Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Polar Opposites Part Two

I apologize in advance for the length of this post. Not much has been written or preached about Judas. Our similarities to him makes us uncomfortable. Still, we will benefit by examining his actions, as compared to Peter’s, in order to learn from his mistakes. Part One of Polar Opposites focused on Peter, the disciple who denied Jesus. Part Two looks at Judas, the one who betrayed Him.

Diversity is a hot buzzword today. A quick look at Peter and Judas shows the disciples differed in personality and background. Peter was the rugged fisherman at home on a boat riding the waves. Judas possibly felt more comfortable on dry land working with finances and figures than fish. Peter was impetuous, flew by the seat of his pants (or tunic); always in the thick of things. Judas a low key, behind the scenes type of guy, did little to attract attention or raise any eyebrows. Peter, loud, boisterous, suffered from Foot in Mouth Disease; you always knew what he thought or felt. Judas chose his words carefully while behind the scenes stole money from the ministry. Peter, one of Jesus’ three, close companions; Judas was just one of the guys. It is interesting that His treasurer was excluded from Jesus’ inner circle. This speaks volumes about what little importance He placed on finances, or a lack thereof, in His decision making process. Peter attacked by Satan and prevailed. Judas possessed by Satan and damned, Polar Opposites!

 A question begs for an answer – why did Judas betray Jesus? His reason, I don’t know. The Bible does not tell us but I offer some ideas to consider. “There is nothing new under the sun.” Ecclesiastes 1:9 People today are the same as when Jesus lived on earth. Those things that cause them now to become upset with and abandon God are not new phenomena. Disappointments and offenses come. God fails to meet expectations. He does not act the way one confidently predicted He must. Too much time passes with no visible evidence of change. Frustration and the sense of being sold a bill of goods creep in. Throwing up their hands in disgust, people walk away; they did not sign up for this program. Could this have been the root of Judas downfall?

Luke 9:16 gives insight into a very important subject that the disciples heatedly discussed. “an argument (emphasis mine) arose among the disciples as to which of them would be the greatest.” The mother of James and John went a step further and asked, “Grant that one of these two sons of mine may sit at your right hand and the other at your left in your kingdom.” Matthew 20:20-21 The lady had chutzpah! Everyone jockeyed for a position.

Some scholars believe Judas’ betrayal was a ploy to force Jesus to take up arms and resist arrest. Rome would see this as rebellion and Jesus could be perceived as a credible threat. The people supported Him. John 6:15 He healed injuries Luke 9:11 and raised the dead. John 11: 43-44 He fed multitudes with only a handful of supplies. Matthew 14: 13-18 He controlled the weather. Luke 8:22-25 Need money? He could find some in the mouth of a fish. Matthew 17:27 Jesus possessed all the qualities the Jewish people wanted in a savior; He just didn’t act very Messiah – like. At one point, Jesus’ cousin, John the Baptist, began to doubt. John sent his disciples to ask, “Are you the one who was to come, or should we expect someone else?” Matthew 11:3 Everyday people, His disciples and even John placed high expectations for the establishment of an earthly kingdom on Jesus’ shoulders and were disappointed. To quote from a previous blog post, “The kingdom did come, it was just different.” If Judas’ intent was to launch a rebellion that would crown Jesus king and establish His rule, it fizzled on takeoff. Jesus calmly and quietly surrendered.

It was all about the money. This is the most prevalent explanation for Judas’ actions. Thirty pieces of silver was the equivalent of four months wages. In Exodus 21:32 this amount was the compensation required for a slave killed by a bull. Did Judas consider the relatively small bounty offered “chump change” compared to the wealth he would receive as the king’s treasurer? If his actions came to light after Jesus ascended the throne, the idea that he perpetrated such a crime…laughable; from the standpoint of triggering a coup… ingenious. A win/win situation was orchestrated no matter how things worked out.

Before he ever met with the high priests to hammer out an agreement, his plan was doomed to backfire in his face. Prior to engaging the officials and negotiating a deal, “Satan entered (emphasis mine) Judas, called Iscariot, one of the twelve. Luke 22:3
Demon possessed, Judas now was at a colossal disadvantage. Satan, the one calling the shots in this meeting looked out only his best interests. Thirty pieces of silver reflects the contempt the devil has for Jesus. Judas assigned a worth to himself no greater than that of a dead slave. Satan whole heartedly agreed.

Of the two who failed Him, I believe Judas’ betrayal cut the deepest. Jesus warned Peter of an upcoming attack and even prayed the disciple would prevail. Jesus never prayed for Judas. During their last dinner together, Jesus told the disciples one of them would betray Him. Jesus said, “But woe to the man who betrays the Son of Man! It would be better for him if he had not been born.” Matthew 26: 24-25  In the past, as I read those words, I imagined Jesus thundered out this warning in a menacing tone. I think differently now. I hear His voice, sad and filled with resignation. Because He referred to “the man” and not Judas by name, was Jesus giving His betrayer one last chance to change his mind? Jesus knew where Judas’ actions would send him. To have never been born is superior to spending eternity in Hell. In the garden, before His arrest, Jesus made this statement. “I have not lost one of those you gave me.” John 18:9 Sounds contradictory; wasn’t Judas lost? Jesus did not lose Judas, Judas walked away by choice. Peter’s denial was a mistake that was soon corrected. Judas betrayal was a defection to the enemy’s camp. For this reason, I believe for Jesus, it was the more painful of the two incidents.

I wonder what Judas’ worse day was in Hell. Perhaps the moment he arrived to learn the real nature of his employers “retirement” accommodations? Maybe it was the moment that Jesus showed up in Hell. Satan, not missing the opportunity to “rub salt in an open wound” probably arranged a front row seat for Judas. He gloated as he watched the look of anguish on the former disciple’s face when the Lord was escorted in by demons. Judas was deceived by the devil. He died convinced that Jesus was an innocent man; now the Lord in Hell with him. Had Jesus conned him also? Was Jesus a fraud and not the Son of God He claimed to be? Or was it the day that Jesus single-handedly defeated the devil and his demons; made of spectacle of them; took the keys of Hell and death; and led the captives to Heaven, leaving Judas behind forever?

Much has been written and preached about Peter’s denial and subsequent restoration. It is a beautiful reminder that God loves, forgives, and restores repentant people. Judas we would just as soon sweep under the rug and forget about; there is no happy ending here. Judas did not start out bad. He was one of the disciples sent out to preach and work miracles. The Bible never said that Judas did not experience the same success the other disciples enjoyed. Still, something happened that caused him to not just walk away, but to defect and join the enemy. This is something we must never forget. I do not mean to instill fear into anyone, just a healthy reality check. We all need to stand guard over our hearts. It is the “little foxes that ruin the vineyard.” Song of Songs 2:15

“Don’t sweat the small stuff” is a popular quote, however, it is the little things that can add up and cause our undoing. Judas was no better or no worse than any of us. He experienced intimacy with Jesus on a close and personal level that most Christians dream of. Let us focus attention on developing this type of relationship with God. As we do, we can look forward to our eternal life, now and in Heaven, being the greatest adventure we ever experience.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Polar Opposites, Part 1

Simon, Simon, Satan has asked to sift you as wheat. But I have prayed for you, Simon, that your faith may not fail. And, when you have turned back, strengthen your brothers. Luke 22:31

In spite of the title, these next couple of posts are not a geography lesson about the differences in the North and South Poles. For the next two weeks we will look at two men who failed the Lord when He needed them the most. Peter and Judas were hand-picked to be part of Jesus' twelve disciples and lived what most Christians consider the ultimate dream. For three years they lived with Jesus up close and personal. Both saw signs and wonders, worked miracles themselves and within a few hours of each other, disowned the Lord. This week's focus in Peter, the man who denied Jesus.

The sound of the cock’s crow jolted Peter back into reality. It was too late, impossible to retract his words. A few short hours ago, what he had demonstratively refused to acknowledge as possible, just happened. He denied the Lord. The look on Jesus’ face caused Peter’s actions to hit him like the proverbial “ton of bricks”. The air reeked with the smell of burning sulfur and a hideous voice sneered, “Some friend you are.”

From dinner in the upper room to Jesus’ arrest, Peter’s emotional state was a wild roller coaster ride. The Lord’s decision to wash feet was offensive, but Peter quickly reversed his objections to avoid exclusion. Horrified with the others to learn that there was a traitor in the group; relived to learn it was not he. Upset by the Lord’s declaration that all would desert Him and that he, Peter, would deny Jesus not once but three times was preposterous. Peter declared he would die for the Lord. Jesus did not bother to argue the point. He knew time would shortly prove Him right.

When they reached the garden Jesus asked His followers to pray. Peter and the others were drained, “exhausted  from sorrow”LUKE 22:45 NIV and fell asleep. With the arrival of the arresting party, Peter sprung into action. Sword in hand, he struck the servant of the high priest, Malchus, and cut off his ear. Jesus quickly stepped in, defused the situation, healed the man, and told Peter to stand down. Jesus’ willingness to surrender peacefully on the condition His followers were free to leave safely kept Peter from arrest, prosecution and possible conviction of assault and even attempted murder.

Not willing to desert the Master, Peter and another disciple followed the soldiers and the mob to the house of the high priest. Peter remained outside while the other disciple, known by high priest, gained admittance. Through his intervention Peter also entered, but only after assuring the maid at the gate he was not a follower of Jesus. He joined the officials and servants warming themselves by the fire. It is hard to imagine the evening’s events were not hot topics of discussion. Jesus and His arrest was the subject of headline news: “Popular Preacher Arrested in Night Time Garden Raid”; “Soldiers Immobilized When Preacher Say, “I Am He!”; “High Priest Servant’s Miraculous Recovery from Brutal Attack”. 

The courtyard buzzed with versions of the events, some more fabricated than others. The one man who knew the whole truth grew more uneasy and agitated as time passed. The last thing Peter needed was recognition. Quizzed a second time about his association with Jesus, he denied that he knew Him. Surrounded by friends, co-workers and even a relative of the man he assaulted, Peter realized the crowd could turn hostile and violent if they learned who he was. I believe that Peter’s actions were not rejections of Jesus based on his convictions, but a desperate attempt to avoid either arrest and prosecution or a beating at the hands of an angry mob. Finally a relative of Malchus challenged Peter, “Didn’t I see you with him in the olive grove?”JOHN 18:26 NIV Peter’s angry, profanity laced denial fooled almost everyone. While still speaking, the cock crowed. The Lord turned and looked straight at Peter. At that instant Peter remembered the Lord’s earlier words. He did it…he denied the Lord three times, just the way Jesus said he would. Devastated, he went outside and wept bitterly.

Looking back over the events in Peter’s life that night, there are lessons we can learn.
First, even someone in a very intimate relationship with the Lord is not immune from serious spiritual opposition and attack. In Peter’s case, Satan himself singled Peter out for a personal assault. The enemy is a skilled and accomplished liar and deceiver; however, he is only an angel and a fallen one at that. His status is a class of created being lower than any human ever born. He is the Big Kahuna of his kingdom but in the pecking order of spiritual beings, he is a pipsqueak. Still we need to be on guard. He will attempt to strike at the most inopportune times in our lives. We must stay vigilant and remember we have the upper hand in any fight.

Second, Jesus is in our corner, cheering us on and ever interceding on our behalf.
Jesus warned Peter of an imminent, serious attack. The process of sifting wheat is not gentle. Wheat is thrown on a hard surface and trampled, tossed in the air and finally forced into a sieve and shaken violently. After all this the good grain emerges from the chaff. I believe the pivotal point in Peter’s life occurred when he left the courtyard. He could go one way or the other. Jesus told Peter earlier He had prayed that Peter’s faith would not fail and, when at this juncture, Peter would choose to go and “strengthen his brothers”. The choice was Peter’s to make. The Lord could only pray he chose wisely.

Third, with God there is always another chance, a new beginning. He not only forgives and restores us, but also takes our failures and uses them to benefit others. Because of his experience, Peter could counsel downhearted and discouraged souls in a way the other disciples, with the possible exception of Paul, could not. He failed the Master on a level they never did and became a living testimony to the power of God’s grace and mercy.

The Agrusa translation of I Cor. 2:8 says “the rulers of this age were clueless. If they possessed one ounce of smarts, they would have picked on someone their own size and not messed with the Lord of Glory.” You get the point, Satan is not omniscient. What he did not know hurt him…big time. We can say the same thing about his decision to single Peter out for attack. Rather than crumble and fall apart, Peter bounced back with a vengeance. He became unstoppable in advancing the kingdom; a real force to be reckoned with.

We get knocked down but we don’t have to stay knocked out. We have in our own way denied the Lord but our failures do not disqualify us to “receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need”. HEB 4:16 NIV Jesus, our intercessor, prays our faith does not fail and that we too will turn and strengthen our brothers. The choice is ours.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Believing Outside the Box

“Repent!” His passionate and urgent plea reverberated through the atmosphere causing cracks in the God imposed silence. These would soon give way to allow a torrent of words from Heaven to be unleashed. As the initial drops fell on the dry, parched souls of longing hearts, they came in droves to the wilderness to be refreshed. They were not disappointed.

“Repent! The Kingdom of Heaven is near.”1 Repent – change your way of thinking. Stay stuck in your pre-conceived notions and ideas about God and you will miss what you have waited your whole life for, even when it is standing right in front of you. His words were perplexing. Was this wild man in the desert insinuating that what they longed to see and experience may be different from how they had envisioned it? Still, how long had it been since there was a real, fresh word from God? Maybe one should take heed and pay attention, besides what was there to lose?

John’s charge to the generation of his day is still relevant to us now. Jesus was a radical departure from the expected norm. God’s plans to reach the world today may be just as “outside the box”. One definition of insanity is doing the same thing the same way repeatedly and expecting a different result. If what the church as a whole is doing is not producing the results that God desires, why would He not do things differently? Our world is changing at a phenomenal rate of speed. What worked 10, 5 or even 1 year ago may already be outdated and passé. God is never late. He is always way ahead of the curve.

I recently read an article where the author pointed out the people most resistant to a new move of God. First are those who were the pioneers of what is currently in vogue. Second are those who have become deeply committed to this way God is working. This is not a call to throw wisdom and discernment out the window. When something is different or “new” to us it does not mean that God is not the author. He is not confined to our limited and small thinking. He has plans and strategies and even things not yet in existence. At its inception, much of the church derided the television as a “one eyed devil”.  Missed was the opportunity to capture what was the greatest tool for evangelism of the day. We should not even consider compiling the official “Standards of How a REAL Move of God Looks and Feels”.

Repent – come up to a higher level of thinking. Easier said than done, and it is necessary if we are to fulfill God’s plans for us now.  We cannot afford to become static and dogmatic in our definitions of what He can and cannot do. He meant it when He told us: “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord. As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.”2  The people of John’s generation who clung to the popular established belief that Messiah would come and overthrow the existing government and establish His kingdom (which will happen) missed the very one they had pinned all their hopes on. The King and the kingdom came, is was just – different. Because they were unwilling to adopt a whole new way of thinking about God and how He moves, they missed the event of a lifetime.

We need to guard against making the same mistake. When facing something outside our “norm” we can either be a Pharisee and work to prove it is wrong or be a Berean and work to prove if it is right. God will keep us from error and deception when faced with what are for us uncharted waters. Our Father is able to “guard what I have entrusted to him for that day.”3  It will probably feel a bit uncomfortable. We can expect be stretched and challenged to think outside the box we believe God comfortably resides in. If we are willing to come up to a higher level of thinking, we can experience new and exciting dimensions in God we never dreamed possible.
1. Matthew 3:2 NIV    2. Isaiah 55:8-9 NIV    3. 2 Timothy 1:12 NIV

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Are You Ready for a Resurrection?  Open Your Mouth!

Greece, hot bed of the European debit crisis, home of gyros and baklava, Alexander the Great and Euclid. Who? You won’t find this in the books expectant parents pour over looking for the perfect name. Euclid, a Greek mathematician, is known as the Father of Geometry and he authored 17 volumes of mathematical principles named Elements. These served as the main textbook for teaching math until the early 20th century; no word processors and spell check, just a bad case of writer’s cramp. For the mathematically challenged who are rolling their eyes and groaning…relax. This is not a discussion about quadratic equations, number theory or “new math” and there is NO test at the end.

You may be wondering, what does Euclid have to do with a resurrection? One of the principles found in Elements is this: “Two things equal to the same thing, are equal to each other”. For example:

2+2=4     and     3+1=4     therefore   2+2 = 3+1.

Pretty much a no brainer, isn’t it? Now, I want to take this same principle and apply it to some scriptures to see if it hold true there.

In the Gospel of John, Jesus is referred to as: “the Word became flesh”.
John said Jesus and the Word are one and the same. Later in this same gospel, John recounts the events of the death and resurrection of Lazarus. Martha, the grieving sister of Lazarus, berates the Lord for His tardiness in responding to the news of her brother’s illness. Now, because of Jesus' late arrival, Lazarus His friend is dead…really dead…four days in the grave stinking to high heaven dead. Thanks for nothing Jesus! Unruffled by her angry accusations Jesus calmly but firmly declared: “I am the resurrection and the life”.

When Euclid’s principle is applied to these scriptures, let’s see what we can learn. Jesus is equal to the Word. Jesus also called Himself the resurrection and the life. From these statements we can conclude:

Jesus = The Word   and    Jesus =  resurrection and life
therefore  The Word  =  resurrection and life.

Proverbs 18:21, which is written to us states: “The tongue has the power of life and death, and those who love it will eat its fruit”. Simply put, our words have the power of life - Jesus and the Word; and the power of death - anything other than those two. Eastern cultures are more cognizant of the power and the effects of spoken words than most of us here in the West. This was evident in the interaction between Isaac and Esau when they learned that Jacob, Isaac’s younger son and Esau’s brother, had received the Blessing by masquerading as his brother and deceiving his father. Even though the Blessing had been pronounced under duplicitous circumstances, Isaac could not retract his words. What was done was done and the expectation was that these words would come to pass.

There are scriptures, too numerous to quote here, that caution us to be mindful of the words we speak. So then, how do we go about speaking life? One way is to imitate our Father. Romans 4:17 tells us this about Him: “The God Who gives life to the dead and calls things that are not as though they were!” When God created the world He did not look at the empty void and say: “Whoa, its dark out there!” He simply said: “Light be” and light was. He spoke the end result He desired, not what was the present reality.

Another way to speak life is to declare the scriptural solution over our situation out loud? Why? We have all been assigned angels who are: “ministering spirits sent to serve those who inherit salvation?” Hebrews 1:14. We also know that angels are: “mighty ones who do His word, obeying the voice of His word.” Psalm 103:20.  You may think, this applies only to God when He speaks, and not me. Yes, this is true about God but it is also true about us. Isaiah 55:11 confirms this; God’s Word will not return to Him “void or empty.” When we declare His Word it is returned to Him. He has the angelic host waiting to hear and respond to His Word spoken out and to see to it that it is fulfilled on our behalf.

Jesus said in John 14:6 that He is “the way and the truth and the life.” therefore God’s Word is final authority on any matter. Our present circumstances are real and factual, but God’s Word on the matter is “the truth”. Joel 3:10 states: “let the weakling say, ‘I am strong.”  There is no denial of a lack of strength; that is real. Instead there is a shift of focus. Like God, we don’t speak the problem, we speak the solution. Using Ephesians 6:10 we can declare: “I am strong in the Lord and in the power of His might.” Jesus Himself told us not to talk about our problems but to talk to them. Mark 11:23 is the familiar verse that teaches moving a mountain by telling it “to throw itself in to the sea and it (the mountain) will obey” (emphasis mine). Confronting our mountains with the Word of God releases His power coupled with the angelic assistance needed to bring it to pass.

Jesus, Who is life, said His words are: “spirit and they are life” John 6:63. Do you have situations in your life that need to be resurrected? Maybe you have some God given dreams that seem to have “died on the vine”. Perhaps there are relationships that look like they are “dead in the water”. Does a reversal to challenges with your health appear almost “dead and buried”? Has your life become “lifeless”? Whatever you are facing there is a resurrection waiting to happen and it comes through speaking God’s Word to it.

Jesus told us that those who had faith in Him would do “even greater things” than He did. He was not kidding when He said this and He did some very amazing things. He spoke to storms and they stopped. He spoke to dead people and they came back to life. He spoke to the sick and they were healed. He spoke to the demon possessed and afflicted and they were freed. He spoke to people in need and provision appeared. He spoke to broken people with broken hearts and they were mended. He spoke to the outcast and they became part of the “in crowd”. Everywhere He went He spoke words of life and left in His wake a trail of people experiencing life in a whole new and higher dimension.

Don’t tell Dodie Osteen, mother of Joel Osteen, pastor of Lakewood Church in Houston, that this will not work. Diagnosed with terminal liver cancer and sent home to die, Dodie compiled a list of healing scriptures and began confessing them consistently, the same way one would take medicine. Dodie is alive and well today and still quotes those scriptures daily. Don’t tell me it won’t work. Our daughter suffered from severe sinusitis as a very young child. She would suffer violent coughing fits that could cause her to gag and vomit. She was on a restricted diet to help keep nourishment in her body and a regime of medications that treated the symptoms but not the problem. One Friday night as I prayed one more time for her healing, God spoke and told me: “just claim it!” and I did. I woke my husband up and told him what had just happened and he came into agreement with me. She was still coughing violently; nothing on the surface had changed, but I KNEW she was healed. As the weekend progressed, the symptoms abated and by Sunday night they were gone. She was completely healed and never again suffered with sinusitis. It works!

Speak life to those mountains and corpses in your life. The Word is life and resurrection power. Make enough noise to “raise the dead” and expect to see the impossible happen. Speak the Word!!!!!