Tuesday, April 25, 2017


"...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?

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Not On Stage

"Be especially careful when you're trying to be good so that you don't make a performance out of it. It might be good theater but the God who made you won't be applauding" Matt. 6:1.

Can you imagine if Jesus, like some people today, insisted on His name being attached to public edifices. The Pool of Bethesda could be re-branded to the Jesus Miracle Healing Waters Pool. On the road to Jairus' house there could be a star in the street like those in Hollywood. "Jesus, Healer of Female Infirmities." Let's not forget the cliff in the Gadarenes area, the famous "Jesus' Pig Drop Zone." A good portion of Israel and the surrounding area could have sported His moniker if He were so inclined.

I appreciate the practice of honoring generous benefactors, but I wonder. Would some give so liberally if they weren't recognized and lauded now and into perpetuity? With time, the name on the facade becomes just that...a name. The significance gets lost.

Jesus believed it important that we know His kingdom operates differently. Our underlying motives are more important than our outward actions. To drive home the point, Jesus focused on the hot buttons favored by the religious folks of His day: giving, praying and fasting.

The Babylon Bee is this generation's version of The Wittenberg Door; a great source of Christian satire. No one is immune, they poke fun across all denominational lines. Read it long enough and you'll wince.

Recently their "news" article centered around the angst associated with electronic contributing. An un-identified male took advantage of his church's online giving option. However, he began to experience paranoia when the collection plate was passed. He perceived his fellow parishioners noticed that he didn't put anything in and feared he was garnering a reputation for stinginess. He felt the penetrating glares of disapproval from the folks plunking their money in the basket. Who knew giving online in the privacy of one's home could be so stressful?

The story is a complete fabrication, but it depicts the point that Jesus made. Putting money in the plate at church, and even online, strictly for the purpose of being recognized is giving with the wrong motive. Most people really don't care. If they do, they're the ones with a problem. Only One needs to know and He doesn't miss anything.

People are the same. Jesus' society applauded the success stories, hero-worshipped celebrities and left the average person scrambling for a scrap of the limelight. Some in Judaism emulated popular culture. With demonstrative public acts of generosity, prayer and fasting they competed for the title of "Most Righteous Person." Jesus, however, already had sole ownership of that designation and refused to play along with their game. He wants His followers to do the same.

We like to feel appreciated, especially if we've sacrificed. Receiving heart-felt thanks is perfectly acceptable. Turning something into a self-promotional event is another matter. The Kingdom of God shouldn't be filled with super-star attention grabbers, just ordinary people under the radar doing extraordinary things by the power of God. Just like Jesus.

How about you? How do the perceptions of others affect your actions. When it comes to what you do, how do you deal with the urge for notoriety? What self-imposed boundaries keep your ego in check? How much and what, if anything, would you change if God didn't care about our motives?

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Perfect Recall

"And like a good neighbor..." How many can instantly finish this State Farm jingle that's been burned into their brain? Advertisers exploit the power of memory to bring products to mind effortlessly.

"My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" Psalm 22:1.

Most Jews didn't own Torah scrolls. Individually handcrafted they were wickedly expensive. Perhaps they may have owned a small fragment to two. To compensate they employed memorization. Speak a line of familiar scripture and the brain kicked in gear filling in the blanks from stored memory. For those standing around Calvary or who heard the story in detail later, Jesus' words were jaw dropping. The picture Psalm 22 paints was being acted out before their eyes. 

Popular Christian doctrine teaches that while on the cross, Christ, because of taking on all the sin of the world, became abhorrent to God the Father. Jesus was now so offensive, God couldn't even look at Him. I don't believe that's the case at all.

"For he [God] has not despised nor disdained the suffering of the afflicted one; he has not hidden his face from him but has listened to his cry for help" Psalm 22:24.

By taking on all of men's sins Jesus experienced the estrangement from God that sin produces in the mind. Paul explains this in Col. 1:21. Our evil behavior (sin) causes us to think we're God's enemies and alienated from Him. In that condition, we're tempted to do lots of foolish things. As our "perfect High Priest" Jesus had to experience how this separation felt, otherwise we could look Him in the eye and honestly say, "You don't know what it's like." But He does.

"...But a time is coming, and has come, when you will be scattered, each to his own home. You will leave me alone. Yet I am never alone, for my Father is with me" John 16:32 (emphasis mine).

Never means never. This was part of Christ's Last Supper discourse with the apostles. Because He is one with the Father (John 10:30), Jesus couldn't be forsaken. Knowing this was true He had to, like the rest of us, resist the temptation to give into His feelings of being deserted by God in His greatest time of need. And He did.

His physical condition prohibited Jesus from reciting this psalm in full. He only had to repeat the first verse and those with it stored in resident memory remembered. Standing there they saw the familiar words acted out before their eyes. There wasn't anyway that Jesus could have orchestrated this. He didn't arrange His arrest, and crucifixion meant sure death. No one knew in advance that His mother would be there, that the soldiers would gamble for his clothes or that He would be chided by onlookers to come down from the cross. Where was this Father that He talked so much about? Why wasn't He coming to the rescue?

OMG. The Messiah had come and they missed Him. Now it was too late to undo their actions. This was depressing, but Jesus had the remedy for this also.

"Father, forgive them, for they don't know what they're doing" Luke 23:34.

No need to take an extended guilt trip-all was forgiven.

How about you? How does it feel to have all your sins (past, present and future) already forgiven? How does the knowledge that you are "in Christ" right now help you resist the temptation to believe that God's abandoned you? Jesus knows exactly what that's like because He's experienced the same thing. Just like Him, we're never alone. We can count on that.

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

The Light Is On But Is Anyone Home?

"When Jesus spoke again to the people, he said, 'I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life" John 8:12.

Jesus drew a sharp distinction. He is the Light of the world, not the sun.

No one experiences unending daylight. Northern climes that have extended periods of almost 24 hours of daylight have off-setting seasons of near to total darkness. That's how our planet works.

Jesus is the Energizer Bunny of Light. "He keeps shining and shining and shining." How does He do it? A look into deep space reveals an ever increasing expanse of darkness punctuated by stars, moon, planets, galaxies. Where's the single prevailing source of light?

Paul addressed this in Col. 1:17. "And himself is before all, and all things in him have consisted" (Youngs). All of our ever expanding cosmos is in Him, therefore, it is completely encased in light. The Psalmist knew this. "if I go up to Heaven, you are there..." Psalm 139:8. Did he know how accurate his words really are? Were it possible to travel to the very edges of space, we'd find light.

Good news. Light isn't diminished by one iota of any form of darkness. Once you know it's there, you can't miss it. It's a matter of perception.

How can those who know the Light personally and consciously live in it help those in darkness find their way home? Many use the cover of darkness to hide things they don't wish to be seen or as a place to hide when they don't want to be found. The best way to help them move into the realization that they're already in the light is simple. Inform them that there's an easy solution...change their thinking.

"Your indifferent mind-set alienated you from God into a lifestyle of annoyances, hardships and labors. Yet he has now reconciled and restored you to your original designs" Col. 1:20 (Mirror Bible).

The darkness they think hides and protects them is just a figment of their imagination. From God's perspective, it's non-existent. He's already brought them back in line with His original intent; all they need to do is believe and receive. Jesus is the door that's always open. Once inside, they'll see the light's been on all along.

For those of us already in a relationship with Christ what may feel like a season of darkness is never the absence of light. Unlike the sun that sometimes you see and sometimes you don't, Jesus keeps shining and shining and shining.

How about you? Which sounds more like good news to you? "Turn or Burn" or "Do you realize that as far as God is concerned, you're not His enemy?" It's great news to let those in the dark know that the light is on and they're already home. All they have to do is believe, receive and walk on in.