Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Same Story, Different Endings

"He will turn the hearts of the fathers to their children, and the hearts of the children to their fathers; or else I will come and strike the land with a curse" Mal. 4:6 (emphasis mine).

The last verse of the Old Testament ends on an ominous note. It's as if we're given an ultimatum. Not so in the Tanach, the Jewish Old Testament which ends very differently. Second Chronicles is the last book in the Tanach and its last verse contains an invitation to come and rebuild the Temple.

"Thus says Cyrus king of Persia: Hashem, God of Heaven, has given me all the kingdoms of the earth, and He has commanded me to build Him a temple in Jerusalem, which is in Judah. Whoever is there among you of His people - may Hashem His God be with him, and let him go up!" 2 Chron. 36:23.

Similar to the end of Revelation, the Jewish Old Testament ends with a call to return to God and with words of hope - not gloom and doom. Interesting. What's particularly fascinating is that God gave Cyrus, a Gentile king, the mandate to rebuild the Temple, not the Jewish religious elite. From the Bible we know that only a small portion of the exiles elected to leave Babylon to join the reconstruction program.

As a result of their rebellion against Babylonian rule, the Jews saw their capital Jerusalem completely dismantled. Every building was leveled. Those returning faced harsh living conditions. There was no protective wall, and the only housing and businesses standing were those rebuilt and occupied by those left in the land after the exile. Still, for those who came back it was the fulfillment of  a cherished dream, "Next year in Jerusalem."

This scenario is a beautiful type and shadow of Christ's coming. Although Herod's magnificent temple was in place and Judaism was recognized by Rome things were a far cry from God's original intent. Most importantly, the Ark of the Covenant, the physical manifestation of the presences of God was missing. Without it, the temple was just an empty shell.

However, God showed up - in person - and spent most of His time outside the temple proper and none of it in the Holy of Holies. He was too busy roaming out among the people, both Jews and Gentiles. Jesus proceeded to dismantle the old way of relating to God and replaced it with something new and better. Once again, the King put out a call for volunteers to come and join a building program.

I marvel at the difference of the two Old Testament endings. To me, Christianity's version echoes the too familiar "conversion by threat" similar to Islam's "conversion by the sword." The Jewish translation closes with an invitation to a co-operative effort between Jews and Gentiles to rebuild God's house. I like their's better.

How about you? Which ending, from an evangelistic standpoint, would be more inviting? Which end do you think more accurately reflects God's heart toward mankind? Which of the two are you more comfortable with?

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

When Did We?

"...Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you; or thirsty and we gave you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or need clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?" Matt. 25:37.

Both the sheep and the goats were baffled. When had they encountered the Lord and had opportunity to minister to Him? Jesus' description of receiving personal attention revolved around mundane tasks. He didn't mention pulpit ministry, evangelistic crusades, bible studies, worship services or marathon all-night prayer meetings. These are all good when the motive behind them is right and God is directing the action. But, none of these made the list.

The goats couldn't honestly recall any such events because there weren't any. Maybe, if Jesus showed up with neon arrows pointing Himself out, they'd have responded...perhaps. He was present in the hungry, thirsty, sick, naked and imprisoned, but to the goats, they and the Lord were invisible. Why?

The goats may have been preoccupied with their own situation, which is easy enough to do. If they were looking for good returns on capital outlays, which isn't a bad thing in and of itself, these categories have nothing to offer.

Just as flummoxed were the sheep. They too missed the Lord when they ministered to the needy. Not interested in gaining recognition or favor, the sheep did what appeared to be the only logical response to the situation. They gave, and with no strings attached.

Both groups were repaid in kind for their investments. The goats gave nothing and received nothing in return. The sheep on the other hand were rewarded with more than then cost of any personal inconvenience suffered.

What strikes me most is the sheep's utter amazement that they'd been ministering to Jesus all along. They're actions weren't spectacular, but were the humane response to someone in a jam. They may have assumed that anyone faced with someone in crisis would have acted the same way. They were mistaken.

Sometimes it's hard to believe that our life counts for anything, let alone making an impact for the Kingdom of God. Most believers won't have their names recorded in the annuals of church history. Our lives and contributions will be recognized and remembered by few if at all. We'll come and go and hardly anyone will notice...but. The One Who matters doesn't miss a thing. To Him, little things mean a lot.

How about you? When was the last time you may have unconsciously ministered to Jesus? Can you make kindness and generosity a game of Treasure Hunt? How often can you find Christ disguised as someone in need that you can help? This can be the most fun you'll ever have.

p.s. Hope you enjoyed the vintage Keith Green video. I date myself by including it here.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

The Hardest Parable

Jesus told his disciples, "There was a rich man whose manager was accused of wasting his possessions. So he called him in and asked him, 'What is this that I hear about you? Give an account of your management, because you cannot be a manager any longer.'" 
Luke 16:1-2.

I confess, this parable always had me stumped. Author Robert Farrar Capon calls it "the hardest parable." Space doesn't permit me to share all his insights, but I'll blend a little of his with a dash of my own and maybe the mix will be more than duck soup. To begin with, Capon equates Jesus with the manager in question.

The opening lines of the story are what tripped me up. I assumed the manager was a crook. However, it says he was accused of being corrupt, but not that he actually was. I see this portion of the parable centering around the relationship between Jesus and the religious establishment, who considered themselves the masters of all things concerning God. Just like the manager in the story, Jesus refused to defend himself of the charges leveled against Him while He stood before the High Priest.

Jesus, the upstart young whippersnapper had the audacity to refer to God as Father...even worse, as His Father. Rather than curry their favor and good graces by promoting the establishment's agenda, Jesus wasted time with the people. All kinds of people. Many the likes of whom they'd wouldn't be caught dead with. Bottom line-He had to go. Jesus couldn't care less. He was on a mission from the real Master - His Heavenly Father. His methodology was more in line with a shrewd businessman than a theologian.

Bill collectors are hired to recoup unpaid debts. One way this is accomplished is to arrange settlements for less than the amount owed. The creditor doesn't suffer a total loss, the bill is cleared off the books and both sides now start over with a clean slate.

Jesus, playing the role of the shrewd manager, approached humanity on our level. He offers mankind a deal that's too good to pass up. It's ridiculously unfair and one sided. We don't have to do anything but accept that He's already squared the books with Father God. It's a win-win. We are back in relationship with God (we always were but didn't realize it) Who gets back what was stolen from Him and Jesus has a cadre of BFF's. Everyone is happy. Well almost everyone. The religious establishment wasn't thrilled. The One who really counts is ecstatic and that's all that matters.

As a master storyteller, Jesus crafted the gospel in terms that the business world with its focus on profit, loss and the bottom line could easily comprehend. It's a brilliant approach to reach a segment of the population often ignored. The real Master's delight over the shrewd manager's creative solution that averted a total loss mirrors our Father's enthusiastic endorsement of the plan of salvation. No one could possibly afford to pay for their sins, so Christ did it for us. Now we, who believed we are estranged from God, discover we're not and that He's overjoyed to have our company back again. Things are as they should always have been.

How about you? How have you interpreted this parable? What do you think of Jesus' application of business principles to the Kingdom's method of operation? Intent on reaching everyone, Jesus spoke in terms each segment of the population can understand. What creative ways can you think of to share God's great news with others?

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

The Triple Crown

"So Judas came to the grove, guiding a detachment of soldiers and some officials from the chief priests and Pharisees" John 18:2.

To arrest one unarmed man this was overkill; an excessive use of force. However, Jesus was no ordinary individual.

The detachment of soldiers numbered around six hundred fully decked out highly trained military men. According the Mark, those sent by the religious leaders came with clubs and swords. These two groups, with the addition of Judas represented an unholy trinity of world powers: government, religion and humanity all aligned with a single purpose. Get rid of Jesus. Sound familiar?

In reality this wasn't even a contest or a fair fight. Unruffled by the appearance of the wannabe rulers, Jesus calmly and casually inquired, "Hey guys, who ya lookin' for?" as if He didn't already know.

"Jesus of Nazareth."

"I am He."

These simple words sent this entire crowd flat on their well padded hind quarters. What would have occurred if He summoned up the angel army or raised the "finger of God?"

I can imagine He may have been amused at the sight. Once again he asked The Dazed and Confused, "Who'd ya say you were lookin' for?" To their relief and amazement, He surrendered without resistance.

Delaying the inevitable would have dire consequences. There was a party in the works and Jesus was determined that it wouldn't start even one minute late. The next few hours would be murder, literally. The pain and suffering - unimaginable. He would take the worst man had to dish out and all of their sins. His physical, emotional and spiritual mettle would be strained to the snapping point. However, He had a weapon that no one counted on...joy.

"Who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame" Heb. 12:2.

Finally man would have concrete evidence of the sacrifice of the Lamb made before creation's foundations were laid. This wasn't an after thought to solve the problem of man's sin, but was a plan concocted before the very formative stages of creation. The dilemma was solved before it ever surfaced. Christ died for us before we had the chance to mess things up royally. We were already reconciled with God. Time to demonstrate this truth in the natural and then, let the party begin.

So, what's this got to do with the Triple Crown which is the biggest annual event in U.S. horseracing? Comprised of three races: the Kentucky Derby, the Preakness Stakes and the Belmont Stakes, since it's inception only twelve horses have managed to win them all and earn the Triple Crown. Actually, the horse get a big flower wreath and a wonderful retirement package on a stud farm, not some gold ring around its head.

Jesus ran his own version of the Triple Crown challenge. Unlike the horses that rest after each week, Jesus completed His course in a matter of hours. He racked up an impressive three victories over the world, religious governmental systems and humanity- something never achieved since. He is the Ultimate Triple Crown Winner.

How about you? How would you describe what Jesus was up against in the garden? What do you think of His generous restraint of power? Why didn't He demonstrate wrathful revenge then or from the cross? What does this tell us about His confidence in His position as King of Kings and Lord of Lords or that we can be sure the party started on time?

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

God's Multi-Dimensional Personality

"The Kingdom of Heaven is like yeast that a woman took and mixed into a large amount of flour until it worked all through the dough" Matt. 13:33

By now The Shack is no longer in theaters and hopefully, the furor surrounding it has subsided. For the record, I saw it and thoroughly enjoyed it. Paul Young is a good fiction writer who did an amazing job describing his personal healing journey. Done, not as a doctrinal or theological treatise, but in response to his wife's request, he penned something special for their children. She had in mind an essay, he wrote a book.

Never intended for publication, The Shack is an example of how to do everything wrong to publish and market a book and accidentally wind up with a bestseller. Since its release and now that of the movie, lines of demarcation have been drawn over issues it raises. One in particular is the depiction of God as a black woman! Perish the thought (and she doesn't speak the King's English either). Paul Young, however, wasn't the first person to describe God in a feminine form. Jesus beat him to the punch.

I owe some of these insights to Robert Farrar Capon and his book Kingdom, Grace, Judgment: Paradox, Outrage and Vindication in the Parables of Jesus. It's his examination of the Parable of the Leaven that captured my attention and got the wheels of my thought processes spinning.

"Let is simply be noted in passing that the surrogate for God in this parable is a woman. Set that down with Jesus calling Himself a mother hen."

Capon elaborates. The woman isn't a typical housewife crafting a few loaves of artisanal bread for a dinner party. This lady is a commercial baker doing what has in the past been considered men's work.

The measure of flour (sáta) used is equivalent to ninety pounds. Add in approximately forty-two cups of water and you'll have just over one hundred pounds of bread dough. I've seen bakers mix this amount of ingredients using heavy duty mixers. Doing this by hand would be a daunting task, which is her methodology.

Capon's main point wasn't that God was portrayed as a female baker, but in light of the uproar of Paul Young's depiction of God as a woman, it's not as out in left field as his critics contend. It's ironic that the initial encounter with the protagonist of The Shack and God involves bread making.

"So God created man in his own image, in the image of God He created Him, male and female He created them" Gen. 1:27.

God is spirit, neither male nor female, but He's free to reveal Himself anyway He chooses. For those with father issues like Paul Young, God took a more maternal approach to help him work through his painful, traumatic past. It was successful and that's what's important.

In addition, the name of God El Shaddai means the All Breasty One which is the picture of a nursing mother. Proverbs describes Wisdom as a woman with God at Creation. Jesus is the Creator and is also called our Wisdom. The word used for Holy Spirit in the Genesis account of creation is in the female form. Apparently, God doesn't mind being associated with either sex since He made them both.

How about you? Does the idea of God portrayed in a feminine role grate on your nerves like fingernails on a chalkboard? Do you find it uncomfortable or strange that Jesus used women as symbols for God in the Parables of the Leaven and the Lost Coin or likened Himself to a mother hen? Based on your past, could you relate to God easier at times from a motherly perspective as opposed to a fatherly one? God desires healing and intimacy with all creation and He'll go to extraordinary lengths to make it happen.