Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Whose Life Matters?

"For Christ's love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all...and he died for all that those who live should not longer live for themselves." 2 Cor. 5:14-15.

A war of words concerning whose life matters has erupted and is fueled by ongoing rhetoric on all sides. The effect, in my opinion, doesn't encourage dialogue which can lead to understanding different perspectives, but a wider division and polarization around divergent views.

The Apostle Paul tackled this same problem in his letter to the Galatians. Using the church as a microcosm for society as a whole, what can we learn from him?

"There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave no free, not is there male or female, for you are all one in Christ." Gal. 3:28.

Religious pedigree was inconsequential. Social status didn't provided a hierarchy doling out preferential treatment. Gender was irrelevant (a really radical idea for that time). Conspicuously absent was the mention of race. Why?

It wasn't necessary.

The Roman Empire was multi-cultural. The aforementioned groups were comprised of every color of skin created. If all are equal, race becomes immaterial. For Paul, there was no need to address an issue that was not an issue at all.

Rome burned in 64 A.D. The emperor Nero was accused of setting the fire and fiddling while flames engulfed much of the city. For once, the emperor was innocent of such maniacal behavior. For one thing, fiddles hadn't been invented yet. The emperor played the lyre and was a decent musician.

In addition, when the fire broke out Nero was about 35 miles away at one of his country homes. Learning of the disaster he rushed to city to help direct efforts to quench the blaze. He also, at his own expense, set up shelters and feeding centers for those left homeless. Despite these efforts, past bad behavior fueled rumors of his guilt. In need of a scapegoat, Christians were an easy target.

Innocent of any involvement concerning the fire men, women and children were subjected to horrific deaths as entertainment for cheering crowds. Ultimately the spectacles produced the opposite reaction. Sickened by the overwhelming number of brutal killings, Romans recognized these were not acts of swift justice against the guilty, but the actions of a deranged ruler.

In neither secular historical accounts nor biblical records are there reports of believers mounting a Christian Lives Matter campaign. Thousands died as a means to appease a populace looking for someone to blame, yet no protests were lodged.

I believe the early church knew a truth we've seem to have forgotten - all lives matter. As individuals in and of ourselves, or as groups, no one is special. None of us are anything to write home about.

"There is no difference, for all have sinned and come short of the glory of God." Rom. 8:23 emphasis mine.

All translated here means all. Because Christ died for everyone, every life matters...period. He didn't differentiate and neither should we. To hold one group up as special, no matter how innocent or well meaning the intent, only plants Orwellian notions of supremacy.

"All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others,"  George Orwell, Animal Farm.

As believers we are best served sticking to Paul's words of wisdom. Rather than championing the rights of selected groups of individuals, we should uphold the importance and sanctity of all life. From the uber rich to those in abject poverty; from the most senior citizen to the newest life in-utero; from those intellectually gifted to those whose mental capacity is marginal at best; from the physically fit and robustly healthy to those saddled with sickness and disabilities; regardless of sex, age, race or any other excuse that causes division...all lives matter.
 As believers we do ourselves, the church, and society as a whole a great service if we refuse to settle for anything less.

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

The Sandbox

"The woman was given the two wings of a great eagle, so that she might fly to a place prepared for her in the desert, where she could be taken care of for a time, times and a half of time out of the serpent's reach." Rev. 12:14

I'm unqualified to cherry pick the nuances of this piece of apocryphal writing, but there's an everyday lesson we can glean from it.

The woman was in great danger, threatened to an honest-to-goodness dragon (yes, they really do exist)! Logically the safest place for our damsel in distress would appear to be a castle or a fortress. Instead her designated refuge was...a giant sandbox.

Perhaps the only reason to flee to the desert is that no one in their right mind would chase down an enemy in such an inhospitable environment. Let nature take care of the problem for you. For someone running for their life, the wilderness makes a hard situation even more difficult.

Despite appearance, the woman's location is also her salvation. Undeterred, her enemy continued his pursuit and crafted a plan for her demise.

"Then from his mouth the serpent spewed water like a river to overtake the woman and sweep her away in the torrent." Rev. 12:15

Note that both Jesus and the serpent are sources of water. Jesus' is living water, the enemy's is destructive.

Deserts are susceptible to flash floods. Dried river and creek beds swell and overflow their banks with dangerous swift moving water. These powerful torrents can handily engulf anything or anyone in their paths and sweep them away. At first glance the enemy's plan seems foolproof, but that's not how things worked out.

"But the earth helped the woman by opening its mouth and swallowing the river that the dragon had spewed out of his mouth." Rev. 12:16.

Acting as a giant sponge, the barren ground absorbed the flood unleashed by the dragon. Enraged and frustrated, her enemy quit and left.

How does this apply to us? Sometimes we find ourselves in dire straits, desperately need of help. Rather than a safe comfortable shelter, God leads us to something just the opposite. Our outlook is bleak at best; nothing provides even a shred of hope. We're in a giant sandbox.

What's not immediately recognizable is that this is the safest place to be. Our desolate surroundings have the ability to soak up the tsunami the enemy releases against us.

How about you? Have you been or are you right now in what appears to be a desert? Does the possibility that this very place is where you need to be in order to be shielded from the attack of your enemy encourage you? Can you trust God while you're in this most unpleasant situation?

In Revelation the dragon failed in his attempt to destroy the woman. Following God will produce this same result for you too.
Photo - Google images

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Washing Dishes Jesus' Style

"Blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup and dish, and then the outside also will be clean." Matt. 23:26 NIV.
"Blind Pharisee, first cleanse the inside of the cup and of the fine side dish-so that its outside can also come to be (be birthed) clean!" Matt. 23:25 Jonathan Mitchell New Testament Translation.

As a kid, Jesus probably had His share of chores. Obviously dishwashing wasn't one of them. I can picture my mother's reaction if I'd used his technique.

"But mom," I'd protest, "Jesus said..."

My plea would have fallen on deaf ears. My mom wouldn't have bought the idea that scrubbing the inside surface only would miraculously clean the exterior. I imagine Jesus' mother would have felt the same way.

I don't think Jesus advocated a short cut for cleaning dishes. Instead, He used ordinary everyday objects to teach an important spiritual principle.

What benefit is there in washing an object's exterior, and neglecting the interior where the real grime resides? Despite the outside's sparkle the accumulated remnants of previous meals would leave most guests at the dinner table squeamish. Hmmm. This could work on unwanted moochers. (Another technique: When chronic, uninvited quests show up for dinner, have you dog lick the plates clean and then put them back in the kitchen cabinets. Friends of our did this and their problem was solved. True story.)

The discourse between Jesus and the religious mafia had nothing to do with the cleanliness of culinary utensils. It was all about putting on a good show in order to impress others.

No matter our facade, who we are inside is the real person. Outer appearances that conflict with our inner reality are difficult to sustain. They do not penetrate inward and produce change for the better.

Jesus' method for cleaning dishes and one's life is radical. One needs to start inside where no one sees. That's were the filth is. Remove the crusty interior build up and the exterior will reflect the new inner condition.

If you're stuck with dish duty, sans dishwasher, there's no short cut to be found here. There is however, a divine mysterious method that can transform your life from the inside out.

The only genuine 100% money back guarantee comes from making Jesus your Lord and Savior. He'll start work on the inside and everything else will follow suit. As a dishwasher, His process is suspect; as a Savior, His way if foolproof.

How about you? What outer persona are you struggling to prop up and maintain? How do you feel when you discover that someone isn't whom you were led to believe they were? How did that affect you ability/willingness to get close to and to trust others? What benefits will result from dealing with your junk in the trunk? How will you and those around you benefit when you do?

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Keeping It Simple

"On that day I will raise up the tabernacle of David which has fallen down." Amos 9:11 (NIV).

To celebrate his coronation as Israel's king, David brought the Ark of the Covenant from the house of Abinadab in Kiriath Jearim to Jerusalem. Next, he pitched a simple tent to house the Ark (2 Sam. 6:17), not a reconstructed tabernacle. Gone were all the trappings, and now the Ark sat visible to all, surrounded by worshipers 24/7.

Some of the Psalms were written specifically for use there. No longer confined to the Holy of Holies, David or anyone else could get as near as they desired, without touching the Ark. From that close proximity David could write:

"Keep me as the apple of your eye: hide me in the shadow of your wings." Psalm 17:8

God doesn't have wings, but the Cherubim on the Mercy Seat did. David could snuggle up close enough to feel their wings overshadowing effect. It appears that God didn't mind being sprung out of the confines of the Holy of Holies, and being out among the people. Once settled in his own home David had second thoughts.

"Here I am, living in a palace of cedar while the ark of God remains in a tent." 2 Sam. 7:2

David desired to build God a proper house and his advisor, Nathan the prophet agreed. Later that night, God weighed in on the idea. God asked Nathan when or from whom had He'd ever requested a "house of cedar" (2 Sam. 7:7). God was interested in building David's house, not His own (2 Sam. 7:11). David was flabbergasted.

"Who am I, O Sovereign Lord, and what is my family that you have brought me this far? And as if this were not enough in your sight, O Sovereign Lord you have also spoken about the future of the house of your servant." (2 Sam. 7:18-19).

Ultimately David's son Solomon built the temple. Prohibited by God from building it himself (1 Chron. 22:8) David stockpiled material and money for its construction. The question is why? Why did David, after years of enjoying unhindered access to the manifest presence of God, plan to put Him back in a box?

The bible never tells us but my suspicion is that David realized that none of his offspring possessed his zeal for God. During David's reign the Israelites saw their king perform more than lip service to God. David was a lover of God and passionate worshiper, his son's weren't. Amos records that David's tabernacle had fallen. Good thing the Ark wasn't in it when it collapsed.

Solomon surrounded the House of God with temples dedicated to the gods of the foreign wives and concubines he's accumulated. I wonder how God felt about that? Did it break His heart to share His special place, the Holy of Holies with two large graven images of Cherubim, something specifically prohibited? These weren't the Cherubim on the Mercy Seat. One look around Jerusalem would tell you that God was no longer Israel's One and Only.

Speaking through Amos God said He'd raise up David's simple tent, not the original tabernacle nor the temple. He wanted to be back outside around the people so He came in the person of Jesus. Totally approachable, instead of dying, people were healed, restored and even raised from the dead when they encountered Christ. All the barriers were removed, so much so, that we are now actually IN HIM! Can't get any closer than that.

How about you? What's your position with God? Do you prefer up-close, personal contact or do you feel safer keeping Him at a distance? How did David's tabernacle foreshadow the freedom to approach and access God we can now enjoy? How do you personally take advantage of this?

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Trial by Fire

"...but I say to you that anyone who is angry with his brother must stand his trial; anyone who contemptuously calls his brother a fool must face the supreme court; and anyone who looks on his brother as a lost soul is himself heading straight for the fire of destruction" Matt. 5:21-22 Philips, emphasis mine.

Judson rubbed his eyes, screen fatigued from hours of pouring over financial records. It was late, and outside the March winds howled rattling his office windows. No early spring this year.

Record snowfall topped off the gloom of tax season. April 15th loomed off on the near horizon. Judson, too tired to sprint to the finish, felt more like a marathoner in the midst of Boston's Heartbreak Hill. No wonder his father, now semi-retired, moved to Florida.

Draining his coffee hours ago he needed something, but was in no mood to head out for a real meal. He grabbed his cup and headed for the break room vending machines. Rounding the corner he entered the cubicle farm.  What the???

Normally staffed with a small army of C.P.A.'s frantically preparing returns, every desk was empty. What sounded like a celebration came from the direction of the break room. Office policy prohibited any type of party during tax season. Barring a dire emergency, everyone was to be at their desk hard at work. All knew the rules and were generously compensated for the sacrifices they made. The breach of protocol was inexcusable. The fun stops now!


Dad? What is he doing here?

Standing just outside the break room Judson spied the ringleader of this insurrection - his father. A lavish spread stretched across several tables and the elder Mr. Robbins encouraged his employees to indulge. The tired workers needed no coaxing.

"Jud!" his father boomed, "I was just about to come and get you."

Standing behind his father, Judson saw a familiar face. His stomach convulsed violently. His brother Tim was back.

Enraged, Judson turned to leave. Of all the bone headed stunts. What is he thinking?

Tim's abrupt departure from the firm several years ago, along with a handful of important accounts, had set the firm back substantially. Hard work along with soothing many ruffled feathers of disillusioned former clients had recaptured most of their old business when Tim's firm folded.


Steeling his emotions, Judson faced his father.

"What is he doing here," he seethed. "I'm not up for another round of sob stories."

"Jud, he's your brother," Mr. Robbins pleaded. "He's made mistakes, but he's owned up to them. He deserves another chance."

"He's had plenty of second chances and will probably need a whole lot more." Judson got up in his father's face. "If I'd pulled the stunts he has, you'd have fired me a long time ago."

"Jud, listen to me."

"No dad, you listen to me. I have worked my tail off to undo all the damage Tim caused. I have groveled and placated people he left hung out to dry. This firm fixed his mess with money it really didn't have. Now he's back and you want me to welcome him as if nothing happened? I don't think so. Not on my watch."

Sadly Judson's father watched his son storm off to the confines of his office. Tim had faced his demons and prevailed. Whether Judson could was beyond his control. All Mr. Robbins could do was to maintain his vigil and see if his other son would soon return.

Sound familiar? It's a remake of the Parable of the Prodigal. In that story the younger son hurt his father deeply. However, his dad refused to pass judgment on him and actively watched for the boy's return. In the midst of a joyous reunion between father and wayward child, the man's older son turned prodigal. Although he had no right to do so, the elder sibling judged his younger counterpart a loser, a hopeless case...a lost soul.

Once again the father refused to pass judgment, and chose to remain with the angry older brother outside of the party.

Offense, anger, and being someone's self-appointed judge and jury places one in a precarious position. Apart from, and not joining in Heaven's celebration can pave the way for more serious consequences. Jesus warned against categorizing anyone, especially a brother, as a lost soul to our own peril. Rather than disenfranchising a fallen sibling, like the father in the parable we should be optimistically watchful for them to return to their senses. And welcome them back.

How about you? Do you know individuals whom you could easily write off as unredeemable? What does the story of the prodigal say about the serious condition of the older brother? Are there attitudes about others that could separate you from participating in the joys of the Kingdom, and if so, are they worth maintaining?