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I've always felt that different people need to hear things expressed in different ways before they really truly understand them. If what I write here speaks to you, and helps you to understand your relationship with God a little better, then I have accomplished something I feel called to do. If what I have to say doesn't speak to is OK...keep looking for other sources that do. If you seek Him, you will find Him!

Friday, October 28, 2011

Matthew 14:13

Matthew 14: 13 & 14
When Jesus heard what had happened, He withdrew by boat privately to a solitary place.
Hearing of this, the crowds followed Him on foot from the towns.
When Jesus landed and saw a large crowd,
He had compassion on them and healed their sick.

John the Baptist was a great man. You don’t hear much about him these days, but he played an amazing role in Jesus’ ministry. John the Baptist was actually part of the Old Testament prophesy about Jesus.

Malachi 3:1

“See, I will send my messenger, who will prepare the way before me.”

Isaiah 40:3

A voice of one calling: “in the desert prepare the way for the Lord;
make straight in the wilderness a highway for our God.”

These Scriptures are about John, and Jesus could not have come, and would not be the Christ spoken of in the Old Testament, if John had not come first.

John was also the first to recognize Jesus for who he was. Luke tells the story, in the first chapter of his gospel, of Mary (Jesus’s mother) while she was still pregnant, going to visit her relative Elizabeth, who was pregnant with John. When Mary called out to Elizabeth, the baby (John) leapt in her womb. If you read the rest of the first chapter of Luke you will see that the circumstances surrounding the birth of John the Baptist are as intriguing and God-directed as the birth of Jesus.

Jesus and John were related, so they must have grown up together. They were playmates. Their mom’s were very close, so you know they were very close. John was the first Christian preacher and was actively preaching the coming of Jesus BEFORE Jesus even started. John baptized Jesus to signify the beginning of His ministry. This is when God himself announced to all those present “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.”

So Jesus was very upset that his relative, his friend, his playmate, his fellow worker in the Kingdom, had been killed. Now, don’t ever forget that Jesus is God. He loves us all, His capacity for love is well beyond anything we can even imagine. But also remember that Jesus was human, and as a human, he had special relationships.  Jesus loved John, and his disciples had just told him that John was dead.

Look at the wording in the scriptures about Jesus: “He withdrew by boat privately to a solitary place.” Withdrew…privately…solitary…do you get the sense that Jesus wanted to be alone here? He was sad…maybe even mad…maybe even scared. Does it bother you to think of the creator of the world having emotions like this? Does it frighten you, or does it comfort you, to think that the all-powerful God knows what we sometimes feel? Jesus knew that John’s death foreshadowed his own. Jesus knew that John was in jail in the first place for preaching the truth that the ruler of the day did not want to hear. We rarely spend much time focusing on the humanity of Jesus, but I think we get a really good picture of Jesus the man in these scriptures.
We feel sad…mad…scared…we want to be alone with our negative feelings sometimes don’t we? If you have a boat, maybe you go out on your boat. If you don’t have a boat, where is your solitary place? Is it in a bottle, or a casino? Is it the internet, or your job? Is it your church? These places can all be solitary places, where we can hide, where we can be alone.

Now, let’s take a look at what happened when Jesus wanted to be alone:”Hearing of this, the crowds followed him on foot from the towns.” Are you kidding me? If this is not symbolic of the selfishness of this world, I don’t know what is. Jesus is at his lowest emotional point of his life, prior to his actual betrayal, and we can’t even let him be alone for a minute?? It’s just common decency to give someone some room when they are in mourning. We put our arm around them, we encourage them and love on them, we give them some time for a healing process to occur. But not here, not for Jesus. We have nothing for Jesus, we want something from Jesus.

Here is where Jesus the man separates himself as Jesus the Savior: ”He had compassion on them and he healed their sick”. Jesus the man could have hidden, or struck out against them, but Jesus the God loved on them. Jesus the man could have hurt them with his words or his strength, but Jesus the God healed them. They selfishly, arrogantly, insensitively walked up to Jesus the man, and they humbly, undeservedly walked away from Jesus the God, healed and whole.

Here’s the part none of us want to hear: In John 13:15 Jesus himself says this: “I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you”. I’m not making this up, it’s in red letters and everything!

We are called to do as Jesus did. Even in his pain, he reached out to us. Even in his misery, he served our needs rather than focusing on his own. Even when he desired to hide, he let multitudes come to him, and he healed them. He didn’t just do this in this one instance when John died, did he? He did this all the way up to his last breath as he allowed himself to be killed on the cross for us.

So what does this look like in your life, how do you “do as he has done for you”? Maybe when you are wanting to be alone with your thoughts, your wife needs you. It might even be selfish of her, but she still needs you…be with her. You may want to “escape” into whatever it is that consumes you sometimes, but your kids need you…heal them. It might be completely unfair of your church group to ask something they want from you…do it anyways. Jesus gave up his rightful place at the right hand of God for you…what could you give up to bring yourself closer to him?

Now…does following Jesus in this way mean sacrificing happiness here on earth, having to give up the stuff you want? This is way too big of a topic to cover in a closing paragraph, but the answer is a resounding no. Next week’s post will expand on that!

Friday, October 21, 2011

Matthew 5:48

Matthew 5:48
Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly father is perfect.

As Americans, we tend to misuse words a lot.

For the last few years, pretty much everything has been referred to as awesome. In the 1500’s the word awesome meant “profoundly reverential”, in the 1900’s the word had evolved to “impressive, very good”. Now the word is used as an adjective to describe pretty much anything that doesn’t suck. Try and get through the day without using the word awesome and see how you do.

To my kids now…everything is epic. The original meaning of the Greek “epos” means “word, story, or poem”. In the early 1700’s the phrase “epic poem” was used to describe something “grand, or heroic”. Now it seems that Toby Mac’s new song is “epic”. Don’t get me wrong, I love Toby Mac, but does his new three minute and 42 second song really compare to the ginormous work of Homer in The Odyssey?

Yes, I said ginormous…do you know the word ginormous? This word is bigger than giant, bigger than enormous, yet I heard it used to describe a mosquito that landed on my son last week.

And yes…I said I love Toby Mac…don’t get me started on the misuse of the word love, I’ve never even met Toby Mac. Check out the words to DC Talk’s song “Love is a verb”…the words are rad!!

Why do we do this? What is this need that we have as a society to make everything seem bigger…better….stronger…faster than it really is? Why do we exaggerate so?

Please don’t misunderstand me. I completely understand the evolution of language, and I have no real problem with the idea that over time words can come to mean different things. I know “awesome” means “good”, I know “epic” means…well…”good” too, I know “ginormous” means “bigger than expected”, I know “love” now means “like”. I know “rad” is short for “radical” and it really means “interesting, in a positive way” not “extreme reformist”. However, what we have done, in not reserving the use of these very strong words for situations where very strong words are called for, is we have left ourselves without the proper words to describe things that are truly very important.

Here is what we need to be careful of: God’s words to us were originally written a really long time ago. If we have whittled the meaning of the word “awesome” down to mean the same as what I think of the french fries at 5 Guys, what impact is this word really having on us when we come across it in scripture?

Exodus 15:11                      Who among the Gods is like you, oh Lord
                                           Who is like you - majestic in holiness, awesome in glory, working wonders?

Deuteronomy 7:21              Do not be terrified by them, for the Lord your God, who is among you,
                                          is a great and awesome God.

The word “awesome” is used 33 times in the Old Testament. How much more might those passages speak to our hearts if we were not desensitized to that word? Awesome isn’t the only example…how about the word sin, or love, or evil, or redemption, or fear, or holiness, or perfection? How much more impactful or amazing or awesome would it be if we were able to read God’s words, written and preserved by him, for us, with a deeper and more accurate understanding of what those words mean? We would know God better wouldn’t we? We would know him the way he means for us to know him!

In a passage that I think is challenging for a lot of us, Jesus says “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect”.  He delivers this line in the middle of the Sermon on the Mount. He drops this lesson on us right in between “Love your enemies” and instructing us to not only give to the needy, but to do it in secret. I think this passage is a stumbling block to a lot of people. If I can’t be perfect…like Jesus said…why should I even try?

“Perfect”. Here is another word we don’t really have a proper perspective on. Watch TV for an hour…you can have perfect hair, perfect teeth, perfect body, perfect kids, perfect cars, perfect spouse, perfect anything as long as you have a perfect job, or at least perfect credit. See, we have been led to believe that under the right circumstances, we can obtain perfection on our own. If we work hard enough, earn enough money, achieve a certain level of discipline, that perfect “whatever” is right there within our grasp.

Since we all are used to thinking that perfection is right there within our grasp, when Jesus says “as your heavenly Father is perfect” is it really that big of a deal? I think too many of us have the attitude that God is just a little bit bigger than us, just a little bit smarter than us, just a little bit stronger or aware or in control or whatever than we are. We might respect God for this, but it leaves us treating our creator like we treat our boss. “She might be a little bit smarter than me, but if I really wanted to I could do her job…probably better than she does.” “He knows more about the business than I do, but if I worked the hours he works I would know that much too…probably even more.”

I don’t believe Jesus says these words to frustrate us, and I don’t believe this is hyperbole.  I believe Jesus says this so that we realize how much we need him. Perfect doesn’t mean almost perfect, or pretty close to perfect, or on my way to perfect. I can achieve all of those things without Him. Perfect means PERFECT, like our heavenly Father is perfect. For that, all we can do is trust in Jesus.

James 2:10 drives this point home: For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it. You can’t get close to perfect. Imperfect is not right next to perfect, it is all the way on the other side of the Universe away from perfect.  It’s not a sliding scale, you are either perfect in every way, and are therefore God, or you are not, and therefore need Jesus. The law (rules) simply serves to make us aware of our sin (imperfections) so that we recognize the need for our savior.

And we have a Savior in Jesus who loves us more than we can even understand.

…THAT is epic…

2 Corinthians 12:7

2 Corinthians 12:7

To keep me from becoming conceited
because of these surpassingly great revelations,
there was given me a thorn in my flesh,
a messenger of Satan, to torment me.

Paul wrote these words. You all know about Paul, right? He was the highly educated, high profile, high potential Pharisee (religious leader) of his day. A Pharisee of Pharisees in his own words (Acts 23:6). Paul is the man who stood by approvingly and held the coats of those who stoned Stephen (Acts 7:58). He aggressively persecuted the young Christian church in Jerusalem (…breathing out murderous threats against the Lord’s disciples…Acts 9:1). If you are looking up the references, he was known as Saul then.  Paul, or rather Saul, was a man of this world…working hard, passionate, successful, religious, well-intentioned, knew of Jesus…I don’t know about you, but that sounds a lot like me. It is a pretty fair statement to say that everyone in our society knows of Jesus.

Then Saul met Jesus. That is a whole different thing. It completely changed his life. Understand this…the man who took the lead role in attempting to destroy the early church, ended up becoming the instrument of God to write a huge portion of the Bible. If you want to know the heart, the will, the intention, the love, the grace, the forgiveness, the joy of God, read Paul’s words. Out of the deepest depths of evil, Paul may have contributed more to the spreading of the good news of Jesus than any other person in history.

As a complete tangent to my point here…if God could use Saul to accomplish so much…what might he have in store for you?!

Ok…back to the point…what do you think Paul’s “thorn” was? Common sense would tell you that the person tasked to do such amazing things for God, would have a pretty easy time here on Earth wouldn’t it? I mean, If I were God, and I was going to choose a single person to write my love letter to the world I would make sure that he (or she) didn’t have any other distractions. Certainly I would stand between them and the Devil, certainly I would take care of their material needs for them. After all, isn’t that how we treat the important people in our society? So before we move any further, let’s all take a minute or two to thank God, that I am not God!

If you want to see how Paul was treated in this world during his ministry, check out 2 Corinthians 22-29. Just like you probably never sinned as greatly as Paul, you probably never had hardships as great as his either. Once Paul met Jesus, none of those things seemed to have any importance to him anymore. Paul had the perspective that this place is temporary, and the confidence that his permanent place is an amazing place, more than worth the little problems this world brings.

So you’ve had a couple minutes to think now…

                Was Paul a drunk?
                Did Paul have a lustful heart?
                Was Paul addicted to material things?
                Did he have a quick temper?
                Was he gay?
                Was his thorn a chronic pain?
                Did he gamble?
                Could he not forgive himself for the acts of his past?

We tend to put the fathers of our faith up on a pedestal, don’t we? Does the thought that Paul may have struggled with one of the things above anger you, or does it comfort you? I guarantee you that there are people who would stop reading this at the suggestion that Paul was a drunk, we get very emotional about these things. One of the most amazing things about the Bible is that it was written for all of us. Would Paul’s words (God’s words) really be effective if they were written by someone who was already living in heaven? Would you go to a marriage counselor who never had a problem in his marriage? Could you take a debt counselor seriously if she was born a multimillionaire? Could you love a savior who hadn’t experienced what it is like to live in this fallen world? God is perfect, we are not, but he knows that because he built us that way!
What is your thorn? What is the thing that no matter how close you get to God, keeps coming up to get in between you and your savior? I am confident that you have one…maybe even more than one, but you have at least one. You wouldn’t need Jesus in your life if you had no sin in your life. Do you think that God doesn’t love you because of your thorn? Do you think that God can’t use you in a positive way because you are not perfect? 

As Christians we strive for perfection, knowing that we cannot reach it. Matthew Chapter 5 has some of the most controversial commands from Jesus in it. Among these are: not only is murder a sin but being angry with your brother is a sin, not only is adultery a sin but looking at a woman lustfully is a sin, not only is divorce a sin but it causes your wife to commit adultery, an eye for an eye is in there…and so is loving your enemies. Can you imagine your pastor preaching all of that in the same sermon?? Chapter 5 closes with Jesus saying “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” In this is one of the dangers of mis-using the Bible.
If I were to read just this speech from Jesus (which goes on through chapter 7, Jesus never had to “squeeze it in” so the next service can start on time!) I would know in my heart that what he said is impossible. If I didn’t understand that in these passages, and really with his whole life, his intention was to show us how the devil has a hold on our hearts, and that only through Him (Jesus) can we be free of evil, I would be tempted to give up. When you see people mis-using these passages to cause harm, rather than healing, just know that you can see their thorn.

So I will ask again. What is your thorn? What is the thing that feels like it is separating you from God, when really it is helping you be closer to him? When you beg day after day for God to remove that thing from you, you are spending time with him. Fight, through prayer, and fellowship, and study, and worship, and confession, and any other means to remove the evil from your life, but never lose sight of the fact that God loves you and that he really does have everything under control. At the end of the day, like any good Father, that is all he really wants.  

John 3:16

John 3:16
For God so loved the world that He gave his only Son,
that whoever believes in him should not perish,
but have eternal life.

I don’t think that I have ever really understood the popularity of this verse. We see it at football games, athletes tattoo it on their arms, people we all think are crazy hold up signs proclaiming the verse (not the text, just the verse) on the street corner. It has even become a joke that people in Hollywood use to take shots at us Christians in the movies.

On the upside, just about anyone in America, inside the church or out, would be able to give you the gist of the verse…”something about God loving us and giving up his son for us...could you grab me another beer?”.  So in that sense, seeds have been planted, seeds that could grow into anything. God is amazing at how he works so I’m not knocking it, I just don’t understand it.

This verse is the foundational tenant of the Christian faith. If your heart allows you to accept all of the words in this verse at face value, with no question, then you and I are going to be partying in heaven whenever God is done with us here.

For those of us who need to dig a little deeper, these 24 words can cause some real stress.

Hundreds of books have been written by people just trying to just trying to get their heads around the first six words. Wars have been fought, and families have been divided, over the next six words. Do our prejudices allow us to really believe the completely open invitation of WHOEVER believes in him?  Do any of us even understand the full implications of the word “perish”? And, what is this “eternal life” stuff? As simple as these words are, trying to really understand the complete depth of their meaning has taken up entire lives of untold people.

Until recently, I have had some nagging questions in the back of my mind that has taken the punch out of this verse for me. First of all, let’s paraphrase the verse so that it is not so neat and clean. To me it is more like “You people, have so screwed up this beautiful creation and intention that God has given you, and even though you don’t even sort-of deserve it, he loves you anyway. And the only way you can maintain even a chance at having a relationship with him…even though you have turned your backs on his love, is for Me to allow you to brutally beat and kill My only son, who is God himself, so that you don’t all just go to hell, separated eternally from the one who loves you most…like you deserve…but get to spend eternity with your creator and your greatest lover, in a place and an existence that is so wonderful that your current minds can’t even imagine it.” Aren’t you glad there isn’t a gospel according to Rob?!

So here’s my questions: If God is eternal, and he would have to be, is it really such a big deal that Jesus died and then returned to God on the third day? So he is without his only Son for three days…what’s the stress with that? I go on business trips and don’t see my kids for longer than that. And, if God is omniscient, and he would have to be, he knows Jesus is coming back to him in a couple of days anyways so is it really that much of a sacrifice? And, if God is omnipotent, and he would have to be, why doesn’t he just avoid the whole “sacrificing my Son” thing, and give us some punishment that we deserve so we can just earn our tickets to everlasting happiness rather than him doing it for us?

OK…most of those questions are actually pretty blasphemous, truth be told. PLEASE don’t stop reading now. The purpose of my writing this is not to plant seeds of doubt, but to water seeds of faith.

The confusion that drives all of these questions is, at the end of the day, pretty simple. God is not bound by time the way we are. To Him, a day is an eternity and eternity is a day. Jesus died 2000 years ago as an acceptable sacrifice for the sin that I committed this morning. The early church fathers understood this. The very first sermon given by one of the apostles (Peter) right after they had received the Holy Spirit starts out by talking about the last days. In the next breath he goes all the way back to the Patriarch David, and what David had to say about Jesus. In only 22 versus of one chapter, the very first Sunday morning message ever delivered stretched from the end times all the way back to nearly the beginning of Judaism, then closes like this:
Repent and be baptized, everyone of you,
in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins.
And you will receive the Holy Spirit.
The promise is for you and your children
and for all who are far off –
for all whom the Lord our God will call…
Acts 2, 38-39
Notice the present tense; notice that this message is specifically for us (all who are far off). God knows us now, and he knew us then.

What does all of that have to do with Jesus’ sacrifice for us?

One more point before I bring it home. I love my kids. In one of the most amazing passages of the entire bible, Abraham was willing to sacrifice his only son for the Lord. I am honest enough to tell you that I could not do that. My love for my children is my driving passion, so the idea of God sacrificing His only son is almost offensive to me. I’m not God…if I were to sacrifice my child, I would never see him or her in my 40-or-so years I have left here. If I sacrificed my child, a part of me would be gone that will never be replaced. The pain experienced in sacrificing my child would be exponentially worse than if I could only sacrifice myself. That’s how I feel, and I bet that’s how you feel too. Guess what…our love for our children is only a shadow of the love God has for Jesus. We are imperfect in our love, he is perfect. We are loving through our sin, he has no sin. We love for decades, he loves for eternity. Our unwillingness to make that sacrifice is selfish, God is not selfish.

So what is the big deal about “God so loving the world that he gave his only Son”? He didn’t just give his only Son for 3 days 2000 years ago…he has to do it every day. In his eternal-ness God experiences the loss and separation of his only son every single day. Jesus experiences having to be apart from his Father every single day. That separation, that sacrifice, that pain is a part of our God that he has to experience every day as if it happened this day.

Knowing that, how important is John 3:16? That the creator of the world would do that…for you…how could you not want to be loved like this?