Tuesday, May 31, 2016

The Voice

"A voice of one calling in the desert" Matt. 3:3.

"A voice of one calling, 'In the desert prepare the way of the Lord'" Isaiah 40:3.

Long before a popular TV show first aired, there was "the voice."

What a difference  punctuation marks make. Matthew emphasized the messenger, John the Baptist. The quote from Isaiah, on the other hand, focused on a specific location. In that day, in order to hear John's message, one had to physically go to the desert - and come they did. People of every status in life traveled to hear what the voice in the wilderness had to say. Many received John's words and their hearts were prepared for the arrival of Jesus, their Savior.

Isaiah concentrated on the place where the message could be heard; where one goes to prepare a place for the Lord. Only a small fraction of the world's population has ready access to a real desert. In rural Northwest Georgia where I live, sand and dunes are in short supply. If being in a desert is mandatory to prepare for God's arrival, it's worth the time and expense to find one. A substantial portion of people however wouldn't be able to, and would wind up excluded from receiving God's gift to men. There had to be another way.

Deserts are inhospitable environments - scorching hot by day, bone chilling cold at night. To survive you better pack a bag because the desert has precious little to offer. Life is like this also. If you're going to make it all on your own, be prepared to fend for yourself.

Life, just like desert produces mirages. Things aren't as they appear. Most people don't recognize their need for a Savior until they experience the dissonance of life. What is packaged and sold as a prescription for happiness and success turns out to be a nasty illusion. Weighed down with excess baggage the weary soul feels duped and doomed. That doesn't have to be the end of the story.

Isaiah declared that the wasteland was the right place to get ready for God's intersection with our lives. Don't worry about cleaning yourself up first or fixing all your problems - that's another mirage. Come as you are with all that weighs you down, and watch God transform your desert into a garden. Encumbrances removed, He has a clean slate on which He'll transcribe the path for your life's destiny. Any sand in that picture is attached to the shores of the River of Life, not to a wilderness.

How about you? If you feel as if your life is a barren stretch of desolation, what prohibits you from allowing the Master Gardener to redesign your space? If you're a Christian and your existence feels like an endless, empty wilderness, what do you think God would say if you asked Him, "Who do You want to be for me right now?" Don't waste time on the "Why?" questions; they don't get answered and only produce pity parties. The desert wasn't designed to be a place to get stuck in the sand. It's an opportunity to prepare for a fresh encounter with God.

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

The Curse of the Law

"Christ has redeemed us from the curse of the Law"       
Gal. 3:13 (NIV).

At a bible study the topic of repentance from generational curses arose. Aren't they all now null and void according to this verse in Galatians?

What caught my attention in verse thirteen was the word curse. It is singular. In the Torah there are numerous curses associated with breaking the Law. Why did Paul write curse and not curses?  What is the curse of the Law? The answer is found just before verse thirteen.

"All who rely on observing the Law are under a curse, for it is written: Cursed is everyone who does not continue to do everything written in the Book of the Law" Gal. 3:10 (NIV emphasis mine).

If I understand Paul correctly the curse comes with one's total reliance on the Law to provide salvation and righteousness. Keeping the Law perfectly with that goal in mind is no easy feat.

"For whoever keeps the whole Law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking it all" James 2:10 (NIV).

The most inadvertent transgression of any aspect of the Law meant disqualification. Only Jesus kept the Law without fail.

Paul, an educated expert, was qualified to discourse on the Law's pros and cons. One good point according to Paul, the Law was "our Schoolmaster" Gal. 3:4 (KJV). If you hate school, then the Law isn't your friend. Pleasing God comes by faith (Heb. 11:6) and the righteous live by faith (Heb. 3:11). The Law can't produce faith because it isn't faith based (Gal. 3:12). Its framework of impossible demands to be kept perfectly can produce a stable, balanced and productive life and society, but never right standing with God.

We often forget that Jesus, the disciples and most of the early church were Jewish. They didn't abandoned their faith and call themselves Christians. That name wasn't coined until Saul and Barnabas ministered in Antioch.

The Law was a shadow of good things to come, not the reality of them. No longer dependent on its observance for their righteousness, the traditions and practices were now celebrations of the Messiah woven into every aspect of the Law's fiber that provided a goldmine of revelations.

Jesus said, "Do not think I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them" Matt. 5:17 (NIV).

To believe the Law is now null and void and that curses no longer exist presents a problem. If this is the case, the blessings associated with the Law are also gone. I'm not so sure we want to relinquish these.

Back to the original discussion of generational curses. If my theory is correct, then the curse of the Law Paul wrote about in Galatians is something different altogether. We also have to remember that the Law only pertained to the Jewish people, not the Gentiles who operated outside of its boundaries. Oaths, vows, covenants and the curses attached to these when voluntarily made fall outside of the Law's jurisdiction.

The Law provides a snapshot of what Heaven's like; what we can expect to experience there. Absent are the behaviors that cause chaos, disruption and upheaval in every area of life. If living under the Law seems stifling, Heaven will be a miserable existence.

How about you? How would you describe the curse of the Law? Christ's death redeemed us from this. What effect, if any, does it have on curses activated outside the purview of the Law? Is the possibility of their existence and legal authority to impact our lives worth investigating?

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

The Curse of Lorenzo Dow

"If anyone will not welcome you or listen to your words, shake the dust off your feet when you leave that home or town" Matt. 10:14.

In the 1800's Lorenzo "Crazy Dow" was a well known itinerant minister. An eccentric character with a booming voice, Lorenzo willingly took on the toughest crowds. No audience was unredeemable - until he arrived in Jacksonboro, GA.

In this rough frontier town, the resident lumbermen enjoyed a stiff drink or more after a hard day of felling trees. Lorenzo firmly believed that whiskey was the devil's water. A culture clash was inevitable.

Crazy Dow's appearance in Jacksonboro was ill-timed. Earlier that day the citizens learned that their town had been named the county seat, and the party was on. Lorenzo's attempt to preach to the inebriated crowd went poorly. After pelting him with rotten vegetables and telling him to go home, the revelers returned to the bars.

Undeterred, Lorenzo followed. Inside a local establishment he smashed a whiskey barrel spilling the contents on the floor. The drunks had enough. Crazy Dow found himself in the hands of an angry lynch mob. Salvation came in the form of a tee-totaling Mason, Sam Goodall. A well respected citizen, Goodall quieted the mob by promising to ensure Lorenzo would be gone in the morning. Grateful but irate, Lorenzo spent the evening at the Goodall residence.

In the morning a contingent arrived to escort the pesky preacher on his way. At the city limits Dow stopped his horse, removed his shoe and shook the dust from it. Because the townsfolk had rejected him, Lorenzo proceeded to curse the town. He called for its total destruction with the exception of the Goodall homestead. Today, the only vestige of Jacksonboro, GA is the Goodall home. Now, with the heat of the moment long gone, would Crazy Dow look back with a sense of smug satisfaction or profound regret? It appears his curse worked, but was it the right and/or scriptural thing to do?

Goodall Home, Google images
The disciples faced a similar situation in Luke nine. Furious at a rebuff from a Samaritan village, James and John wanted to call down fire from heaven and teach the inhospitable louts a lesson. Jesus responded with a stern rebuke - for his disciples and not the citizens. When He faced with an angry, murderous crowd Jesus set the benchmark high. He chose to forgive.

In his book, New Light on the Difficult Words of Jesus, author David Bivin provides insight into the culture of Israel in regard to traveling rabbis.

"Let your home be a meeting-house for the sages, and cover yourself with the dust of their feet and drink in their words thirstly." (pg. 12)

Being covered by the dust from a rabbi's feet was an idiom that meant their teachings were to be taken to heart. Also, the Jonathan Mitchell translation of the New Testament gives the impression that this act also demonstrates to those who reject them, that Christ's emissaries have no ulterior motives. They're not looking to take anything away from anyone, particularly in this case, where even the basic courtesies afforded visitors were withheld. Rather than an injunction to write off individuals as potentially unworthy, Jesus wanted His disciples to leave behind a lesson in forgiveness and the correct way to handle rejection. In addition, the dust from His followers' feet contained their DNA, and marked the ground as Kingdom property.

By his own admission, Crazy Dow's curse was rooted in the people's rejection of him and not his message (which was about whiskey and not the Gospel). Personal rejection is the wrong barometer to gauge anyone's redemptive value. As far as I can find, the Gospel never made a foothold in Jacksonboro. In the ensuing calamities that hit the town, virtually destroying it, many innocent people were adversely affected. How many hearts slammed shut to the good news of Jesus Christ due to one man's reaction to being personally rebuffed?

How about you? When faced with rejection how do you react? How should you act? Does this example of the power of spoken words to destroy cause you to reassess the kinds of things you say? If so, how? Does Jesus' teaching to bless and not curse have new meaning for you?

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Not a Townie

"What do you want with us Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are - the Holy One of God."
Mark 1:24

In New England there exists a special group of people called townies; folks who live their entire lives in their hometown. There's a measure of respect attached to this designation; kudos if you will to the ones who for better or worse, through boom and bust never leave their place of birth. Geographic longevity earns them a special spot at the local coffee shops and eateries and here in the South, reserved seating at their alma mater's stadium for the Friday night football game.

Jesus was no townie. Despite numerous attempts by others to define his regional loyalty, He never connected Himself to any earthly location. Under scrutiny by Pilate concerning His political aspirations Jesus responded, "My kingdom is not of this world." John 18:35.  "Holy space invaders, Claudia Procula,* we've got an alien amongst us!" I'd have like to have been a fly on the wall in Pilate's brain when Jesus dropped that bombshell on him. I'm sure he'd heard all kinds of stories but an out-of-this-world royal visitor - that had to be a first.

Jesus was no Nazareth townie. Born in Bethlehem, raised for an indeterminate time in Egypt, His immediate family thought he was crazy (Mark 3:21). The hometown crowd looked to kill him (Luke 4:13-40), so Jesus relocated to Capernaum, a more congenial environment.

Why didn't Jesus correct the misinformation concerning his place of birth? In addition to bolstering His claim as Messiah, to be a Judean would have enhanced his credibility with the religious leaders and the population surrounding Jerusalem. The people of Judea considered themselves, albeit erroneously, more cosmopolitan and sophisticated than their Galilean neighbors. In reality, their geographic location kept them isolated and more provincial from the surrounding cultures whose travels brought them through Galilee.

Either the demons got it wrong (not omniscient) or attempted to downplay Jesus' true position by labeling Him a Nazarene. The moniker meant to be despised. This was, however, Jesus' Messianic M.O. Jesus, "made himself of no reputation," (Philippians 2:7). He was, "despised and rejected of men," (Isaiah 53:3) and "came to his own people, and even they rejected him," (John 1:11).

Promoting his Bethlehem nativity could have placed Jesus in more danger than He already faced. The reigning Herod disposed of His cousin, John the Baptist. A quick check of the Roman census and some simple math would place Jesus in Bethlehem at the time that Herod the Great ordered the slaughter of the innocents in order to protect his crown. This Herod was just as ruthless. With forces already looking to take Him out, Jesus didn't need to make their job easier.

The truth is, Jesus wasn't from Bethlehem, Nazareth or anywhere else on earth. He was from Heaven. When confronted at Gethsemane by the arresting party, three times Jesus identified Himself as "I AM" - the unspeakable name of God. So powerful was this pronunciation that the entourage sent to retrieve him hit the ground (John 18:5). Oh no, clean up in the garden center! Jesus' mission wasn't regional, it included the ever expanding cosmos. Only a Heavenly identity could encompass such a task.

How about you? How important to you is your hometown or nation of birth? What type of reaction would you experience if like Jesus you declared that you are from another world? As a citizen of Heaven and an ambassador of the Kingdom of Heaven how are you authorized and qualified to act on the King's behalf?

* Pilate's wife is nameless in the Gospel of Matthew. According to the Apocryphal book, The Gospel of Nicodemus, Claudia Procula was Pilate's wife and the granddaughter of the Emperor Agustus.


Tuesday, May 3, 2016


"Your clothes did not wear out on you and your foot did not swell these forty years." Deut. 8:4

I'm a self-confessed clothes horse, a propensity I inherited from my late father. My dad was the only person I knew who wore a shirt and tie to the grocery store. He was well up in years before he relented and bought his first pair of jeans, something unthinkable when he was younger. When it comes to shoes, I'm no Imelda Marcos, but I do have a collection.

The idea of wearing the same thing for forty years makes me shudder. How boring! Traipsing around the wilderness without a clothing store in sight (or internet access and Amazon) would be torturous. Now, upon entering the Promised Land, all this would change.

I'm also a tenderfoot. In the peak of summer's heat I might make limited excursions outdoors barefoot. I confine my movements to the porch or driveway. Walk barefoot in the grass? Nothing doing with fire ants, ground wasps and other critters abounding.

God always has a method to His madness. Shoes/sandals were mandatory in the wilderness. In order to take possession of the Promised Land, barefootin' was now necessary.

"I will give you every place where you set your foot, as I have promised Moses." Joshua 1:3

In order to receive their inheritance, the Israelites had to walk the land barefoot. As they did their DNA transferred to the soil, marking it as theirs. Their feet, shod in the desert, prevented them from being tied to what was less than God's best for them. So, does this mean we should go around barefoot and mark our territory? One religious group does. Maybe it's not as crazy as it sounds. What can we learn from the Israelites adventures in barefootin'?

First, when we find ourselves in Same Old Same Old, going no where fast, God may be preventing us from barefootin' that environment. It isn't our destiny.

Second, although the Promised Land was theirs, it wasn't the Israelites' final destination. Jerusalem above was. That said, in the interim they were to drive out the squatters, occupy, and make the land productive. Most importantly, they were to establish a nation based on the worship of the One True God. Israel was to demonstrate stability and sanity to the chaotic world surrounding them.

Jesus taught His followers to pray accordingly: "Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven." Matt. 6:10.

As believers we're charged to exert governmental authority over the land and also over spiritual forces (not other people) bent on humanity's destruction. Although earth isn't our permanent home, we're to take up residence and establish God's kingdom here, now. By doing so we will be the calm in the storms that bombard mankind, provide a means of escape to those in need and demonstrate a new way of living.

How about you? Are you ready to go barefootin' in order to claim territory for God's kingdom? What can you do to be an occupant as opposed to a squatter. If you're a tenderfoot, how can you toughen up your soles/soul in order to take ground?