Monday, February 28, 2011

FATHER'S RULES

“Listen carefully to me,” said the father to his children. “This bull is a dangerous animal. As long as it stays in the fenced area and you stay out, you will be safe. If you leave the gate open it will escape. This bull will harm you if it has the opportunity.”

The wide-eyed children nodded respectfully at their father’s instruction. They had no reason to doubt their father’s word or assume to know better than he. Still, the potential for disobedience and horrible consequence was an everyday reality for the children.

Consider the father’s perspective on the law he was giving to the children. He loves them deeply and knows the consequences of letting the bull have its way. The children listen to the father; perhaps with a mix of fear and curiosity. Disobeying their father would lead to certain consequence. An encounter with the bull could be deadly. And so, the children obey… until their Frisbee enters the bull’s fenced area.

Now the law is no longer a question of protection, but a barrier to their fun. Father is not within eyesight. The bull is at the far end of the enclosure. The Frisbee is just over the fence. What would you do?

We have no problem siding with the father’s concern for the safety and well-being of his children. But we have all been the child thinking we can get away with breaking the law. Jesus taught the world how we are to approach the Law that our Father has given.

Matthew 5:
17 “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. 18 For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished.


Jesus stands up and proclaims something higher than the Law. He calls it ‘The Kingdom of God’. It is His central message and it extends beyond the mindset of Judaism. God is taking His Law and imparting it to His children in radical, new ways. Life in God’s Kingdom is a return to the Father’s heart for the children; and vice versa.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

A STRONG GOD FOR WEAK MEN

What does your success fantasy look like? When you find yourself working too hard at God’s work, what is that you are striving for? From which planet did God bring you to save this one?

In 1989, Jim Bakker was sentenced to 45 years in prison on fraud related charges.  In the flyleaf of his book ‘I Was Wrong’, it describes how Bakker came to a deeper understanding of Jesus in prison.

‘And in his deepest need, he discovered that the upbeat slogans and pat solutions that he had so successfully offered on television were useless to sustain him through his unrelenting shame and grief.
Inmate Bakker, convicted felon, found in prison what Jim Bakker the preacher and television personality never could.  He found fellowship with a different sort of God—One who could identify with poverty and pain.
Stripped of all power and subjected to the daily humiliations of prison life, Bakker was compelled to embrace the whole of God’s message—not just the ‘feel good’ parts.  God showed Bakker that intimacy with Him was far more important than frenetic work for God.‘

Jim Bakker enjoyed a measure of public popularity that most of us would not gain in twenty lifetimes. It took his complete failure and humiliation to introduce him to the Strong God who lives among weak men.

I want to live healthy in a success-sickened world. Remaining healthy requires that I take strong note of my weakness and God’s strength. The prophet Isaiah had a message for people who had reached a breaking point in their struggle.

Isaiah 40
1 Comfort, comfort my people, says your God. 
2 Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and proclaim to her that her hard service has been completed, that her sin has been paid for, that she has received from the Lord 's hand double for all her sins. 

Against the instincts of an outspoken preacher, God instructs Isaiah to speak tenderly a message of comfort and restitution. For the sinful failings and difficult faith journey they had been on, God speaks about forgiveness and the end of hardship.

Have you found yourself wearing out and growing unhealthy in your work for the Lord? The starting point of your renewal is your discomfort. It is in the place of pain and discomfort that our previous God seems too small. Or is it that God is not small enough to join our team of ninety-pound weaklings?

Surprisingly, God is best known in human desolation, not human achievement and strength. The desert theme of John the Baptist speaks of a level path through the desert. In your wilderness, John says prepare for God.

You will never find Jesus so precious as when the world is one vast howling wilderness.  Then he is like a rose blooming in the midst of the desolation, a rock rising above the storm.
... Robert Murray M'Cheyne (1813-1843)

Thursday, February 24, 2011

L-A-W-

Why do we wrestle with the implications of God’s Law?  What are we missing? 

Theologically, we can explain that we do not need to observe the Ceremonial Law and many of the lifestyle laws from Moses’ time.  But Jesus goes deeper into the heart of Law. 

He presents God’s Law as good seed ready to impregnate hearts where it can grow into God’s Kingdom.  Right at the gates of God’s Kingdom there is a terrible realization that we are incapable of personal righteousness.  Only God can grow His goodness through us.  It is a sorry surrender and a glorious passage into grace. 

We do not need to make excuses any longer for the impossibility of keeping God’s Law.  We surrender to God’s Law being written personally into our hearts.  We cannot measure progress in this by comparing ourselves to the community.  The Law of God is about something other than what we have thought.

We need to talk more about this, don’t we?  Let me conclude this thought by suggesting an acronym that identifies what we may not have heard about God’s Law. 

L – A – W – 

The letter ‘L’ reminds us that God’s Law is entirely birthed and expressed through His Love.  To a nation of slaves without a positive identity or self-sustaining way of life God spoke through Moses and gave them a rulebook to build a nation on.  God’s Love provided His people with an identity and values that would set them on the path of blessing and legacy.

The letter ‘A’ speaks to the Attributes of God’s Character.  His Law reminds us of His justice, mercy, love, thoughtfulness and holiness.  To a humanity created in God’s image, the Law gets to the heart of what it means to live in His household.  God’s nature is expressed through love; all of His characteristics emanate from His love.

The letter ‘W’ reminds us of God’s Wisdom.  Like a Father who provides a disciplined structure and life in which to love his children, God mentors His Law into our daily lives.  As we learn submission and obedience to the Father’s Will, we discover the true intentions He has.  Obedience brings security and blessing.

Disobedience brings correction and the love of a Father who respects the free will of a child and waits for their awakening to wisdom. 

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

THERE'S A NEW SHERIFF IN TOWN

Movies about the Wild West often feature a new sheriff or Law man who comes to restore order and justice to the unruly town.  Jesus entered the domain of Judaism where a group of townsmen called Pharisees had established their own style of justice and oppression.

If we are to make sense of Christian thought, we need to go back to our Teacher.  Jesus was politically incorrect for much of the surrounding religion and culture. 

The Pharisees accused him of being a lawbreaker and son of the Devil.  At the same time, Jesus called people to live by a higher standard than the politically acceptable observance of Jewish law.  Let us explore Jesus’ teaching about the Law of God. 

Luke 16:
16 “The Law and the Prophets were proclaimed until John. Since that time, the good news of the kingdom of God is being preached, and everyone is forcing their way into it. 17 It is easier for heaven and earth to disappear than for the least stroke of a pen to drop out of the Law.

Israel lived in a paradigm of thought based on their Scriptures.  The Mosaic Law contained in the first five books of the Bible gave them rules to live by.  The prophets gave them corrective motivation and insight into God’s demand on their obedience to the Law.

The ministry of John the Baptist brought a final expression to the Law of God.  He called people to repentance and right relationship with God.  But the mustard seed of John’s message was now being put in the ground and growing into a new tree called ‘The Kingdom of God’.

Jesus stands up and proclaims something higher than the Law.  He calls it ‘The Kingdom of God’.  It is His central message and it extends beyond the mindset of Judaism. 

Those who enter the Kingdom are ‘forcing their way into it’.  This is not a self-seeking, power grab spoken of here.  The idea of violence and force speaks to the upheaval of a paradigm shift.  The Kingdom of God is being seized and grasped by people who are desperate for something better.

To a Jew, what was better than the Law?  It was an offensive suggestion that anything could be holier than God’s past message.  Jesus is not calling for an overthrow of the Law, but a fulfillment of it. 

Contrary to the fans and critics of Jesus, He was not abolishing the Law.  It would be easier to destroy the Universe than to ‘unsay’ what God had proclaimed. 

To the serious followers of the Law, Jesus is challenging their ability to obey it.  Not only were people missing the point of God’s decrees and policies, they had tripled the load of law-keeping for their followers.  Too much commentary without enough listening—they were playing the game of cosmic telephone.  As God’s Law was passing from one to the next, it was being diluted and polluted beyond recognition.  Jesus announces the Kingdom of God where everyone must learn to listen to God again.

To the ones who saw Jesus as a rebel overthrowing the Establishment, He offers a disappointing message.  God’s Law was not going away.  Entering the Kingdom of God would hurt intensely.  The archaic and threatening Law of God would no longer be the property of lawyers and religious cops.  It would become a living message written on the hearts of people. 

Jesus would teach a new understanding of Law that you couldn’t bluff your way through.  Conformity to Jewish culture would now become a complete invasion of your private world.  The Kingdom of God will demand a violent interruption into ‘business as usual’.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

THE POLITICALLY INCORRECT GOD

We are arrogant to ever think that our philosophy and worldview are unchanging.  Everyone has politics—ideas that shape their choices and identify them with a larger community. 

So, how can an apolitical God ever be acceptable to a political people?  How can God followers hope to survive a world that changes its politics with regularity?  There are some critical ideas in Scripture that are unavoidably offensive to people; ideas that Paul said make the gospel a stumbling block or offense to the world. 

Here are a few hot spots in the values clarification of both saints and sinners.  (Oops!  Did I just use two words that do not fit in the p.c. lexicon?)
·         Sin
·         Blood sacrifice
·         Limiting God’s identity to the Godhead
·         Authority of our Scriptures
·         Israel as God’s chosen nation
·         The Law of God
·         Judgment
·         Punishment
·         Hell and damnation
·         Repentance
·         Crucifixion
·         Christ has risen
·         Christ will come again

Friday, February 18, 2011

THE DILEMMA OF POLITICAL CORRECTNESS

In weather patterns, storms occur at the meeting point of two air masses.  A high pressure and a low pressure area collide with dramatic effects. 

Two opposing tribes also experience border clashes or civil wars at the intersection of their lives.  Do you ever wonder about the storms and border clashes occurring in your life?

The Christian faith has an influence in the culture.  Jesus called us to be salt and light.  But, I suppose the converse is also true—the culture shapes the Church.  If there is a scale to measure influence, I wonder which party has more influence over the other.

In the age of political correctness, we are constantly learning a new vocabulary.  We stop using words and ideas that may be offensive.  The goal is to teach us greater sensitivity and tolerance by preferring language and public policies that give more dignity to commonly held ethics.

As a follower of Jesus, I have some thoughts about political correctness:

1.       Jesus and the Scriptures must shape me more than the ideologies and values of the surrounding culture.  I cannot be politically correct when the value conflicts with my faith.

2.       My ideal is to live by the law of love.  That informs my speech, behavior and ideas.  In that way I have a margin for political correctness.

3.       Theology cannot be rooted in political correctness, but it can be expressed with sensitivity.  Theology must be rooted in revelation more than its fit into our experience. 

Each follower of Jesus from every generation and culture needs to develop an understanding of God based in what God has revealed consistently throughout history.  It must then be taught in the context of the learner.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

GOD'S PERFECT TIMING

The years of Christ’s earthly ministry came at a strategic time.  Judaism was ripe for an emphasis on the personal relationship that God desires to have with His People.  Other religious revivals of that time tended to be elitist and required people to put on their best performance for God.  


Jesus came with the good news for people who were incapable of a perfect performance.

The world of that day was uniquely prepared to spread the gospel.  Alexander The Great’s conquests had given the ancient world Greek as a common language, thus breaking down the language barrier that kept communities separated.  The gospel had a language to reach to the ends of the earth.  Rome’s conquests had provided a road system which meant the early missionaries could get to far-off places and spread the good news.

As I reflect on the past year at New Song Church, I see God’s perfect timing at work.  We have had several new people come to Christ and begin their shared journey with us.  He has taught us the common language of love and helped us build roads of ministry that join together the varied communities of ministry growing in New Song Church.

Monday, February 14, 2011

LITTLE FOXES


The devotion between Solomon and his lover is an epic romance filled with desperate longing and poetic tributes.  We are reminded of the passion that bonds a man and woman.  




Marriage can be a picture of Jesus and the Church.  There is a delicate balance to maintaining a healthy marriage.

She said:

Song Of Solomon 2:
14 My dove in the clefts of the rock,
       in the hiding places on the mountainside,
       show me your face,
       let me hear your voice;
       for your voice is sweet,
       and your face is lovely.
 15 Catch for us the foxes,
       the little foxes
       that ruin the vineyards,
       our vineyards that are in bloom.

The gentleness of Jesus is a hidden presence that must be sought out.  She asks her lover to catch the little foxes that ruin the good things that are growing.  In the life of a group of Christ followers, there are offenses and attitudes which will ruin the good things that God intends to grow.  The Holy Spirit is at work to help us see the ‘little foxes’ and catch them before they cause further destruction.

Moving forward, our love for Jesus will experience greater fruitfulness for having tended the vineyard. 



Saturday, February 12, 2011

THE OBVIOUSNESS OF LIGHT

On my cell phone there is a tiny light that pulses if I have a new email message.  When my laptop is on standby with the lid down, there is a tiny blue light that pulses to remind me that the computer is on and ready to be awakened.

Either of these tiny lights can be a deterrent to sleep in our bedroom.  Light sensitivity is enhanced in the darkness of the room.  A simple little flicker is enough to catch the attention of half shut eyes.  One of the extra cushions is placed over the phone or the laptop to block the soft glow and restore the darkness.

Luke 8:
 16 “No one lights a lamp and hides it in a clay jar or puts it under a bed. Instead, they put it on a stand, so that those who come in can see the light. 17 For there is nothing hidden that will not be disclosed, and nothing concealed that will not be known or brought out into the open. 18 Therefore consider carefully how you listen. Whoever has will be given more; whoever does not have, even what they think they have will be taken from them.”

When you want to see, it helps to have light.  As I get older, I notice how much more important well-placed light is.  A reading lamp makes it easier to consume that book.

The presence of Jesus illuminates our lives.  Light exposes all things helping us to know the truth.  Jesus reminds us that light is meant to be obvious and well-placed.  Where has God put you?  Have you bemoaned the darkness that surrounds you?

God needs us to shine with His presence in dark places.  God’s light is either increasing or diminishing in you.  When you have light, it seems to lead to more light.  When your light is going out, there is an increase of darkness.

How obvious is the light of Jesus in your life?  Have you felt that you should hide it to avoid offending the darkness around you?  Apparently, the opposite is true.  Darkness is not offended, it is eliminated.  Jesus lives in you to eliminate darkness in and around you.  The tiniest spark of light wins over darkness every time.

Stop hiding it.  Jesus is obvious. 

Thursday, February 10, 2011

SALT

An inquirer reportedly asked a late first-century rabbi what to salt tasteless salt with; he responded, "The afterbirth of a mule". In that society everyone knew that mules are sterile; the point is, "You ask a stupid question, you get a stupid answer. Salt can't stop being salt!" But of course if it were to do so, it would no longer be of any value as salt.[i]

But, can we lose the good that God does in us?  Can we lose the vital flavor of God’s presence?

Jesus said that a good reward would come from hardship and suffering when we are identified with Him.  What does suffering with Jesus produce in us?  John Piper said, “The saltiness is the taste of joy in hardship. This is unusual life that the world can taste as different.” [ii]

The taste of joy in hardship—have you experienced that?  It is very rare.  It is the flavor that a world in struggle needs.  How can we find joy in the midst of struggle and sorrow?  If we become like Jesus, we will bring the taste of Jesus to others. 

Jesus said,
Luke 14:
 34 “Salt is good, but if it loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? 35 It is fit neither for the soil nor for the manure pile; it is thrown out. “Whoever has ears to hear, let them hear.”

There is a flavor to be gained by following Jesus.  Your transformed life becomes a gift to a bland world.  The salt in you is a preservative and a healing agent.  But there are other things going in our lives as well.

Salt losing its saltiness is a metaphor based upon the salt commonly used in Jesus' day, which was not a pure product at all, but mixed with other elements. If the true salt had been leached out, only a worthless residue was left, a perfect metaphor of the Christian who has lost his identity with the Lord.’  [iii]

There is nothing more bland and useless than a Christian who is not following Jesus.  The vital presence has disappeared and the leftover elements of their life cannot be recycled.  There is no fitting place for a Jesus follower who stops following.  Jesus wants us to hear the message that our lives will not make sense if separated from Him.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

ON THE COUCH IN JESUS' OFFICE

Imagine the nation of Israel as a patient on the couch of the Mighty Counselor Jesus.  The nation is in a state of identity crisis.  They had not successfully transitioned from their previous stage of development.  Israel was an oppressed people with four hundred years of silence from God. 

To a nation deeply rooted in its past experience, Jesus spoke of a Kingdom being unveiled today and into their future.  He spoke much of the old passing and the new coming.  To a people who had lost their identity, Jesus gave hope for a new kind of future.  The present and coming troubles would be rich in meaning as they opened a road to their destiny. 

Who are you Israel?  Who are you meant to be? 

Matthew 5:
 11 “Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. 12 Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.
13 “You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled underfoot.
14 “You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. 15 Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. 16 In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.

You are destined to be salt in a world that needs your flavor.  You are to glow in a world of darkness.  That is your future. 

Why are there insults, persecution and slander to those who side with Jesus?  Beneath the surface of humanity a battle of Kingdoms rages.  The Kingdoms of this world challenge the One who will unravel their web of power.  To follow Jesus requires you to break allegiance with the enemies and competitors for God’s throne.

It is precisely the difficulties that come from following a revolutionary King with a new system of government.  Your future reward is intricately linked to this battle against darkness.  The prophets of God suffered at the hands of people who rejected the overthrow of their personal and national darkness.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

BEYOND THE IDENTITY CRISIS

“You are just like your father.” 

“That sounds like something your mother would say.”

Are there stronger words to tie your present behavior to your past history?  Often on the counselor’s couch troubled souls have looked back into childhood to uncover how present behaviors and attitudes were formed.  Why do we often look into childhood to explain our current difficulties?

Eric Erikson was a noted psychologist known for his theory on social development in human beings.  He believed that we pass through nine stages of life from birth to death.  To develop and mature normally we must complete the challenges of a stage before we enter the next. 

Erikson coined the phrase ‘identity crisis’.  It is defined as ‘distress and disorientation resulting from conflicting pressures and uncertainty about one’s self and one’s role in society.  [i]

Before we spend the money on psychoanalysis, let’s consider a startling perspective; what if you are defined more by your destiny than by your past?  What if your future affects you more than your history?   

Your struggle to cope with yourself may be tied to embracing what you are becoming—more than what you are unbecoming. 

This sounds surprisingly like the good news Jesus preached. 


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