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.
            

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

99 out of 100 Got It Wrong

"Celebrate with me! I've found my lost sheep! Count on it-there's more joy in heaven over one sinner's rescued life than over ninety-nine good people in no need of rescue" Luke 15:7.

In a crowd composed of the religious authorities and their supposed counterparts the riff-raff, Jesus launched into story telling mode. First up, the Parable of the Lost Sheep.

Unlike the rest of the flock, graduates of The School of Excellent Sheep Behavior, this little nitwit was in trouble. Determined to go its own way, the scofflaw lamb wandered off into dangerous territory. The other ninety-nine played by the rules and never colored outside the lines. So confident in their ability to hold down the fort alone none of them flinched when the shepherd, their only protection, took off after the woolly rascal. "Who needs a shepherd?' they mused. "We're graduates. We've got the sheepskins to prove it. We can handle this on our own."

Now, what shepherd in his right mind endangers the life of ninety-nine line-towing, law-abiding, sheep in order to track down one willfully disobedient renegade? Grazed in open country, sheep are susceptible to predators who can quickly disseminate the flock. What was the shepherd thinking?

How did the shepherd react when he'd found his lost charge? Did he give it a stern talking to or brow beat it for its reckless behavior? Did he apply some corporal punishment to knock some sense into its head and teach it a lesson? No. Overjoyed to find the wanderer, he hoisted it up on his shoulders and gave it a ride home. Once there he threw a party in the lost lamb's honor and invited all to come celebrate. So much for teaching the renegade a lesson.

On it's part the lost lamb did nothing. Zero. Nada. No apology, penance or promise to never do that again. Nothing. He's Ubered home via the shepherd personally and then feted. Life was grand.

If the story's about shepherding, our boy's a blooming idiot. But it isn't. The religious leaders were put off, offended by the low-lifers Jesus attracted. Even worse, He welcomed and embraced them instead of demanding they either clean up their acts or worse, enroll in The School of Excellent Sheep Behavior that the leaders just happened to run. Jesus knew this was the last thing needed.

The message of His story wasn't lost to the Pharisees and scholars. It hit the mark and stung. Heaven is more ecstatic over some loser who knows it and gets found than ninety-nine others who are as lost as a ball in high grass and are convinced they're just fine.

Despite attempts to save themselves via the Law, the other 99 sheep were in need of the Good Shepherd as much as the lamb who purposely went off track. They were blind to the Law's true purpose of being their schoolmaster (Gal. 3:24) whose bar was set so high no one would measure up. That was the point. The religious leaders, however, opted for repeated attempts of reaching that goal than accepting their need of a Savior. Jesus, like the shepherd in the story, pursued the lost. He loved the religious folks just the same, but you can't save a drowning man who won't relax and trust his rescuer but fights him.

How about you? Are you the sheep in need of a rescue operation? Does the idea that the lost lamb didn't contribute one iota to its salvation bother you? If so, why? Are you enrolled in or a graduate of The School of Excellent Sheep Behavior? Can you handle life on your own without a shepherd? If you're part of the flock, are you content to let the stragglers fend for themselves, because after all it is their choice? We all need the Shepherd, all of the time. Let's celebrate with Heaven when a lost one is found.

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Good Cop Bad Cop

"Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the father of heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows" James 1:17.

Recently a friend described a commonly held church view concerning Jesus, God the Father and their dealings with humanity as "Good Cop, Bad Cop."

Jesus is the "Good Cop". He runs interference between us and the mercurial Father ("Bad Cop") Who loves us... but is prone to angry outbursts of rage and wrath. Without Jesus as the buffer we'd all be toast. Is that how it really is?

Jesus made some theologically shaking statements while He was here. First, He called God his Father. No Jew ever made that claim before. Next, while teaching His disciples how to pray, He instructed them to address God as "Abba" (our equivalent of Dada). So much for rigid formality.

Jesus unashamedly confessed the truth that "I and the father are one" John 14:9. He claimed to be the exact representation of the Father (John 14:9) so, where is "Bad Cop Jesus"?

One might quickly point to Christ's encounter with the money-changers in the temple.

"Of all the places in the world that should have stood witness to grace and truth, the temple was that place; but the world had infected it, and there is nothing to be done with such a ship of fools but to pronounce upon it the judgment it deserves."[1]

It was after all His Father's house, and they had camped out there turning in to a commercial venue. At the most He interrupted business for part of a day. Jesus didn't call down fire from Heaven or have the earth swallow the vendors and bankers up. That would have really sent a clear message. He probably no sooner left the area that the crew righted their tables, rearranged their stock, conducted business as usual while grumbling about the audacity of that young man. If that's the extent of God's wrath, it's pretty tame.

To define God as a fickle, capricious figure with a short fuse invalidates James 1:17 and as the Lord's half-brother, James knew Jesus better than most. For his assessment of the character and nature of God, and Jesus' pronouncement of being the Father's mirror image to be true (and it is) there can only be: "Good Cop, Good Cop," or "Bad Cop, Bad Cop" but never "Good Cop, Bad Cop." They have to be identical.

The model of "Good Cop, Bad Cop" when applied to Jesus and God the Father is flat out wrong. God is good all the time. I do believe that God and Jesus do get angry at the things that destroy our lives or that distort our image of Who He really is. Those I believe He goes after with a vengeance, and I welcome His wrath in that respect. He looks to eliminate anything that's incongruent with His destiny for us as mature sons of God.

How about you? How would you describe God? Is He more Mr. Hyde than Dr. Jekyll or some combination of the two? Is He so unstable and unpredictable that you never know Whom you'll encounter, so staying away is safer? If the Father doesn't look just like Jesus to you, where did you get your image of Him? Can you live with a Father who is always in a good mood?



[1] Robert Farrar Capon, Kingdom, Grace, Judgment: Paradox, Outrage and Vindication in the Parables of Jesus, pg.436

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Out of the Loop

"But your iniquities have hidden you from God; your sins have hidden His face from you; so that He will not hear" Isaiah 59:2.

For as long as I've been a Christian I've heard this taught. God can't tolerate sin...at all. He's so holy and pure that He can't abide even a hint of sin in His presence. Therefore, Jesus is the man in the middle, the protective element between man and God. When the Father looks at us, it has to be through the blood of Jesus. We are too despicable otherwise. The blood hides our sins, even though the Bible says that God has already chosen to forget them. Without the blood God can't be around us. How that's possible since Jesus and the Father are one escapes me, but hey, I've taught this too.

Phooey!

If we look at this verse in Isaiah carefully we need to determine who is separating from whom? Contrary to popular teaching, it doesn't say God separates Himself from us. It does say that sin's impact on us is that we feel separated from Him.

"Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds because of your evil behavior." Col. 1:21.

Paul sees eye-to-eye with Isaiah on this. Sin clouds our judgment and distorts our perception of God causing us to believe He is now our enemy.

"For as he thinks of himself, so he is." Prov. 23:7.

We become who we believe we are. To put to rest the concept that God can't endure contact with sinful man look no further than the first few chapters of Genesis.

God already knew what Adam and Eve had done. However, that wasn't enough to make Him cancel his customary rendezvous with the pair. My Bible says they were the ones hiding from God and not the other way around. When He asked, "Where are you?" He didn't think He'd misplaced them or that they were somehow lost. When Adam and Eve finally emerged from their hideout the trio had a face-to-face conversation. They did have to leave the garden ultimately, but it was to prevent them from eating of the Tree of Life, not to sever their contact with God.

To confirm this wasn't a special exception to God's rule, keep reading. God cared enough about Cain to step in and try to keep him from killing his brother. He even intervened after the deed was done to protect Cain's life. He recruited idol-worshiping Abram, who twice tried to peddle his wife as his sister to save his own skin, to be the blood line for the Messiah. Moses was a murderer but God still made him Israel's deliverer and spoke with him face-to-face. God interrupted Saul of Tarsus' trip to round up Christians for extinction, and transformed him to Paul the Apostle who then went on to write most of the New Testament and evangelize the Gentiles. Finally, twice in the book of Job we see God conversing with the Devil, the inventor of sin and God doesn't have an apoplectic fit. If sin was no barrier then, why would it be one now?

The good news of the Gospel is that God and man aren't enemies, and this is the message that He wants us to share.

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

The only thing separating us from God are the imaginary walls we've mentally constructed. The solution is simply repentance, or-have another thought (that's what the word means).

How about you? Is it possible that God really does love you and not just tolerate you because of what Jesus has done? How does the truth that the only thing that's ever  separated you from God has been the mindsets that convinced you that a barrier existed? Isn't the news that we're not on the outs with Him at all the best thing we can share with the world?

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

What Are You After?

"...and Jesus looked over His shoulder and said to them, 'What are you after?'" John 1:38.

If Jesus asked you this question, how would you reply? Throughout His ministry Jesus encountered all sorts of people with one thing in mind-what He could do for them.

Jesus didn't disappoint. The sick were healed, the dead were raised and the hungry fed. Those seeking a religious or intellectual discourse heard authoritative teaching like they'd never experienced before. Jesus gave liberally except...those looking for a legalistic warrior king always left empty-handed.

However, there was one thing God wanted and is still in short supply of even today -relationship. Those pursuing Jesus then and now too often want something, not Someone.

"Not so!" you protest. "I made Jesus Lord of my life." (Hint: He already is Lord. We don't make Him anything, we just finally wake up to this fact). I agree that accepting His Lordship is very important, but what exactly does this mean?

Is Jesus your get-out-of-hell card? Some evangelism portrays Him as such. Is His purpose to fix life's problems, a divine handyman of sorts? When things are going well, He's the go-to guy. No, wait a minute, when life is swell we usually don't need Him. But when things are disintegrating around us, we run to Him. However, what does He want?

Relationship, intimacy, the restoration of fellowship with man that was God's original intent. He wants us. We want stuff.

In the cool of the evening of the Fall God went looking for his good friends Adam and Eve. He sought relationship with them still, however, He knew things on their part had changed dramatically. His question wasn't an angry, "What have you done?" (like mine would have been). Their physical location wasn't a concern. Where their with Him relationship was. How had sin warped their thinking?

"Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in you minds because of your evil behavior." Col. 1:21.

God's attitude toward Adam and Eve hadn't changed, but in their minds things were radically different. Sin didn't separate God from them, their thinking did. God wasn't hiding, they were.

Patient and relentless, God pushes to establish relationship with us. Despite our resistance, He'll take a toe hold anywhere He can and work from there. Why do we have to make it so hard?

We still feel like we're His enemy. Mentally we check off our "I am not..." list, realize we come up short and hide from God like Adam and Eve. So afraid of an angry, "What did you do?" we miss His loving, "Where are you?" He knows, but do we...really?

How about you? What's your relationship with God like? Is it a two-way conversation or do you quickly hand Him a to-do list and move on? If you asked Jesus, "What do You want?" how do You think He'd respond? Are you afraid of what He might say? If so, why? What if all He wants is time for you to get to know Him better?

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Under Their Thumb

"and was obedient to them" Luke 2:51.

Have you wondered what Joseph and Mary were like as individuals? As a couple? What were Jesus' siblings like? How was His relationship with them?

The Bible is largely silent about His early years and family life. Were they a scriptural version of a perfect blended family? Joseph wasn't Jesus' natural father...remember?

It's easy to assume that life in the original First Family was completely homogenous. Everyone got alone swimmingly all the time. No conflicts, no fights, no sibling rivalry...yeah right. I bet they were just like the rest of us.

We know from Scripture that Jesus submitted to his parents' authority. He was under their thumb. Do you recall how much you enjoyed your parents micro-managing your life? Didn't you just love being told, "NO!" when you wanted to go out and play? When Mom and Dad acted like referees, didn't you applaud their good judgment when they ruled in favor of your sibling? Didn't you welcome their insights as they scrutinized your friends or endlessly obsessed over where you'd been and what you'd been up to? Sure you did.

Was Jesus the John Boy of the Nazareth's version of the Waltons? Did his brothers and sisters with dewy eyes, look up to their older brother in rapt adoration? Or was He just one of the family, no better or no worse? Since Jesus was tempted in every way we can be, He had to have had skirmishes with His siblings. That's typical family dynamics.

Were Joseph and Mary laid back and easy going or strongly opinionated personalities, even hot heads? We don't know. Surely God wouldn't subject His Son to people like us. He'd give him perfect parents. Wouldn't He?

I'm not suggesting that Jesus was raised in a totally dysfunctional family, but to think His life at home was a complete G-rated script is far-fetched. Mary, Joseph and their kids were real people with issues that weren't always handled properly. Did the kids fight? Did Mary and Joseph lose their tempers? As parents did they make what in retrospect would be called bad decisions? Probably. We all do.

Jesus could have a real heart for humanity because He wasn't shielded from the worst we can dish out. I'm not inferring that His home life was abusive, just typical, which at times can be painful.

Like the rest of us, Jesus had to learn submission to authority as a child. Looking at His life, Mary and Joseph did a good job. Raising any child is no small feat. Being responsible for training up God's Son is in a class by itself.

How about you? How has your viewpoint of your parents and how you were raised changed as you've matured? Can you think of specifics that look much different now, viewed through the eyes of an adult, then they did when you were a child?

Parenting isn't for cowards. It is a tough job that entails times of being unappreciated for your efforts and having your motives and intentions misunderstood by your young charges. No parent is perfect, but with God's help, a strong foundation can be laid for a child to build a life upon...just like Jesus had.

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

The Gates of Hell

"You are Peter, a rock. This is the rock on which I will put together my church, a church expansive with energy that not even the gates of Hell can keep it out" Matt. 16:18 (emphasis mine).

"will not continue overpowering or prevail in resisting it" Matt. 16:18 Mitchell translation.

I did a double take as I read that verse. Could it really mean what it says? Both versions depict the church on the offense not the defense. The gates of hell aren't strong enough to resist its attack and there's only one reason to mount an assault...people.

This is one of those "what if" moments when I allow myself to think outside my typical Pentecostal, Charismatic, Evangelical, Fundamental, what-ever box and ponder. "What if I've got it all wrong?" Are we missing out on something Jesus has empowered us to do?

To be clear, I am not a universalist. I don't believe all roads lead to God. As a Christian I fully believe Jesus' claim of exclusivity as the only way to God found in John 14:6. It is non-negotiable. Period.

So, since Jesus can't lie and Matt. 16:18 is true, how does this work? How do we the church invade hell and release the captives (they're the only thing there worth taking). After His death, Jesus invaded hell, preached to those there and staged a prison break. Awesome. Jews and gentiles alike heard the good news and took advantage of a get out of jail card now opportunity.

What about those who died one nano-second after Jesus cleaned house? I struggle with this. Is it so-sad-too-bad that you didn't die fast enough and now you've missed the bus to heaven? Romans 2:11 is clear that God doesn't show favoritism. So, what about those who arrived too late?

Jesus made a very bold statement in John 14:12 that still makes me squirm a lot because I haven't seen it fulfilled in my life.

"Very truly I tell you, whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these because I am going to the Father."

To date, being open and honest, I've not turned water into wine. I haven't feed the masses with a sack lunch, raised any dead people or even walked on water. I have on a few occasions prayed and people were healed, but I'm far from batting 1000 in the do what Jesus did department. What are the "greater things" that He was referring to?

It is preferable that a person never go to hell in the first place. Sharing with others a relationship with Jesus is important but not the only thing God accomplished in His grand scheme of salvation. What if,just like Jesus, believers can enter hell also and raid it? The people there aren't dead. This is a radical thought but if I am to take Jesus' words at face value then according to the Bible it is possible.

If this is true, there is still the all important element of man's free will. God never overrides anyone's ability to make bad decisions even when their spiritual future depends on it. If He gave those born before Christ the opportunity to hear the Gospel and then the chance to decide after physical death, what about the billions who've died since then and never heard?

How about you? As a believer, if it is possible to actually invade hell and free captives there, would you do it? If it is possible and God commissions you to preach to those you think deserve to be there would you go?

I realize this is very unconventional and my purpose isn't to be controversial. I am posing a questions based on scriptures I'd rather skip over because they challenge me and make me uncomfortable. They make me wonder, "What if?"

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Getting Crushed

"He treads the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God" Rev. 19:15.

What's the purpose of a winepress? The answer is simplel-to make wine. Therefore, the goal isn't to destroy the grapes but to extract the sweet liquid trapped inside them. Winepresses in ancient Israel were a two part system, the upper press and the lower vat.

"The press is full; the vats overflow" Joel 3:13.

Each portion of the press was hewn from a solid rock...sound familiar? So, what is John describing here? I doubt it was Jesus' wine-making methodology. Is it the image of an angry God destroying humanity or of a loving God focused on working with man to release streams of living water? I'll take the latter.

Believers refer to Christ as the Solid Rock. The Bible and Jesus Himself do this also (Deut. 32: 4,15,18 and Matt. 21:44). In this scripture from Revelation, the grapes traditionally represent mankind, specifically unbelievers.

Contrary to popular belief no one is ever separated from God because, "For in Him all things were created" Col. 1:16 (emphasis mine). Paul emphasizes this in Romans 8:39 also. "No-thing can separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord" (emphasis mine).

Since pre-Christians qualify as created beings and not separated from God, why are they getting stomped in the press?

Its a matter of perspective. What's the intended purpose? Is treading grapes punishing fruit or making wine? Vineyard owners don't throw just any old grapes in the press, unless they're making junk (which God never does). They carefully tend and cultivate their vines in order to produce the best grapes possible. Jesus said that rivers of living water are inside of us just waiting to be released. Christians know this normally occurs under pressure, so what about the unbelieving grapes?

How many people do you know surrendered to Christ's lordship because everything was going great and they were at the top of their game? Believers don't cherish the "dying daily" that removes blockages hindering the flow of living waters. Does God only reserve this process for Christians?

What if the wrath of God isn't designed to destroy individuals but the things in their lives preventing them from being all He's planned them to be which is sons of God? What if the fury of His wrath isn't a display of intense anger and hatred for the person but is His single-minded focus to eliminate in them anything that's not of Him?

If I told you that I was tackling this writing assignment with a vengeance, would you expect to see me storming around the house in a furious frenzy? It I told you I was hitting the books to prepare for a class, do I mean I am physically pounding on my laptop (my textbooks are electronic) in order to absorb the material? I hope not. These are just expressions describing concentrated effort at the task at hand.

"For God didn't send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that by Him the world may be saved, John 3:17.

This doesn't sound like the heart or actions of an angry God at all. It's the picture of the Creator reclaiming his creation.

How about you? When you read verses such as Rev. 19:15, what images pop up in your mind? How do they mesh with John 3:17 or even the portrayal of the Father of the Prodigal Son? How would it feel to discover that God isn't angry...at all...at anyone? Would you feel more comfortable around your Heavenly Father if you knew He wasn't mad at you or anyone else or would you be disappointed?

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Kidstuff

"...I'm telling you, once for all, that unless you return to square one and start over like children, you're not even going to get a look at the kingdom, let alone get in. Whoever becomes simple and elemental again, like this child will rank high in God's kingdom" Matt. 18:3-4.

Have you ever been engaged by a child in a circular discussion? They ask a question and you give your best kid-friendly response. Situation resolved. Not so fast.

"Why?" your inquisitor asks. You attempt to satisfy their curiosity but once again you fail.

"Why?" they demand. Now you're hopelessly stuck in a loop.

The conversation could go on forever fueled by the child's inquisitive nature. It's how they learn. They explore the world relentlessly, often without fear of the unknown. Once verbal skills develop the onslaught of questions begins. Rather then shut them down, adults usually will do their best to accommodate their quest to understand. However the time often comes when the only answers are: "Because I said so." or "You'll understand when you get older."

The subject of a recent lecture was C. S. Lewis' fascination with the imagination and his use of it in his writing. People have erroneously attributed his works of fiction to veiled presentations of the gospel; sort of a way to sneak it in when no one's suspecting. The presenter, however, said Lewis' purpose was the exact opposite. He wrote to engage his reader's imagination and somehow the gospel would slip in by accident.

Those familiar with the Narnia series remember the saga starts with the forced evacuation of some children to their elderly relative's country manor. Once there the siblings found it the perfect place for exploration. Systematically they combed through the house which ultimately led them to the wardrobe. Once inside they discovered the portal to Narnia and like true adventurers, they entered in.

Asking lots of questions, taking chances without thought of danger is what kids do naturally. The lecturer believes that if Lewis were asked for his interpretation of childlikeness in Matthew 8, he would say it was to be inquisitive, curious and imaginative.

This isn't always appreciated. Another speaker told of being one of those kids who constantly was thinking and asking questions. His grandmother was convinced that he was the family idiot and would be dependent on the largesse of his family for support. He now has a Ph.D.

Once, at the close of a mid-week service, this boy did the unthinkable. The minister customarily closed with the rhetorical statement, "Well if there aren't any questions..."

Quickly the boy's hand shot up. "You could have heard a pin drop," he said. "The air was sucked out of the room." Everyone knew this was their cue to leave and not an invitation to quiz the pastor. By the way, he never did get to ask what was on his mind.

Too often in Christian circles questions are discouraged. Doing so could make you lose your faith you know. Even worse, you could reject some dearly held doctrine that may or may not be scripturally sound. Perish that thought.

To Jesus, when it came to sincere seekers of truth, there was no such thing as a stupid question. If Lewis is correct, being childlike is permission to ask questions, investigate and explore what to believe for ourselves. If we believe God's power to keep us from getting off into a ditch is greater than satan's to deceive, we should be like kids. Ask away.


How about you? When was the last time, if ever, you asked God to weigh in on what you believe about Him, how He works, what He likes/dislikes? Have you felt conflicted when your reading or studying turns up something that contradicts conventional beliefs? How do you resolve the dissonance? Do you think God prefers we blindly conform with out question or have a face-to-face discussion with Him? Are you willing to explore being a kid again?