Monday, August 31, 2009

DISAPPOINTMENT FOR THE BUTT KICKERS


It was the Sabbath day in Nazareth and people had gathered at the Synagogue. Three and four generations of family members assembled together perpetuating the weekly reminder that they were God’s people called out to serve Him.


It was required that there would be at least ten adult males present. Check – a quorum of Jewish men were present.[i] Among the crowd that day were members of the family of Joseph and Mary.


The meeting began with a recitation of the Shema.


Deuteronomy 6:4-9 (NIV)

4 Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. 5 Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. 6 These commandments that I give you today are to be upon your hearts. 7 Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. 8 Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. 9 Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates.


This was the daily prayer of the faithful. The Shema was the mission statement of the community; from the early memory verses of children to the dying words of the old.


The scrolls of the Torah were opened and a passage was read. These were the holy words of Moses given to understand their origins, their Law and the requirements of GOD.


Now it was time for a reading from the prophets. Jesus of Nazareth was a reputable young man who had grown up attending this synagogue with his family. It was his turn to read and to provide a teaching based on the reading.


Luke 4:

17The scroll of the prophet Isaiah was handed to him. Unrolling it, he found the place where it is written:
18"The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, 19to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor."

20Then he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and sat down. The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on him,21and he began by saying to them, "Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing."


Jesus had read a passage from Isaiah 61. In fact, it was a very short reading. Not only brief in length, he cut it off mid-sentence and pronounced that these words were fulfilled today in their presence.


The remainder of the service would prove to be highly unusual as opinions divided on Jesus’ teaching of the passage. We will look at his explanation of the passage later, but for our present thoughts we want to explore his partial quoting of Isaiah 61 and the fulfillment he proclaimed.


Isaiah 61:2 says, “to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor and the day of vengeance of our God.’


Jesus read it and drops the last part of the sentence about the day of vengeance. He says, ‘to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.’


John Piper asks:


Why didn't Jesus finish the sentence? Because there is a mystery about his coming, namely, that it is a two-act drama. The Old Testament prophets (like Isaiah) saw the drama whole and didn't separate the two acts by centuries. They anticipate salvation and judgment together. The year of liberation and the day of vengeance were all one.[ii]


Jesus had announced that a new day had dawned on the world. The day of liberation had arrived. When the Messiah would come it was anticipated that the liberation would happen simultaneous to God’s vengeance on the sinners who oppressed God’s people. But Jesus only mentions God’s favor and not His wrath.


Throughout Jesus’ ministry, he would emphasis the good news for all who would accept it. Here are a couple examples of Jesus identifying that his mission was about God’s acceptance and salvation and not to bring final judgment.


John 12:

47"As for the person who hears my words but does not keep them, I do not judge him. For I did not come to judge the world, but to save it. 48There is a judge for the one who rejects me and does not accept my words; that very word which I spoke will condemn him at the last day.


John 3:17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.


Until God finally judges the world, we live in a time of his grace and patience. The time of God’s favor is here in order that many can experience the salvation of God.



[i] John C. Purdy, http://www.religion-online.org/showchapter.asp?title=435&C=314 . To have a synagogue service required the presence of ten adult males. At the service, the Shema was recited (Deut 6:4-9), followed by prayers, including some set prayers like the Tephillah and the Eighteen Benedictions (m. Berakot 2:2). After this the Scripture was read, beginning with a portion from the Torah (Gen--Deut) and moving next to a section from the Prophets. Instruction then followed. Often the speaker linked the texts together through appeal to other passages. The service then closed with a benediction.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

FROM MINUTIA TO LIFE CHANGING QUANDARIES





Every day we have opportunity to accept or reject several times.


We are offered a slice of toast or bowl of cereal as we get ready to head out the door to start our workday. Accept or reject?


At a four-way stop sign, the other driver simultaneously arriving on your right waves you on. Will you accept his offer or insist on waving him on?


Your phone rings and call display shows the name of the caller. Will you accept or reject the call?


From minutia to life-changing quandaries, we make choices that sometimes cast votes on how we will make future decisions.


As we encounter the words of Jesus, we make a choice to accept Him in good faith or to turn away from Him. Often, His words will cause us to hold Him at arms’ length as we decide which way we want to go. Jesus brought a message of hope and good news. The question holds -- do we accept Him?


Brennan Manning says, ‘Faith is the courage to accept acceptance.’[i]


Through Jesus, God offers to accept us as sons and daughters. It takes courage to open ourselves to that kind of love.


Accept or reject?



[i] Brennan Manning, The Rabbi’s Heartbeat. Navpress 2003. p.20.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

REPENT FOR THE KINGDOM OF HEAVEN IS NEAR


While Matthew refers to ‘kingdom of heaven’, others refer to ‘kingdom of God’. In respect to a largely Jewish readership, Matthew may have been careful to not use ‘God’s name’. The Jews believed that God was so holy, that to utter His name would be dangerously disrespectful. This was based on the commandment to not take the Lord’s name in vain.


Matthew repeatedly uses language in his gospel that respects Jewish values.


For our understanding, ‘Kingdom of God’ and ‘Kingdom of Heaven’ are interchangeable. The ruler of Heaven is God. Therefore, the ‘Kingdom of Heaven’ is the reign of God.


‘Change your way of thinking continually because the reign of God is coming upon you.’


If God is the King, then who is Jesus? He is the prince that has come to do the King’s business. The Son of God has come to earth on a mission to save humanity from their sin.


The Kingdom of God values humanity. That is why we repent. We recognize that God loves us and does not want us to be destroyed. Our thoughts toward God must change.


Repentance is continual because the gospel teaches us how to live with Heaven’s values. Jesus taught the disciples to pray ‘let your Kingdom come here on earth, as it is in Heaven.’


If God’s ways are to be established in our lives, we must pray that it happen and align our thoughts with Jesus’ thoughts.


We are not simply voting ‘Jesus for president’ and then returning to our everyday lives. We are joining a revolution that requires us to lay down everything.


So Now What?


Professor Brian Russell says:


We live in a time of overlap between the present age and future reign of God. Biblical scholars often talk about the coming of God’s kingdom in terms of a tension between the “already” and the “not yet.” In other words, Jesus inaugurated the reign of God through his life, death, and resurrection, but its full consummation awaits a future date. God’s kingdom is present now wherever and whenever God’s will is done, but there still remains a day in which God will usher in God’s eternal reign and bring an end to the present age.[i]


Until God’s will is fully in control, we will keep repenting. We will keep aligning our lives with the values of God’s Kingdom.


The reoccurring message of Jesus remains. Repent for the kingdom of heaven is near.


Tuesday, August 25, 2009

IT'S THE CHRISTIAN'S PEROGATIVE TO CHANGE THEIR MIND





At the beginning of his three years of ministry touring, Jesus began repeating words that would characterize the call to his listeners. The theme of all his preaching would be centered in this one message –repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near.


Matthew 4:17 (NIV)

17From that time on Jesus began to preach, "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near."


It is implied that these words were the heading in which all other messages would follow.


The Greek word metanoia is used for repentance.


Metanoia is therefore primarily an after-thought, different from the former thought; a change of mind accompanied by regret and change of conduct, "change of mind and heart", or, "change of consciousness"[i]


To repent is to change your mind set. Your old thoughts on a matter are dismissed as invalid and replaced with new thoughts – new ways of thinking. This will change the values and conduct of the one repenting.


In the Greek, the verb is in the present aspect which suggests that this verbal form carries on-going/durative force. This is an important observation because it suggests that repentance is a way of life for a follower of Jesus rather than one time event or precondition for salvation.[ii]


We often think of repentance as being that searching moral inventory that leads a person to take the next step of converting to Christ. It is that and it is more. The disciple who follows Jesus will find themselves living a life of continual rethinking and alignment with God.


The verse could easily read ‘Keep repenting for the kingdom of heaven is near’.


Once you have trusted in Jesus to save you, repent regularly and thoroughly. Your salvation is established and now you need to allow God to change you continually.


Why? The Kingdom of heaven is near. We repent because the values of God’s Kingdom are coming.


Sunday, August 23, 2009

WHY JESUS WOULD NOT DO WELL AS A POLITICIAN





I am confused by politicians. They all believe that things will continue to get better if we follow their party and its values. In democracies, there are rarely unanimous votes of approval for one contender over another. Whoever wins, they begin their work to better the world while trying to remain popular and highly esteemed in the public eye.


They promise and they promise. The changes seldom come with any lasting improvement. The rich get richer and the poor are worse off. Every kingdom on earth eventually gets replaced.


Can you imagine if Jesus had chosen a political route to bring about change? If Jesus were a politician, he would need several platforms to his message. He would address the current problems facing the greatest number of citizens and preach a message on how he was going to change their world.


That is what politicians do. They lead you to believe that their party has the answers to solve problems and right the wrongs. His disciples had hoped he would establish himself as a politician. His enemies feared that he would establish himself as a king. Jesus was not a politician.


While he said and taught many things publicly, his message was too simple for politics. He was not reinforcing the blame nor making a power play for the throne. His message was not about these things.


At the beginning of his three years of ministry touring, Jesus began repeating words that would characterize the call to his listeners. The theme of all his preaching would be centered in this one message –repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near.


Matthew 4:17 (NIV)

17From that time on Jesus began to preach, "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near."


It is implied that these words were the heading in which all other messages would follow.



Friday, August 21, 2009

WHO TOOK THE COOKIE FROM THE COOKIE JAR?






There is an obnoxious kids' song entitled 'Who Took The Cookie From The Cookie Jar'. It is one of those repetitive songs that sticks in your head. It does not matter that I think of it as a stupid tune. It sticks like gum on a shoe. I have not heard it for thirty years.


The point of the song was to determine who stole the cookie. It asks and it blames and as ridiculous as the song was, I forget what the outcome was. Unfortunately, just remembering the song has replanted it firmly in my head and I will be stuck with it for the rest of the day.


GOD had a question for the first couple. Something was taken and GOD needed to hear their answer.


Genesis 3:11 And he said, "Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten from the tree that I commanded you not to eat from?"

12 The man said, "The woman you put here with me—she gave me some fruit from the tree, and I ate it."

13 Then the LORD God said to the woman, "What is this you have done?"
The woman said, "The serpent deceived me, and I ate."


Adam could have said, “I take full responsibility for what happened. I am to blame.” In the Kingdom of Love, that is the answer that we work on learning.


But, in the Kingdom of Fear we believe that we will avoid consequence if we can valiantly point to another as the cause of our failure.


Adam says, “The woman you put here with me – she gave me some fruit from the tree, and I ate it.” Adam is blaming God because He put the woman with him. Adam is blaming the woman because she gave him the fruit. And last on his list, he admits that he did in fact eat it. But, let it be made perfectly clear! He had no choice because of the way God and the woman set him up!


God asked two questions:

i. Who told you that you were naked?

ii. Have you done what I told you not to do?


Adam blames Eve, so God turns to Eve. “What have you done?”


Eve also seizes the fear-based tool called ‘blame’ and says the devil made me do it. She blames the devil for tricking her. In fact, the devil had made the suggestion that God did not really mean what He had said. Satan got her to think that there were hidden benefits to the sin, which God was not telling her about. But still, she resorted to blame instead of saying, “I take full responsibility for what happened. I am to blame.”



All blame is a waste of time. No matter how much fault you find with another, and regardless of how much you blame him, it will not change you. The only thing blame does is to keep the focus off you when you are looking for external reasons to explain your unhappiness or frustration. You may succeed in making another feel guilty of something by blaming him, but you won't succeed in changing whatever it is about you that is making you unhappy.

Wayne W. Dyer, "Your Erroneous Zones"


Wednesday, August 19, 2009

ISOLATION AND SOLITUDE


Genesis 3:9 But the LORD God called to the man, "Where are you?"

10 He answered, "I heard you in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked; so I hid."


Why do we go into hiding? Adam has the answer. “I was afraid… so I hid.”


Following Jesus is a journey from the Kingdom of Fear to the Kingdom of Love. Fear leads us to isolation to cope with shame. Love leads us to relationship to resolve shame.


There is a difference between isolation and solitude. Isolation involves protective hiding and avoidance because of fear, anger and discomfort. Isolation creates a smaller world for us and disconnects us from the answers we need.


Solitude on the other hand, involves choosing to be alone for the purpose of meeting with God and seeking answers from Him. Solitude allows us to pray and worship and can lead us to rest and peace.


Most people choose isolation before they choose solitude. It seems easier to run and hide than to rest and reflect.



Monday, August 17, 2009

READY OR NOT, HERE I COME


Genesis 3:8 Then the man and his wife heard the sound of the LORD God as he was walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and they hid from the LORD God among the trees of the garden.


There are no secrets hidden from God. While Adam and Eve had a localized sense of God’s Presence, He was there all the time. As they experienced the sounds of God coming through the Garden toward them, they instinctively ran and hid in the bushes. The fig leaves weren’t good enough. God was too smart for that and they knew it.


This new feeling called shame is overwhelming. It makes people slip into the shadows and move frantically to avoid relationship. We hide in shame from the ones who might see the truth about our sin.


Many people shrink back spiritually when their sinfulness overwhelms them. A man filled with rage and bitterness finds he cannot pray easily. A young adult decides to abandon faith because they cannot maintain celibacy. Why believe in a God who has asked you for obedience? It’s easier to abandon the relationship than to face your disobedience.


Have you felt the panic that shame brings? Has it caused you to go into hiding and isolation? This is part of the spiritual death that results from shame. We desperately want to avoid confrontation and exposure, especially if means disappointing another.



Saturday, August 15, 2009

FIG LEAF FASHION



Adam and Eve were the first people to play ‘hide and seek’ with God. It is an inherent pattern passed on from generation to generation.


Genesis 3:

6 When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it. She also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it.

7 Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they realized they were naked; so they sewed fig leaves together and made coverings for themselves.


Eve ate from ‘The Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil’. What God had forbid, she was led to do when the Devil tempted her. While most people think their sin won’t affect anyone else, it led to her husband also eating the fruit.


It’s interesting to note that Adam was not at the far end of the Garden when this happened. Verse six says he was with her when she sinned.


When we first sin, there is a sense of nakedness and vulnerability that was not there before. For the first time in their lives, they saw their nakedness as being wrong. Nakedness was not intended to be wrong, but sin caused a fear and awkwardness that made them want to cover themselves.


They sewed fig leaves together and made clothes. Sin convinced them that they were not good in their natural state. The ultimate creation was not good enough now.


Why fig leaves? Were they looking for camouflage? Did they feel diminished and want to blend into the surroundings instead of being the crowning achievement of creation?


When people sin, they will sew elaborate costumes to cover themselves. How do we try to cover up?


· Lying

· Denial

· Blame others

· Claim helplessness

· Hide behind good works

· Explain our sin as being a disease

· “I’m only human”


Fig leaves were not a lasting remedy for the premiere couple. It would take more to cover their fatal mistake.



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