Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Out of the Loop

"But your iniquities have hidden you from God; your sins have hidden His face from you; so that He will not hear" Isaiah 59:2.

For as long as I've been a Christian I've heard this taught. God can't tolerate sin...at all. He's so holy and pure that He can't abide even a hint of sin in His presence. Therefore, Jesus is the man in the middle, the protective element between man and God. When the Father looks at us, it has to be through the blood of Jesus. We are too despicable otherwise. The blood hides our sins, even though the Bible says that God has already chosen to forget them. Without the blood God can't be around us. How that's possible since Jesus and the Father are one escapes me, but hey, I've taught this too.


If we look at this verse in Isaiah carefully we need to determine who is separating from whom? Contrary to popular teaching, it doesn't say God separates Himself from us. It does say that sin's impact on us is that we feel separated from Him.

"Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds because of your evil behavior." Col. 1:21.

Paul sees eye-to-eye with Isaiah on this. Sin clouds our judgment and distorts our perception of God causing us to believe He is now our enemy.

"For as he thinks of himself, so he is." Prov. 23:7.

We become who we believe we are. To put to rest the concept that God can't endure contact with sinful man look no further than the first few chapters of Genesis.

God already knew what Adam and Eve had done. However, that wasn't enough to make Him cancel his customary rendezvous with the pair. My Bible says they were the ones hiding from God and not the other way around. When He asked, "Where are you?" He didn't think He'd misplaced them or that they were somehow lost. When Adam and Eve finally emerged from their hideout the trio had a face-to-face conversation. They did have to leave the garden ultimately, but it was to prevent them from eating of the Tree of Life, not to sever their contact with God.

To confirm this wasn't a special exception to God's rule, keep reading. God cared enough about Cain to step in and try to keep him from killing his brother. He even intervened after the deed was done to protect Cain's life. He recruited idol-worshiping Abram, who twice tried to peddle his wife as his sister to save his own skin, to be the blood line for the Messiah. Moses was a murderer but God still made him Israel's deliverer and spoke with him face-to-face. God interrupted Saul of Tarsus' trip to round up Christians for extinction, and transformed him to Paul the Apostle who then went on to write most of the New Testament and evangelize the Gentiles. Finally, twice in the book of Job we see God conversing with the Devil, the inventor of sin and God doesn't have an apoplectic fit. If sin was no barrier then, why would it be one now?

The good news of the Gospel is that God and man aren't enemies, and this is the message that He wants us to share.

"That God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people's sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation." 2 Cor. 5:19.

The only thing separating us from God are the imaginary walls we've mentally constructed. The solution is simply repentance, or-have another thought (that's what the word means).

How about you? Is it possible that God really does love you and not just tolerate you because of what Jesus has done? How does the truth that the only thing that's ever  separated you from God has been the mindsets that convinced you that a barrier existed? Isn't the news that we're not on the outs with Him at all the best thing we can share with the world?

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

What Are You After?

"...and Jesus looked over His shoulder and said to them, 'What are you after?'" John 1:38.

If Jesus asked you this question, how would you reply? Throughout His ministry Jesus encountered all sorts of people with one thing in mind-what He could do for them.

Jesus didn't disappoint. The sick were healed, the dead were raised and the hungry fed. Those seeking a religious or intellectual discourse heard authoritative teaching like they'd never experienced before. Jesus gave liberally except...those looking for a legalistic warrior king always left empty-handed.

However, there was one thing God wanted and is still in short supply of even today -relationship. Those pursuing Jesus then and now too often want something, not Someone.

"Not so!" you protest. "I made Jesus Lord of my life." (Hint: He already is Lord. We don't make Him anything, we just finally wake up to this fact). I agree that accepting His Lordship is very important, but what exactly does this mean?

Is Jesus your get-out-of-hell card? Some evangelism portrays Him as such. Is His purpose to fix life's problems, a divine handyman of sorts? When things are going well, He's the go-to guy. No, wait a minute, when life is swell we usually don't need Him. But when things are disintegrating around us, we run to Him. However, what does He want?

Relationship, intimacy, the restoration of fellowship with man that was God's original intent. He wants us. We want stuff.

In the cool of the evening of the Fall God went looking for his good friends Adam and Eve. He sought relationship with them still, however, He knew things on their part had changed dramatically. His question wasn't an angry, "What have you done?" (like mine would have been). Their physical location wasn't a concern. Where their with Him relationship was. How had sin warped their thinking?

"Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in you minds because of your evil behavior." Col. 1:21.

God's attitude toward Adam and Eve hadn't changed, but in their minds things were radically different. Sin didn't separate God from them, their thinking did. God wasn't hiding, they were.

Patient and relentless, God pushes to establish relationship with us. Despite our resistance, He'll take a toe hold anywhere He can and work from there. Why do we have to make it so hard?

We still feel like we're His enemy. Mentally we check off our "I am not..." list, realize we come up short and hide from God like Adam and Eve. So afraid of an angry, "What did you do?" we miss His loving, "Where are you?" He knows, but do we...really?

How about you? What's your relationship with God like? Is it a two-way conversation or do you quickly hand Him a to-do list and move on? If you asked Jesus, "What do You want?" how do You think He'd respond? Are you afraid of what He might say? If so, why? What if all He wants is time for you to get to know Him better?

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Under Their Thumb

"and was obedient to them" Luke 2:51.

Have you wondered what Joseph and Mary were like as individuals? As a couple? What were Jesus' siblings like? How was His relationship with them?

The Bible is largely silent about His early years and family life. Were they a scriptural version of a perfect blended family? Joseph wasn't Jesus' natural father...remember?

It's easy to assume that life in the original First Family was completely homogenous. Everyone got alone swimmingly all the time. No conflicts, no fights, no sibling rivalry...yeah right. I bet they were just like the rest of us.

We know from Scripture that Jesus submitted to his parents' authority. He was under their thumb. Do you recall how much you enjoyed your parents micro-managing your life? Didn't you just love being told, "NO!" when you wanted to go out and play? When Mom and Dad acted like referees, didn't you applaud their good judgment when they ruled in favor of your sibling? Didn't you welcome their insights as they scrutinized your friends or endlessly obsessed over where you'd been and what you'd been up to? Sure you did.

Was Jesus the John Boy of the Nazareth's version of the Waltons? Did his brothers and sisters with dewy eyes, look up to their older brother in rapt adoration? Or was He just one of the family, no better or no worse? Since Jesus was tempted in every way we can be, He had to have had skirmishes with His siblings. That's typical family dynamics.

Were Joseph and Mary laid back and easy going or strongly opinionated personalities, even hot heads? We don't know. Surely God wouldn't subject His Son to people like us. He'd give him perfect parents. Wouldn't He?

I'm not suggesting that Jesus was raised in a totally dysfunctional family, but to think His life at home was a complete G-rated script is far-fetched. Mary, Joseph and their kids were real people with issues that weren't always handled properly. Did the kids fight? Did Mary and Joseph lose their tempers? As parents did they make what in retrospect would be called bad decisions? Probably. We all do.

Jesus could have a real heart for humanity because He wasn't shielded from the worst we can dish out. I'm not inferring that His home life was abusive, just typical, which at times can be painful.

Like the rest of us, Jesus had to learn submission to authority as a child. Looking at His life, Mary and Joseph did a good job. Raising any child is no small feat. Being responsible for training up God's Son is in a class by itself.

How about you? How has your viewpoint of your parents and how you were raised changed as you've matured? Can you think of specifics that look much different now, viewed through the eyes of an adult, then they did when you were a child?

Parenting isn't for cowards. It is a tough job that entails times of being unappreciated for your efforts and having your motives and intentions misunderstood by your young charges. No parent is perfect, but with God's help, a strong foundation can be laid for a child to build a life upon...just like Jesus had.

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

The Gates of Hell

"You are Peter, a rock. This is the rock on which I will put together my church, a church expansive with energy that not even the gates of Hell can keep it out" Matt. 16:18 (emphasis mine).

"will not continue overpowering or prevail in resisting it" Matt. 16:18 Mitchell translation.

I did a double take as I read that verse. Could it really mean what it says? Both versions depict the church on the offense not the defense. The gates of hell aren't strong enough to resist its attack and there's only one reason to mount an assault...people.

This is one of those "what if" moments when I allow myself to think outside my typical Pentecostal, Charismatic, Evangelical, Fundamental, what-ever box and ponder. "What if I've got it all wrong?" Are we missing out on something Jesus has empowered us to do?

To be clear, I am not a universalist. I don't believe all roads lead to God. As a Christian I fully believe Jesus' claim of exclusivity as the only way to God found in John 14:6. It is non-negotiable. Period.

So, since Jesus can't lie and Matt. 16:18 is true, how does this work? How do we the church invade hell and release the captives (they're the only thing there worth taking). After His death, Jesus invaded hell, preached to those there and staged a prison break. Awesome. Jews and gentiles alike heard the good news and took advantage of a get out of jail card now opportunity.

What about those who died one nano-second after Jesus cleaned house? I struggle with this. Is it so-sad-too-bad that you didn't die fast enough and now you've missed the bus to heaven? Romans 2:11 is clear that God doesn't show favoritism. So, what about those who arrived too late?

Jesus made a very bold statement in John 14:12 that still makes me squirm a lot because I haven't seen it fulfilled in my life.

"Very truly I tell you, whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these because I am going to the Father."

To date, being open and honest, I've not turned water into wine. I haven't feed the masses with a sack lunch, raised any dead people or even walked on water. I have on a few occasions prayed and people were healed, but I'm far from batting 1000 in the do what Jesus did department. What are the "greater things" that He was referring to?

It is preferable that a person never go to hell in the first place. Sharing with others a relationship with Jesus is important but not the only thing God accomplished in His grand scheme of salvation. What if,just like Jesus, believers can enter hell also and raid it? The people there aren't dead. This is a radical thought but if I am to take Jesus' words at face value then according to the Bible it is possible.

If this is true, there is still the all important element of man's free will. God never overrides anyone's ability to make bad decisions even when their spiritual future depends on it. If He gave those born before Christ the opportunity to hear the Gospel and then the chance to decide after physical death, what about the billions who've died since then and never heard?

How about you? As a believer, if it is possible to actually invade hell and free captives there, would you do it? If it is possible and God commissions you to preach to those you think deserve to be there would you go?

I realize this is very unconventional and my purpose isn't to be controversial. I am posing a questions based on scriptures I'd rather skip over because they challenge me and make me uncomfortable. They make me wonder, "What if?"

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Getting Crushed

"He treads the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God" Rev. 19:15.

What's the purpose of a winepress? The answer is simplel-to make wine. Therefore, the goal isn't to destroy the grapes but to extract the sweet liquid trapped inside them. Winepresses in ancient Israel were a two part system, the upper press and the lower vat.

"The press is full; the vats overflow" Joel 3:13.

Each portion of the press was hewn from a solid rock...sound familiar? So, what is John describing here? I doubt it was Jesus' wine-making methodology. Is it the image of an angry God destroying humanity or of a loving God focused on working with man to release streams of living water? I'll take the latter.

Believers refer to Christ as the Solid Rock. The Bible and Jesus Himself do this also (Deut. 32: 4,15,18 and Matt. 21:44). In this scripture from Revelation, the grapes traditionally represent mankind, specifically unbelievers.

Contrary to popular belief no one is ever separated from God because, "For in Him all things were created" Col. 1:16 (emphasis mine). Paul emphasizes this in Romans 8:39 also. "No-thing can separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord" (emphasis mine).

Since pre-Christians qualify as created beings and not separated from God, why are they getting stomped in the press?

Its a matter of perspective. What's the intended purpose? Is treading grapes punishing fruit or making wine? Vineyard owners don't throw just any old grapes in the press, unless they're making junk (which God never does). They carefully tend and cultivate their vines in order to produce the best grapes possible. Jesus said that rivers of living water are inside of us just waiting to be released. Christians know this normally occurs under pressure, so what about the unbelieving grapes?

How many people do you know surrendered to Christ's lordship because everything was going great and they were at the top of their game? Believers don't cherish the "dying daily" that removes blockages hindering the flow of living waters. Does God only reserve this process for Christians?

What if the wrath of God isn't designed to destroy individuals but the things in their lives preventing them from being all He's planned them to be which is sons of God? What if the fury of His wrath isn't a display of intense anger and hatred for the person but is His single-minded focus to eliminate in them anything that's not of Him?

If I told you that I was tackling this writing assignment with a vengeance, would you expect to see me storming around the house in a furious frenzy? It I told you I was hitting the books to prepare for a class, do I mean I am physically pounding on my laptop (my textbooks are electronic) in order to absorb the material? I hope not. These are just expressions describing concentrated effort at the task at hand.

"For God didn't send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that by Him the world may be saved, John 3:17.

This doesn't sound like the heart or actions of an angry God at all. It's the picture of the Creator reclaiming his creation.

How about you? When you read verses such as Rev. 19:15, what images pop up in your mind? How do they mesh with John 3:17 or even the portrayal of the Father of the Prodigal Son? How would it feel to discover that God isn't angry...at all...at anyone? Would you feel more comfortable around your Heavenly Father if you knew He wasn't mad at you or anyone else or would you be disappointed?