Archive for July 2010

Call Upon The Name Of The Lord pt 2

July 29, 2010

I am the God Of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob

It has become popular over the last 400 years to disassociate Jesus from His Hebrew roots. To replace Israel with the church in many readings from the Old Testament, and to generally hold the God portrayed in the Old Testament in contempt because of His judgments. I am here to tell you today that the God Jesus spoke of was the very same as the one Abraham and Moses spoke to, in fact it seems likely that it was the pre-incarnate Christ that they spoke to. Jesus also makes it clear that He came to seek and to save the lost sheep of Israel first of all. In God’s scheme of things it was only after the nation of Judah rejected Him that God then turned the gospel out into the world at large and made His acceptance of gentiles widely known. This is the meaning of the parable given in Luke 14:16-24 when the original guests who were invited to the feast refused to attend, God went out into the streets and ditches to find people among the poor and sick to attend the feast.
We are those people, we are grafted into the olive tree of God’s family, we are now in His family and God is glad to have us. Yet God has not forgotten Israel.

Here is something to think about for those who reject the idea that the God of the New Testament will levy judgment.
After Judah rejected Jesus and the concentrated efforts of the Apostles in the time between the crucifixion and the year 67 AD. The Jewish Zealots began a rebellion against Rome. The Jewish zealots were trying to force God’s hand. Surely, they thought, God would aid them against pagan Rome.
It was not to be, the society that rejected and insisted on crucifying the Messiah was dealt a blow when Jerusalem, including Herod’s temple, was besieged and burned by the future Emperor Titus, in 70 AD. Josephus the Jewish historian who was working for Titus at the time, chronicled this period of rebellion in great detail. After the fall and destruction of Jerusalem the Romans rebuilt the city in their own image with a temple to Jupiter on the site of Herod’s temple. The rebellion continued, various rebel outposts fell during several separate outbreaks, including the Herodium and Masada, There was a final rebellion in 132-134 AD led by a fellow named Simon Bar Kokhba who fancied himself to be the Messiah. The Romans had had quite enough by this time and after they defeated bar Kokhba they sold the surviving losers into slavery all over the Empire.
These events could be chalked up to bad luck for a bunch of folks who simply could not tolerate pagan overlords and who could not stop themselves from bucking Rome. Or they might be seen as a near perfect parallel to the destruction of Jerusalem (and Solomon’s temple) and the captivity of Judah by Nebuchadnezzar (most of the population of Judah was dragged off to slavery in Mesopotamia for 70 years). This sequence of events was clearly set forth in the Old Testament as judgment for Judah’s worship of idols and non adherence to the Law, in Jeremiah, Ezekiel and other books of the prophets.

So history speaks to us in a way none of us could have foreseen. Here we have a group of people who lived after the resurrection, who rejected and killed Jesus, and who killed some of the followers of Jesus and eventually drove the Apostles away from Jerusalem. They rebelled against and felt the full wrath of Rome, they were slaughtered and enslaved and their Holy city was destroyed. Now I don’t know about you, but I do not believe that this was a coincidence.
This is what Jesus was talking about in Matthew 21:33-46
33 “Hear another parable: There was a certain landowner who planted a vineyard and set a hedge around it, dug a winepress in it and built a tower. And he leased it to vinedressers and went into a far country. 34 Now when vintage-time drew near, he sent his servants to the vinedressers, that they might receive its fruit. 35 And the vinedressers took his servants, beat one, killed one, and stoned another. 36 Again he sent other servants, more than the first, and they did likewise to them. 37 Then last of all he sent his son to them, saying, ‘They will respect my son.’ 38  But when the vinedressers saw the son, they said among themselves, ‘This is the heir. Come, let us kill him and seize his inheritance.’ 39 So they took him and cast him out of the vineyard and killed him.
40 “Therefore, when the owner of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those vinedressers?”
41 They said to Him, “He will destroy those wicked men miserably, and lease his vineyard to other vinedressers who will render to him the fruits in their seasons.”
42 Jesus said to them, “Have you never read in the Scriptures:

‘ The stone which the builders rejected
Has become the chief cornerstone.
This was the LORD’s doing,
And it is marvelous in our eyes’?”

43 “Therefore I say to you, the kingdom of God will be taken from you and given to a nation bearing the fruits of it. 44 And whoever falls on this stone will be broken; but on whomever it falls, it will grind him to powder.”
45 Now when the chief priests and Pharisees heard His parables, they perceived that He was speaking of them. 46 But when they sought to lay hands on Him, they feared the multitudes, because they took Him for a prophet.

Matthew 21:33-46  New King James Version

Even as we consider how God judged Judah, we must also consider how He has so often restored His people.

10 This is what the Lord says: “You will be in Babylon for seventy years. But then I will come and do for you all the good things I have promised, and I will bring you home again.
11 For I know the plans I have for you,” says the Lord. “They are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope.
12 In those days when you pray, I will listen.
13 If you look for me wholeheartedly, you will find me.
14 I will be found by you,” says the Lord. “I will end your captivity and restore your fortunes. I will gather you out of the nations where I sent you and will bring you home again to your own land.”
Jeremiah 29:10-14 NLT

God had Jeremiah deliver this message as these people were being dragged off in chains. He is reassuring them that when they are ready to return He is there waiting.

Again and again in Scripture God defines His people as those who know Him, as those who seek Him. If you don’t know Him, He won’t protect you from the hazards of this world.
God’s mercy in this age is shown in the fact that anyone, absolutely anyone, who wishes can know Him. He has given us ample clues in the Gospels that He will go after anyone whose heart is His. Are we to doubt that He can reach a person in another culture if they want to know Him?
We have been addicted to the idea that Jesus is up in His place far, far away and that if anything is going to get done we must do it. I might add that this interpretation of how God’s work is done is highly flattering to our egos. Contrary to our attitudes, Jesus can and does work in people’s lives without our say so. He is even able to make contact with people without our help (ie the angel’s visit to Cornelius in Acts 10). We need to understand that it is not about us, it is all about Him. It is not our place to call the shots, we must follow the example of the Apostles who were directed by God in their work.
So how are we to respond to Him? Should we turn to Him out of fear of judgment?
No, that is not His message at all, really His message, in addition to forgiveness,  is that we can know Him, we can grow in Him, He will perfect us in His image. And last and perhaps least important we will avoid judgment in doing so.
If you are found in Him there is nothing this world can do to harm you.


The Coming Storm

July 27, 2010

Have you ever stood on a street corner to watch a storm roll in, and after ducking for cover from the hail and heavy rain you marvel at the efficient way the storm totally soaks everything, including you, in a matter of seconds. That is how it is with the things God is preparing to do. If you reach out to Him to embrace Him and all of the good things He brings to you, love, peace, His gentle guidance, even temper, companionship, and healing. When you open up your arms to Him, it will be like this storm, it will sweep over you and soak you in His blessings. Life looks very different when you see it reflected in His eyes. Life no longer has the tang of finality, the threat of destruction. There is promise and hope in His embrace.

But there is another storm, when you have kept God at a distance, when you have turned your back on Him at every opportunity, then He has no choice but to allow the storm, the destructive one, to sweep over you. For you see when you are His you are family and He is holding you close, and when you refuse Him, He does not know you.

I had to work in a storm close to a tornado once (in Kansas no less), the density of the heavy rain alone is enough to cause alarm, I began to wonder if I could drown while standing on solid ground, and that held my attention for a moment until the next strong gust of wind hit me. It was like something alive pushing me, bowling me over, and trampling me. So I got back up, finished what I had to do, and ran like a crazy man for cover. I was fortunate, the wind that knocked me over had a scary amount of lift in it, with a little more oomph in that zephyr I might have found myself in the next county, shaking hailstones out of my hair.
It would not have done any good to curse the storm even if I had been injured. It had no sympathy, only force. The destructive forces in this world are like that they push you over and trample you, and move on heedless of the calamity left in their wake. They can leave a person shocked and injured, lying in a ditch.

I survived that storm unscathed to later come to a deep appreciation of God’s mercy, He could have allowed the storm to take me, it is not such an unusual thing, but He didn’t, he preserved my life to shake me, to wake me up to the possibility that there was something more for me in this life.

Then one day I turned the corner and there He was with His arms stretched out to receive me. He took the storms in my heart and stilled them, He healed my wounds. My life has not been the same since.

Call Upon The Name Of The Lord

July 20, 2010

I have noticed recently a trend among the hip christians who like to have endless theological discussions on Facebook, this trend is demonstrated by the comment
“I couldn’t love the God of the Old Testament (hereafter OT), He is a murderer and He seems to delight in torturing people.”
This comment and many others like it reveal something about the people who make them. They have a thorough lack of understanding of the God of the OT.
In the OT God is sovereign, God is feared, and most of all God is right.

One of the effects of the fall and subsequent removal of Adam and Eve from the garden is an irrational fear of God. They hid out of fear from the very person they had been walking with just the evening before. With their act of rebellion they slipped from knowing God with certainty, to knowing that they were grossly imperfect and that God could destroy them, therefore they no longer believed in God’s demonstrated love toward them, they foundered on the rocks of fear and doubt, they even doubted that God had told them the truth, and they became strangers to the one who loved them most. When Adam and Eve ate the forbidden fruit they left God, not the other way around. When they fell Adam and Eve were no longer equipped to live in the presence of God. By listening to and believing the serpent, and turning their backs on the Lord, they had made their decision. So they had to be evicted from the garden.

This is a matter of putting another being before God, believing the words of another over God’s words. they listened to the serpent and believed the serpent’s lies over all that God had told them. There are some very interesting places in the OT where God could have taken another tack with us. One of those is in Genesis. If Adam had thrown Himself on the Lord’s mercy and confessed, things would have turned out rather differently for them. But he didn’t confess, he lied and blamed his wife and she blamed the serpent, and this is why I underscore the point that Adam and Eve left God not the other way around. They could have asked Him for and received forgiveness.

This becomes even more apparent when you read the chat that the Lord has with Cain, now the occasion was that Cain and Abel had each brought offerings to the Lord Cain of his harvest for he was a farmer, and Abel of his flocks for he was a shepherd. God favored Abel’s offering and rejected Cain’s. Now it is obvious from the context that Cain and God had quite a conversation, so it is evident that Cain was able to hear God. It also shows that God was interested in helping Cain. The problem was not that Cain did not believe in God, he did believe and he conversed with Him. The problem was that Cain insisted that God regard his offering with equal favor to that of Abel. Cain wanted to tell God what to do and he sought to force God’s hand by murdering his competition for God’s favor. This is obviously an evil attitude. And after the murder did Cain ask for forgiveness? No way dude, he just spent a half a chapter bewailing his cursed situation. We would call it crying in his beer.

Then a little later, God brings our attention to something new which was happening He introduces us to Enoch and he talks about how Enoch walked with the Lord for 300 years and then God took him.
Now in the world which Genesis unfolds for us which is becoming increasingly rebellious, wicked and willful, God brings us the story of someone who knew Him and walked with Him. Someone who had a close relationship with Him, and shortly afterward God judges the earth and it’s inhabitants and destroys them. But standing on it’s own, in glaring contrast to that judgement, is the treatment He gave to the man who knew Him, who walked with Him. God received Enoch to Himself, He preserved Enoch’s righteous offspring Noah and his family and He disposed of the wicked ones.

When I was a kid I read about the Nuremberg trials for the Nazi war crimes and later the capture of Adolf Eichmann, I remember that for the worst crimes against humanity imagineable there was only hanging as an option. If human courts and human judges can only think of swift execution as the penalty for unbelievable evil and that is considered just, then don’t you understand that God who knows every motive and evil deed is certainly entitled to do with us as He sees fit.

Now I don’t know about you, but instead of playing at being God by judging God I think I would like to understand what the narrative is telling me. It is saying that if I walk with God like Enoch did, and indeed Adam and Eve before the fall, if I get to know God, then God will preserve me and take me into His own care, and not only that but He will walk and talk with me as a friend, but if I turn my back on Him, pursue my own selfish interests and try to hang labels on God and judge the righteous judge (as did Cain and the pharisees) He will declare that He does not know me and He will cast me out.

Time after time in the OT we find God expounding upon and often mourning His loss of relationship with His people, from the high poetry of David, to the amazing pronouncements of Isaiah, to the tearful pleadings of Jeremiah. Again, again, and again God calls His own into deeper relationship, a call which was largely ignored. Again and yet again He puts the most important messages for Israel and Judah in strictly relational terms. If His people sought Him and walked humbly with Him, He would preserve, and cherish them, as a husband would his wife, but if they were unfaithful to Him and worshipped idols he would turn His back on them and destruction would surely follow.

So finally we come to this, the most amazing declaration from the “angry” God of the OT hidden in the middle of one of the most legalistic of the books of the law.

“1  “When the time arrives that all these things have come upon you, both the blessing and the curse which I have presented to you; and you are there among the nations to which ADONAI your God has driven you; then, at last, you will start thinking about what has happened to you;  2  and you will return to ADONAI your God and pay attention to what he has said, which will be exactly what I am ordering you to do today – you and your children, with all your heart and all your being.  3  At that point, ADONAI your God will reverse your exile and show you mercy; he will return and gather you from all the peoples to which ADONAI your God scattered you.  4  If one of yours was scattered to the far end of the sky, ADONAI your God will gather you even from there; he will go there and get you.  5  ADONAI your God will bring you back into the land your ancestors possessed, and you will possess it; he will make you prosper there, and you will become even more numerous than your ancestors.  6  Then ADONAI your God will circumcise your hearts and the hearts of your children, so that you will love ADONAI your God with all your heart and all your being, and thus you will live.”

Deuteronomy 30:1-6 The Complete Jewish Bible

Can’t you see He is saying when you return to Me I will return to you, but the message is actually much deeper than that, He means, when you return to Me I will be there for I did not leave you, it is you who left Me.

This is the very same message Jesus brought to Judah in His day,
Jesus said
“O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the one who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her! How often I wanted to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing!
Matthew 23:37 NKJV

Jesus said
10″For the Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was lost.”
Luke 19:10 NASB

Jesus said
39 “You search the Scriptures because you think they give you eternal life. But the Scriptures point to me!
40 Yet you refuse to come to me to receive this life.
John 5:39-40 NLT

Jesus said
7 “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you.
8 For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened.
Matthew 7:7-8 NKJV

God’s message of relationship has never changed. It is and always has been God who has come after us.
Do not be deceived, we are not going to suddenly get up one day and heroically thrash through the impassible jungle to find Him. Not even close!
He is standing next to you waiting for you to respond to Him. He is closer than you think. He is closer than your next breath. And it was the same for the people of the OT it’s just that the Messiah had not yet come.

Jesus Is My Strength

July 14, 2010

It is the end of a very long day. I am weary of holding up my head, my arms lie slack at my sides. Though I am not restrained, I can scarcely move, my words dribble uselessly from my lips, though my mind is lively enough. I am strengthened by the knowledge that I feel so very weak and useless, for My Lord is strong and capable. He will refresh Me, He will prepare me for the ordeals of tomorrow and the days after. My Lord is all the strength I need, for I am nothing, and I have nothing, who am I after all?

Who am I? I am His beloved son, I am one of the precious lost lambs He came to seek in the wilderness. He found me cowering under a bush, tangled in it’s thorns. He heard my desperate cry and such is his regard that He came after me Himself.
He disentangled me, carefully lifted me out and slung me across His shoulders. He sang a song of joy as He carried me to safety.

Whatever worth I have is solely based on His regard, He reckoned that I am worth the price He paid for me. For He bought me out of slavery. It wasn’t easy for my owner did not want to release me. He came Himself to collect me from my angry owner, the one who is my enemy. As He approached me, He shouted encouragement to me as the battle began. At great risk to Himself, He drove the enemy back and drew me to Himself, and He placed me safely among His personal guard, this was not His fight, no no, this fight was the battle I was losing, indeed the one I had already lost. To rescue me He carried the day, for there is no one who can withstand Him. He has trampled my enemy under His feet. He has set me free.

He drew me out of the fire a large, ugly, red lump of iron without shape or form, He took me out of the fires of adversity and He forged me into something useful and He gave me a name, I stand because he set me on my feet, I breathe because He gave me life. I love because he first loved me and taught me love.
He is the Lord of all and I can trust Him with my wants and needs, indeed if I leave my care to Him, He may surprise me with things I never even thought to ask for. He loves me more than I know, I know He does because He tells me so. And I can see it in every beautiful sunrise and sunset.

All of these things He has done, He found me when I was lost, He wrested me away from my enemy and set me free, and He shaped me as a craftsman would shape a fine tool, for His purposes. I needed him to find me and save me and shape me, but most of all I need Him. Jesus is my King. Although he knew every unpleasant detail about me, He is the first person who loved me completely. He is my strength, and my life, and I will live with Him forever.

The Masked Ball

July 7, 2010

I grew up in a city and an environment which valued appearances over just about everything else. So I am rather sensitive to the images which others attempt to project to mask the truth. For much of my life as a teenager my family tried to project the idea that we were upper middle class when in fact we were gliding along on a thin veneer of credit.

Then when I was older I ran off to be a hippy and even among the groovy I found that they were, in fact, merely projecting an image of coolness to mask their inadequacies. Later I went on to work in television where everyday we interviewed people who were projecting a desirable image in the hopes that someone would do business with them or support their cause. Almost everyone you meet is projecting an image of what they want you to think of them rather than who they really are. Some projected images are for the sake of business, they are professional personas. Some images exist because the individual is not able to cope with the harsh reality of their lives, I call this type of projected image Fantasy World.

I am very familiar with Fantasy World because I used to live there. Now in my case I lived in Fantasy World because I was actually a scared little boy who quailed in the presence of authority figures, so I had to create a confident persona to keep the abusive people from taking advantage of me, because nothing attracts a bully like apparent weakness. So in the land of plastic, smiling beauty queens  I had my own fake smile and false confident air. For years I projected a false front of competence to hide my incompetence and I drank to soothe my fears, to prop up my cardboard courage.

Eventually I realized the damage I was inflicting on myself. So I quit drinking and joined a church, and because it seemed like such a complete change, I did not notice that really, nothing had changed. I still had a mask to wear to any and all religious events. And there were bullies to avoid in that atmosphere too. My projected image was cleaner, shinier, but there was a hole in my seemingly perfect armor.

Then one day outside the confines of the local church and quite apart from the usual religious context I came face to face with Jesus. There were no projected images or masks which could protect me from Him, but in that vulnerable moment I realized that He is the one person who can be trusted. He saw me as I am and He did not turn away from me. He did not belittle me, instead He befriended me. He said that He was going to heal my heart so that I would be less and less dependent on my mask. Then He walked me through the wounds and scars which made me so fearful. He did not send me there to relive those awful moments alone, no, He went with me so that I would see that those woundings and the scars they caused were not as overwhelming as I thought. I could turn all of those things, which I had never been able handle, over to Him.

Now each day is fresh and new, He is willing to walk with me as I mature in Him. Do I stumble at times? Yes, I do. Does He discipline me? Oh yes, but I have to say that He is the Master of the appropriate word. He doesn’t condemn me, He corrects me. He will never bully me, He loves me, no one I have ever known has loved me like He does.

I can recommend His care from experience, surely you don’t want to live a life behind a false front, lay aside your masks and your elaborate projected images, and throw your cares on Him, depend on Him. Cast your lot with Jesus. He loves you and He wants to know the real you, the one without the mask.

Who Is My Neighbor, Where is My Heart?

July 5, 2010

There are many things in life which astound me. One of them is the peculiar ability of people to ignore the indications of big problems around them. We have had, up until recently, a medical system where if you had money you could survive health problems and possibly improve, and if you didn’t have the money, well let’s just say there was not much “care” in health care for the poor.
This state of affairs has suited a lot of people (mostly those who could afford it) for a very long time and it was always something which puzzled me. You see I had heard that there was another possibility, ever since I was in sixth grade some 45 years ago, when my social studies teacher told his class about a bicycle accident he had when he was visiting England, of course you know the local medics patched him up (he was a tourist, not a citizen) and set him free without even the hint of a bill. Yet I have met, over the years, people in the USA who were slowly dying from treatable conditions simply because they could not afford the best health care services.
Now I am not trying to get into a health care debate. What I am trying to do is question the state of our hearts, When there are people around us who are suffering for lack of what might be pocket change to us. Are we seeing? Are we looking? Do we care?

Not too long ago, I ran across a reference to the fact that many banks reserve the right to foreclose on a mortgage holder when the value of their property falls below a certain point (to be fair, it is a matter of collateral), it doesn’t matter if the mortgage holder has been keeping up their payments or not. A person can be foreclosed on simply for having the misfortune to buy a house in a neighborhood whose property values are suddenly declining. Sounds pretty heartless doesn’t it? Why aren’t we outraged by this?
I see more people protesting animal cruelty than this obvious abuse of fellow human beings.

I read recently that in a time when many people are finding it impossible to find a job, and many have been foreclosed on and are living in the streets, a city not far from us, Boulder, CO, the most liberal city in the state, has passed a law making it a crime to sleep outdoors in a sleeping bag. Now that may not sound like it would cramp your style much, but it means a $100 fine for a number of homeless people who have been turned away from a shelter and who don’t have that kind of money to begin with. Here are two stories which deal with this matter.

The heartless, unsympathetic comments from readers which I read on the newspaper’s website will just about curl your hair, I know they curled mine.

So, while I am pondering these things someone has the nerve to tell me we are a christian nation, I have to say yes, we have a culture which is mostly christian in origin, but I have to ask where is our heart?

Now Jesus was a person who cared about the ordinary guy, He usually hung out with the riff-raff of His society, He did so because there were no exclusive rights to enjoying His presence, you could not buy an audience with Jesus. In fact He sought out the poor, the weary, and those who had lost their way. He would often bless those who could not afford the blessings of the well to do. He would seek out the people who were cursed by the religious leaders of His time, the poor, the leprous, the Samaritans. Why is it that we as a culture do not feel the urge to help and bless that Jesus did?
I would contend (and I include myself in this), apart from our own struggles to survive in this world, that individually we lack the strength and courage and most of all His Spirit to bring us into the fullness of life which He has laid before us. He said that if we would only ask He would provide.

9″So I say to you, ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you.

10″For everyone who asks, receives; and he who seeks, finds; and to him who knocks, it will be opened.

11″Now suppose one of you fathers is asked by his son for a fish; he will not give him a snake instead of a fish, will he?

12″Or if he is asked for an egg, he will not give him a scorpion, will he?

13″If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him?”

Luke 11:9-13 NASB

In your everyday life you may find it impossible to do anything to help anyone. But there is One who can help. Humbly seek Him, ask Him to revitalize your heart, and soon you will learn how much God cares for you and your less fortunate neighbors. He will make a way to help and to heal.