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.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

The Hardest Parable

Jesus told his disciples, "There was a rich man whose manager was accused of wasting his possessions. So he called him in and asked him, 'What is this that I hear about you? Give an account of your management, because you cannot be a manager any longer.'" 
Luke 16:1-2.

I confess, this parable always had me stumped. Author Robert Farrar Capon calls it "the hardest parable." Space doesn't permit me to share all his insights, but I'll blend a little of his with a dash of my own and maybe the mix will be more than duck soup. To begin with, Capon equates Jesus with the manager in question.

The opening lines of the story are what tripped me up. I assumed the manager was a crook. However, it says he was accused of being corrupt, but not that he actually was. I see this portion of the parable centering around the relationship between Jesus and the religious establishment, who considered themselves the masters of all things concerning God. Just like the manager in the story, Jesus refused to defend himself of the charges leveled against Him while He stood before the High Priest.

Jesus, the upstart young whippersnapper had the audacity to refer to God as Father...even worse, as His Father. Rather than curry their favor and good graces by promoting the establishment's agenda, Jesus wasted time with the people. All kinds of people. Many the likes of whom they'd wouldn't be caught dead with. Bottom line-He had to go. Jesus couldn't care less. He was on a mission from the real Master - His Heavenly Father. His methodology was more in line with a shrewd businessman than a theologian.

Bill collectors are hired to recoup unpaid debts. One way this is accomplished is to arrange settlements for less than the amount owed. The creditor doesn't suffer a total loss, the bill is cleared off the books and both sides now start over with a clean slate.

Jesus, playing the role of the shrewd manager, approached humanity on our level. He offers mankind a deal that's too good to pass up. It's ridiculously unfair and one sided. We don't have to do anything but accept that He's already squared the books with Father God. It's a win-win. We are back in relationship with God (we always were but didn't realize it) Who gets back what was stolen from Him and Jesus has a cadre of BFF's. Everyone is happy. Well almost everyone. The religious establishment wasn't thrilled. The One who really counts is ecstatic and that's all that matters.

As a master storyteller, Jesus crafted the gospel in terms that the business world with its focus on profit, loss and the bottom line could easily comprehend. It's a brilliant approach to reach a segment of the population often ignored. The real Master's delight over the shrewd manager's creative solution that averted a total loss mirrors our Father's enthusiastic endorsement of the plan of salvation. No one could possibly afford to pay for their sins, so Christ did it for us. Now we, who believed we are estranged from God, discover we're not and that He's overjoyed to have our company back again. Things are as they should always have been.

How about you? How have you interpreted this parable? What do you think of Jesus' application of business principles to the Kingdom's method of operation? Intent on reaching everyone, Jesus spoke in terms each segment of the population can understand. What creative ways can you think of to share God's great news with others?

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

The Triple Crown

"So Judas came to the grove, guiding a detachment of soldiers and some officials from the chief priests and Pharisees" John 18:2.

To arrest one unarmed man this was overkill; an excessive use of force. However, Jesus was no ordinary individual.

The detachment of soldiers numbered around six hundred fully decked out highly trained military men. According the Mark, those sent by the religious leaders came with clubs and swords. These two groups, with the addition of Judas represented an unholy trinity of world powers: government, religion and humanity all aligned with a single purpose. Get rid of Jesus. Sound familiar?

In reality this wasn't even a contest or a fair fight. Unruffled by the appearance of the wannabe rulers, Jesus calmly and casually inquired, "Hey guys, who ya lookin' for?" as if He didn't already know.

"Jesus of Nazareth."

"I am He."

These simple words sent this entire crowd flat on their well padded hind quarters. What would have occurred if He summoned up the angel army or raised the "finger of God?"

I can imagine He may have been amused at the sight. Once again he asked The Dazed and Confused, "Who'd ya say you were lookin' for?" To their relief and amazement, He surrendered without resistance.

Delaying the inevitable would have dire consequences. There was a party in the works and Jesus was determined that it wouldn't start even one minute late. The next few hours would be murder, literally. The pain and suffering - unimaginable. He would take the worst man had to dish out and all of their sins. His physical, emotional and spiritual mettle would be strained to the snapping point. However, He had a weapon that no one counted on...joy.

"Who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame" Heb. 12:2.

Finally man would have concrete evidence of the sacrifice of the Lamb made before creation's foundations were laid. This wasn't an after thought to solve the problem of man's sin, but was a plan concocted before the very formative stages of creation. The dilemma was solved before it ever surfaced. Christ died for us before we had the chance to mess things up royally. We were already reconciled with God. Time to demonstrate this truth in the natural and then, let the party begin.

So, what's this got to do with the Triple Crown which is the biggest annual event in U.S. horseracing? Comprised of three races: the Kentucky Derby, the Preakness Stakes and the Belmont Stakes, since it's inception only twelve horses have managed to win them all and earn the Triple Crown. Actually, the horse get a big flower wreath and a wonderful retirement package on a stud farm, not some gold ring around its head.

Jesus ran his own version of the Triple Crown challenge. Unlike the horses that rest after each week, Jesus completed His course in a matter of hours. He racked up an impressive three victories over the world, religious governmental systems and humanity- something never achieved since. He is the Ultimate Triple Crown Winner.

How about you? How would you describe what Jesus was up against in the garden? What do you think of His generous restraint of power? Why didn't He demonstrate wrathful revenge then or from the cross? What does this tell us about His confidence in His position as King of Kings and Lord of Lords or that we can be sure the party started on time?

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

God's Multi-Dimensional Personality

"The Kingdom of Heaven is like yeast that a woman took and mixed into a large amount of flour until it worked all through the dough" Matt. 13:33

By now The Shack is no longer in theaters and hopefully, the furor surrounding it has subsided. For the record, I saw it and thoroughly enjoyed it. Paul Young is a good fiction writer who did an amazing job describing his personal healing journey. Done, not as a doctrinal or theological treatise, but in response to his wife's request, he penned something special for their children. She had in mind an essay, he wrote a book.

Never intended for publication, The Shack is an example of how to do everything wrong to publish and market a book and accidentally wind up with a bestseller. Since its release and now that of the movie, lines of demarcation have been drawn over issues it raises. One in particular is the depiction of God as a black woman! Perish the thought (and she doesn't speak the King's English either). Paul Young, however, wasn't the first person to describe God in a feminine form. Jesus beat him to the punch.

I owe some of these insights to Robert Farrar Capon and his book Kingdom, Grace, Judgment: Paradox, Outrage and Vindication in the Parables of Jesus. It's his examination of the Parable of the Leaven that captured my attention and got the wheels of my thought processes spinning.

"Let is simply be noted in passing that the surrogate for God in this parable is a woman. Set that down with Jesus calling Himself a mother hen."

Capon elaborates. The woman isn't a typical housewife crafting a few loaves of artisanal bread for a dinner party. This lady is a commercial baker doing what has in the past been considered men's work.

The measure of flour (sáta) used is equivalent to ninety pounds. Add in approximately forty-two cups of water and you'll have just over one hundred pounds of bread dough. I've seen bakers mix this amount of ingredients using heavy duty mixers. Doing this by hand would be a daunting task, which is her methodology.

Capon's main point wasn't that God was portrayed as a female baker, but in light of the uproar of Paul Young's depiction of God as a woman, it's not as out in left field as his critics contend. It's ironic that the initial encounter with the protagonist of The Shack and God involves bread making.

"So God created man in his own image, in the image of God He created Him, male and female He created them" Gen. 1:27.

God is spirit, neither male nor female, but He's free to reveal Himself anyway He chooses. For those with father issues like Paul Young, God took a more maternal approach to help him work through his painful, traumatic past. It was successful and that's what's important.

In addition, the name of God El Shaddai means the All Breasty One which is the picture of a nursing mother. Proverbs describes Wisdom as a woman with God at Creation. Jesus is the Creator and is also called our Wisdom. The word used for Holy Spirit in the Genesis account of creation is in the female form. Apparently, God doesn't mind being associated with either sex since He made them both.

How about you? Does the idea of God portrayed in a feminine role grate on your nerves like fingernails on a chalkboard? Do you find it uncomfortable or strange that Jesus used women as symbols for God in the Parables of the Leaven and the Lost Coin or likened Himself to a mother hen? Based on your past, could you relate to God easier at times from a motherly perspective as opposed to a fatherly one? God desires healing and intimacy with all creation and He'll go to extraordinary lengths to make it happen.

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Bruce Almighty

"For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways" 
Isaiah 55:8.

I recently watched Bruce Almighty and was pleased that the producers got so much right on several levels. I tried to remember. Was there as much uproar over God being portrayed as a black man (Morgan Freeman was a great choice) as opposed to being a black woman like in The Shack? I don't think so. The deeper message I saw portrayed in the movie is what many in the Church really believe about God. They're deists.

"God is watching us...from a distance." I date myself. The song, From a Distance and made popular by Bette Midler was sung in my church and no one, me included, jumped up and screamed, "Heretic!" Deism teaches that God created Heaven and earth, put man in charge and then stepped back and took a hands-off stance. We're on our own.

This is what happened to Bruce. Convinced he could do a better job than God he gets the opportunity. The outcome is predictable. Bruce misuses his power to get what he wants: revenge on bullies who beat him up, his dog potty trained AND the coveted news anchor desk job.

Warned by God that he'll not be able to override anyone's free will, Bruce discovers he's powerless to obtain the one thing that is important and now out of his grasp - his girlfriend's love. His feeble attempt to use supernatural persuasion only makes him look even more foolish in her eyes. Through the whole ordeal Bruce learns how true Isaiah 55:8 is. When it comes to thinking and acting like God, we're clueless.

For me the most moving scene was when Bruce accepts a mop from God. Together Bruce and God flow in perfect harmony like the unforced rhythms of grace. Now partnered with God in what He's doing, Bruce works together with Him to clean up the world's messes; so in sync it was as if they are one. That's how relationship with God should be.

At the end, Bruce, just like God, is willing to release the one he loves who no longer wants him. Bruce's transformation to being more like God comes when he prays that his ex-girl will find happiness and love, even if it isn't with him and releases her. Bruce learns the price of unconditional love.

I don't think those associated with the movie were Christians but that was no barricade for God (maybe even a good thing). His influence permeates everything, everywhere, even Hollywood. Too bad I spent so many years boycotting movies in an attempt to be holy and righteous. I missed out on seeing God work under the radar.

How about you? Which movies gave you a fresh perspective about God? Were you surprised when they didn't fall into the category labeled Christian? Do you think God can use unbelievers to glorify Him? How does this change your opinion about whom or what God can employ to get His point across?

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

The Brothers Recordkeeper Part 2

"But he answered his father, 'Look! All these years I've been slaving for you and never disobeyed your orders. Yet you never gave me even a young goat so I could celebrate with my friends" Luke 15:29 (emphasis mine).

Unlike his younger brother's ledger that was in the red, Number One Son's books were solidly in the black. For years he maintained meticulous records just in case something like this happened and it's a good thing that he had. He was The Good Son with the stats to back up his claim.

This portion of the story reminds me of another parable, The Workers in the Vineyard (Matt. 20:16). Once again the faithful felt gypped. Like Elder Brother Recordkeeper, this group believed their longer term of service in the vineyard warranted more recompense than the latecomers...especially the One Hour Wonders at the end.

I think the reason that some Christians want to see the wicked punished has nothing to do with justice. By golly, we sacrificed. We gave up all kinds of stuff, toed the line. We know what a good Christian should look like and we worked hard to live up to it. We've slaved away and have enough evidence to convince sinners and God alike that we're saved and going to heaven. Neither is impressed.

There's a joke that goes something like this. A man died and found himself outside the pearly gates with Peter. (How he ever got stuck with that thankless job no one knows.) "What do I need to do to get in?" he asked. "Hmmm," Peter mused. "You need 100 points."

The man was ecstatic. This would be easier than he'd ever imagined. "Well," he began confidently with just a touch of bragging, "I am a Pastor. Been one for over fifty years. Only missed one Sunday in the pulpit. That was the week my poor Momma, bless her heart, died. I'm sure that won't count against me."

Peter thought for a moment. "Ok, that's one point."

The man was appalled...only one point? "Uh," he stammered, "I...I...gave pretty nearly ten percent of my salary after taxes. That's what I got in my pocket you know. I ran the county jail ministry for the past 20 years, not that those low life criminals really appreciated my hard work and sacrifice."

Peter licked the tip of his pencil and scribbled on his clipboard. "Half a point."

"Half a point!" the man exploded. Things were not looking very good right now.

Suddenly another man arrived at the gate. The pastor recognized him as the guy who ran the gas station in town. He was what clerics call a "C&E Christian" - one who warms the pew two times a year, Christmas and Easter. He smoked and swore a lot also. Flipping Peter a wave the man walked right through the gates.

The pastor was flummoxed. If he wasn't already deceased he'd have dropped dead on the spot from shock. "What's that all about?" he demanded. "I know him. He gets to stroll right in and I've got to prove I have enough points to enter?"

"Yep," Peter smiled, "he doesn't play that game."

How about you? Is your salvation based on recordkeeping? Is it all about doing the right things in order to assure entrance into Heaven? Maybe even get a crown or two? Do you get frustrated or even angry when those without your splendid track record seem to get the lion's share of God's favor? I do sometimes.

God's not in the business of bookkeeping. It's too complicated, time consuming and no fun at all. It would ruin His party. Jesus took care of this. He balanced our account once and for all. Our part is to believe that He cooked the books in our favor, and accept it's done. It's time to stop wasting time trying to balance the ledger ourselves and come in and join the party.

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

The Brothers Recordkeeper Part 1

"I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me one of your hired men" Luke 15:19.

This would work. His father couldn't resist an offer like this. Actually, Dad HAD to accept this deal because the boy was out of options. When it came to keeping the books, the younger son's ledger was seriously in the red. This however, would put him back in the black...eventually.

We do the same thing. We craft bail-outs with God because we mistakenly believe that He's in the recordkeeping business. We know there are no free lunches. Salvation must surely come with some strings attached. We're so wrong to think this way.

We misunderstand our Father's other-centered, self-giving love in the same way the Prodigal misjudged his father's. God, just like this boy's father, isn't looking for hired hands, but for sons.

Sonship-the term makes us queasy because we're focused on why this just can't be so. We've invented our own concept of what He considers the "perfect kid." It's no surprise that our ideas don't even come close. God's not fooled. He KNOWS we've missed the mark by more than the proverbial country mile. Still we look to cut a deal.

"God if You do X, then I promise to do Y." If that's not working or good enough we'll start with A and work through the whole alphabet until we run out of letters or drop dead trying, figuratively speaking. Exhaustion and resentment sets in. This is just too hard.

Trying to balance the books is an exercise in frustration. You don't burn calories, just brain cells. You never know how much you owe and every time you think you just might have the books balanced, you mess up...AGAIN.

God's not helping either. He won't tell you what you owe. It's not because He's mean and likes to keep you twisting in the wind, He doesn't know Himself. He chooses not to remember. Your ledger is awash with scarlet, but it's the blood of Jesus and not red ink. All debts are paid in full. We just have to believe this.

If I were in the Prodigal's sandals I'd have been dumbfounded. I wouldn't have believed my eyes or ears. Dad doesn't give two hoots that I squandered the inheritance he worked so hard to give me? Now, instead of a fit of rage he throws a party in my honor? When's the other shoe going to drop?

Fortunately for him, and us, neither his father nor our Heavenly Father have any "other shoes" to drop on us. Cognitive dissonance rears its head again. How can He not be upset. If we were in His place we wouldn't be so quick to release the past without at least some wise crack or derogatory remark.

If we want to keep a ledger for God, He'll allow it, not that He'll pay it any mind. If we want to we can keep crafting deals we can't keep. If somehow we manage to pull it off, we can pat ourselves on the back for a job well done. He'll wait. Eventually we'll be bankrupt with nothing to offer as collateral and that's fine with Him. Maybe by then we'll get the point-God's not looking for good deals or hired hands. He wants sons who are priceless. So costly He paid for them Himself.

How about you? When have you found yourself trying to get on with God as a hired hand as opposed to accepting your role as a son? If you reached the breaking point without successfully holding up your side of the "deal"- what happened? How if at all did that change your view of God?

We've all tried bargaining with God, and it usually doesn't work out as planned, sometimes worse. If you're discouraged, take heart. God has already accepted you as a son. Pitch the ledger and come in and join the party.

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

Independence Day

"If God is for us, who can be against us?" Rom. 8:31

Happy Two Hundred and Forty-First Birthday America!

Last night the sound of early fireworks boomed throughout my neighborhood. Today, in celebration of the Fourth of July, Atlanta hosts "The Peachtree" the world's largest 10K race. On the Mall in Washington D.C. people will picnic as they wait for the annual concert and fireworks display. Other major cities like Boston and New York will follow suit.

On a smaller scale all across the country cities and towns will have parades and special holiday activities. Families and friends will gather for picnics, cookouts and celebrating because today's a special day. It's America's birthday.

In his letter to his wife Abigail dated July 3, 1776, John Adams wrote that after much serious debate and hard work, the Declaration of Independence had been finalized. The decision to formally separate from England had been made, but none expected the British to pack their bags and leave without a fight. Adams believed the fledgling nation would survive and that the events of July 2nd should be remembered by future generation with much fanfare.

It's this letter than some point to as the foundation for all the festivities surrounding the Fourth of July. However, whether intentional or not, an important portion of this correspondence is overlooked or purposely ignored. Adams wrote:

"I am apt to believe that it will be celebrated, by succeeding Generations, as the great anniversary Festival. It ought to be commemorated, as the Day of Deliverance by solemn Acts of Devotion to God Almighty. It ought to be solemnized with Pomp and Parade, with Shews, Games, Sports, Guns, Bells, Bonfires and Illuminations from one End of the Continent to the other from this Time forward forever more" (emphasis mine).

Adams insights are remarkable. Although he wrote of celebrations spanning the continent, the thirteen colonies only comprised a relatively small portion of what's now the east coast of the U.S. The lands to the west were uncharted and outside the boundaries of the colonies. Yet today, Adams words are fulfilled - from one end of the country to the other, people are celebrating.

More important is the portion of this often quoted letter which is used to justify America's exuberant remembrance of its birthday. Adams declared that in addition to all the festivities, this was also to be a day to remember that it was God whose help was need to found the nation and that He was to be thanked for His goodness to us.

Involving God in almost anything today is considered politically incorrect and worse, embarrassing. Those who came to settle this nation, many for religious freedom, are now characterized as opportunistic conquerors. It is true that mistakes were made, wrong things happened. Because they believed God was behind the establishment of this nation, He gets a bad rap also and is better off left out of the mix.

Perhaps our nation would experience a greater sense of unity and brotherhood if we heeded Adams admonition. In addition to all the fun and games a time for reflecting on how our country came into existence with the help of God so freely acknowledged at that time, should cause Americans to take a step back and ponder. If this is so, what have we done with this gift of freedom we've been blessed with? Are we really "one nation under God" or an ever expanding cadre of splinter groups who neither need nor want Divine Guidance?

The Founding Father's weren't perfect and certainly not a homogenous group. They were opinionated, they disagreed often and didn't always like each other. However, they recognized that if this experiment we call the Republic of the United States was going to work, it would take more than human willpower, grit and determination. They sought help from a higher and greater Authority.

Paul's words weren't written specifically to the United States, but they contain an indisputable principle that our nation's founders counted on for success. Being on God's side was critical if the nation was ever to get off the ground and succeed. Despite their differences the framers of the Declaration of Independence looked to God for solutions and found them. We'd be wise to follow their lead.

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Admit it. You're Hopelessly Outmanned.

"Or suppose a king is about to go to war against another king. Will he not first sit down and consider whether he is able with ten thousand men to oppose the one coming against him with twenty thousand? If he is not able, he will send a delegation while the other is still a long way off and will ask for terms of peace. In the same way, any of you does not give up everything cannot be my disciple" 
Luke 14:31-33.

To often when I read this passage I focused attention on the last sentence - and winced. I knew it! I was right. God is a killjoy.

God wants everything I have...just because. How I came to this misunderstanding of Him isn't clear. So zeroed in on my erroneous picture of his character and nature, I missed the whole point that Jesus made.

In a conflict with a superior opponent, unless one has a death wish, the wise recourse is to negotiate a settlement that leaves one's head on one's shoulders. Not having to waste time, energy, manpower and resources, the adversary is more inclined to deal kindly, even generously with an opponent. Military leaders know this and do it all the time. If they can't win the battle its more profitable to lay down arms and surrender.

Jesus tells us that opposing God is pointless. We're hopelessly outmanned by Him alone. We are at the disadvantage no matter what angle we view our situation from. Furthermore, there's no need for war. He laid out the plan of salvation before we were even created and believed there was a conflict. We can refuse His terms of surrender, but that a fool's errand. We'll lose everything.

"But," you protest, "Jesus did say that in order to be a disciple it will cost me everything! I lose no matter how you look at it." Yes and no. Define everything.

I still grapple with my old mindset that God gets giddy when He can take my stuff. Why He would want, for example, my collection of Taco Bell Dinky Chihuahuas is one of those great mysteries of life (just kidding). Part of me usually holds back. I can say that I hold everything in the open palm of my hand and not in a clenched fist. However, I repeatedly fight the urge to close my hand and hang on tight.

Sell all to follow Him? I've done that before and it worked out marvelously. Harder to relinquish are my ideas of what He's like and how He should act. These keep me clutching on to my life and not lay it down. And I have bunches of them.

If God would rearrange my mental faculties automatically, things would be simpler. If He'd cut out the "stinkin' thinkin'" portion of my brain and replace it with the mind of Christ I'd be golden. Of course He have to chuck out  what I have now and give me a whole new mass of grey matter.

Discipleship at times may require material sacrifices, but I doubt in God's grand scheme that's what's important. He's more concerned about the condition of my heart than my bank account.

How about you? Have you recognized and accepted the truth that Jesus is already Lord and not when surrendered to Him? If not, you're up against impossible odds. Fortunately, He's not hostile nor bent on your destruction. How can you realistically resist unconditional love and succeed?

If you have surrendered, but struggle with your interpretation of the peace treaty's terms that require your all as I do, don't live in doubt and fear. Talk with Him, One-on-one, Face to face about it. You'll like what you hear.

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Politics and Religion

"I tell you No! But unless you repent you will all likewise perish"      Luke 13:5.

Two topics guaranteed to cause contention from minor disagreements to all out war are religion and politics. Jesus knew the volatility that either or both could bring to a situation. When pressed to take a stand, Jesus bypassed the surface issue and dealt with the more serious one at hand.

In context, Jesus was approached by an un-named group bearing unsolicited news. Pilate had killed a group of Galileans. Even worse, this act took place while the individuals were in the process of making an offering.

Now fortunately for us today the rumor mill is dead and buried. We have media sources committed to reporting "the truth, the whole truth and noting but the truth...so help them God." A simple Google search eliminates the possibility of falling for fake news because everything on the internet is the gospel truth.

People in Jesus' time had to rely on word of mouth for news transmissions and we know how inaccurate and biased less than professional sources can be. The incident in question here has no historical basis. Suffice to say an incident of civil unrest is prone to spark creative interpretations of the event. While living in Haiti in the final days of the Duvalier regime, the evening news from Chicago would report demonstrations and instances of violence that never happened.

What motive did the atrocity storytellers have? Was this a sincere attempt to gauge Jesus' nationalistic fervor (very important when some wanted to make Him king by force). Were these individuals on a fishing expedition backed by the Jewish authorities with the goal of catching Jesus making anti-government statements that could be reported to Pilate?

If the former, such a story as reported should have aroused an intense emotional response that could be channeled into retaliatory measures. In that kind of atmosphere it was dangerous for the person who asks, "Have you checked your sources?" Even worse is the fate of the brave soul, like Jesus, who suggests, "Our hands aren't exactly clean you know."

If the latter, Jesus provided no evidence to use against Him with the Roman authorities. On the other hand, He wasn't silent. Space doesn't permit a full overview of this scenario but, Jesus took a story designed to elicit condemnation of the political system and turned it into a religious discussion of sin, suffering and repentance. Politically charged individuals with firm convictions of justice don't take kindly to such talk.

Equating the fate of the alleged slaughtered Galileans with the victims killed in the Siloam tower collapse took great courage. This also helped pave the way for Jesus' ultimate rejection by the Jewish community. Why He wasn't physically attacked on the spot is remarkable.

Why? Political persecution (real or imagined) clouds one's judgment and can lead to the erroneous belief that this type of suffering trumps all others. Consequently, a total disregard to the plight of others, especially if their situation differs can develop.

Those convinced they're oppressed can slip into an us vs. them mentality - angels vs. devils. The oft made mistake is the belief that the struggle for one's cause makes one righteous. The more intense the conflict, the more entrenched the feelings of superiority and self-righteousness become. This heightened sense of self-importance can express itself in an arrogant refusal of any criticism.

Jesus didn't suggest that Pilate was innocent of any wrong doing. He wasn't acquiescing to Roman oppression. He did express deep concern for those who'd ultimately be destroyed if they didn't repent. He knew the danger of being so focused on the perceived evil in Pilate's heart would blind people to real deal lodged in their own. Any movement willing to heed a courageous voice of correction that reminds them that there's angels in the opposition and devils in their own camp is blessed.

The shooting at the ball field last week highlighted the polarity our nation's experiencing. Unless all are willing to take a step back, tone down the rhetoric and do some genuine self examination, things will only get worse. And the real problems that need to be solved, they'll go untouched.

The only thing the shooter accomplished was to increase fear and animosity. Going down in a blaze of glory didn't enhance his cause one iota. It produced no significant change toward his positions in the hearts of the opposition. His actions did, however, leave in their wake a lot of innocent victims wondering, "Why?" These are left to pick up the pieces and attempt to rebuild shattered lives, just because someone took the righteousness of their cause to the extreme.

How about you? How, if at all, has the last presidential election impacted you? Did it strengthen your resolve that all those on the other side are wrong, even evil? How may of your relationships have devolved into an us vs. them standoff? Are your heart, mind and ears closed to the possibility that there are angels who disagree wholeheartedly with you and devils whose positions you'd applaud? If so, without a change of mind, which is what repentance means, you might wind up losing everything that really matters.