Tuesday, May 12, 2020

Kingdom Highs and Lows

As a disciple in 1st century Palestine, you ate, slept and followed your Rabbi pretty much where ever he went. Your Rabbi was teaching you through His words and, more importantly, through His actions. As a disciple, you observed how your Rabbi treated a shop keeper, prostitute, tax collector or anyone he came in contact with. That was part of the training.

The Apostle Peter’s Rabbi was no ordinary one, of course. Peter’s Rabbi performed amazing acts. He told pertinent stories about another Kingdom. A Kingdom that was yet to come. As His disciple, you couldn’t help but admire, respect and well, love this particular Rabbi.

Peter’s particular Rabbi would often take him and his fellow disciples aside for fireside chats, as it were. This particular conversation was on a “camping trip” in the hill country known as Caesarea Philippi, north of Jerusalem.

Jesus draws them into a conversation about who exactly people think He is? I imagine this conversation took place as the sun was setting and logs were being thrown on the fire against the oncoming night’s cool.

It’s the conversation that has divided our world ever since.

Jesus looks around the campfire’s flickering glow at the faces of His disciples and asks a simple question: “Who do the people say I am?”

The answers vary, as they do today. A prophet; a scholar; The Baptist; Jesus being Whomever you want Him to be.

Jesus, as was His way, makes it personal: “But who do YOU say I am?”

This is where Peter shows remarkable insight: “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God,” his reply.

Being that kind of objective when you are emotionally attached to another person showed remarkable insight.

Jesus instinctively knows this and replies, “Flesh and blood did not reveal this to you, but my Father in heaven.”

Only God can reveal Himself to a person. A disciple’s job is to point the way through devoted lives.

Then Jesus confers upon Peter the Keys to the Kingdom, as it were.

The text doesn’t say, but I’m guessing that this goes to Peter’s head. I know it would mine.

And, just as we are experiencing our God-given highs, along come the lows.
Jesus now calls His disciples back together and explains a most difficult thing: this isn’t going to end like you’d hoped it would.

“Here’s the plan,” to paraphrase Jesus. “I’m going to go before the religious leaders and suffer many things at their hands. Ultimately, you will watch me be lifted up, crucified and die. But I will rise again on the third day.”

This is not hyperbole. This is not some script for a Hollywood movie. When Jesus said this, the disciples could picture it all too clearly in their imaginations. Crucifixions weren’t THAT common place, but everyone knew about them and had probably witnesses one or two.

The “plan” cuts Peter to his core. I’m sure he was not alone but given Peter’s new found authority as head of the church, well, time to take Jesus aside and say exactly what everyone is thinking:

“Plan sucks. Don’t even consider it anymore.” To paraphrase Peter.

Of course, one is forgetting the “rise again” phrase. Being raised from the dead was much more difficult to imagine. It is to this day.

Crucifixion, well, they didn’t need much of an imagination for that.

I often put myself in Peter’s position. I slightly shake my head at the plan. “Wow, really?! Why does the Son of Man need to die such a cruel, horrible death?”

I’m also thinking that Peter believes he will be watching this happen. Another good reason to think the plan sucks.

At least I didn’t need to be there.

The way the story ends, Peter is rebuked for his inability to see that God’s ways are not our ways; God’s plans are massively different than ours (Isaiah 55:8).

This is where the concept of “faith” is so important. I accept God at His word, no matter how much I may think that His ways don’t exactly line up with mine or anyone else’s.

I accept them by faith; and I slowly die to self and believe His will be done.

It must have broken Peter’s heart and soul to have gone through such an ordeal; most of us are not willing to suffer for our faith.

But perhaps that is Jesus’ point in rebuking Peter. What good is untested faith for Kingdom Living? Unless a faith has been “tested by fire,” as was Jesus’, then one will simply put their faith back in the idols of science, religion, good works, women, the list goes on and on.

I will never be asked to die the death Jesus died. But I will surely be asked to sacrifice my idols upon the altar of God. Pain is surely involved, but that is what it means to take up my cross.

This is the example Jesus gives us. If God loves us, separating us from our idols is the ultimate goal.

And this time, it is important to pay the proper attention to the all important phrase: "rise again on the third day."

Friday, May 1, 2020

Read the Story Carefully.

Let's take the story of the woman caught in adultery from the gospel of John 8: 1-11, as it is often misunderstood simply because it is not read closely.

The question we are asking ourselves, of course, is what exactly were the religious leaders, the Pharisees, motives at the time.

So first, let’s start by looking at a couple of verses from the story:

 They were saying this, testing Him, so that they might have grounds for accusing Him. But Jesus stooped down and with His finger  and wrote on the ground. But when they persisted in asking Him, He straightened up, and said to them, “He who is without sin among you, let him be the first to throw a stone at her.” 

A familiar story, to be sure, but John gives us the Pharisees' true motivation.

According to John, the Pharisees bring this woman before Jesus because they are trying to find grounds to eliminate a competing Rabbi. They are jealous of Jesus’ fame and following and want Him permanently removed.

John makes it plain that the Pharisees could care less about the Mosaic law.

Speaking of the Mosaic law though, the way the Old Testament law reads is that both the man and the woman caught in adultery must be stoned at the same time.

Like, where’s the man?

Again, check out the original law found, I believe, in Deuteronomy.

The Pharisees, so steeped in the law, are not actually following it, because the last thing they cared about is whether the law is being followed or not.

Lest we all start feeling smug in our own self-right-doing, never forget, we all have the heart of a Pharisee. We all fall short.

But that is the problem with the law: it cannot be followed by anyone really. Jesus said that even if you look upon a woman to lust after her, you have as good as committed adultery with her in your heart (Matthew 5:23).

As Paul points out in Romans, chapters 2 & 3, the law was given to expose our sin. So that we know that we are sinners and we need a Savior.

The Mosaic law was pretty much made obsolete when Moses came down from Mount Sinai with it and found the Israelites violating the 1st Commandment by worshipping a golden calf.

The Israelites’ Old Testament history as told by the Prophets of old has Israel  making the law obsolete to the point of being exiled a several occasions. Although, it does need to be pointed out that there were times when things went well, like during King David’s reign. 

Jesus said that he did not come to abolish the law but to fulfil it (Matthew 5:17).

God knows our hearts. Was Jesus’ heart pure and sinless? He could not have performed the works He did without this being true.

As the story goes, the Pharisees are simply terrorizing this woman. They don’t care about her immortal soul or her behavior. They only care about eliminating someone who continues to expose their hypocrisy. To them it’s a competition.
They worship themselves, not God.

It’s a common problem to this day. That is why this story continues to be very relevant to us today.

A lot is made out of the finger writing on the ground by Jesus. My pastor recently preached on this subject and I’d liked to share his viewpoint. He said that the law was given by the finger of God, as told in Exodus. And here you have Jesus, the Son of God, writing with his finger while the law is being confronted. Jesus is reminding the Pharisees that God knows their sin all too well.

A human heart is restored or reconciled to God through the finished work of Jesus on the cross. No human work can satisfy God’s wrath because it was already satisfied through the death, burial and resurrection of the Son of God.

So, go, and sin no more.

Wednesday, January 22, 2020

“A sense of deep awe was occurring to every soul, and many wonders and miracles were taking place through the apostles.” Acts 2:43

In August of 2017, a total solar eclipse cast its shadow across America. We were living in the totality of its path and my youngest son and his girlfriend came all the way from New York to see it.

After he arrived, I told my son that the weather looked cloudy for that day and especially in the early afternoon, during the eclipse. Maybe even a thunderstorm was in the mix.

The night before the big day, my son was looking at a map on the internet that showed the ambient lighting situation, or what is known as “stray light” from things like street lamps. He wanted to view the solar eclipse from a place where the nighttime street lights would cause the least amount of occlusion. His explanation was that the street lights come on automatically when it suddenly got dark.

I just looked at him when he told me this and thought to myself, “People from big cities are so all about all the wrong things.”

I didn’t mention that to him at the time. What I did tell him though were the facts: “The weather is going to be cloudy, but not really overcast. So, we will need to search out a good spot where the sun is peaking through the clouds at the time of the eclipse. If you stick with me, I will find us such a spot, no problem.”
If any breaks occurred in clouds at all the next day, I was confident that I would find a good cloud-dodging locale to view the eclipse.

This information had little effect on my son. He decided that a nearby small-town with minimal street lamps was the ideal location. Well, he is my Son and I his Father, and well, you know, why should he be starting to take my advice now?
The day dawned cloudy, as predicted. As I was out doing my job, I kept an eye on the sky and noticed a lot of breaks in the clouds. My son and his girlfriend had taken off early to go to the nearby town. Oh, well.

The partial eclipse had started along with the excitement that comes with such an event. I stood outside and scouted out the sky above, looking for good, solid breaks in the cloud cover. No problem, there was a good one a couple of miles down the road, in the country. No street lights are found in the country.

I jumped in the truck and drove there as the sun became a took on a crescent shape and began to disappear in that distinctive way it does when the moon is moving in front of it.

I hopped in my truck and drove to the perfect place on a country dirt road where the clouds were well parted and set up my tripod and camera.
It was a bit hazy between me and the sun, but that only seem to enhance the experience.

Well, I must say, I’d never seen a total eclipse before and words cannot do it justice. It was wonderful and fearful and everything everybody said and so much more.

I started snapping pictures while looking through my protective glasses, but it wasn’t long until all that I could do was stare at the dazzling bright ball that was slowly turning dark.

And then there it was, a total eclipse; and the day went to night and there was that eerie corona in the sky encircling what was left of the sun and all this dancing light next to dark clouds.

I snapped a few more pictures of the totality, but looking at it was piercing me through my heart. I was struck with awe and wonder. And just like most miracles, not long after it had begun, it was over, just like that.

We did get a little special end treatment though. Because the shadow’s passing caused a temperature differential, the clouds formed up quickly in the eclipse’s passing shadow and started a thunderstorm. It swept past with lightning and loud thunder, not like any thunderstorm I’d never seen before.

As I was talking to my son later, yes, he did experience the eclipse, but his position was pretty cloudy. I’d call it more of a “normal” experience. He did express a sentiment of awe and wonder, even in cloudy conditions.

But it was more obligatory than blow-you-away.

The point being that one can lose that sense of God’s awe and wonder if you are pursuing the wrong things. Is the living God just an obligatory entity that needs a little attention now and then? Or is everyday filled with a sense of anticipation? Not knowing exactly when He is going to perform miracles in lives?

Friday, October 18, 2019

Time for application of faith principles.

The Creeping Oooze

So, we did a remodel on the bathroom like four or five years ago. Put in a new commode (head). I was a little worried about it all because the septic system plumbing to the outside is cast iron and yeah, old. A lot of flushing has happened there.

It had obviously leaked at one point because I had to replace a floorboard around the toilet when we remodeled which took me about a day.

When the plumber came to put the new commode on (an entire replacement upgrade toilet) I got a good look at the plumbing and hey, looked fine really. The plumber did the right thing by tightening a plastic flange inside the cast iron. I watched him do it and thought, “Hey, this guy knows what he is doing.”

Another detriment to the plumbing system is that underneath the house, where the plumbing lives, is a dirty, dank and dingy crawl space. It is chuck full of cobwebs and you need to squat down and crawl around on dirt ducking pipes to get anywhere worth going.

A beautiful place which I avoid for obvious reasons.

Well, like last Spring some wonderful “ooze” appeared from underneath the new tile near the toilet and the tiles appeared to move a bit.

My wife was concerned. Me, I’m like this can’t be nothing really. The job is fairly new, guy did the right job, everything is fine. I mean, if anything happened, well, it would have shown up years ago or the toilet would be slipping off or something more obvious. I blamed the previous owners and cleaned it up and thought nothing more of it.

More “ooze” appeared sometime later.

Now, the real problem, besides ignoring my “gut,” (which was telling me I needed to check it out a bit closer), the real problem is that I would need to go into the crawl space under the house. There is only one door access and of course, it is a dark, damp place full of insects that will tear you apart just to look at you. Some of them are ten feet tall and related to snakes. The access door to the crawl space, however, is right by the commode that was giving us the problems.

After the wife bothering me to check it out, I did stick my head inside the trap door that leads to the crawl space and could see the floor beam that supports the commode in question. It appeared to be rotting. I placed my rose-colored glasses firmly on and told my wife that it was just coming up from what was left over from the last rebuild. (If I’d have really thought it through at all, this actually makes no sense. But do notice how I will do a lot of justifying to escape actually having to deal with a dank, dirty, large insect problem.)

I got all upset with my wife. Of course I got all upset with my wife. That’s what wives are for! Blamed her for all sorts of things that weren’t true but mostly just wanted her to quit bothering me about it.

It is important to note that what I blamed my wife for was, in truth, how I was acting. If the problem is a sticky wicket, one we really don’t want to deal with, then for sure, I’m will be just detailing to another person the thing I am in denial about.

It takes courage to see ourselves in the shining light of reality. In Truth.

More ooze. Double in volume.

I am in denial. I am blaming the wife because she is pointing out the obvious. I am not happy. I refuse to listen.

Everybody does this sort of thing from time to time.

My wife is patient with me and yeah, the ooze just keeps on oozing.

Time passes, I do get some time to check it out and the worst nightmare comes true: like the toilet has been leaking from its base alright. Like for a good three or four years! Who knows, maybe it started leaking a month after the install.

Notice a couple of things: I put my faith in man. The plumber in this case. Not that the plumber wasn’t competent, it is just that the laws of nature and God’s plan are much more relevant.

Two to three square feet of the sub-flooring, along with everything above and below it, has sewage water rot. The home’s floor beams themselves are also on the rot. You know, the wood that keeps the house from caving in.

I don't really panic though. I mean, it's been that way this long, what's another week or two? I also figure I'll need like a day or two to actually begin fixing it.

I pull the toilet and find that the plastic flange inside the cast iron pipe had cracked. This is a good thing because hey, that is the culprit. Always nice to know what the exact problem is. Really though, I need a plastic tube going into the septic system or yeah, will probably happen all over again.

This is the problem with self-deception. This is the problem with thinking things are fine. When really, the TRUTH is something different.

But here is some good news. After thinking to myself that I’m just demeaning myself by being honest with myself, it has become a good lesson in redemption. 

You see, I was being stupid. I had it wrong. Please, somebody point it out to me, even if I don’t quite want to hear it.

The wife and I are working together to rebuild the place (there has been a few disagreements, but that is part of what it takes to redeem things) and I don’t know, I got to buy new tools. Plus, a couple of miraculous things happened that will make the final product that much better. Don’t really have time to go into it now.

We all love to deceive ourselves from time to time. It’s part of being human. You can have a good “sense” of it, but it will be countermanded by difficult circumstances.

It did me for like several years.

Now, people will read this and give it a nice, mental assent, but such thinking really doesn’t cut it. Just an intellectual assent to the problem made me not want to check it out. In my heart, my emotions, I do know that there is nothing I cannot solve. This is because my faith is such that it will deliver the goods every time.

I won’t deliver the goods. That is arrogance. What I put my faith in is what I believe will do it. This would never be myself.


That kind of belief makes me want to solve even a creeping ooze problem.

The funny thing about courage is that once you simply admit to the obvious, the truth, well, solving the problem or changing things for the better isn’t that difficult. You always kind of wonder what you were afraid of once things start going in the right direction again.

That’s just a bathroom floor. Things in life are much more complicated and serious than that. I’d say it takes courage, but really, it takes correct faith based on Truth.

And that is why it makes all the difference in the world what you put your faith in.

Friday, September 20, 2019

The "Good" Samaritan: What We Know

When I listen to people expound on the Good Samaritan, I notice that they will usually miss two important things: the beginning and the ending. (We’re in Luke chapter 10 here.)

An “expert in the law” asks an important question at the beginning, before the “Who is my neighbor,” one. He asks, “What must I do to inherit eternal life.”

This question, we are told, is to “test” Jesus.

Test accepted, smiles Jesus.

This question, remember, is before the question that everyone thinks about when discussing this story.

The “eternal life” statement everyone at least makes a passing reference to, but the word no one seems to pick up on is “inherit.”

“What must I do to INHERIT eternal life?”

Lawyers do understand something about inheriting and what an inheritance is.

To inherit something legally means certain conditions must be meant.

For instance, it requires a death. A death in the family. An inheritance needs to be from one specific family member to another one or several other families or somehow related. A very specific condition really. 

So, at least to me, it is a curious word to use in that context. Of course, the connotation is that eternal life is always a positive thing. Although, since the man asking the question is a lawyer, he would also know that you can be “disinherited” from the person who left the inheritance. He or she can take you out of the will.

These are absolutes. Laws if you will. So, eternal life has some absolutes and the “family of God” is involved. You can be disinherited. Or never really identified with the family of God.

The questioning lawyer is a smart chap to me. Jesus asks him for his interpretation of the law of Moses. He gets it right; and Jesus appears to be impressed.

So, what does it mean that the lawyer wanted to “justify his actions?” Well, the law exposes our downfalls; our weaknesses. We can say we love God with all our heart, souls and might, but in reality, who actually does that? We can say that the basis of our existence is to love our neighbor, but you haven’t met my neighbor (rhetorical answer). 

In reality, my actual neighbor is someone I could never “love,” even as I love myself, but we do get along. I don’t really mind him. Mostly because I can ignore him for the most part. There are lots of things about myself and other people that I ignore just to survive.

Now the person that gets robbed on his way from Jerusalem to Jericho, is not given any particular designation: i.e., he’s not a Jewish person or a anything like that. Apparently, he represents everyone. We all have hard times.

He gets beat up pretty good. Unable to rescue himself from the difficult situation. A humbling experience really, if you’ve ever been in a place where you need another’s help just to get out of some initial, difficult problems.

Again, Jesus is describing “who is my neighbor?”

The story goes on:
Along comes a priest. Someone steeped in the rules. A man of scholarly ambition. Looked up to and admired, well, at least for his position. Especially admired by himself. Worships himself let’s say.

Passes on by. We are not really told why.

Next comes a Levite. A true “rabbi” if you will. Loves to hear that name applied to him in the town square. Thinks very highly of himself. So highly in fact, that well, when it comes to someone is real trouble, well, he is anything but a neighbor. He has his own definition of who does and doesn’t need help; and this person in front of him definitely falls outside that range. But he is well versed in the law; so the guy is great at justifying his actions. And well, let’s go so far as to say, he is just being true to himself.

And then we have our hero: the Samaritan. Text doesn’t even say good really, because people love to add their own monikers and slants to the stories in the bible. Not entirely a bad thing to do that, unless it is completely off base, which, in this case, well, good is not something the Jewish populace thought Samaritans were.

No, the Samaritans were the enemy. Definitely from the wrong side of the tracks. Not good at all. They worshipped the wrong things; had their own temple, so on and so forth.

So, one thing that can be done with stories, is that you can abstract what this would mean for the reader or the audience.

The audience is supposed to think of a cult or people of faith that they don't particularly believe are getting much right, either politically or religiously.

So the “good” Samaritan is not really good in the eyes of Jesus’ audience. But he is good in getting past his own prejudices and not seeing another human being as beneath him or his way of thinking. He is good at seeing another human being who is having real problems, no matter their societal affiliation, religious persuasion or political party.

Perhaps you are or know someone who has trouble looking past say their own political prejudices.

As for myself, I try to stay on what is true. So when I come upon this type of situation, I will see it for what it is. Now, it could be someone whose beliefs or demographic or political persuasion is not my own, but what I need to be seeing is a hurting person. That is paramount to being a good neighbor.

But that is commentary, not sticking with the story. So, on with the story:

The importance is not in exactly who the robbed man is or what his labels are. In fact, (truth) that is the point of the story. The contrast is obvious: the Samaritan actually does help. Not just think he’s helping or has a romanticized view of interceding in people’s lives, but rolls up his sleeves, and gets in the mess. He has actual compassion; goes over to the victim and lends an actual hand. Takes him to an inn, pays the fare. Is going to come back when he is better, so on and so forth.

The story appears to have two main points: the first being is to step outside of what you think “religion” is and actually does. The lawyer was trying to justify himself because he thought the law, or actions, is what helps people. Jesus is putting that notion to rest. Even though the Samaritan’s actions are important, it’s the fact that he goes beyond “what” religion is purported to do. The Samaritan is breaking all his own the rules, as it were. He gets involved. He forms a relationship with the man who was robbed. He goes above and beyond the call of duty. Messes are messy; no one likes them. True help is difficult. It will take away from what a person thinks is important and place it on someone who truly needs the aid. Could be rich; or poor. What does economics have to do with it?

Try to understand, this isn’t pleasant or fun or something anyone looks forward to. It is messy, hard work to, in truth, help people. Religion fails miserably at it. A works-based faith is the farthest thing from actual help that there is; that appears to be is what the parable is telling us.

The last thing is the ending. Jesus asks who is the man who was robbed actual neighbor?

The lawyer says: “The one who showed him mercy.” 

What quality of mercy is the lawyer referring to?

The point Jesus, and the lawyer is making, is your heart for looking beyond your own way of thinking so that when true problems arise, a Christian can roll up his sleeves and get into the mess?

A true, neighbor, according to the lawyer, knows true mercy and demonstrates it in reality.

Thursday, March 14, 2019

Kingdom Living Essentials

Knowledge puffs up; love edifies  (1 Corinthians 8).

Knowledge puffs up means that we think we are better than someone else and so see no wrong in being a stumbling block to them. Love edifies means that we put others faith and reason before our own and are willing to give up something that to us really isn’t that much of a sacrifice.

In his letter to the Church at 1st century Corinth, Paul admonished the congregation to put away their idol worship. Idol worship results in a person giving into the various appetites we are naturally born with, but using them for sinful ends.

Paul is exhorting the Believers at Corinth to let go of their self-indulgence ways and start living for the eternal Kingdom, not the perishing one.

When we think of others more than ourselves, that is a right step in Kingdom living. One of our problems is, however, that we have a tendency to believe that we are helping others when in fact, we are still only being self-indulgent; and may be enabling instead of helping.

The Apostle is advising the more mature members of the congregation on how best to handle “weaker Brothers.”

So, the apostle Paul here, when confronted with the idea of someone attaching significance to something where there is no significance, like a piece of meat, isn’t so interested in the meat, but in what that person believes the meat represents.

To put it another way: people believe in the strangest things. Believing in idols and the things associated with them is downright crazy and Satanic. Satanic because it’s a lie. Yet, it was very common in Paul’s time and really, not much has changed in 2000+ years.

 “Hey,” to paraphrase Paul, “if someone attaches (imagined) significance to some object, whether it be organic or not, is it really that difficult for you to give that something up?”

Paul is saying that using that object, whatever it may be, will skew or dilute someone else’s faith in the living God. When that happens, it is not a far road back to their former false beliefs.

This is not an easy issue as it isn’t really black and white. But it is not a stretch to say that it lies at the very heart of a solid congregation that is growing in its faith in Jesus.

So, should a Pastor drink alcohol if someone has just come to Jesus with that particular problem?

Well no, but not because it is particularly difficult for him to give it up. He should give it up because a “weaker brother,” i.e. someone who does have problems with alcohol, looks up to him and his faith.

Now, what happens if this pastor is seen in an establishment that serves alcohol, like a pizza palor? Is that okay? Well, sure. He can eat pizza without alcohol and that is really no problem at all. Unless, of course, the “weaker Brother” once worshipped pizza.

Paul describes it as causing a Brother to stumble. Not fall completely from faith, but as a hinderance to faith in Jesus. And then Paul says, if that be the case, he will have no trouble giving up the thing that is the stumbling block.

Tuesday, November 27, 2018

Kingdom Living

According to the Bible, two Kingdoms exist in the world in which we live, move and have our being. The Bible says that one Kingdom is perishing; and one Kingdom is imperishable. The perishing one is where you and I live and die, thus everything in it perishes. The imperishable Kingdom is called the Kingdom of Heaven (or God). That is where God is sovereign and eternal, thus imperishable. An imperishable Kingdom is much more real and relevant than a Kingdom that is perishing.

So,  let's examine one example of the two Kingdoms, (there are many) from the Bible of this idea.

This is from the Apostle Paul in his letter to the Ephesians church. 

                         Perishing                                                                  Imperishable               

Called the "Course of this World."                            Called the "Heavenly places." (Ephesians 2:2, 6)
(Ephesians 1:3; 3:2)

Bless Myself (Own vision for self).                                God's blessings on me (God's
                                                                                         calling on my life).

Save myself (Morality)                                                  God saved me (Jesus' sacrificial death &

Earn God's favor (works).                                             Justified by faith (Ephesians 2:8 & 9).

Earthly inheritance (perishable).                                  Eternal inheritance (imperishable).

Decide on my own calling.                                            Obedient to God's calling on my life.

God's mysteries not understood.                                    Mysteries of God understood.