Wednesday, April 15, 2015

What if...


What if you are the answer to someone’s prayer?

We exist in the here and now, but God…

God exists in the past, the present, and the future—all at once.

What if He accomplishes multiple things on multiple levels in ways that are beyond our comprehension?

He is God, after all.

And He is not limited.

At all … in any way.

We are flesh and blood.

But He is The Way. He is truth and spirit and light and love.

All at once.

And He created each of us for a reason-- with wants and needs and desires and all that complicated stuff that is swirling within the realm of “free will,”

…so that we could love.

Yes, so that we could love. 

So that we could love aunts and uncles and cousins and friends and brothers and sisters and all sorts of people.

Yes, even the weird guy next door.

So that we could love coworkers, and relatives, and the homeless guy you have never met but you sent a check to a ministry that fed him.

Or the lady lying in her bed who can’t sleep because she’s so worried all she can do is pray and the radio is on in the background and, in the middle or her prayer, while she is crying, a line from that song tells her no matter how high the waters will rise or how fiercely the storms will rage…

He will never forsake her or leave her.

And she is given the peace to rest and recharge and go out the next day 
and love.

And His kingdom grows.

Today’s Praise

Spirit lead me where my trust is without borders
Let me walk upon the waters
Wherever You would call me
Take me deeper than my feet could ever wander
And my faith will be made stronger
In the presence of my Savior.
  –lyrics from “Oceans” (Where Feet May Fail) by Hillsong United.



Wednesday, April 8, 2015

The Easter Bunny


[WARNING: This has the potential to be the most controversial blog I have written to date. If you are a young child, please stop reading immediately. Thank you.]

I have a problem with the Easter Bunny.

Yes, you read that correctly. I have a problem with the Easter Bunny.

Before you begin formulating your angry response in the “comments” section, please hear me out.

To see where I’m coming from, let’s recap the events of Holy Week:

Jesus comes into Jerusalem riding on the colt of a donkey with a crowd worshiping Him and praising Him, but within a matter of days, that same crowd will turn against Him and shout, “Crucify! Crucify!”

After three sham trials that violate every rule of justice at the time, Pilate will attempt to release Him, but the crowd will shout, “His blood be on us and our children!” (Matthew 27:25 ESV)

Jesus will be cruelly beaten, mocked, flogged, spit on, and the flesh ripped from His back. A crown of thorns will be jammed on His head. He will be punched with fists and hit with sticks. He will be paraded through the streets dragging the cross—the hideous instrument of torture and death. He will be mocked and spit on even more during this process.

And, they will drive nails through His hands and feet to hold His bloody, bleeding body to that cross.

They will jam that cross into the crest of a hill called “The Place of the Skull” and they will continue to mock Him. Everyone from the religious leaders to a criminal crucified beside Him will mock Him.

And He will look down on them and His first words from that cross will be to plead with God to forgive the very people who put Him there.

While He is up there, beaten and humiliated as a criminal and a charlatan, something odd will happen.

The sky will go black for three hours in the middle of the day and, as He breathes His last, a great earthquake will take place. Rocks will split in half, the curtain of the temple that separates God from man will split in two, tombs will be opened and the dead will rise.

All of human history will be changed forever at the crossroads marked by that cross on that hill of death.

Nothing will ever be the same.

And, on the third day after we unjustly and mercilessly murdered Him, just as He said it would happen, He will rise from the dead!

The tomb is empty! We need not seek the living among the dead!

He will show the wounds from His crucifixion to him who doubts. He will walk and talk and eat with many. As Tim Stoner writes about the effect of all this on those who followed Him in Crucify! Why the Crowd Killed Jesus: “They are certain now of what they did not know then—the one who died on the cross was no mere man. He was the Messiah, but much more significantly, He was the literal Son of God. And nothing will be able to shake the certainty of this conviction, not exile or prison, flame or saws, wild beasts or nine-inch nails.”

And all of this will change human history forever. It will change our very relationship with God in ways we could have never imagined.

Millions will come before God cleansed of all their sins by faith in that Jesus. 

Their sins will be forgiven and washed away by the blood shed by Jesus on that day. His blood will pay an eternal ransom we could never afford to pay ourselves.

And so, while I have no desire to steal any joy from children, nor do I want to come across as one of those bitter “church people” who finds something to complain about with anything and everything, it seems to me that a cute little white bunny bringing colored eggs to children falls far, far short of Jesus’ incredible earth-shattering and world-changing eternal triumph over sin, death and the devil.

Today’s Praise

Let all the house of Israel therefore know for certain that God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified.” Now when they heard this they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, “Brothers, what shall we do?” And Peter said to them, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. (Acts 2:36-38 ESV)



Wednesday, April 1, 2015

The Broken Jar


I like the joy of Palm Sunday.

The image of Jesus riding into Jerusalem on a colt while throngs of admirers cheer is wonderful. And, I particularly like the part where the Pharisees tell Jesus to silence his followers and Jesus replies,
 “I tell you, if these were silent, the very stones would cry out.” (Luke 19:40 ESV)

Some of their shouts even echo the words of the Christmas angel: “Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!” (Luke 19:38 ESV)

But it occurs to me that almost everybody at the time did not know what was really going on.

The crowd was hailing the entry into Jerusalem of the Messiah, and that is correct, but they thought Jesus was the King who would finally free Israel from the despised rule of the Romans. They had witnessed him feeding thousands of people on a few crumbs. He had healed the lame. He had brought sight to the blind. He had even raised the dead!

And, when he entered Jerusalem riding on a colt, the foal of a donkey, they knew He was fulfilling the prophecy of Zechariah 9:9. They couldn’t wait for the Messiah, the offspring of David, to overthrow the hated Romans and establish a Jewish government that would have no end to its reign or its peace. (Isaiah 9:6-7 and others.)

That’s why they were shouting, “He saves! He Saves!” and calling Him a King.

Even though their words were exactly correct, they had it wrong.

And the Pharisees had it wrong in that Jesus really was God and their plans to kill him weren't a secret at all. In fact, Jesus’s death and the manner of the death were what God had planned all along.

And the disciples, who have been with Him for three years and have been specifically told that He will be killed… are clueless. (John 12: 16)

But, as I was reading the account of Holy Week, it occurred to me that there might have been one person in the middle of all this confusion and intrigue who understood the situation more clearly than anyone else-- 

And that was Mary.

Her story is one of the few events described in all four gospels.

While Jesus is being honored with a dinner at Simon the Leper’s house and all the disciples are gathered around, presumably talking and eating… in walks Mary.

She comes up behind Jesus and begins crying on His feet as He is reclining on His side beside the table. She then begins wiping her tears off His dusty and dirty feet with her hair.

I imagine the entire room went silent. 

Several sources have pointed out that Jewish women of the time only took their hair down in very private moments. 

I imagine it was a very awkward silence.

And then, she breaks open a one-pound jar of pure nard—a perfume so expensive it was valued at the equivalent of a full year’s wages! The thick aroma of the perfume fills the whole house. Indeed, some have conjectured that Jesus probably smelled of this perfume right up until He was crucified later that week.

The disciples can’t take it anymore. They object strenuously. Judas pipes up and complains that the perfume could have been sold and the money given to the poor. John records that Judas didn’t care about the poor, as he frequently helped himself to the money in the bag.

Jesus tells the disciple to leave Mary alone because she was anointing His body for burial.

Again, I imagine a very awkward silence.

And that’s why it occurs to me that only Mary understood, at least partially, what was going on that week. Mary alone seems to have believed Jesus’ words that He would be killed quite shortly.

The more I consider it, the more it seems like our world today. On one side of her was a faction with a political plot to eliminate a heretic. On her other side was another group, also with a political objective, to overthrow the ruling class. And a small core around her, while they said they were devoted to Jesus, served Him, and listened to every word He said, really did not understand the full implications of where all this would lead—or what would be required of them.

Her reaction to the events around her was far more emotional and lavish than any of us would be comfortable with on the street corner, in our own homes, or even in our churches on Sunday morning.

And it makes me wonder if my heart is broken like hers was on that day.

Today’s Praise
And when he had taken the book, the four beasts and four and twenty elders fell down before the Lamb, having every one of them harps, and golden vials full of odours, which are the prayers of saints. (Revelation 5:8 KJV)


Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Demons of Poverty


I have just finished reading Demons of Poverty, by Ted Boers and Tim Stoner.

Mr. Boers is a successful businessman and a Christian who came to a point in his life when he wanted to use the wealth God had given him to help others.

He was drawn to the incredible poverty and suffering in Haiti, which is the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere.

Boers gathered together numerous investors and set about on a development project called “Nouveau Kiskeya” (New Haiti) on a 15-mile long strip of pristine oceanfront in the northwestern peninsula.

Rather than being primarily profit-motivated, Boers and his fellow investors agreed that the primary purpose of the project was to bring jobs to thousands of Haitians and introduce them to the God of the Bible.

Boers writes that, from the very beginning, God blessed their efforts. He kept a journal and documented 16 different instances of miracles that moved the project forward.

In one instance, even though he was told that finding an adequate supply of fresh water in that area of Haiti was a waste of time, the drilling rig struck an aquifer 318 feet down that produced one million gallons of freshwater per day.

The equipment used had a maximum drilling depth of 320 feet.

And, the man who sold the land to the Nouveau Kiskeya project came to faith in Jesus Christ.

During the project, hundreds of jobs were created and great strides were made. Investors continued to fund the project even when it seemed it would end for lack of money. Boers was convinced it truly was a “God project.”

And then it failed.

It didn’t fail overnight. It was a long, slow death over the course of 18 months with, according to Boer, government corruption at its roots. And, he asserts that government corruption had its origins in evil.

Haiti’s past is controversial, with some calling it myth or choosing to ignore it, but it is known that a group of slaves who had been horribly mistreated by their French owners led a revolt in 1791 that eventually led to Haitian independence. The slaves were led by a voodoo priest.  A pig was sacrificed, they renounced the white man’s God, made a pact with the devil, and much bloodshed ensued.

There are those who disagree with the accuracy of this account, and its relevance to modern politics in Haiti, but no one disagrees that voodoo is practiced in Haiti.

Boers firmly believes that Nouveau Kiskeya failed because of spiritual warfare.

And it shook his faith to its core.

How could this project that was blessed by God so many times just fail? Why would God allow this to happen?

It took him almost two years of reflection, but he eventually realized that God’s objectives might have been different than his own.

When he looked at a list of what happened during the project from God’s perspective, he found that 75 children had been rescued from horrible abuse, over 100 voodoo practitioners and several voodoo priests had accepted Jesus as their Lord and Savior, 37 boat people attempting to escape Haiti washed up on the beach of Nouveau Kiskeya and were saved from death, 17 ponds for irrigation were built and provided 80,000 man-hours of paid labor plus desperately needed water for gardens and livestock, 4000 familes have safe drinking water as a result of the successful well, a 14-room guest house was built on the property that now serves as a spiritual training center for local pastors, and 40 local churches are united and working together to spread the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Those 40 churches, their pastors, and their congregations continue to engage in spiritual warfare against the enemy of our souls—and they are winning.

The book is an excellent read for any Christian, but is especially important for anyone with a heart for missions. I don’t often use a highlighter, but I did mark a quote by Dietrich Bonhoffer on page 139.

“The figure of the Crucified invalidates that success is the standard.”

Today’s Praise

These are the ones I look on with favor:
those who are humble and contrite in spirit,
and who tremble at my word. (Isaiah 66:2b)






Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Sinless


Is it possible to lead a sinless life?

It’s an interesting question—with a seemingly endless number of Biblical contradictions.

When Jesus heals the paralytic man in John 5, He tells him, “Behold, thou art made whole: sin no more, lest a worse thing come unto thee.” (v14b KJV) 

And, when He frees the woman caught in adultery from the Pharisees about to kill her he tells her, “…go and sin no more.” (John 8:11b KJV)

There are also numerous times in the Old Testament where God commands His people to be sinless. Leviticus 19:2 is one example: “Speak unto all the congregation of the children of Israel, and say unto them, Ye shall be holy: for I the LORD your God am holy.” (KJV)

Then, there’s this in 1 John 3:9: Whosoever is born of God doth not commit sin; for his seed remaineth in him: and he cannot sin, because he is born of God. (KJV)

Whoa.

That’s a pretty high standard and frankly, I don’t know if I can pull that off.

In contrast, we have Paul’s “wretched man” lament in Romans 7: I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do.” (v. 15 NIV)

Paul was obviously admitting that he still sins. “What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death?” (v. 24) These are not words written by a man who considers himself sinless.

That makes me think of a man in Scripture who did consider himself sinless:

And as he was setting out on his journey, a man ran up and knelt before him and asked him, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” And Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone. You know the commandments: ‘Do not murder, Do not commit adultery, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Do not defraud, Honor your father and mother.’” And he said to him, “Teacher, all these I have kept from my youth.” (Mark 10: 17:20 ESV)

While it’s interesting to note that Jesus didn’t specifically list the commandments about idolatry or coveting, the rich young ruler actually looked Jesus in the face and lied to Him! And, he did so after failing to acknowledge Jesus as the sinless Messiah and being warned that only God is sinless.

The next verse is flabbergasting: “And Jesus, looking at him, loved him, and said to him, “You lack one thing: go, sell all that you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.” (Mark 10:21 ESV) (Emphasis added.)

I would have expected Jesus to launch off into this bold-faced liar with a diatribe normally reserved for the Pharisees. I want Jesus to flip over the rich guy’s table, expose the glaring truth behind the white-washed walls, and call this guy a liar in front of the whole crowd.

But no.

Jesus looks at him with love!

And then, as only Jesus can do, He cuts to the heart of the matter: Go and give up your idolatry of all your possessions and give your heart to me.

And there’s the deal.

Once again, it’s about our souls.

If you carefully read Paul’s wretched man lament starting at the very beginning of Romans 7, he begins by talking about a wife cheating on her husband being guilty of adultery but, after that woman’s husband dies, she is free to marry someone else with no danger of being accused of adultery.

The point is, it’s our soul’s marriage to sin that ends when we give up everything we have to follow Jesus—because sin has been crucified on the cross. It’s dead!

The law still lives and it is good and beneficial, but the death we cannot escape because of our inability to keep the law was conquered when Jesus rose from the dead!

Our soul is dead to sin. Our soul no longer desires the sinful lifestyle. The old man no longer lives, but a new man has been raised up in the dead man’s place.

So, while we are still trapped in these bodies of flesh that will be subject to sin until the day we die, Paul’s conclusion and the great affirmation to his wretched man lament continues throughout Romans 8: “Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives life has set you free from the law of sin and death.” (Vs. 1-2 NIV)

While Paul urges us to keep from sinning as much as we are able--to “put to death the misdeeds of the body” (v 13b) it is by the Holy Spirit we are to do so. It is the Holy Spirit that makes us free from sin, conquers fear, and seals our adoption as righteous, holy, and free sons and daughters of God.

Today’s Praise


No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:37-39 NIV)

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Secede


I read a news story the other day that the University of California-Irvine student government voted 6-4 (with two abstentions) in favor of removing all flags, including the U.S. flag, from its student offices.

The measure listed 25 reasons for taking down the flag--including the assertion that freedom of speech can be interpreted as “hate speech.”

Many noted that the flag the student government had voted to ban had flown above those who fought and died to win the very same freedom of speech they found hateful.

Thankfully, the measure was quickly vetoed by the college’s executive cabinet. It now goes back to the student government where it could still be passed if it receives a two-thirds majority to overturn the veto.

In a seemingly unrelated news story, there is a group called the Republic of Texas which claims the State of Texas was never legally joined to the United States. As such, they claim that Texas is its own nation and they have minted their own coins, elected their own officials, and sent a letter to the Governor of Oklahoma disputing the border of that state with their sovereign nation—among other things.

Recently, local, state, and federal law enforcement officials (including some FBI agents) raided one of the group’s meetings at a VFW hall because they had issued a summons to a judge to submit proof of his authority.

The local Sheriff, Rusty Hierholzer, says he has no problem with the group, but when they violate the laws of the state by producing documents that simulate a summons or court order, he is duty-bound to enforce the laws of the state.

But some local officials really don’t think there’s a problem with the group.

“They’re a harmless, clueless and interesting group of generally nice older guys with too much time on their hands,” said Jerry Patterson, a former Texas land commissioner, who recalled receiving Republic letters demanding he vacate the office.

The Republic’s President, John Jarneke, (72) acknowledges that most of the group’s letters to public officials are generally thrown in the trash with no further thought.

Added into all this mix is that a former leader of the group, Richard McLaren, and a few of his followers took two hostages back in 1997 and engaged in an armed week-long standoff with law enforcement. One of the McLaren's followers was shot by Texas Rangers and McLaren and the others went to prison for a very long time.

The current group claims they have absolutely no ties to McLaren or any of his faction.

While there was no violence or arrests in the recent raid at the VFW, that group has banned The Republic from meeting at its facilities again, so the next “congressional session” will be held at the Ace Buffet and Grill in Waco.

So what do the two stories have to do with each other?

Well, the first one made me want to secede from this world and the second one showed me the error of that desire.

Both the young students in California and the elderly folks in Texas, although at opposite ends of the political spectrum, have slipped off the edges of their respective flat worlds.

Both are advocating for what they think is a “better way” but which can only lead to fractionalization and factions. They have embraced the wedge that drives us apart into increasingly smaller bits and pieces.

As a Christian, I have been admonished to be in the world, but not of the world. I cannot secede from the world, but neither should I succumb to it.

Lord, please grant that while I am in this world, my feet would be firmly planted on the ground, going to those you put me here to love and serve in the name of Jesus. Grant that my hands would be joined with others in service and prayer. Grant that my eyes and my heart would always be focused on what is above and beyond this world. Amen.

Today’s Praise
May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world. (Galatians 6:14 NIV)







Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Imagine


I was 12 years old when the John Lennon song, “Imagine” came out.

Looking back, it seems like the whole world was changed by that song.

There’s no doubt Lennon was a musical genius and “Imagine” was and is the most famous song of his solo career. It’s a beautiful song, musically.

The words and thoughts in the song are easy to swallow. Lennon himself referred to it as “sugar-coated.”

Now, over 40 years later, many of the basic concepts of that sugar-coated song seem ingrained in our modern consciousness.

Chief among those concepts is that religion is not only responsible for most of the wars and killing in this world, but much of the evil.

I disagree.

I contend that evil (also known by the politically incorrect term: “sin”) is responsible for most of the wars and killing in this world.

An extensive study called The Encyclopedia of Wars by Charles Phillips and Allen Axelrod lists 1763 major conflicts in human history. Of those, 123 are classified as being fought over religious differences.

Yes, I agree that even those 123 wars (about 7%) are far too many.

But a religion-free world will not result in a world free from anything to kill or die for, nor would it result in a “brotherhood of man” as Lennon contended.

North Korea, which has one of the lowest rates of people practicing religion of any kind, is proof of that. The same goes for Communist China, which has a horrible record of human rights abuses.

No, the real causes of war are exactly what the Bible says they are: lust, greed, covetousness, the hunger for power, lies, revenge, idolatry, hate, and all manner of sin.

will readily agree that many times in human history, religion has been used as a veil to make evil look like good.

But that doesn't make any religion evil. That makes people’s use of religion for evil an even more deplorable and despicable kind of evil.

 “This is my command: Love each other.” (John 15:17 NIV)

I would gently and respectfully contend that evil does not exist because there are too many people in this world who know of those words spoken by Jesus, but because not enough people know of them.

And I wonder if we could imagine a world where those words were put into practice.

Today’s Praise
For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. (John 3:16,17 NIV)




Wednesday, February 25, 2015

What Would I Give



This isn’t easy.

I’ve prayed the Holy Spirt would give me the words, but they are like bags of sand—too heavy to lift, so they must be dragged out, one at a time, and heaped up.

Twenty-one Christians lost their lives on a beach at the hands of evil last week.

The Coptic Church has already declared them martyrs.

Some of them could be seen mouthing the words “Lord Jesus Christ” before they were murdered.

The people who murdered them specifically labeled this act of Satan, “A Message Signed With Blood To The Nation Of The Cross.”

And, just yesterday, I read that they have kidnapped somewhere between 70 and 150 Syrian Christians.

They say they are on a holy mission for Allah.

But, like all that Satan says and does, that is a lie.

This is about hatred.

Hatred written in big, bold, red letters.

And, that’s where it gets hard to drag out the words.

Because when I come before Jesus on my knees and ask Him to grant that the Holy Spirit would tell me what to pray for these men, the answer is in Jesus’ own words-- and the words of the One who died and rose again to take away my sins choke me like dried blood in my throat.

“Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”

They are hard words to speak. Like bags of sand, I have to wrestle and fight to put each one into place.

But those words, like bags of sand next to a rising river, keep the flood of hate and evil from sweeping over and destroying my soul.

Please pray with me:

Father in heaven, the One True God, who sent your only begotten Son to take away the sin of the world, you have told us to bless our enemies and not to curse them. You have told us not to be overcome by evil, but to overcome evil with good.

Lord Jesus, you never said it would be easy to follow you.  Lamb of God, we take up the cross and ask that you would bless all those who persecute, torture, and kill your people with salvation.

We ask that your Holy Spirit would soften their hearts, bring them to repentance, and that they would spend eternity in heaven praising the holy name of Jesus—the only name by which men are saved.

We ask that your light and your truth would shine into the darkness and open their eyes, their ears, and their hearts to the lies. We ask that you would deliver them from the evil one. We ask that you would send them dreams and visions of Jesus that they cannot deny or ignore.

Father, we ask that you would prevent these people from further sin by disabling their communications, their equipment, and their weapons. We ask that all who support them or who refrain from speaking out against them would be granted the courage and the ability to tell them, “No, we will not be a part of this.”

To the praise of your glory, Amen.

Today’s Praise

Because "Father, Forgive" are the words Jesus moaned
When He gave everything that He owned.


(Lyrics from “Everything That I Own” by Jason Gray)