Monday, November 25, 2013

This week I pushed further through the amazing accounts of the apostles in Acts, and began to read Paul’s letters as we start to see him embark on the missionary work that the Lord prophesied would entail suffering (Acts 9:15-16).  But, reading this past week through Acts 9 – 16, James 1 – 5, and Galatians 1 – 6, I was reminded how much I love James’s book.  It blows me away that he was the Lord’s brother (one of Mary’s and Joseph’s additional children after the immaculate conception of Jesus), and yet that he didn’t believe in Jesus most of their lives together until Jesus’s crucifixion.  Anyhow, one of my favorite parts of James’s book is found in James 2:1 – 9 …

My friends, if you have faith in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ, you won’t treat some people better than others.  Suppose a rich person wearing fancy clothes and a gold ring comes to one of your meetings. And suppose a poor person dressed in worn-out clothes also comes.  You must not give the best seat to the one in fancy clothes and tell the one who is poor to stand at the side or sit on the floor.  That is the same as saying that some people are better than others, and you would be acting like a crooked judge.  My dear friends, pay attention. God has given a lot of faith to the poor people in this world. He has also promised them a share in his kingdom that he will give to everyone who loves him.  You mistreat the poor. But isn’t it the rich who boss you around and drag you off to court?  Aren’t they the ones who make fun of your Lord?  You will do all right, if you obey the most important law in the Scriptures. It is the law that commands us to love others as much as we love ourselves.  But if you treat some people better than others, you have done wrong, and the Scriptures teach that you have sinned.

How often is it that we tend to sum someone up visually long before we engage with them personally!  Not only that, but just as James warns against, we go well beyond drawing conclusions about them and treat them wholly differently.  Think about homeless folks, or folks with multiple piercings, tattoos, unconventional hair, different ethnicity, unusual wardrobe, accents, etc.  No doubt many of us not only think about them differently, assume things about them that may or may not be warranted (most times not) … but do we go even beyond that and treat them differently.  Do we neglect reaching out to them to shake their hand when we encounter them?  Do we walk the other way when we see them so as not to risk having to engage with them?  Worse yet, do we avoid praying for them, praying with them, looking to share the gospel with them, putting our arm around them if / when they’re hurting, etc.?

James was using an example of economically-different people in the context of the temple, but I think his broader point is most poignant.  He says, “God has given a lot of faith to the poor people in this world.  He has also promised them a share in his kingdom that he will give to everyone who loves him.  In effect, James is saying … God loves the poor (and different) just as much as he loves the rich (and not different, as if there were such a thing).  In fact, I think James’s main point was that we are all the same in God’s eyes.  We are all on equal footing in the ways that matter most.  Hence, we should treat others in that same equal way.

We have a guy at our church who looks sloppy, dresses sloppy … even talks a little sloppy.  He looks pretty dirty, and I am pretty sure that he lives in a homeless shelter.  What’s amazing is that he happens to be a championship MMA fighter.  I took the opportunity to chat with him about six months ago and found him to be really interesting and smart.  In fact, he was just about to head out to Poland for a match … and ultimately he won.  Yeah, he’s probably got some coping or social issues that have resulted in him living in a homeless shelter even while he’s a successful fighter and probably makes really good money doing it.  But, he was no less faithful to the Lord, no less loving, no less (and no more) deserving of God’s grace than the rest of us knuckleheads.  Let’s face it, we’re all odd, flawed, sinful, unconventional, unusual … and so many other things.  And yet … “God showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners.  (Romans 5:8, NLT)

Talking to this guy, Matt, reminded me that appearances or supposed social status has nothing to do with the enormity of God’s grace and love, which know no bounds.  The question is, as His followers … considering we’re charged with the responsibility to share His grace and love … do we impose bounds where He doesn’t and won’t?  While perhaps we’re not all equal from an eternal destiny perspective, we are from a creation perspective.  And besides, perhaps our interaction (the way we treat others that don’t seem, look, act, speak, and live like us) can lead to a change in someone else’s eternal destiny.  I think that’s how God envisioned it to begin with.

Let’s prayerfully ask the Lord to search our hearts and to remove any inaccurate and inappropriate assumptions about others.  Let’s ask Him to allow us a heart like His for all people … just as He died for all, just as He wants ALL to come to repentance … let’s ask Him to similarly instill in us a love for ALL His people, no matter what we assume or think about them.

All glory to God!

Have a blessed week!


Monday, November 18, 2013

This week I was blessed to read through the end of the Gospels and began the incredible accounts of the apostles through the book of Acts.  Specifically, my reading included Matthew 27 – 28, Mark 15 – 16, Luke 23 – 24, John 18 – 21, and Acts 1 – 8.

Matthew, Mark and Luke all record some particular details about Jesus’s sacrifice that really spoke to me … as much about who He is and what He did as anything else … but the reflection it can create with us was equally visible, and it touched me.

Jesus had been betrayed by one of his 12 apostles, had been abandoned by the rest, and had been denied by one of the closest.  After He beseeched the Father to the point of stress-induced, blood-stained sweat in Gethsemane, He deferred to the Father’s will in what was to come … His sacrificial scourging and death on the cross.  The Gospels account for the scourging and beating and it was no joke.  If that wasn’t bad enough, the mental and emotional anguish bestowed on Him is mind-boggling.  What’s more is that He had to carry the very instrument of His impending torture and death to its resting place.  Clearly the concept of forbidding cruel and unusual punishment was lost on the Roman empire.  Jesus, being fully God, knew full-well what was forthcoming when in the garden of Gethsemane He committed to the Father’s plan.  Being fully man, He felt the physical pain on levels we can only imagine in our worst nightmares.

That leads us to the portion of Mark’s Gospel that really pushed some buttons in me … in Mark 15:22 – 32 (CEV), we read …

The soldiers took Jesus to Golgotha, which means “Place of a Skull.”  There they gave him some wine mixed with a drug to ease the pain, but he refused to drink it.  They nailed Jesus to a cross and gambled to see who would get his clothes.  It was about nine o’clock in the morning when they nailed him to the cross.  On it was a sign that told why he was nailed there. It read, “This is the King of the Jews.”  The soldiers also nailed two criminals on crosses, one to the right of Jesus and the other to his left.  People who passed by said terrible things about Jesus. They shook their heads and shouted, “Ha! So you’re the one who claimed you could tear down the temple and build it again in three days.  Save yourself and come down from the cross!”  The chief priests and the teachers of the Law of Moses also made fun of Jesus. They said to each other, “He saved others, but he can’t save himself.  If he is the Messiah, the king of Israel, let him come down from the cross! Then we will see and believe.” The two criminals also said cruel things to Jesus.

In light of the enormity of the beating, torment, agony, etc., to which Jesus was subject, it moved me greatly to read … “they gave him some wine mixed with a drug to ease the pain, but he refused to drink it.”  Further, when I read “save yourself and come down from the cross,” I wrote in the notes in my Bible app, essentially, “imagine if He did!”  Thank God that Jesus did not come down and save Himeself!

Why?  Because it was imperative … everything … that Jesus finished the work.  He could have shortcut the process … endured less pain … taken a beating, but with the help of pain relievers.  He could have gone up on the cross and experienced it for a bit and said, “okay, enough is enough.”  But, what we need to read from the text is that He refused to do so.

Jesus knew that He needed to go all the way … to finish every bit of the job.  God’s nature as perfectly holy, righteous, truth, etc., demands punishment for sin.  Anything less than the full punishment would be insufficient payment for sin.  That would mean that you and I would still be guilty of our trespasses against God and hence, dead in our sin … eternally unable to be united with God in heaven.  There is no such thing, in this context, as “close enough.”  Even a little short of everything might as well be nothing as it relates to the payment for sin.  When Jesus refused the pain relief, it wasn’t because of a machismo He carried, it was because of the sin He carried for us.  When He refused to take Himself (and the criminals) down from the cross, it wasn’t because He couldn’t, it was because He wouldn’t leave us without His propitiation.

So driven was Jesus to finish His salvific work, He would cut NO corners.  He took every bit of the beating, bore every morsel of the pain, spilt every necessary drop of blood.  Willingly.  Remember, He wasn’t killed … He voluntarily gave His life as a ransom for us (Mark 10:45, John 10:18).  Bought our eternal life with His earthly death.  What love He showed!!!

What’s the application for us, then?  First of all … we absolutely need to realize just how far Jesus went to save us.  He had your very name on His lips and your face on His mind as he breathed His last.  Mine too.  If we ever are tempted to take that for granted … heck, just watch “The Passion of the Christ” once a year or so.  That’ll cure that!

Beyond that, though, we need to be complete as He was complete.  When we are fatigued in our work for Him, we need to recognize that He was probably fatigued, too, but never stopped short.  He did His all for us, to set an example of how we should do our all for Him.  His last words were in Greek “tetélestai” which is translated “it is finished” but also means “paid in full” in the first century Roman culture.  It was the way that debts were marked to reflect that they were paid and retired.  A debt isn’t satisfied until it’s fully satisfied.  Jesus set the tone, and we’re called to do likewise.

Scripture tells us that in everything we do, we’re to do it as until the Lord (Colossians 3:23) … this notion carries the idea of being fully complete in what we do, way beyond solely Christian or ministry stuff.  The word “everything” means “everything”.

Let’s remember to follow our Lord’s lead … to work, serve, give, lead, love, live to the fullest, because He gave His fullest for us.  He didn’t squander in the least.  We shouldn’t either.

Prayers to you for an amazing and blessed week!


Monday, November 11, 2013

November 11, 2013

My reading this week took me further through the Gospels and some wonderful substance in the Lord’s Word.  I read through Matthew 23 – 26, Mark 13 – 14, Luke 20 – 22, and John 13 – 17.

Near the end of Jesus’s ministry, as he was being betrayed by one of His own and arrested into the hands of the Romans (as puppets to the Jewish religious elite), we see some behaviors exhibited by His closest friends that provides a bit of a glimpse into how we can act at times as well.  We can see how their expectations, assumptions, desires, etc., trumped their ability to see the bigger picture.

Let’s have a look at a couple passages to set the stage … we jump in right after Jesus had shared the Passover meal with the apostles, then Jesus went to Gethsemane to pray and confront the reality of what was upon Him in laying down His life on the cross.  As He completes His contemplation in the garden, Peter, James and John were present when Judas Iscariot, accompanied by an armed mob and soldiers / guards, comes up to Jesus to betray Jesus into the hands of the authorities.

Matthew 26:55-56
Jesus said to the mob, “Why do you come with swords and clubs to arrest me like a criminal? Day after day I sat and taught in the temple, and you didn’t arrest me.  But all this happened, so that what the prophets wrote would come true.”  All of Jesus' disciples left him and ran away.

Mark 14:48-52
Jesus said to the mob, “Why do you come with swords and clubs to arrest me like a criminal?  Day after day I was with you and taught in the temple, and you didn’t arrest me. But what the Scriptures say must come true.”  All of Jesus' disciples ran off and left him.  One of them was a young man who was wearing only a linen cloth. And when the men grabbed him, he left the cloth behind and ran away naked.

Jesus’s disciples abandoned Him straight away.  The second the heat began to increase, they split.  What followed was Jesus’s brutal scourging and crucifixion at the hands of the Romans but spurned on by the Jewish religious leaders.  When we read the accounts of what happened later, we see that Jesus’s closest friends became distraught when they realized what was occurring to Jesus before and on the cross.

Why their behavior?  When we read the Gospels, it’s easy for us to see (of course we have the benefit of 2,000 years of hindsight) that Jesus let His apostles know what was coming.  But for whatever reason, it’s clear from those texts as well as the accounts at and after His arrest, brutal beating and ultimate execution, that the apostles expected something very different.  What was it, and how does it relate to us?

What the apostles were expecting was for Jesus to establish an earthly kingdom, to turn rule of Israel away from the Romans and to restore God’s chosen people to their rightful place in humanity.  What they got was quite different.  Really different … especially as they watched their “King” being arrested and killed.  Everything they believed in, everything they thought was coming together for the past three years, all their dreams were dashed almost immediately.  Let’s set aside for now the “why” … how they could possibly have missed what Jesus had been telling them.  He made it clear to all of us Monday morning Bible quarterbacks that He was going to establish a heavenly kingdom for those of us who call Him Lord and eventually return to establish an earthly kingdom as well.  The apostles missed that.

They were understandably upset.  They were naturally fearful.  Like us … they had their frame of reference for their lives crushed, but to what end?  To what end, indeed!

What they saw as defeat, Jesus recognized as victory.  What they saw was their hopes shattered, Jesus knew was a promise fulfilled.  They experienced their loss because of a narrow view of life, Jesus saw it as opening wide the avenue for eternal salvation.   The story didn’t end with Jesus’s death.  It hasn’t ended at all … He suffered, died and was buried (as one of the old Catholic creeds goes) BUT came back to life and was resurrected.  We have to be careful to see the whole story.  In the same way, Jesus’s disciples ultimately did, to great gain for Christendom.  But in the meantime, they were panic-stricken.

So it goes with us, when our expectations aren’t met.  We don’t get a job we want.  Our team loses.  Friends disappoint or betray us.  We lose a friend or family member at a young age to a surprise disease.  Bad things happen to good people.  It doesn’t make sense.  It hurts.   It wasn’t supposed to happen.

However, those defeats (to us) are no less victories to Him.  They are promises fulfilled.  They are mechanisms for opening the avenue to salvation for those yet to enjoy it.

God always finishes what He starts.  He’s always at work bringing the entirety of His creation closer and closer to His intended state of being.  It’s always good.  You’ve heard me say it before, but He sees the end of time from the beginning of time.  It’s all one point on the timeline to him, whereas we need to look at the line with the arrows on either side.  God knows the details of every life, of every heart.  He is constantly orchestrating the details of every life, bringing it together for the “good of those who love God, who are the called according to His purpose.”  (Romans 8:28b, NKJV)

So, our hope needs to come from awareness that God is never absent, He’s always ever-present.  You’re always on His mind.  So am I.  So is everyone he created.  He can do that because He’s God.

Even when things don’t go our way, they always go His way.  And, despite the credit we (over) give ourselves for knowing what’s best, we never do and never can.  Just like how the apostles’ disappointment was over something not totally complete, the same is the case with us when things don’t go our way.  We have to trust that God is still at work, that He has something bigger and better in mind.  It doesn’t mean that things will always get better for us in human, earthly, temporal terms.   We’re not promised that.  But we ARE promised that it will get better in God’s heavenly, eternal terms.  And given that this time we spend on earth is merely a speck of time compared to our infinite time in heaven someday, we should draw comfort from that fact.

When things aren’t going our way, let’s ask the Lord in our prayer time to remind us that He is still at work, that He is busy bringing His creation into the perfected state He intended from the beginning.  Let’s ask Him to comfort us with this knowledge … and eventually, the very same promise that the apostles didn’t see at first … Jesus’s salvation by His death and resurrection and the eternal blessing it brings, will carry us through whatever we have to deal with.  Praise God that He is that caring and loving and is constantly at work preparing to show us just how much.

Have a blessed week in the Lord!