Friday, May 31, 2013

HOLIER THAN THOU


Jesus really offended the Jews one day when He described himself as the Bread of Heaven that would satisfy their deepest hunger.







John 6:
41-42 At this, because he said, “I am the Bread that came down from heaven,” the Jews started arguing over him: “Isn’t this the son of Joseph? Don’t we know his father? Don’t we know his mother? How can he now say, ‘I came down out of heaven’ and expect anyone to believe him?”

Skandalon… How could they accept Jesus’ claim to be sent from Heaven? This was offensive to their minds. They knew his family and judged Jesus by their familiarity with his human connections. Jesus’ words were offensive because he was saying that he was ‘holier than thou’… legitimately!

Many today reject Christ because they associate Him only with the humans who claim to represent him. When you hear the world and many of Jesus’ followers mock and ridicule the shortcomings of the followers, be careful that you do not look at Jesus this same way. 

If you have more focus on the failure of his followers, it will eventually erode back to questioning the claims of Jesus. I would challenge the critics to begin looking for the followers who live humbly as the salt of the earth. How often do you pay attention to the expression of Jesus seen in them? The failure of followers can remind us that we still need to be saved from our own power games and high-mindedness.

Skandalon… When we live to find fault and discredit, we may miss out on God’s presence in our midst. 

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

SELF-MADE TRAP

Leviticus 19:
14 “‘Do not curse the deaf or put a stumbling block in front of the blind, but fear your God. I am the Lord.
  
In other words, don’t say bad things to people who cannot hear you, and do not trip blind people. Don’t you know that God is paying attention to your behavior?

Don’t set people up for a trap. But what about people who set their own traps and fall into them? What can we say about the man painting the floor that paints into a corner and cannot escape?




Paul talked about the offensiveness of the gospel to people whose criteria eliminate them from receiving the message of the Cross.


1 Corinthians 1:
22 Jews demand signs and Greeks look for wisdom, 23 but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, 24 but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. 25 For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength.


Some missed the point of the cross, because they were trapped into needing unmistakable miracles to validate belief. Others needed a philosophical system that explained every mystery and fit the logic of their minds. The cross is a stumbling block.

Skandalon… the Jews tripped over the cross, while the Greeks painted themselves into a corner that would not allow for higher wisdom than their own. But some, both Jews and Greeks experienced the power of God and wisdom found in Jesus.

Paul’s Gospel had teeth. It bit hard into the kingdom of darkness and ripped chunks from it wherever it came. He didn’t make his message smooth and soft in order to suit the fancies of the religious majority. His Gospel was a sharp word that exalted Christ, lifted the cross up high, proclaimed total commitment to Christ the King, and utterly stripped man of all self-reliance, shattering self-righteousness, tearing down false religion, and leaving men stripped bare before God in utter dependence on His free grace alone to save them. [i]


Jesus daily faced the reality of being offensive to people. Many of the people encountered wanted a leader with more power or a philosophy that would answer every question in a superior way.

There are still people who cannot fathom the gospel because of the criteria by which they measure themselves and the world around them. The gospel trips them up. It seems like a system that will trap them.

Saturday, May 25, 2013

TO CATCH A RABBIT


In Grade 3, I decided to grow a watermelon and catch a rabbit in my backyard. We lived in a row house in Galt, Ontario and had a tiny area behind the house. 

First, the watermelon… I took a seed from the piece of watermelon I had eaten and planted it near the back wall. Nothing came of it. I forgot that the lawn gets mowed. Sometimes we make plans and we do not account for all the factors that may work against us. Mine was a fruitless attempt.

Second, the rabbit… I carefully propped up one side of a cardboard box with a small stick. Under the box was a carrot. A piece of string joined the stick to my hand at a distance. 

Although I never caught a rabbit, I knew that a trap requires bait and a trigger mechanism.

I was frustrated in both attempts. I knew the ways, but did not have the patience and diligence to see it through. I gave up on becoming a gardener or trapper. 

If I had successfully caught a rabbit, what might it think? Imagine the bunny hopping into my backyard and spying the large, orange carrot. It’s initial joy (if rabbits have joy) at finding free food would have been replaced with sudden terror as the box came down around it. The rabbit would be trapped with no way out. Maybe my newly captured wild pet would be offended at this violation of its freedom. Perhaps it would kick and protest so violently that it would get free of the light cardboard box and fly away cursing at carrots.

Have you ever felt trapped into something? You were attracted to someone or something only to discover that there was a string attached. You could not have the person or object without releasing a trigger that would make you into a captive.

Sin and bad habits usually offer one thing and trap you unawares. That is what we mean when we say someone is ‘hooked on drugs’. They started out curious and ended up unable to get free of the pattern.

The Greeks had a word for the stick that triggered the trap. That word is skandalon.  

The Hebrew language also had another word mikshowl. Translated to Greek skandalon, it referred to a stumbling block. The Hebrew law included this one:

Leviticus 19:
14 “‘Do not curse the deaf or put a stumbling block in front of the blind, but fear your God. I am the Lord.

In other words, don’t say bad things to people who cannot hear you, and do not trip blind people. Don’t you know that God is paying attention to your behavior?

Saturday, May 18, 2013

KIDS THESE DAYS


What in our childish heart needs to be turned towards the Father? Biblical instruction toward children often focuses on becoming one who gives honour and learns obedience. 



An embittered child heart will choke on the idea of honoring those who brought you to life. Obedience is a dirty word that rings of oppression to the one who has a fear of submission.

Everywhere that sin rules, the family will suffer. Sin always erodes the parent-child connectedness. A heart that has been calloused by selfishness is ripe for divorce and estrangement. 

Elijah’s mission was that of restoring a child’s heart to the parent. When a parent offends and embitters a child, there is God’s anger to confront the parental figure. There is a millstone necklace with your name on it. Again, God’s desire is to help the parent restore love to the child rather than being destroyed by their own offensiveness. We who are parents need to be humble and repent to those we offend.

A child with a good heart is open to instruction from the parents. A good-hearted child of God’s Kingdom is willing to submit and obey both God and man. 

Where do we get the idea that submission and obedience are a violation of our rights? At the core, we are self-centered and resistant to love. This is what Elijah calls into question. What is the condition of your heart toward parental figures and toward your offspring? Do you know who your children are, both literal and figurative?

If we are to humble ourselves to see Jesus, we will let God soften our heart. We will become like the father who runs unashamedly to a returning prodigal. We will become like the son who longs for identity and belonging in the father’s house. The changed prodigal softens and surrenders to obedience. The humble child is open to the parents’ help.

Can you hear what the Spirit is saying to the Church?

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

YOU'RE JUST LIKE YOUR DAD


Stare into the biblical picture of a father and see what comes into focus. We see God the Father and His Son Jesus. We learn that God is also our Father. The ancestors of faith are called fathers. The chosen nation is known as the Children of Israel. The Church is referred to as the Father’s House. 




The heart of God is often described as that of a loving father toward children. Correction, judgment and instruction need to be filtered through an understanding of God’s essential love nature. Love brings order to chaos and creates potential. Love brings a deep sense of belonging.

The prophetic call for fathers of every context is to turn the heart toward the children. This is a call to the family unit and to the Church where spiritual fathers and mothers bear offspring.

So what is it in our hearts that needs changing toward children? How does our generational attitude toward next generation affect our willingness to see who Jesus is?

Elijah’s message calls people back to love like God does. God loves like a parent. Unless we have a heart that focuses toward the needs of the next generation, we have become calloused and will also miss Jesus’ arrival in our midst. You may have your experience of Jesus, but have you seen him at work in those who are younger? To be father-hearted requires us to play a role in the lives of others. A parent’s presence may instill security, direction and identity in the life of a child. Or parents can be brutal. What kind of parent will you be?

We need spiritual mothers and fathers who care for those who are young in the faith. Sometimes we do not turn our hearts in the direction of the people who need us, because we have not self-identified as a spiritual parent. Are you a spiritual father or an absent baby-daddy? As soon as your heart can turn like a loving parent, you are ready for Jesus.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

PARENT-CHILD STEREOGRAM


Stare into the biblical picture of parent and child. There is a deeper relationship that God desires for humanity. 


The prophet Malachi looked into the future and this is what he saw.




Malachi 4:
5 “See, I will send the prophet Elijah to you before that great and dreadful day of the Lord comes. 6 He will turn the hearts of the parents to their children, and the hearts of the children to their parents; or else I will come and strike the land with total destruction.”


Malachi saw that the ancient prophet Elijah was coming back. This powerful miracle worker from Hebrew history would reappear in time with a message that would change attitudes of parents and children.

If attitudes between generations do not change, total destruction will come. Was the real Elijah coming back from the dead? Or was it someone just like Elijah? Malachi saw a prophet coming who would address broken relationships between parent and child.

400 years later, a priest named Zechariah was in the Temple at Jerusalem saw the same picture.


Luke 1:
13 But the angel said to him: “Do not be afraid, Zechariah; your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you are to call him John. 14 He will be a joy and delight to you, and many will rejoice because of his birth, 15 for he will be great in the sight of the Lord. He is never to take wine or other fermented drink, and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit even before he is born. 16 He will bring back many of the people of Israel to the Lord their God. 17 And he will go on before the Lord, in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the parents to their children and the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous—to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.”


Zechariah and Elizabeth had a son who became known as John the Baptist. Zechariah saw that his boy would have the spirit and power of Elijah. The heart change between parents and children was necessary to prepare people for the coming One—the Messiah.

Later on a mountain, Peter, James and another disciple named John saw Jesus, Moses and Elijah clothed in light. The transfiguration prompted a discussion about what it meant to raise from the dead. Moses and Elijah represent the Law and the Prophets. They are gloriously connected to Jesus. As the conversation between Jesus and the disciples continued, the disciples raise an important question about Elijah.


Matthew 17:
10 The disciples asked him, “Why then do the teachers of the law say that Elijah must come first?”
11 Jesus replied, “To be sure, Elijah comes and will restore all things. 12 But I tell you, Elijah has already come, and they did not recognize him, but have done to him everything they wished. In the same way the Son of Man is going to suffer at their hands.” 13 Then the disciples understood that he was talking to them about John the Baptist.


Are you staring into the picture here? Malachi says Elijah is coming back. Zechariah has a son who is given the spirit and power of Elijah. Jesus says that his cousin John is the return of Elijah.

John’s mission is like Elijah’s mission. The restoration of all things starts with hearts of parents turning toward their children. The hearts of children turn toward the parents.

Jesus notes that people stared at John and were blind to his prophetic identity. In the same way, Jesus true identity was invisible to a people whose heart was calloused.

John the Baptist says to prepare a way for the coming Lord. In the wilderness there is to be a road that is well engineered to get you to the King. The road to Jesus needs to be leveled. Mountainous obstacles need to be removed. Deep ruts must be filled.

What does an attitude towards parents or children have to do with road building in the desert? Are there obstacles to a healthy connection with parents and parental figures? Are there deep gaps in the way you relate to your children and those who need you in a parental way? If you can see the picture here, you will understand that there is a change of heart required if we are to see Jesus for who he is.

Thursday, May 9, 2013

STARING AT STEREOGRAMS

Have you seen these pictures made up of colourful shapes? They are called stereograms. You are supposed to stare at it until you see a 3D picture emerge. As much as I stare, I have yet to see what I’m supposed to be seeing. 


When I pass by one of these oddities, I don’t even try anymore. I have never seen the hidden tiger or mina bird, so why keep wasting time on it?

In our growth years, we come to accept that we are not good at doing certain things. As adults, there are many who will not shoot hoops, read books, solve math problems or dance. We remember the awkwardness of childhood failures and steer clear of potentially embarrassing activities. 

What if you were to discover that you could still learn and actually excel at something feared? I’ve known several adults who were poor students as children who became A+ students in later years. I’ve seen illiterate people learn to read. 

Prophetic blindness—a prophet speaks and the observers do not see it. This is a reoccurring problem throughout history. Unless the Holy Spirit opens our eyes, we can stare blankly into the Scriptures and never see what God is revealing. We can stare into the face of love and see nothing.

Truth is not hidden in Scripture, but we need a certain God-given set of optics to see what’s there. We can ask God to open our eyes, just as blind men in the Gospels called out to Jesus for healing. 

Jesus often referenced what Ezekiel and Isaiah said about people who cannot see or hear because their hearts are calloused. For him who has ears to hear… for him who has eyes to see… let them hear… let them see…

Monday, May 6, 2013

NEW RELEVANCE FOR AN ANCIENT FEAST


How can something ancient reveal something new? How can something steeped in tradition still have hidden mysteries waiting to be revealed?


Jesus came to the Passover feast with his disciples. For hundreds of years the Jews had the tradition of the Passover. It was given to them by God as a way to remember His mercy and deliverance.

Jesus looks at his disciples and establishes new meaning to the Passover. Now they are to remember his sacrifice until he returns. An old practice was given new meaning.

In the original Passover, God made a way for his people to be protected from judgment. The ingredients of the meal had significance in themselves, but the food comes in the context of a bigger story.


Exodus 12:
11 This is how you are to eat it: with your cloak tucked into your belt, your sandals on your feet and your staff in your hand. Eat it in haste; it is the Lord’s Passover.
12 “On that same night I will pass through Egypt and strike down every firstborn of both people and animals, and I will bring judgment on all the gods of Egypt. I am the Lord. 13 The blood will be a sign for you on the houses where you are, and when I see the blood, I will pass over you. No destructive plague will touch you when I strike Egypt.
14 “This is a day you are to commemorate; for the generations to come you shall celebrate it as a festival to the Lord—a lasting ordinance. 


We often celebrate the Lord’s Supper and focus on the meaning of the elements. Bread = body broken for you. Cup = blood poured out as a saving act.

If we look beyond what’s on the table, we see that our salvation comes in a particular context. Like the ancient Jews at the first Passover, we are prepared to leave the place where we are oppressed. We dress ourselves and pack for the moment when the Exodus will take place.

With Jesus, we remember that we are also getting dressed and ready to leave our bondage to sin and slavery. The oppressors that hold us will be judged by God and we will slip away while God deals with them.

In the other elements of the meal, Jesus is the perfect lamb from our flock that had to be slain. His blood marks our domain. While death passes over the land, the blood of Jesus turns the destructive plague away from our door.

Let’s not forget that God’s judgment is at work in the world against wickedness and oppression. Jesus gave himself to spare our lives.

Are you remembering Jesus for the past actions of salvation? Will you also remember that he is returning for a Bride who is preparing to be with him?

Friday, May 3, 2013

PIONEER LESSON #5 - A LITTLE GOES A LONG WAY



I’ve heard people say that you do not have any more wealth or resource than God can trust you with.  I am not convinced that this is entirely true.  




Some of the most honest people in the world have also been among the poorest.  Some of the most dishonest have accumulated great wealth. 

If we have a shortage of funds to fulfill our vision we need to focus on having integrity with our current resource.  That does not ensure that dollars will follow, but that we will grow in the way God intends.  Jesus said these words about trustworthiness.


Luke 16:
10 “Whoever can be trusted with very little can also be trusted with much, and whoever is dishonest with very little will also be dishonest with much.  11 So if you have not been trustworthy in handling worldly wealth, who will trust you with true riches?  12 And if you have not been trustworthy with someone else’s property, who will give you property of your own?


The emphasis is on personal integrity and not on a values-based system to grow your wealth.  Whether you have very little or excessive resource, the heart is what matters.  We need to learn honesty when we have little.  Both God and the community are looking for people that are wise and honest in conducting business.  Sometimes, that integrity will cause people to entrust you with great resource.  But little or much, God is watching your heart and storing up eternal treasure according to your integrity.

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