Tuesday, December 12, 2017

What or Whom

"...because I know whom I have believed and am convinced that He is able to guard what I have entrusted to Him until that day." 
2 Tim. 1:12.

Is your faith based on a what or a whom? For Paul it was the Person Jesus Christ. Through their intimate personal relationship, Paul was confident of God's leadership and guidance. He needed this when placed in situations where social and cultural norms collided with his faith.

In his endeavor to be all things to all men Paul didn't flip-flop theologically in order to be politically correct and non-offensive. With Christ's help in setting boundaries Paul integrated himself into society. As opposed to adopting a confrontational approach - "I'm right and you dummies are wrong!" Paul looked for natural openings to share the Good News.

Acts 17 covers Paul's trip to Athens. Exploring the city Paul discovered an interesting fact about the residents - they were very religious people. When he found the altar to the Unknown God (no harm covering all the bases) he used it to his advantage. Instead of chiding the people for using worship as an insurance policy, Paul took this as an open door. And did he have Good News for them! Paul personally knew this Deity and was happy for the chance to introduce the Athenians to Him. This was possible because Paul knew Whom, and not just what he believed. His foundation was Jesus.

While doing doctoral studies at St. Andrews in Scotland, Baxter Kruger attended a lecture by one of the early editors of well known, popular Christian magazine. This gentleman was a well-respected individual in the evangelical community. Kruger was stunned at the speaker's concern for this group. In this man's opinion, evangelicals had placed the Bible (the written Word of God) in a higher position of esteem and authority than Jesus - the real Word of God. Unconsciously they'd slipped into worshipping the book and not the author. How had that happened?

The principle of Sola Scriptura is an outgrowth of the Reformation. John MacArthur on www.ligionier.org presents an excellent explanation of this from an evangelical viewpoint and with a great sense of humor.

"Sola Scriptura simply means that all truth necessary for our salvation and spiritual life is taught either explicitly or implicitly in Scripture. It is not a claim that all truth of every kind is found in Scripture...for example, Scripture has little to say about DNA structures, microbiology, the rules of Chinese grammar and rocket science."

What Kruger understood the speaker to say was that inadvertently the Bible had become the "gold standard" for revelation as opposed to personal revelation from Jesus Himself. Relationship was with a text not a person.

To be clear, I love the Bible. I have plenty of them in all sizes, shapes and flavors, hard and soft bound and even electronic. Since I don't read Hebrew, Greek or Aramaic I'm at the mercy of the translators and their personal biases (and they do have them...we all do).

Paul and the early church didn't have Bibles because they didn't exist. Jewish believers may have possessed a familiarity with the Old Testament and even owned a small portion or two of it. But the Gentiles who quickly joined their ranks were clueless, which was not necessarily a bad thing. Early believers trusted Holy Spirit to guide them into truth, and they needed all the help they could get. There were heresies, false doctrines and opposition aplenty.

In my opinion, Sola Scriptura was a necessary but an over correction to curb abuses in the church. Dependency shifted back to the Bible as a book of rules and regulations as opposed to an unfolding revelation of the nature and character of God. Early on I was taught to solely trust Scripture and to be suspicious of personal revelations received by direct interaction with God. Best leave that to the professionals.

Paul upset the balancing act, tipping the scales in favor that the Word is a Person as opposed to a book. He believed Christ was the more capable of the two to keep him in line when navigating uncharted waters. Jesus was Paul's Sola Scriptura - the true living Word of God.

How about you? Is your faith based on information and knowledge gleaned solely from the Bible (which is a great place to start) or on Jesus the Author and Finisher of your faith? When was the last time you asked God to weigh in on a matter, and then searched the Bible for a confirmation of what you'd heard? Do you find it easier to use the Bible as a how-to manual as opposed to interacting with Father, Son and Holy Spirit whom are full of surprises?

Whatever you do...don't ditch your Bible! However, don't use it as a substitute for an intimate, personal relationship with God.

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Why A Parable

"Jesus spoke all these things to the crowd in parables; He did not say anything to them without using a parable. So was fulfilled what was spoken through the prophet: 'I will utter things hidden since the creation of the world'" Matt 17:34-35 (emphasis mine).

Why did God through Jesus' preaching/teaching ministry finally reveal things kept secreted away since creation? Was God the one who had hidden these? What exactly was Jesus talking about?

IMHO I believe Jesus referred to the true nature of God Himself, in His totality. Various individuals encountered Him as He progressively revealed Himself. No one, except Jesus, really had the big picture.

Why not?

I think the problem lies with us.

The fall brought sin into the mix which Paul claims causes us to believe that God is the enemy. Few look, think or speak well of their opposition. Usually we demonize them and make them sub-par to ourselves.

Additionally, we mistakenly create God in our own image - not vice versa. For example Paul quotes a familiar passage. "Vengeance is mine; I will repay, saith the Lord". Rom. 12:19. We quickly assume that God acts like us when we've been wronged. In the Parable of the Prodigal it's no surprise that the father's reaction to his sons' insults went right over the audience's head. They expected angry outbursts directed at both boys because that's what we'd do. Throw a party for a loser or stand outside and console an angry, ungrateful kid...not happening.

As time continued people caught glimpses of God's goodness, but it so violated their traditional notions of Him and cultural beliefs, these were rejected as wishful thinking. They were too good to be true. I'm now experiencing this same thing concerning some of my long-held concepts of God's nature and personality. The problem is my short-sightedness. My comfortable box where I let God reside, is unacceptable to Him. He doesn't intend to remain there. Having asked for a revelation of His true nature I'm finding an ever expanding debris field composed of my shattered pre-conceived ideas scattered about. It's unsettling, but in a good and healthy way.

Some may label me a heretic, and it's true. I'm Happily Encountering Real Experiences Today In Christ! The book worm is learning to love the experiential.

So, why parables? Stories put flesh and bones on abstract ideas. God is love, but what does that really look like? In Jesus' time and still today, stories are an integral part of the learning process, especially for non-readers. Our own culture is saturated with materials for children, even infants with no understanding that squiggly lines on a page are words that mean something. Pictures, however, even without any dialog convey the message.

Jesus was a master storyteller and if one only listened to be entertained (and many did) the deep spiritual message and meaning was lost.

"While Jesus was not a philosopher or theologian (in the accepted sense), his parables alone provided material that neither the philosopher nor the theologian can exhaust. This is the mark of Jesus' supreme genius. We have a curious tendency, even in dealing with Jesus' humanity, to overlook his sheer intellectual stature." C.W.F. Smith, Prophecy, pg. 19.

The country carpenter turned traveling rabbi, sans credentials, was no spiritual midget. Even at the tender age of twelve, one year shy of Bar Mitzvah and manhood, Jesus held his own with the teachers of the Law in the Temple. He knew God.

Employing familiar everyday examples Jesus peeled back the layers that obscured the truth concerning His Father and the Kingdom of God. Those with eyes to see and ears to hear got the message and it made them either friend or foe. Just like today.

How about you? What have you gleaned from the parables concerning God's nature that has left you scratching your head wondering, "Huh?" Which have made you uncomfortable and why?

Keep digging. Perhaps you can still go even deeper and find more rich truth hidden that you've missed before. Ask God for help. He enjoys a good treasure hunt.

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

An Invitation Too Good to Pass Up

"But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect," 1 Peter 3:15

          My sociology professor wanted us to share our personal thoughts and experiences with religion... an invitation too good to pass up. This is a bit lengthy and to my delight, my professor received it in the right spirit. I trust it made a good impression on her and cracked open the door to experiencing God as He really is.
                Religion is a topic that tends to polarize people. As a born again Christian I'd probably be considered a “fundamentalist” by many. Although I do agree with some of this term’s descriptions in our text, I do not lay claim to that designation. In fact, I’m not a fan of religion at all.
           It may appear that identifying myself as a believer in Jesus, yet disavowing any connection to religion is contradictory, but I think not. In my opinion, religion is man’s attempt to figure out God and then get right with Him. Our programs generally degenerate into systems of regulations to be strenuously adhered to if one wishes to get into and stay in God’s good graces.  Follow the rules and you’re safe.
          Because we like law keeping, God gave us His concept of the standard to adhere to. It's found in the Old Testament in simplified form, the Ten Commandments. Judaism further codified them into about 631 laws covering every aspect of life. To date, only one person perfectly kept the Law…Jesus. Everyone else has failed.
          I believe God's interested in relationship, not religion. Of the two, relationship is the more challenging. I have been married for forty-five years. If my marriage was solely based on abiding by a set of rules that both of us had to follow, we wouldn’t have much of a relationship, if any at all.
          I have faith and confidence in my husband, not because he “religiously” follows pre-established guidelines, but because I know him. I know how he thinks, what he likes/dislikes, what makes him happy or sad and what he considers important. This comes from decades of living together intimately, not from reading a rule book and acting accordingly.
          Religion promotes the concept that unless you get it “right” you face the wrath of God. Therefore, getting to know God personally isn’t as important as learning how to behave in a manner that you think keeps Him placated. This never works. Everyone goofs up. Therefore, many Christians don’t have any real assurance that they've met all the “requirements” necessary for getting into heaven, which really isn’t the most important thing.
          Our ability to mess things up, even with the best of intentions was no surprise to God. He knew this and fixed the problem before we had a chance to make any mistakes. He desires is relationship with His children; we want is a sure-fire program guaranteeing  our eternal destiny.
          Developing a relationship with God takes time. It’s progressive. I have known him personally for over four decades. I know less now than ever because I continually find Him deeper and richer than I’ve imagined. There are standards that I willingly adhere to, but not because I think they will earn me brownie points with God. These guidelines make my life simpler.
          For example, I no longer drink or do drugs. I’m free to do so if I want to...I just don’t want to. I don’t need the high or the escape they provide and I certainly don’t want the negative impact on my health that repeated useage produces.
          I don't worry about losing control and saying and doing things under the influence that I’ll regret later. Furthermore, I don’t fear about being stopped by the police and potentially arrested for any number of violations.
          Also, I go to church on Sunday and have done so for decades. Unlike my early religious upbrings upbringing where Sunday service attendance was mandatory, I go to church because I want to. And I don’t consider it ritualistic. That term, to me, speaks of just going through the motions, doing the same thing repetitively.
          I’m thankful that God refuses to be boxed in and likes changing things up.  I have responsibilities that require I be in attendance, but I don’t do these out of compulsion. Corporate worship has a different dynamic than individual. What occurs when the body comes together demonstrates how much we need each other. Christianity isn’t for Lone Rangers.
          I take communion every Sunday, however, I’m not limited to that time only. I can receive it anytime using water and crackers, coffee and a bagel or grape juice and bread. The physical elements aren’t what’s important. Communion is remembering Jesus and what He’s done for me. It's a time to re-member with Him. I’m now part of Him and this is a chance to remind myself of this very important fact.
          Rather than trying to show God I'm a good kid by my behavior, I spend time with Him in conversation. I ask what’s on His mind. Is there something He wants to do today that I can participate in? Perhaps there’s someone who needs prayer. He tells me how to pray in agreement with what He’s doing and I'm assured I’m just not spouting out hot air. What I’m say, based in faith, makes the difference. And I spend more time listening than talking. His side of the conversation is always more interesting. Because His Word tells me that I am already seated with Him in heavenly places, I spend time with Him there and it is a fascinating realm.
          Instead of telling people they need to “get right with God” to “turn or burn. ” I prefer to tell them that, as far as God is concerned, He’s not mad at anyone. He not counting sin against us because they've been taken care it. Christ’s crucifixion was just a physical manifestation of what had been done before time began. The only thing keeping anyone from spending eternity with Him, which includes right now, is the decision to say, “No thanks. I’m not interested.” Because we are blessed with free will, God honors our choice.
           God is concerned about sin, but not for reasons most people think. It has consequences. What is often labeled the “wrath of God” is simply the natural offshoot of bad behavior. The times I experience His “wrath” so to speak, is when He identifies things in my life that are harmful, destructive, and definitely not of Him. He is jealous for me, not of me. He wants the very best and like a good parent will do everything possible to keep me safe and out of trouble. He knows that sin causes me to think I’m His enemy and that He is mad at me. Because of the way sin distorts my mental capacity to know and understand Who He really is, God hates sin in every form. He wants nothing impeding my relationship with Him.
          I understand how religion evolves and develops, sometimes with the very best of intentions. However, I’ll stick with relationship. It’s not always clear cut and at times can be very mysteriously unsettling, but I have God’s assurance that because I’ve placed myself in His Hands, He can keep me out of harm’s way. And I’m taking His word for it.



Tuesday, November 21, 2017

The Highway to Hell is Paved With Good Intentions

"...and you will be like God, knowing good and evil" Gen. 3:5.

The original sin was steeped in good intentions. What more noble aspiration exists than to be like God? The methodology was all wrong, but we can't fault Eve for wanting to be just like her Creator.

We Christians do the exact same thing. We invent any number of ways designed to make us more God-like. Read/study the Bible, pray, evangelize, do good works - all fine in and of themselves but they'll never make us more like God.

Eve's problem (and ours) was an identity crisis - she didn't know who she was. Already created in God's image and likeness, how much more God-like could she get? Unfortunately, she believed the lie that she was deficient in this department.

This same fallacy is being swallowed hook, line and sinker today by many believers. Ask Christians if they're righteous and a good portion with emphatically state, "No!"...but they'd like to be. Some are working really hard to attain this goal.

Despite the fact that First Corinthians teaches that Jesus has become our "righteousness, holiness and redemption" (1:30) or Second Corinthians which states that because of Christ we're now "the righteousness of God" (5:21), Christians strive to become what they already are.

Here's another old favorite stand-by. "I'm just an old sinner saved by grace." Really? Sounds humble and pious until you stack it up the Paul's position on the matter.

"But God demonstrates His own love for us in this: while we were still sinners Christ died for us" Rom. 5:8.

Unless Jesus re-died in 1972, I wasn't around for Him to die for me at Calvary.

"That God was reconciling the world to Himself in Christ, not counting people's sins against them. And He as committed to us the message of reconciliation" 2 Cor. 5:19.

God's not holding anyone's sins against them so then why do Christians label themselves and others as such? We don't know who we really are.

I've heard the title of this week's blog post used in a variety of settings and with a great deal of latitude. What I'm not insinuating here, however, is that Eve's sin sent her to Hell. The only way to enter that domain is to reject God's already-in-place gift of reconciliation. Eating the forbidden fruit didn't send Eve to Hell. It didn't even stop God from showing up for his customary daily chat with the pair after the Fall.

To me, the meaning of this popular saying is that many mistakes aren't based on evil intentions - just the opposite. In Eve's case she wanted something most would consider very good...to be more like God. Ignorant of her real current status in life, she set out to obtain what she already possessed.

Some Christians, even those with familiarity with Scripture are on a similar mission. Ask me how I know. Unaware of their identity in Christ they resort to all types of religious gymnastics designed to make them into someone that they already are. These turn our to be exercises in futility. Many suffer in silence as they attempt one more program of self-improvement, the latest Christian fad. Frustrated many give up and quit. Again these are often good things but they can't make you any better than what God already has done for you.

God went to a lot of time and trouble to reconcile us back to Him. All we have to do is accept that it's already done. As the truth takes root and we begin to live out of this new reality, our life changes. We don't strive to be transformed - we recognize and step into our true identity in Christ.

How about you? What religious self-improvement program are you on now? Is it designed to make you a better Christian and more like God? How's it working for you? Are you becoming a new person via effort on your part or by awakening to your true identity and living out of it? Are you refreshed or stressed? Can you relax in the truth that you're already like God, thanks to His actions alone?

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Secret of Greatness

"Your gentleness has made me great" Psalm 18:35.

Viewing David's life, his ascension from shepherd to King of Israel, it is easy to ascribe his success to any number of things.

David was fearless taking on opponents to his flock and his nation. He was loyal to the point of never betraying or harming a king bent on hunting him down to destroy him. He was faithful to God in good and bad times. He was the man after God's own heart.

On the other hand, David had issues. He was a flawed character. His parenting skills were less than impressive; his home was in constant uproar with out of control kids. He was an adulterer who murdered his lover's husband in an attempt to cover his sin. Told never to number the people, his census brought disaster to the nation plus a very painful remedy. Still, despite all his failings, David is held in the highest regard.

Throughout God's dealings with him, it was the gentleness of his Lord that David says made him great.

David experienced God's correction and discipline. God didn't let him off the hook when he erred. David's seemingly private affair was made very public when the king was confronted by Nathan the prophet. Would David admit is sin or use his royal power to cover it up and sweep it under the rug?

David reflected upon this and other times the Lord dealt with him not as punitive or harsh but as gentleness. These shaped his character and caused him to excel.

The Apostle Paul came to this same conclusion.

"or do you show contempt for the riches of his kindness, forbearance and patience, not realizing that God's kindness is intended to lead you to repentance?" Rom. 2:4.

Paul's audience was the church at Rome, for the most part a congregation of former pagan Gentiles. Fortunately this group hadn't been steeped in the legalism of the Law with all its do's and don'ts. However they too had their religious baggage to overcome including the worship of an emperor who claimed to be god and who wasn't known for extending mercy to those who believed otherwise.

Paul stated authoritatively that God's kindness is what motivates us to change our thinking. As Saul of Tarsus Paul, according to Jesus, persecuted Him personally. That's how the Son of God interpreted Saul's actions. Knocked to the ground and temporarily blinded got hard charging Saul's immediate attention. Rather than eradicating the opposition (a popular Christian viewpoint) God shook up Saul to get his attention. Reflecting back, Paul recognized that is was the kindness of God that changed a repentant Saul of Tarsus in the Apostle Paul.

God's gentleness is the key to our greatness. Notice David didn't say "success," at least not in the terms we're familiar with today. Greatness had to do with personal growth and character not impression achievements like victory in battle and kingship. Gentleness allowed David's inner man to develop and grow large enough to embrace the ever expanding revelation of his great God and their progressively deepening relationship.

God's kindness was the pivot that turned Saul into Paul. Instantly realizing he was on the wrong side, Saul recognized that God's olive branch (and not a beating or worse) was the wise way to go. God's mercy and love overwhelmed Saul into submission and transformed him.

How about you? If you were in Saul's sandals on the Damascus road how would you have reacted to God's rude interruption of your life? As a believer, do you think Saul got off too easy? Looking at David's life, where do you see God's gentleness making David a great man? In your own life would you prefer kindness and gentleness or something more severe?

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Road Trip

"Blessed are those whose strength is in you, who have set their hearts on pilgrimage" Psalm 84:5.

I've never heard of anyone going on a pilgrimage. For Old and New Testament Jews accustomed to mandatory participation in certain Temple services annually, this was a familiar life event. Muslims traveling to Mecca are the closest contemporary example of pilgrims on a sacred journey that I can think of.

A pilgrimage is an adventure. Other than knowing one will travel from Point A to Point B, all that transpires in between these two is a mystery. The unknown enhances the overall experience. The final destination keeps the travelers filled with anticipation. The expense, trials and difficulties are immaterial when compared to arriving at one's heart's desire. Doing whatever it takes to reach the goal is well worth it.

Perhaps our walk with God would be more satisfying if we approached it with the pilgrim's sense of awe and wonder. To do this we may first have to reassess our concept of Who God is.

In the book, How God Changes Your Brain, authors Dr. Andrew Newberg and Mr. Mark Robert Waldman cite a Baylor University study done in conjunction with the Gallup organization. The sample interviewed included: Evangelicals, mainline and black Protestants, Catholics, Jews, Muslims, Hindus, adherents to all types of beliefs and those with no religious/church affiliation at all. The research revealed that Americans tend to classify God's personality as one of these four: authoritarian, critical, distant and benevolent.

Only twenty-three percent view God as "gentle, forgiving and less likely to respond with wrath" (pg. 110 kindle version). Furthermore this group viewed God as being personally involved in their lives, listening and responding to prayers and deeply concerned about those who suffer.

With statistics like this is there any surprise that some Christians find Christianity (the religion) pure drudgery? After all, who gets excited about a road trip to visit a cranky, mean old relative? A root canal's more preferable. It would be encouraging if Christians comprised that twenty-three percent who viewed God favorably - but that's not the case.

Why not?

Is it any wonder why people stay away in droves from the angry, retributive God fostered by much of the church today? Yet, when exposed to Jesus, they're captivated by Him because, by His own admission, He is the living example of God the Father. In His day Jesus was a radical departure from what His contemporaries were being forced-fed in their religious traditions. Christ turned no one away, good or bad. He never condoned wrong behavior because what we do and how we live matters. However, He never made a person's present life condition a barrier that prevented fellowship.

It's time to take a serious look at God through the lens of Jesus. Doing so can cause a major upheaval of our assumptions concerning the nature of God and His method of dealing with mankind. This can also transform our quest to know God into an exciting, festive pilgrimage as opposed to a torturous, frustrating journey.

How about you? How would you honestly evaluate your relationship with God? Is it what motivates you to get up each morning, curious to discover what the day will bring? Or, does it make you want to pull the covers up over your head because you're too tired and disappointed to go any further? Are you part of the twenty-three percent minority who look at God in a favorable light or the majority who do not?

Life will always present unexpected challenges. Whether we believe in God or not is important. What we believe He is like matters a great deal. If you're part of the majority who harbor a negative opinion of God, here's a suggestion. Get a new roadmap, one that will guide you on a journey to discover the Jesus-kind of Father God. Pack you bags and get ready for the road trip of a lifetime.

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Bringing Judgment to the Gentiles

"Behold My Servant, whom I uphold, Mine Elect, in whom my soul delighteth; I have put my Spirit upon Him; He shall bring forth judgment to the Gentiles" Isaiah 42:1.

Judgment to the Gentiles, according to Jesus, looked nothing like what those of His day and even some Christians today envision.

During His ministry Christ endured more opposition from His own than from the Gentiles. A careful look at his travel itinerary reveals He spent a good deal of time outside the confines of Jewish territory, which often proved to be more hospitable.

When encountering the Samaritan woman at the well, Jesus passed judgment. The woman's background was sketchy. His verdict...she was the perfect candidate to be His first evangelist. Despite her past history and the fact that women weren't permitted to give testimony to anything, even if they were eyewitnesses, Jesus believed she fit the bill. And He was right.

Gadara is Gentile country. Upon arrival, the warning to avoid the uncontrollable demoniac was promptly ignored. Once again, Jesus passed judgment, this time on the man's condition. It was unacceptable and had to go.

Now, free from the possession that had robbed him of a meaningful life, Jesus had a new plan for the man. For a number of reasons he couldn't join Christ's roving band, but there was a more important role for this former crazy man to play. Traveling around the area, this newly hatched evangelist could tell all who would listen about God's power to heal and love demonstrated by his own miraculous deliverance. When Jesus returned the crowds were waiting.

For the disciples, bless their hearts, this had to be confusing. Jews harbored real deep-seated animosity toward Gentiles and even more toward Samaritans. Had Jesus' ministry occurred in the Deep South after the Civil War, His followers would have been culture shocked for sure. Jesus wouldn't have ignored the freed slaves, the Carpetbaggers, the Yankee soldiers and other Northerners now in the South. Strong feelings of prejudice and superiority would have quickly surfaced and been challenged as they were in Christ's day.

Matt 12:17-21 records Jesus' quotation of a familiar passage in Isaiah 42. However, in His version the prophet's declaration is altered. According to Isaiah, God's Servant wouldn't rest until law and order was established. In particular, in His cross-hairs, were the Gentiles upon whom the Law would be imposed.

Jesus felt free to correct Isaiah's misunderstanding of Christ's role as the Servant. God already had one nation trying to keep the Law as a means of establishing and maintaining a relationship with Him. And it wasn't working. Jesus was unwilling to put the burden of the Law on anyone, including the Gentiles. "In His name the Gentiles will trust." Matt. 12:21.

It's still the same today. God's not looking to exclude but to include all in His family. Sin is already forgiven and everyone's already reconciled back to Him. The only ones disqualified, so to speak, are those who decline His invitation. And like every good parent, God will deal with our problems and issues, but as Jesus demonstrated, it won't be with a heavy hand.

How about you? From a Biblical standpoint, what does judgment look like to you? Is it always harsh and punitive? As a believer will that type of action draw you closer to God or send you heading to the exits?

God's all inclusive nature was hard for the Jews during Jesus' day to accept, but it's not like that now. Or is it? God doesn't want anyone left out, so we better enlarge our nets, look for fresh, different bait and expect a bigger, more interesting and diverse catch. 

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

The Source

"YHVH said to Abram: 'I am El Shaddai. Walk before me and be perfect'" Gen. 17:1.

A female! Could he believe his ears? This invisible deity Who had called Abram to forsake family and familiar wasn't a warrior like the god's of his culture, but was a woman? What other surprises did this God have up her sleeve?

If this reference to God as feminine rankles your religious sensibilities - blame Him. God's the one who identified Himself as the Many-breasted One.

Ancient cultures had their versions of fertility goddesses usually depicted as a woman with many breasts... kinda creepy actually. These deities were considered the source of good crops, prolific flocks and most importantly, offspring.

An image of a nurturing deity responsible for life's provision wasn't unusual for Abram. However, living in a strong patriarchal society and having an invisible God (which was a stretch in and of itself) Who was female must have been very unsettling. God just loves upsetting our ideas of how things should be.

According to Ex. 6:2-3, El Shaddai was the only name God chose to reveal Himself by until Moses was given the name YHWH which suggested God's absolute self-sufficiency. Why the switch?

Starting with Abram, God began the birthing process of the nation of Israel. At the Exodus the child, so to speak, was delivered and now in need of a father, hence the name change. This never implied a pantheistic form of theology, rather it was an unfolding of a deeper understanding of the complex nature of God.

For any in the birthing process (spiritual and otherwise) God understands the rigors of pregnancy. He can relate to the initial elation of knowing there's a child on the way and how that can fade when the unborn child's growth makes life very difficult and uncomfortable.

He knows the feeling of uncertainty concerning the unknown delivery date. Will the birth be quick and relative pain free or long, arduous or even dangerous? Mother's of the world say "Amen!"

One need only go back a few chapter to the beginning in Genesis to see God's identification with the female sex. Man was created "in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them" Gen. 1:27. Adam initially possessed this dual nature like God's until it was separated out of him with Eve's creation.

To be clear, God is neither male nor female - He is Spirit and the source of both sexes. Therefore, He is capable of being either Father or Mother depending on the need and circumstances. He understands both men and women so all have someone who really gets them.

How about you? How does God's feminine nature sit with you? Does it bring you comfort or make you want to squirm? It's in the Bible. So, how will this truth impact how you relate to God? If you're in the process of bringing something to birth take heart that God really knows what you're going through.

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

There Goes the Neighborhood

"The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and you say, 'Here is a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners'"
Luke 7:34.

Jesus, as the Son of Man, did much to upset people's notions of how the Son of God should behave. Claiming God as His Father was at least controversial and at worse scandalous. If He was God's Son, He certainly wasn't a chip off the 'Old Block'.

At least some thought He wasn't.

As a traveling rabbi invitations of hospitality could come from a broad spectrum of people. Being hosted was a demonstration of honor. However, being the guest of someone deemed undesirable or untouchable was this person's way of showing respect and honor for someone they esteemed more worthy than themselves. Such invitations might raise an eyebrow or two, but who knew. Perhaps this young rabbi just might rub off of on the low lifes to their betterment.

However Jesus didn't just eat with the riff-raff. The problem - He threw parties for them! This was over-the-top unacceptable to the religious authorities.

In his two books Poet & Peasant and Through Peasant Eyes author Kenneth E. Bailey extensively explores the cultural roots of Luke's parables. Bailey notes that casual associations with sinners, including eating at their homes, weren't out of the norm for a rabbi. However it wasn't customary. So what upset the Pharisees so much about Jesus' social schedule?

Hosting publicans and sinners meant He showed honor to these individuals. At the event, Jesus would have been expected to extend the guest(s) of honor His utmost respect and to laud them to all those in attendance. Unthinkable!

Unfortunately, this still happens today. God is portrayed as aloof from and completely cut off from sinners. The thought that He'd welcome them with open arms is repugnant. Certainly God has standards.

Indeed He does.

God sees everyone as already reconciled, therefore, all are welcome. This may offend some Christian's sensibilities because after all, God is holy. He can't be around sin or sinners. Either God never got our memo concerning this, or if He did, He chose to ignore it, pitching it into the celestial trashcan where it belongs.

Jesus' mode of hospitality may have driven his neighbor's crazy and their property values down, however, Heaven is filled to the brim with earth's undesirables. They are now citizens of good standing in the Kingdom of God. Those who accept His invitation find the welcome mat is always out and the relationship's already restored.

How about you? If Jesus lived next door and regularly threw house parties for those you deemed unworthy, how would you react? What message would your response convey about your understanding of God's character and nature, and His choice of friends? Would you find His "open door" policy towards sinners reprehensible and if so, why?

God is looking to include not exclude. Can we as His ambassadors here on earth do any less? 

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Silverware

"Then Jesus declared, 'I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty'" John 6:35.

Sometimes we refer to sharing a meal as the breaking of bread. In Jesus' time this phrase had a richer and more practical meaning.

Typically, when we eat we apportion individual servings from a common dish onto our plate. Some occasions, such as chips and salsa, require all to plunge their portion into a communal bowl and hence the warning, "No double dipping!"

Jesus and his contemporaries would have been well acquainted with the need to refrain from said practice. Their meals were served like our chips and salsa. There were no individual portions. Everyone ate from the same pot. To avoid contamination diners used an particular type of silverware - a piece of bread.

"Bread was not the meal. Bread is the knife, fork and spoon with which the meal was eaten." Kenneth E. Bailey, Poet and Peasant, pg 123.

When Jesus referred to Himself as the Bread of Life in John 6:35 He wasn't equating Himself to just a primary source of sustenance, but also as the role of bread as Middle Eastern flatware. He is the absolute main utensil in order to partake of everything needed for life.

With Jesus as our silverware we're never a source of contamination to ourselves or others. In addition, Middle Eastern bread is typically either seasoned to compliment the meal or salted in order to enhance the food's flavor. As our bread, Jesus adds flavors to our life and prevents it from becoming ho-hum and boring.

In a Middle Eastern meal the one without bread goes hungry. Everything needed to meet one's needs and satisfy one's hunger is so close-but inaccessible. This is true of life. Without Jesus as our means to consistently receive nourishment - we die.

Just as the diner's portion of bread was torn from the loaf in order to provide access to the food, Christ's body was torn so we can access real life through Him. Communion reminds us of this and provides the opportunity to re-member with Him.

How about you? How does Jesus as your silverware enhance the fares life serves you? How does He add zest and flavor particularly to those portions we'd just as soon skip over? With him as the main facilitator of all we ingest, what does this say about being contamination free?

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

What is Love?

Beloved, let us love one another: for love is of God; and every one that loveth is born of God, and knoweth God. He that loveth not knoweth not God; for God is love. 1 John 4:7-8.

These Scriptures are indelibly burned into my brain compliments of Psalty, a series of children's recordings. My now adult daughter had the full compilation and several songs from them are available on instant replay in my head.

Recently, in an encounter with God, He asked for an accounting of my understanding of love's definition. Immediately I remembered these verses from 1 John and I premised my response based on the fact that God is love. Every word that I could think of that defined love I attributed to God as a facet of His character.

God is good, kind, compassionate, long-suffering, patient and non-judgmental, just for starters. In addition He is joy, peaceful, pleasant, easy-to-get-along with, playful, funny and cheerful. God convicts and corrects without a hint of condemnation. The more I contemplated the question the more I realized how much I underestimated what true love and God are really like.

I was a bit disheartened. I realized that the in breadth of my understanding of love, I haven't understood or experienced God in the totality of any of them. Not only do I not live in their full expression personally, but also I see how little I comprehend them as part of God's nature. He's so  much more than I can imagine.

Entering the pool of God's love, metaphorically speaking, is like plunging into the deep end. It's vast and can't be fathomed. Meditating on the individual words I used to describe love revealed depths I'd not explored before. These attributes of God run far deeper than my superficial attempts to understand and live them.

I know God didn't design this as an exercise in frustration. This was, as it turns out, an exploration in wonder and a chance to ponder more fully His majesty. Trying to unpack the totality of Him as love personified revealed layer upon layer of richness. I'm still delving deeper and there's no hint of a bottom in sight.

How about you? How do you describe love? How does it correlate to the personhood of God? So much greater than words can express and our ability to grasp, God who is love can keep our hearts and heads engaged in divine conversations on this subject for a long, long time. Even eternally.

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Rest for the Weary

"Come to me, all who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest" Matt. 11:28.


Under the Overpass chronicles Mike Yankoski's adventures as a "homeless" person. Following God's specific directive and accompanied by his friend Sam, the pair resided in six cities spread throughout the country in six months.

Throughout their journey Mike and Sam became intimately acquainted with the difficulties of street life: lack of food and water, maintaining decent hygiene, constant exposure to all kinds of weather and the ever present threat of danger. Worst of all was the invisibility. Being ragged and dirty made it easy for people to pretend they didn't exist...including Christians. On more than one occasion Mike and Sam were made to feel unwelcome - even in church.

Despite the hardships, the pair knew their situation was only temporary. They marveled how those they met endured the harsh living conditions, rejection and loneliness for years on end. To the pair's dismay the church, which should have been a beacon of hope, often piled additional guilt and condemnation on the already beaten down men and women.

To prepare for life on the streets both men spent time in separate urban residential rehab centers. Only those in charge knew their real situation but the rest of the staff and residents didn't. In addition to mandatory assigned chores, daily chapel service attendance was required.

"The theme of their message rarely varied - and it always began with bad news...I couldn’t help wondering why the speakers so often focused on the 'hell, fire and damnation' theme and so little on hope, joy, love, peace or really anything positive. Did the speaker assume to be homeless or addicted meant that you're definitely on the road to hell and only scare tactics matter now?

Think about it. If you see someone dangling precariously off a cliff you might warn them about falling to his death but it would make more sense to throw him a rope.

Jesus did thunder warning of suffering and condemnation, but primarily to those who were convinced they were healthy and had no need of Him. To the weak, diseased, hungry and sin-bound He had another message. 'Come to me, all who are weary and burdened' (Matt. 11:28)." Under the Overpass

One doesn't need to scour the highways and byways to find desperate, broken, hungry, and addicted down-trodden people. We rub shoulders with them all the time. They sometimes dress nice, smell good and appear respectable. You'll find them in the pews and seats of churches every time the doors are open. They too can benefit from a message that declares God's love for those who are struggling with life. Some of these are also dangling off the cliff, hanging on by mere threads. They need a rope, not a sermon on how much worse life's about to get. The Gospel is supposed to be good news, isn't it?

How about you? Given the chance to share with those demonstrably down on their luck, what would you say? If you were in their place, what would you need to hear? Who do you know that looks "normal" but is struggling? It's not just the homeless and addicted. What do you say to them? What do they need more a life line or a threat?

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

He'll Keep The Light On For You

"And having driven out the man, He stationed at the East of the Garden of Eden the cherubim, and the flame of the ever turning sword to guard the way to the Tree of Life" Gen. 3:24 Tanach (emphasis mine).

Ever wonder how the focus of this verse appears to be on God's way of keeping Adam and Eve away from the Tree of Life and out of the Garden? What if that wasn't His intent at all?

True, in their present condition, God was unwilling to risk the couple eating from the Tree of Life. Mercifully, He prevented them from remaining eternally as they were. The pair at this point expressed no remorse for disobeying God's directive, nor did they take responsibility for what they'd done. Eve blamed the serpent that wouldn't have been there if God hadn't created snakes. Adam blame Eve, which was God's fault since He had created her. If there was any design flaws in the plan, the blame was the Creator's.

Even sadder, the duo never voiced disappointment or sorrow over the disruption of the once very intimate relationship they shared with God. Still, He wasn't about to give up so easily.

The word guard is the primitive Hebrew root shamar which means to keep, observe, heed, preserve, beware, mark, watch, regard and save. Interestingly it doesn't convey any idea of erecting barriers to keep people out. In contrast, it speaks of preserving and maintaining a way back in.

Similar to the bush Moses stumbled on that was engulfed in flame but was unharmed, here the ever-turning sword was enwrapped (lahat, Hebrew for encircling fire) with flames.

John the Baptist was adamant. He wasn't the Promised One. John didn't even feel worthy enough to unlatch the sandal of God's Chosen One. He did however, alert his followers that he was preparing the way for the One who would baptize - not with water but with the Spirit and with fire.

Hebrews 4:12 describes the only way back to the Garden of God in Eden.

"For the Word of God is alive and active, sharper than any double-edged sword. It penetrates even to the dividing of soul and spirit, joints and marrow, it judges the thoughts and intents of the heart."

Many in Christianity attribute this verse to the Bible, however when written, the Bible didn't exist. To the early church the Word of God was none other than Jesus Himself. He is The Word of God.

"In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God and the Word was God" John 1:1.
In addition, Jesus made claim to being the exclusive way back to God.

"I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me" John 14:6.

Gen. 3:24 doesn't describe access to the Tree of Life as being permanently closed - quite the contrary. The flaming sword lights the way back in. Provision was made to ensure that entrance was always easily accessible.

Paul wrote in 1 Cor. 3 that passage through the flames establishes the validity of our efforts. Only the gold, silver and precious stones survive. Hebrews 4 reminds us that this includes our thoughts and motives. Some things won't survive the flames. Paul wrote that some "will suffer loss, he himself will be saved, but only as one escaping the flames" 1 Cor. 3:15.

The fire of God refines, it doesn't destroy. Although unpleasant it's to be embraced and not feared. Receiving conviction and heeding His correction can prevent additional mistakes and blunders going forward not to mention additional wood, hay and stubble. Our flesh and soul won't like it, but out spirit will thank us for it.

How about you? When was the last time that you asked Jesus, the Word of God, to evaluate your thoughts, actions and motives? How would you describe the experience? What surprises did submitting to God's review of your life and work reveal? Would it be better to know now and make changes than experience the fate Paul described above? With Christ as our Judge and Baptizer with fire we can be assured that the refining process will bring out the very best in us.

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Take Out The Trash

"Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one think I do: forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus" Phil. 3:13-14.

Paul was a neat-nik. He promoted a personal program of year-round continuous spring cleaning. Childish things (1 Cor. 13:11), bitterness, rage, anger, brawling, slander, and malice (Eph. 4:31) were relegated to the trash can regularly. Sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires, greed and idolatry (Col. 3:5) were deemed rubbish and dealt with accordingly.

Paul and other biblical writers weren't promoting self-improvement regimens. Eliminate A, B, and C and your life will be happier, healthier and more productive. That's not the point. If not careful, all of our lives get cluttered with non-essentials. We have homes full of stuff and storage units to house the overflow of yesterday's must haves. Paul and others recognized that hanging onto old junk in our personal lives leaves less room for what is important and vital for life.

In his book, Prayer - Does it Make a Difference? Philip Yancey explores the topic of unworthiness and its impact on our prayer life. Often this type of feeling is rooted in the very things Paul urges us to kick to the curb. To illustrate, Yancey quotes an anonymous fourteenth-century author's book, The Cloud of the Unknowing.

"Before penetrating the cloud of the unknowing above us," he said, "we may need to imagine a 'cloud of forgetting' beneath us. Forget past failures, forget recurring sins, forget feelings of inferiority, and instead open your mind to God, who cannot fill what has not been emptied." (pg 185).

Taking out the trash opens up more space for God to occupy comfortably. We don't want Him to feel restricted, having to wiggle around our old habits, mindsets and lifestyles which reduce the volume He wants to pour into us. God wants us to see and understand from His perspective. He want us to be just like Him. This happens when we make a clean sweep. Out with the old to make room for the new.

Unfortunately, this is harder to do than to talk about. Look around you. How much useless stuff is hanging around your house? You neither need it or use it, but...you can't part with it. In some cases it's broken and beyond repair, but you still won't let it go. Why? What's the problem?

In the same way that pitching out old household items is a measure of identity loss, so is discarding old ways of thinking and behaving. If we get rid of these leftovers, who are we? Empty space can seem scary. This is, however, what faith is all about. We trust God to replace our debris with something very valuable.

How about you? What's cluttering up your life and restricting God from taking a more expansive role. Why are you hanging onto thing which are unnecessary and don't work anymore? Don't you think it's time to finally take out the trash?  

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

One Question

"So I say to you: 'Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you'." Luke 11:9.

"If you could ask Me one question about anything, what would it be?"

Usually I'm the one making requests of God, but this time it was His turn. I was speechless.

"What did You say?" I inquired. I needed clarification.

"If you could ask Me one question about anything, what would it be?"

My initial reaction was how I could frame my question that would allow me more than just ONE question. However, that's wishing and wishes aren't questions.

"About ANYTHING?" I had to be sure.

"Yes, anything."

Of all the questions I've pondered over the years nothing came to mind. With a limit of one I had to make this question count.

"I need to think about this."

What an odd position to be in - keeping God Almighty waiting for my decision. Worst of all, I couldn't think of the most important thing I wanted to know.

I've often wondered what His favorite color might be. My guess is green because there's so much of it everywhere. Why do giraffes have such large necks? What did creation look like? What is the purpose of mosquitoes and roaches? How did you dream up everything you've made? I've wondered about these and more, but this was for real. What did I really have to know?

What never crossed my mind were questions about my natural life. What's the winning lottery number? How can I make a lot of money? What will make me a best selling author, an in-demand speaker or even a decent day-trader. No, how about a super day trader. This opportunity was too important to waste on trivial matters like these.

Finally I spoke. I told God the one thing, more than anything else that I wanted to know.

"What do I have to do or change so I can see and understand the way You do?"

"Technically," God laughed, "that's more than one question."

"Work with me on this," I replied. "I'm having a hard time putting my thoughts into words. I want to be able to see and understand things from Your perspective and not my limited sphere of knowledge."

Silence.

God didn't say one word. I didn't take this as a "No!" My question can't be answered verbally. I'll have to experience it.

I'm confident I don't really know what I asked for. Discovering the answer may be harder than I've imagined. It might hurt a bit too. Still, to be able to see with His eyes and understand with His heart will transform me into a more loving, compassionate, patient and joyful person than I could ever work up on my own. I'll be just like my Dad. What more could a girl ask for?

How about you? If you could ask God one question about anything - what would it be?

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Same Story, Different Endings

"He will turn the hearts of the fathers to their children, and the hearts of the children to their fathers; or else I will come and strike the land with a curse" Mal. 4:6 (emphasis mine).

The last verse of the Old Testament ends on an ominous note. It's as if we're given an ultimatum. Not so in the Tanach, the Jewish Old Testament which ends very differently. Second Chronicles is the last book in the Tanach and its last verse contains an invitation to come and rebuild the Temple.

"Thus says Cyrus king of Persia: Hashem, God of Heaven, has given me all the kingdoms of the earth, and He has commanded me to build Him a temple in Jerusalem, which is in Judah. Whoever is there among you of His people - may Hashem His God be with him, and let him go up!" 2 Chron. 36:23.

Similar to the end of Revelation, the Jewish Old Testament ends with a call to return to God and with words of hope - not gloom and doom. Interesting. What's particularly fascinating is that God gave Cyrus, a Gentile king, the mandate to rebuild the Temple, not the Jewish religious elite. From the Bible we know that only a small portion of the exiles elected to leave Babylon to join the reconstruction program.

As a result of their rebellion against Babylonian rule, the Jews saw their capital Jerusalem completely dismantled. Every building was leveled. Those returning faced harsh living conditions. There was no protective wall, and the only housing and businesses standing were those rebuilt and occupied by those left in the land after the exile. Still, for those who came back it was the fulfillment of  a cherished dream, "Next year in Jerusalem."

This scenario is a beautiful type and shadow of Christ's coming. Although Herod's magnificent temple was in place and Judaism was recognized by Rome things were a far cry from God's original intent. Most importantly, the Ark of the Covenant, the physical manifestation of the presences of God was missing. Without it, the temple was just an empty shell.

However, God showed up - in person - and spent most of His time outside the temple proper and none of it in the Holy of Holies. He was too busy roaming out among the people, both Jews and Gentiles. Jesus proceeded to dismantle the old way of relating to God and replaced it with something new and better. Once again, the King put out a call for volunteers to come and join a building program.

I marvel at the difference of the two Old Testament endings. To me, Christianity's version echoes the too familiar "conversion by threat" similar to Islam's "conversion by the sword." The Jewish translation closes with an invitation to a co-operative effort between Jews and Gentiles to rebuild God's house. I like their's better.

How about you? Which ending, from an evangelistic standpoint, would be more inviting? Which end do you think more accurately reflects God's heart toward mankind? Which of the two are you more comfortable with?

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

When Did We?

"...Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you; or thirsty and we gave you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or need clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?" Matt. 25:37.

Both the sheep and the goats were baffled. When had they encountered the Lord and had opportunity to minister to Him? Jesus' description of receiving personal attention revolved around mundane tasks. He didn't mention pulpit ministry, evangelistic crusades, bible studies, worship services or marathon all-night prayer meetings. These are all good when the motive behind them is right and God is directing the action. But, none of these made the list.

The goats couldn't honestly recall any such events because there weren't any. Maybe, if Jesus showed up with neon arrows pointing Himself out, they'd have responded...perhaps. He was present in the hungry, thirsty, sick, naked and imprisoned, but to the goats, they and the Lord were invisible. Why?

The goats may have been preoccupied with their own situation, which is easy enough to do. If they were looking for good returns on capital outlays, which isn't a bad thing in and of itself, these categories have nothing to offer.

Just as flummoxed were the sheep. They too missed the Lord when they ministered to the needy. Not interested in gaining recognition or favor, the sheep did what appeared to be the only logical response to the situation. They gave, and with no strings attached.

Both groups were repaid in kind for their investments. The goats gave nothing and received nothing in return. The sheep on the other hand were rewarded with more than then cost of any personal inconvenience suffered.

What strikes me most is the sheep's utter amazement that they'd been ministering to Jesus all along. They're actions weren't spectacular, but were the humane response to someone in a jam. They may have assumed that anyone faced with someone in crisis would have acted the same way. They were mistaken.

Sometimes it's hard to believe that our life counts for anything, let alone making an impact for the Kingdom of God. Most believers won't have their names recorded in the annuals of church history. Our lives and contributions will be recognized and remembered by few if at all. We'll come and go and hardly anyone will notice...but. The One Who matters doesn't miss a thing. To Him, little things mean a lot.

How about you? When was the last time you may have unconsciously ministered to Jesus? Can you make kindness and generosity a game of Treasure Hunt? How often can you find Christ disguised as someone in need that you can help? This can be the most fun you'll ever have.

p.s. Hope you enjoyed the vintage Keith Green video. I date myself by including it here.