Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Who Killed Jesus?

No one takes it from me, but I lay it down myself. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it back up again. This command I received from my Father. 
John 10:18

John’s gospel resolves the centuries old debate of who killed Jesus. No one did; neither the Jews nor the Roman government. People were instrumental in facilitating the crucifixion, but no one can stake the claim or be assigned the blame for His death. Jesus maintained complete control over every facet of His life, including His demise. Recently I realized that this was pre-determined and mandated by the Father. At any point in time Jesus was free to change His mind. He didn’t have to suffer and die if He didn’t want to. The fact that He was empowered by the Father to not have to complete the plan of redemption was something I’d not understood before. Scripture confirms this.

When the arresting party arrived at the garden for Jesus, He made an interesting statement. “Do you think I cannot call on my Father, and He will at once (emphasis mine) put at my disposal twelve legions of angels?” Matthew 26.53-54. This wasn’t an idle threat or small talk. It was a statement of fact and its import wasn’t lost on the soldiers and officials. Simply speaking the words, “I am” Jesus knocked to the ground and neutralized the Roman soldiers and Jewish temple police. I doubt they wished for any encounter with a heavenly host of defenders. One word from Jesus and the situation in the garden would have changed direction immediately.

As much as God desires relationship with all people, He steadfastly refuses to over-ride anyone’s free will, even Jesus’. By His Father’s design, He could at any moment opt out of their plan without out any anger or disappointment on the Father’s part. Jesus was free to lay down His life or take it back without any pressure to perform.

This says so much about the quality of God’s love. Salvation isn’t forced on anyone, including Jesus. As much as He desires to be reunited with His family, God is willing to honor everyone’s freedom of choice.

Jesus amazes me. This is just one of the many things I love about Him. At any point He could have abandoned the mission and returned to Heaven. Perhaps the reason He said so few words throughout His whole ordeal was to prevent anger, frustration, pain, etc. from tempting Him to call it quits. One slip of the tongue and man would’ve been lost forever.

I don’t know that if I had been in Jesus’ position, knowing I could end the pain and suffering at any time, I would have endured to the end. Doing that requires a level of love I fall far short of, but keep working to develop. Unfortunately, this doesn’t come in an effortless heavenly download, but through practical application in difficult circumstances. I can’t say I’ve even scratched the surface when it comes to understanding the depth, height and breadth of God’s love. That will take all eternity. To sum this up, I’m reminded of the chorus of an old hymn.

Such love, such wondrous love. Such love, such wondrous love.
That God could love a sinner such as I.
How wonderful is love like this.

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Tuesday, March 19, 2013

You Only Missed by 750 Miles

Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in a time of need. Hebrews 4:16

Have you heard yourself or others refer to prayer as “bombarding the gates of Heaven?” I have. When I used that approach I was only 750 miles off target. Bummer. How did that happen?

An excerpt from Kenneth and Gloria Copeland’s devotional, From Faith to Faith, illustrates the fallacy of this perception of prayer. Kenneth’s experience demonstrates this vividly.

I remember one day I was in prayer, begging and pleading, bombarding the gates of Heaven for revival. After I’d been at it a little while, the Lord spoke to me. “What are you doing?” He said. “I’m bombarding the gates of Heaven with prayer for revival,” I answered.
“Kenneth, how big is My city?” He asked.
“As far as I can tell from what the Bible says, it’s about 1200 cubits or somewhere around 1500 miles square and 1500 miles high.”
“Then why are you bombarding the gates? Assuming my throne is in the middle of the city that leaves you about 750 miles short! And by the way,” He added, “those gates aren’t locked. Why don’t you quit bombarding them and just come on in?”

You may think I’m being picky, but I’m in good company. Jesus took words very seriously. Matthew 12:36 reminds us that an account for every careless word spoken will be required. “But it’s just a figure of speech,” you say. “I really don’t mean it!” The spirit word doesn’t operate on what you mean; it operates on what you say. Our words create mental images that to us are real even if they have no basis in fact or truth.

“As a man thinks in his heart, so is he” Proverbs 23:7

Words that create the picture of one storming Heaven for answers may sound heroic, even deeply religious. The portrait they paint is that of an outsider fighting for entrance. Why waste time pounding ‘til your knuckles are bruised and bleeding when the gates are unlocked? Isn’t it easier to converse with God in the throne room than screaming at the top of your lungs 750 miles away?

Fellowship with God isn’t a figure of speech, biblically speaking. Colossians 3:1 tells us that Jesus is seated at the Father’s right hand. Verse three of that same chapter informs us that, “your life is now hidden in Christ in God.” Ephesians 2:6 provides further clarification. “And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with Him in the Heavenly realms in Christ Jesus.” To imagine ourselves contending outside the gates may sound super spiritual, but it’s wrong. Hebrew 4:16 reiterates the open invitation to enter God’s presence at any time, for any reason.

The next time you consider staging a frontal assault on Heaven’s gates, for any reason, stop and think. Is it really necessary? How do you see yourself? Are you a child of God who knows your position in Christ and freely approaches your Father with your requests? Or do you see yourself as a sweat slinging, knuckle busting, gate pounder screaming at the top of your lungs vying for God’s attention 750 miles from His throne? Which works better for you?

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Pastors Aren’t Toilet Paper

The elders who direct the affairs of the church are well worthy of double honor, especially those whose works is preaching and teaching.
1 Timothy 5:17

Pastors and toilet paper serve an important function in our lives; both help clean up the messes we make. Unfortunately, like toilet paper, pastors are often discarded after use. Here is the problem; pastors aren’t toilet paper.

It’s normal for ministers to counsel people outside the confines of their congregations. When dealing with sensitive issues, this offers an additional level of privacy. Pastors recognize the temporary nature of these arrangements. They pour themselves into helping the individuals knowing full well the relationship will end sometime soon. That’s expected. What happens oftentimes is this. People in the church under the pastor’s care develop serious problems. The pastor spends enormous amounts of time and energy helping these congregants navigate the difficult storms of life. Hours are spent listening, counseling, praying with and for these folks and then…poof, they disappear. Emotionally drained, the pastor is left alone without as much as the courtesy of a phone call or personal visit to say, “I’m leaving.” Many times they learn about the person’s departure second and third hand.

I’m not suggesting that ministers use pastoral counseling as a means of recruiting and maintaining church members. The shepherd’s responsibility is to care for the flock. Sheep don’t go out looking for a new shepherd; they won’t follow an unfamiliar voice. People aren’t always that smart.

There are times when leaving a fellowship is the right decision. My pastor shared with me that at times God gives him a heads up that a change is coming. This doesn’t make a person’s departure any easier, but having the assurance that it’s God’s will for both parties lessens the pain. When people disappear without a trace, it hurts. Pastors have feelings too. Knowing people will use them and walk away comes with the territory, but it doesn’t make it something they can just shrug off.

Paul wrote Timothy that those who serve in responsible positions in the church, specifically those who preach and teach, deserve double honor. Pastors fit in that category. Part of showing honor is extending courtesy and respect. Pastors don’t want people to leave, but its part of life. If you feel it is time for you to go, don’t vanish into thin air. Tell your pastor, in person, that you’re going. They may not agree with your decision and even try to talk you out of it. That’s just part of being in a relationship. Ultimately the choice is yours alone to make. Letting he/she know will help make your leaving a little bit easier and will keep the lines of communication between you both open. Sometime in the future you may need them again. Unlike discard toilet paper that is gone forever, you’ll have a “clean sheet”, so to speak, to start fresh.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Generation “Chosen”

But you are a chosen generation,
1 Peter 2:9

Several weeks ago, a group of young, ministerial students visited the regular Saturday night prayer meeting I attend. The house was packed. People sat on chairs, stairs and the floor. Others stood shoulder to shoulder. Everyone participated in about an hour and a half of full throttle praise and worship, assisted by a multi-generational band. Later, a time of one-on-one ministry began. The young prayed for the old and vice versa. Each group eagerly and freely received from the other without any sense of competition or superiority.

Much ado has been made about different generations: The Greatest Generation, Baby Boomers, Generations “X” & “Y” and in Christian-ese, the Joshua and Joseph Generations. These definitions are limited to specific age groups to the exclusion of all others. When the church categorizes the new agents of change to a certain generation, it marginalizes those outside that demographic. If Peter’s reference was only to those alive at the time he wrote this letter, most Christians could only read his words and wish they could have been included. That’s not the case.

The prayer meeting that night was a contemporary example of the “chosen generation” that Peter made note of. In the original Greek, the word chosen means: best in its class, excellence or pre-eminence. What made the people there chosen wasn’t anything they had done, but what Jesus did for them. He made them the best of the best, a distinction available to anyone who chooses to receive it. Rather than an age group, the word generation describes a group of people of the same nature, kind or sort. Regardless of their differences, the attendees’ single-minded devotion to God molded them into a cohesive unit.

The English language adds two more meanings to the word generation. First, the process of coming or bringing into being; second, the origination by a generation process, i.e. power generation. The group that evening was part of the process of bringing the kingdom of God into manifestation on the earth. That night a power surge was generated and released into the spirit realm which impacted the natural world.

No single age group or time frame has the monopoly on being Peter’s chosen generation. That would be exclusionary and too limiting. One is never too young, old or anything else to be useless to God for His purposes. Let’s use wisdom and restraint when tempted to label any group as the next “movers and shakers” in the kingdom. God’s chosen generation cuts a wide swath across age, race and denominational lines. The choice is ours, so don’t be left out.

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