Friday, June 26, 2020

When did Christians give up on Christ?

When did Christians give up on Christ?

Well, that’s a provocative statement.  Where’s it coming from?

I see more and more people who profess to be Christians noting that prayer just makes you feel good.  It really has nothing more than an emotional satisfaction for the one who offers the prayer.

I understand the sentiment.  People feel frustrated and helpless, especially in today’s world where one issue is given center stage by media of all sorts and it seems that nothing happens to address the problem.  It seems like nothing is happening.

But why trivialize prayer?  What does that accomplish?

Warning!  This next segment is about the thickness not the color of your skin.  Stop here if the truth offends you.  Trivializing prayer is the tool of the devil.  The Father of Lies wants you to think that your prayers are not powerful and effective.

I scroll by dozens, maybe hundreds of nonsensical posts most days, but when I seen one in which false premises are used to subtlety twist God’s holy word, I see the devil at work and often stand in the gap so that believers will not be deceived.

Jesus calls us to ask, seek, and continue knocking when we need something. 

Trivializing prayer is cowardice.  Remember God reminding Joshua to be strong and courageous.  God was not making things easy.  He was going into battle before and with Joshua as he had promised through Moses.

But why call this cowardice?  Because God may not give you the answer that you want and you might just be afraid of what he will call you to do.  

You might be afraid of what he calls you to do!

What if the change needed must come first in your own heart?  What if God calls you to replace shame and guilt with obedience to him?  What if God tells you to extract the lumberyard in your own eye before insisting that everyone see things your way?

But there are problems that need to be fixed and they require action not prayer.  

The statement about problems is accurate.  The attached condition is of the devil. 

If God calls you to action, then act.  If he calls you to more prayer, then pray.  The two are not exclusive.

In fact, prayer often leads us to action.    Action without prayer often spoils our best efforts.  Remember that Nehemiah prayed when put on the spot by the king as to what he wanted.  The king could give him whatever he thought would fix things, but he prayed first.  As it turned out, what was on his heart and God’s desire were most compatible.

God will not call you to minimize the work of his Son or to mock God in any form, as to say that his word returns void.

A cause of action feels good.  Rallying cries abound.  Emotions run high.  We can do this if everyone will get on board!  We can build a tower to heaven and make a name for ourselves!

We can do this if everyone will be of like mind with me!  Don’t let prayer get in the way!

You can do things that way.  It will be like eating candy as your complete diet.  You will have a rush and then a stomach ache.  The only question will be, will your teeth rot before your cause dies a whimpering death?

For those who truly study the Bible, and some caught up in the current schemes of the enemy still do read their Bibles on occasion, God’s words lay out a simple dichotomy.  There is God’s way and there is everything else.

If you are on the everything else path, you will be consumed in your quest.  Without God’s sustainment, your efforts won’t last long.  They will have no efficacy.  You will feel helpless and hopeless in a few months, which by the way, is exactly where the enemy wants you.

You will feel like you are full of purpose for a time, but if it is not God-given purpose it will neither last nor produce the fruit that God desires.  It’s like God telling you to plant broccoli but you want to plant tomatoes.  You plant the tomatoes and ask God to bless your crop.  Then a few months later you say that God doesn’t hear your prayers. 

Pray without ceasing.  Have an ongoing conversation with God.  Don’t give him a list of acceptable options.  Listen to him.  His Spirit will lead you in accordance with his word.  There may be plenty of challenges in what he calls you to do but there will be no dissonance.

Don’t let the devil use your anger to disconnect you from God.  Anger is a natural human emotion.  Sustained anger and anger in which we feel righteous comes easy but does not produce the righteous life that God desires. 

But nothing seems to be happening!  We need action.  You guys need to get onboard!

If you are at this point and it seems that many are, ask:  Did I pray and expect to receive?  Am I a double-minded doubter?

Was my heart hardened when I prayed?  Did I only want action from others?  What if, I never actually surrendered my life to my Lord?

What if I am trying to fit God into my box?  What if I am trying to conform God’s will to my own? 

If you believe that prayer only makes you feel good, you have been deceived.  The question is are you content in the deception in which you live?  Your emotions may say yes, but the truth says no. 

For the Christian, the Spirit of God that lives within you is inviting you to confess and trust in God’s promised pardon.

God wants you back in the race and our race often has some hurdles along the way.  He has great plans for you, some of them might even involve fixing those things that are on your heart, but you can’t go it alone for long.

Sometimes as much as we think we are ready for action, we must let the Lord have his way with us before we can impact the world.  Sometimes, he has prepared us in advance. We must trust him over the voice of the world to know when the time is right and the course the Lord has given us.

Yes, we must know that his ways are not our ways, but we must take courage, for we have been given the mind of Christ.  He has overcome the world and because he lives in us no challenge in the world is too great.

Now is not the time to discount or dismiss prayer as something good only for an emotional fix.  If you believe in Christ and the odds are that if you read this far, you have professed him as Lord, why would you discount his directives?

The prayers of a righteous person—one made right with God in the blood of Jesus—are powerful and effective.

Do we ignore the problems of the world?  No.  We ask God what part he has assigned us and we do not argue with him if it’s not what we had in mind.

Know that his answer will be covered in, rooted in, and guided by love for he is love and Jesus has commanded to love each other as much as he loves us.

Will we pay lip service to God and do things our own way or will we wait upon the Lord and trust him to tell us exactly what we are to do?

We can’t discount prayer as just a feel good about ourselves device and expect to impact problems in this world. Prayer is a real connection.  We are guided by the Holy Spirit as we study God’s written word and as we seek him and listen to him in prayer.

The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective.

Thursday, June 25, 2020

Looking a Blind Man in the Eye

In chapter 9 of John’s gospel, Jesus healed a man who had been blind since birth.  Jesus put mud in his eyes and told him to go wash.  There is more detail but I want to get to the part where he was healed.  He could see!

Some said that this was the man who hand been blind since birth and others said it only looked like him.  Here’s the question of the day.  How could they not know?

How could they not know?

They probably never really saw him.  They knew he was there and quickly proceeded past him surely in some discussion of world-saving importance.  They didn’t want to look his way.

They didn’t want to look a blind man in the eye for if they did, they might just be compelled to compassion and mercy.  They might have seen another person—someone made in the image of God—and they would have been compelled to mercy.

That might have cost them money or time.  It would have taken them off their path of urgent demands and out of their comfort zones.  It might have given them eyes to see and left them without excuse for not showing mercy.

How was it that the people that had walked by the blind man hundreds or thousands of times on their way back and forth on that road over the past decade couldn’t tell if it was the same man who could now see? They never really saw him.

Just as the priest and Levite walked on the other side of the road in the parable of the Good Samaritan, most of the people who had walked by this man daily wished the road was wider and that they could walk on the other side as well.

Fortunately, this doesn’t happen today.  Actually, it happens much, much more but we have become more subtle about it.  We find ways not to see the blind man on the side of the road.

Programs and movements lump people into groups and categories and divide them according to the whims of the program instead prompting the power of compassion to jump into action.  Programs have metrics.  People need relationship.  Programs let us keep our distance.  Mercy makes connections.

See a man not a movement.

Look the blind man in the eye and be led by the Spirit.
Do not surrender the Spirit that God placed inside of you to something that voids the relationships he intended for you.

Build God’s kingdom in this age one relationship at a time.  Be known by your love not your membership.

Meet people where they are but lead them to life for God has given life to us thorough relationship with him

John 13 - Part 3

Read John 13

I will begin with the end of the chapter.  Peter is pumped up.  He doesn’t understand everything.  In fact, Jesus really upset his apple cart when he washed his feet.  Then there was this business about one of the them betraying him.  Jesus told his followers where he was going they could not go, at least yet.

Peter asked, “Why can’t I go?  I will lay down my life for you.”

Jesus told him that he had some real experiences ahead of him.  Some of them would seem unbelievable at this moment where Peter seemed so dedicated to following Jesus wherever that path led.  Here’s the one that had to strike at Peter’s core.

Very truly I tell you, before the rooster crows, you will disown me three times!

Ouch!  There’s more on that story down the road, but let’s stay in the room with Jesus and the disciples for now.

His hour had come.  Things intensified among the disciples even though they were gathered for a meal.  It was time for Jesus to live out the glory appointed to him.  That is, he would die for our sins and take his life up again.  That still did not register with his closest friends.

Jesus told his followers that where he was going, they could not go—yet.  There would be more on that in the chapters to come.

Jesus then gave his disciples some words that are very dear to us.

A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.  By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”
We know the command.  We repeat it frequently.  If I say God loves you, I will surely get many responding Love one another.  It’s a good antiphonal tool, but we need to understand the surrounding verbiage.

We know that we are to love the Lord our God with everything that we are and have.  And we are to love our neighbor as much as we love ourselves.

We all told that all of the law and the prophets hang on these two commandments.  Sometimes we cannot connect the horticultural directives with love, but we understand that every directive that God gave us is rooted in his love for us.

Love is important to God.  It is so important that we are told that is his identity.  God is love.  God has many names that reflect his many attributes, but at the core of God's existence is love.

OK, we get that.  Love God to the max and love my neighbor as much as I love myself.  I get it.

So, why in the world would Jesus give us a new command that sounds a lot like the old ones?  Love one another, yeah, we get that.

Jesus prefaced the command with as I have loved you.  Jesus had just washed the feet of his disciples to demonstrate servanthood and was a very short time away from dying on the cross.  Jesus had begun his ministry with the words follow me. 

Follow me.  These are words that only an infantryman can appreciate.  It’s not, go take that hill.  It’s follow me.

 Follow me.  There are some words that say skin in the game. 

Jesus was not telling his disciples to love their neighbor as much as they loved themselves.  He told them to love each other as much as he had loved them.  They lived with Jesus for 3 years.  They were with him when he was teaching and preaching, when he performed miracles, when he told the woman who was surely going to be stoned, that he did not condemn her.

They were with him when he loved those lumped into the general group labeled sinners and when he healed those pushed to the outermost parts of respectable society.  They were with him when he confronted religious hypocrisy. 

We have all heard the phrase, lead by example.  Jesus just commanded those who followed him to love by example, by his example.

Before, people were commanded to love God with everything they had.  Now Jesus is telling his followers to do the same with each other. That raised the bar.  That raised the bar a whole bunch.

You have heard the Robert Browning saying that a man’s reach should exceed his grasp.   We as people who seek God and his Kingdom and his righteousness couldn’t even get the love your neighbor as much as you love yourself part accomplished.  Now, we are to love each other as much as Christ loved his disciples, as much as he loved the world.

We must reach for more.

Look at it this way.  Jesus said that he came not to do away with the Law and the prophets but to fulfill them—to complete them.  He came to accomplish them.

Do you think that he did that or did he come up short?  Did he fulfill the law or was he just spitballin’ a little after rattling off the Beatitudes with no intent on following through? I’m really hoping that he didn’t come up short.  I’m counting on the fact that an unblemished Lamb went to the cross, not some Malachi era sacrifice.

Did his words, it is finished, mean he had accomplished what he was sent to do or that he threw in the towel and just said, get me out of here? I’m counting on the fact that he finished the work that he was sent to do.

The law did not go away.  It was not abolished.  None of us—ever—accomplished living by the law.  Some lived in God’s favor and were after his own heart, but none could live faultlessly by the directives promulgated from Mount Sinai through Moses.  Not one, save Jesus.

So, when Jesus completed a life that accomplished what the law and prophets had prescribed, surely there would be more.  He did not do this just to say, the status quo is still in effect, there was more.  There is more.  That more is to love God and his creation—each other—with everything we have.  In fact, our love for God is most often demonstrated by our love for each other.

We will fulfill the law.  We will fulfill it through love that we know in Christ Jesus.  Some people will think this a cop out.  It’s too easy. 

If that is your mindset, consider the example of Jesus.  He could have remained in heaven and been obedient to this Father and righteously brought condemnation upon a sinful world, but he came to save not condemn.  This was a tough road.  Judging us on obedience would have been much easier, but his way was his Father’s way which is love.

Jesus has told us that his way must be our way and that way is love.  He did what no other man had done—fulfilled the written law.  Now he has placed a more challenging law on our hearts.

We have been graduated by Christ from that which works from the outside to that which emanates from within. 

Salvation is here.  Condemnation is gone.  Nothing can separate us from the love of God that we know in Christ Jesus, but the bar on the metrics of our response has been raised.

We will continue to say God loves you and Love one another, but we must know that the second part aims higher than the original command which was to love our neighbor as ourselves.  It does not do away with loving our neighbor as much as we love ourselves.  That command has just become a mile marker that we pass on our way to loving as much as Christ loved us.

Just as the law did not go away but the glory of God shown in Christ Jesus surpassed it, so too does this command surpasses the first.

Remember our command is to love one another.  That always applies.  But remember that Jesus commands those of us who follow him to love each other as much as he loved us.

It may seem like trying to learn calculus and elementary analysis in the third grade, but that is our target.  Surely, our reach exceeds our grasp, but we keep reaching nonetheless.

As much as he loved us, so we must love each other.

I am reminded of a quote most frequently attributed to President John Kennedy, but he was quoting Reverend Phillip Brooks who had passed from this earth some 30 years before Kennedy was born.  Brooks said:

Do not pray for easy lives. Pray to be stronger men.

Let me make corollary here.  Don’t pray for God to lower the bar.  Pray that he equips us to reach it exactly where he placed it.

That is our command from our Master.  He is with us.  His Spirit lives within us.  Let’s see how far we can reach.

As much as he loved us, so we must love each other.

By way of encouragement, I add this.  Sometimes people call and jumble the words Cumberland Presbyterian.  Sometimes even Presbyterian is a mouthful.  I smile and chuckle inside when someone on the phone can’t get the words right and just say, “Is this that love church?”

These are affirmations that we are headed the right direction.  There’s heading the right direction and only going a few steps and there’s getting close to the mark.

How will we know when we are getting close to the mark?  How will we know?

People will know us by our love.  Not just when the name of the denomination is hard to pronounce and even more difficult to spell.  They will know us by our love.

Not by our cars.  Not by our tee shirts.  Not by our worship attendance.  Not by our memes and likes and shares.  Not by our political pontifications.  Not even by how much scripture we memorize, but by our love.

By our love!

People will know we belong to Christ Jesus by our love.  They will know we are Christians by our love.


Wednesday, June 24, 2020

John 13 - Part 2

Read John 13

Man, that was some weird stuff.  Watching him walk on water or raise Lazarus from the dead was amazing.  I now believe the unbelievable because Jesus is from God, but having him wash my feet.  That was some weird stuff right there.

I’m glad that we are just enjoying our meal again.  Now we can just relax and eat dinner.

Those are my reconstituted thoughts on the thoughts of one or more of the disciples.

Jesus taught a little.  It was familiar stuff.  If you accept me, you accept the one who sent me.  Been there, done that.  We know that part.  Good no parables.

But once again, we will get a glimpse of the Son of God’s humanity.  He is troubled.  His spirit is troubled.  Jesus knew what was ahead of him; yet he was troubled.  He knew all along that he would die, but this is different.
One of you is going to betray me.

Peter gets John to ask Jesus just who would betray him.  Jesus told John that it was who the disciple to whom he would give the dipped piece of bread.  Jesus gave it to Judas, son of Simon Iscariot.  He told Judas to go do what he had to do and do it now.

The disciples thought that Judas was sent to buy food or give money to the poor.  John said nothing. 

We are told that Satan entered Judas and he left the room as soon as he received the bread.

Remember that his hour had come.  With the departure of Judas, the minute hand advanced 10 or 15 minutes.  The Sanhedrin had decided to kill Jesus.  The betrayer was on the way to them.  It was Passover Week.

The disciples just sat there.  Think deer in the headlights. 

What did he just say?  What does that mean?  Pass the bread.

This was not your uncle telling off color jokes at Thanksgiving dinner and everyone rolling their eyes.  This was gut wrenching stuff.  Jesus just washed their feet and next he said that he is going to be betrayed.  Was it Judas or was Judas just running an errand.  Was the one who would betray the Master just revealed and allowed to walk out of the room?

We know the story.  Imagine what it was to sit at that table and wonder what would come next.
If I ever get around to writing a skit for this meal, one of the disciples is going to say, “The whole thing had gone 2020.”

For now, know that his hour had come and the minute hand was advancing quickly.


John 13 - Part 1

Read John 13

Long ago and far away, I learned how to teach and train.  The standard was LDA.  That’s lecture, discussion, and application.  Later on, in other studies, I learned four basic modes of teaching and training:  Audio, Visual, Tactile, and kinesthetic. 

I’m sure there are new names now, warm and fuzzy names, but that’s the way I learned them.  You talk and discuss, demonstrate, practice hands on, and sometimes you go with the flow and if you’re the instructor, you sometimes must create the flow.

Who’d a thunk it?  Jesus knew how to engage his followers with all these methods.

His hour had come.  We are not talking 60 minutes, but time was short.  Jesus was headed to the cross to die for our sins in a very short time.

His hour had come.  What do you do when you don’t have much time left on this earth?  You eat.

Jesus and his disciples were gathered for a meal.  It was the evening meal.  Maybe it would be just a little time to relax.  Maybe it would be something like the time at the Jordan when people were not hounding Jesus with all sorts of questions.  Maybe it would be a time just for Jesus and his disciples.

It was, but it surely was not what any of the disciples had expected.  Jesus stood up.  He took off his outer clothing.  He wrapped a towel around his waist and filled a basin of water. 

That surely got everyone’s attention but what he did next had them dumbfounded.  He started going around the room washing the feet of his disciples.

Hold your holy horses right there.  Jesus is the Son of God.  He is the Messiah.  He is surely the guest of honor at this meal as well.  This is some kind of joke, right?  Jesus was having some fun, right?

Maybe he was.  Nothing says that learning can’t be fun and this was first-hand and first-rate education.  Servants, not masters, wash feet; yet, sure enough that was Jesus making his way around the room.

Peter would have none of this.  If the rest of the disciples wouldn’t put a stop to this nonsense, he would.  Lord, are you really going to wash my feet?

Jesus told Peter that he didn’t understand at that moment but that later he would.  It probably seemed like the math teacher telling the kid that asks, when will we ever use this stuff, that they would later in life.  Math teachers may have to be natural-born liars to keep their kid’s interest.

Not really—2020 got them off the hook.  Who would have thought that someone would be using the parabolic formula and standard deviations even on Sesame Street?  To flatten the curve, you have to have a curve to flatten. 

People are bad-mouthing 2020 but this is the year of redemption for the math teachers of the world.

Back to washing feet.  Jesus told Peter, you will understand this later, but Peter still wanted none of it.  No!  You are not washing my feet.  That dog don’t hunt.  This is all upside down.

Jesus said a lot in a few words.  You don’t want this, you don’t want me.

Ouch!  Peter didn’t come this far to get disqualified on a bathing technicality.  He wanted a full bath.  Scrub extra behind the ears.

Jesus told Peter if you already had a bath, all you needed was to wash your feet.  These were not last-minute hygiene details for the people who didn’t wash their hands as often as some of the hypocrites thought they should.

This was not a tactile and kinesthetic technique inserted at the last minute due to a shortage of sanitizer dispensers in the first century. 

This was you have been with me and learned from me and when the Spirit comes it will all make sense.  I just need to put a few things into perspective before I go.

There’s the comment that I’m sure John felt obliged to put in this part of his gospel.  You are clean, well almost all of you are clean.  Even Lava with pumice wouldn’t get Judas clean.  So as far as cleanliness went, 11 out of 12 were clean.

But Jesus was modeling service not hygiene.  He said, you know me as Teacher and Lord and those are appropriate titles but they do not define what I came to do.

Titles, rank, status did not restrict what Jesus came to do.  He came to serve and save.

He did not come to be served—though he could have insisted on that without any fault in the demand.  He came to serve.

Jesus told his disciples that if their leader can model servanthood in this way, they should not think it beneath them.  Go and do likewise.

This was not the beginning of the first century clean feet movement.  This was about humbling yourself and serving others.

You don’t serve very well if you are arrogant.

Testimonies not titles will take the good news to the world.

God’s love in action most often manifests itself in service and giving and not letting our titles and status get in our way of loving God by serving each other, even the least of these among us.

When we think of God not giving us a spirit of fear, we must not be afraid to mix it up with the least of these our brothers and sisters.  We open doors when we serve.  People hear our message when we show God’s love in our service.

The Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve.  We are to do likewise.


Wednesday, June 17, 2020

John 12 - Part 4

Read John 12

Remote healing.  Yes, socially distanced healing.

He had me at water to wine.  What gives?

Not everyone saw every miracle, but by this point there were thousands upon thousands of first-hand witnesses and testimonies galore.  OBTW—the evidence from that resurrection was still walking around. There was a plan afoot to kill him, but as far as we know, it was never implemented.

Yes, some of these miracles, these mighty acts of God, just happened to occur on the Sabbath.  None of the rule-makers could answer the question if it was permissible to do good on the Sabbath.  Well, they could have answered, but if they answered truthfully, accepting Jesus as the Christ would have to follow.

John tried to add some context and perspective from the Prophet Isaiah.

“Lord, who has believed our message
    and to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?”

But still, the question does not answer the blindness of the Pharisees and other religious leaders.  Again, we visit Isaiah.

    and hardened their hearts,
so they can neither see with their eyes,
    nor understand with their hearts,
    nor turn—and I would heal them.”

Isaiah spoke these words not so much because of the apostacy of God’s Chosen People but because of the glory of God that would come into this world.  Isaiah was speaking about the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.

Jesus willingly became the sacrifice for our sins, but he would not kill himself.  He would not take his own life.  He gave it freely but someone must be the instrument of execution.  A people blind to the glory of God and a people prone to violence were just the perfect combination and perfect historical timing.

For as much as the religious hierarchy despised the Romans, they made perfect coconspirators to murder.  The Lamb of God would be sacrificed for our sins.  He gave his life freely but somebody had to do the dirty work.  Somebody had to kill him.

For all of the blindness to the cosmic pieces that had fallen into place to shed blood for the forgiveness of sins, some did believe on the Son of Man before he went to the cross.  They didn’t have the backbone to go public.  It seemed that the Sanhedrin and the Romans both knew how to wield fear as a broadsword.

But some believed.

Jesus had taught his followers and those who gathered to hear him teach that they—we—were to put his words into practice, but here he says that failure to do so does not result in condemnation.

Jesus came to save and salvation came in belief.  Don’t discount discipleship but realize that your scorecard is voided and belief is what saves.  You know the words:  Saved by grace through faith so no man may boast.

The invoice for our sin was soon to be nailed to the cross even as Jesus spoke.  He would not do away with the law, but because of the law, that invoice had charges to our account that we never even knew about.  The blood of Jesus would pay everything on that invoice.

I frequently look at my credit card charges online because I can and because I have had to replace my card half a dozen times or more due to fraudulent charges.  That said, I scrutinize every charge.  Sometimes, I come across something that looks strange, then find out that it was in fact my charge.

It’s sort of the same with our transgressions.  We forget some too easily.  We all fall short, but the blood of Jesus took care of those charges.

But what Jesus charges us to do is believe.  We may not get the hang of discipleship right away.  The disciples didn’t even get the hang of discipleship until they received the Spirit. 

Some people never seem to pick up on living in thankful and loving response to God’s grace, but salvation is in belief.

There will come a time when we will also answer for our discipleship.  There will come a time when we will stand in judgment not by the law, for the law has already found us guilty and we received a death sentence.  Jesus paid that debt for us.

It’s not that the law was set aside.  The law found us guilty and the only one ever to fulfill the law stood in our place to take our punishment.  In so doing the unblemished Lamb was offered as an eternal sacrifice for our sins.

We will stand and answer for abiding in the words of our Master.

Did we believe him to be the Son of God?  If we can’t answer this in the affirmative, we will be judged by the law than none of us can fulfill.

But for those who believe, expect to answer this.  How did we live in response to knowing he is God’s one and only Son who died to take away our sins?

Unlike those 2000 years ago, we are not waiting to see what happens next.  It’s happened.  It’s time to believe that in the blood of Jesus our sins are washed away and quit living to be saved, but live fully for Christ because we are saved.