire and heat, but do we get around to mentioning the name of Jesus?  Do we talk about the events that matter most?  The crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

But don’t worry.  Good Friday is coming.  Easter is coming.

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This is Who We Are

Here I sit on Saturday morning.  I got my first COVID shot yesterday and I am thankful for that.  No ill effects so far except for a little soreness in the shoulder when I move it.  So I’m sitting here not moving it.

I have to say something here about the experience.  Baptist Health did a wonderful job.  They were perfectly organized.  The process went smoothly.  More than that, the heart and spirit of all the workers was nothing short of heart warming.  I know that sounds like a HallMark Movie but I can’t think of a better way to describe it.

So here I sit and President Biden is signing executive orders I don’t agree with.  We knew it would happen.  We are a tragically divided nation.  This is who we are.  We had a choice between what was before and what we have.  Four years from now there has to be a better choice.  But there won’t be unless we…

One day Jesus was sticking it to the Pharisees and He said this:

But woe to you Pharisees! For you tithe mint and rue and all manner of herbs, and pass by justice and the love of God. These you ought to have done, without leaving the others undone.  Luke 11:42

We are clear on where we stand concerning things like abortion and sexual orientation and we should be.  But what about the other?  Think about the weak, the poor, the forgotten, the disenfranchised among us.  We are pretty good at somehow turning it around and making their plight their fault. 

What if we read the gospels looking for what I would call the ‘heart of Jesus’?  He didn’t ignore the sin of the woman taken in adultery but He protected her and didn’t condemn her.  He didn’t overlook the lifestyle of the woman at the well but He did address her deeper need.

Can we do that?  Can we stand up for the Biblical standard of righteousness and still display the heart of Jesus?  Jesus seemed to think we could.

If we don’t…

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The Cruse of Oil

We were worshipping in Church Tuesday night and one word or phrase triggered something and I was off to the races.  That happens.  Sometimes it’s just chasing rabbits.  Or chasing squirrels like that dog in the movie UP.  But sometimes it’s something else and this time it led me to the story about the widow and the jar of oil.  I Kings 17:8-16.

But before we talk about that we need to flash forward from there and talk about the time Jesus went back to His hometown of Nazareth.  That’s in Luke 4: 16-30.  He went into the synagogue and read from Isaiah 61:1-2.  Well, He didn’t read all of verse 2, but that’s another story.  

When He had finished He sat down and said, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.”  And they marveled at His words.  But Jesus had more to say.  Matthew says that Jesus could heal only a few in Nazareth because of their unbelief.  He referred to that story in I Kings 17.  There were many poor and hungry widows in Israel but Elijah went to a woman in Sidon.  For this they tried to kill Him.

The people of Nazareth were comfortable with their condition, with their comfortable religion.  They didn’t know they needed a savior, even when The Savior stood in their midst.  They didn’t know how desperate their condition was.

God shows up for those who are desperate.  Crazy as it sounds we can get comfortable with our pain, with our lack, with our tepid ineffectual god.  We even start looking to politics to solve our issues.

Sure, we pray.  We pray for a bigger house, a better job, a little (just a little) more money.  We pray for the right election results.  We want God to change our circumstances.

Maybe the problem is that we don’t recognize the desperation of our condition.  What if we prayed in desperation, prayed not for a change in circumstances but for a change in us, a change in me.  What if my desperate prayer was for more of God.  

Revival begins when we stop praying ‘change them’ and start praying ‘change me’.

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How Shall We Then Live

Here we are the beginning of a new administration.  President Biden is preaching unity.  He wants us to tone down the rhetoric and end the fear and hate.  Worthy goals.  We should join him in that quest and we should pray for him.

Still yet we know that we live in a culture that is sharply divided and when it comes down to it the dividing line is this question.  What about God?  And we know that for many of us the major influences of culture, media and entertainment and politics, are on the opposite side of that line from us.  Those influencers are in many cases openly hostile to us.  It seems at times like we have been carried off into a foreign country and we are in captivity.

This would be a good time to read Jeremiah, Lamentations, Daniel, and Esther.  Jeremiah 29:5-14 is especially instructive.  Jeremiah says that in your captivity you should build houses, plant crops, raise families.  Seek the peace of the land where you are held captive. That bears repeating.  Seek the peace of the land where you are held captive.  That sounds the opposite of what we hear from some who are on our side of the dividing line.  

Then we come to familiar verses, 11-14:

 For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, says the Lord, thoughts of peace and not of evil, to give you a future and a hope.  Then you will call upon Me and go and pray to Me, and I will listen to you. And you will seek Me and find Me, when you search for Me with all your heart. I will be found by you, says the Lord, and I will bring you back from your captivity.;

Daniel and the three Hebrew young men refused to worship the king, refused to cease praying to the one true God, refused to eat the king’s food.  They refused to be assimilated into Babylonian culture.  They refused to forget Jerusalem and their God.  Yet Daniel wound up in authority.  Daniel and Esther (and further back, Joseph) found favor.

We will not surrender our God.  We will not surrender Jesus.  We will be an example of righteousness.  And we may face the fiery furnace.  We may face the lion’s den.  We may be called to put our lives on the line.  But if we are diligent in things that do not violate God’s standard of righteousness and we seek the peace of the place where we find ourselves captive, God will give us favor.  And He will bring us back from captivity. 

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Judgment Begins

‘God is up to something.’  I said that the other day and I meant it.  God is always up to something.  But it doesn’t seem like it, does it?  Our world is spinning out of control.  Why does He not step in and take control?  Where is He?  Just what is He doing?

There are lots of people prophesying that God is going to step in and take control, that He will set things right.  I’m sorry but I don’t believe it.  I believe that persecution is coming for us, His church.  That’s not a prophecy.  It’s not a prediction.  It’s just an observation of where the world seems to be going. It’s observation and scripture.

I’ve been thinking this for a long time, that persecution is coming.  But somehow it gets a lot more real when I type it out on the screen and I know somebody else might read it.  It’s sobering to think just how serious things could get.

I mentioned scripture.  There’s a verse that I’ve been mulling over lately.  It’s in 2 Peter chapter 4.  It would be good to read the whole chapter but the one verse is near the end, verse 17.

 For the time has come for judgment to begin at the house of God; and if it begins with us first, what will be the end of those who do not obey the gospel of God?  

Does the first part of that verse give you pause?  It does me.  What does He want to do in me?  Are there wicked ways in me He wants to change?  The thought of persecution is sobering but even more sobering the thought that there are ways in me that need to change, that must change.

If persecution comes, when persecution comes there will be those who find it too hard to face and will fall away.  Will it be me?  The time is now to go deeper in prayer, deeper in the Word (ouch) and more diligent in fellowship in person or online.

God is up to something and it just may be that His focus is not on the halls of government or the abortion clinics.  When God wants to do something in the world He begins in His people.

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Our Tool Box

When we are born we come with a toolbox.  Many of the tools are dormant at first but over time as they come to life we learn to use some of them.  Unfortunately some of us become very proficient in using them, maybe all of them.

What are these tools?  Galatians Chapter five tells us:

adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lewdness, idolatry, sorcery, hatred, contentions, jealousies, outbursts of wrath, selfish ambitions, dissensions, heresies, envy, murders, drunkenness, revelries.

When we are born again Jesus gives us a new toolbox.  Again, Galatians Chapter five:

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control.

The Bible tells a lot about who we are and what we have when we are born again.  We are new creatures.  We are the righteousness of God in Christ.  We are a royal priesthood.  We have the fruit of the spirit.

It’s easy to say, “Oh boy.  I’ve got it.  I am equipped.  I have all the tools.”  But the truth is that, yes, we have been given the tools but it’s up to us to learn how to use them, to become proficient in the use of the tools we have been given.  You can buy one of those five foot tall roll around tool chests and fill it with every tool Craftsman ever made but that doesn’t make you a master mechanic.

You know the worst thing.  Sometimes we get to thinking some of those tools in the first box are actually God’s tools.  We get the stuff in the two toolboxes mixed up.  You know how it is when your tools get disorganized.  A half dozen 12 mm sockets and not one 7/16” socket to be found.

You know what God meant for us to do with that first toolbox.  He meant for us to put a padlock on it, shove it under the workbench, and forget about it.

Well, I think I’ve pretty well picked that metaphor clean.

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Worthy Is the Lamb

So here we are.  The Hallelujah Chorus.  And yes, I do love it.  How could I not?  But what I like better are the lines from Revelation Chapter 5:

Worthy is the Lamb that was slain, and hath redeemed us to God by His blood, to receive power, and riches, and wisdom,and strength, and honour, and glory, and blessing.Blessing and honour, glory and power, be unto Him that sitteth upon the throne, and unto the Lamb, for ever and ever.Amen.  Revelation 5:12-14
Or maybe I’m just a snob.  Yes, that’s entirely possible.
Once again it’s the music.  Well, the words and the music.  I kind of get goose bumps just thinking about it, about Worthy is the Lamb. 
 

So what is the message of the Messiah?  From ancient times till now people have pondered the big question.  Who is God?  Left to ourselves we make up our own ideas of god, some of them pretty strange.  From birth to ministry to crucifixion to resurrection the Messiah tells us who God is.  The King of Heaven came down to earth as a helpless infant.  He attained to no political office.  He had no army.  He willingly went to the cross.  He showed us who God is.  God is love.  And we are the people of love.
This is where the battle is won.  It’s not by political influence.  It’s not by a great victory on the field of battle.  It’s by love.
In the long run love always wins.  Every time. 
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