Thursday, October 20, 2016

What Do To With THOSE People...Part II

I just got home from a trip to the east coast.  We drove through Connecticut, Massachusetts, Vermont, New Hampshire and Maine.

I stayed in a hotel named after Calvin Coolidge's dad and the room where the son/president stayed had no number on it--he was a bit suspicious.  I visited Emily Dickinson's house--that was a treat.  I adore her poetry and to step into her world was lovely.  I was privileged to read one of her poems to the tour group.

I suppose my affinity with Emily is how nature was her schoolhouse, and the lessons she learned about life, death, God and immortality take my breath away.  I, too, have lived in the mountains above Boise, Idaho, and have learned much about God, His character, life and love and how His hand is never too far from His creation: "Surely the arm of the LORD is not too short to save, nor his ear too dull to hear." (Is. 59:1)

So, as we drove through New England, and saw the beautiful fall colors of the trees, I kept asking the Lord, "What do you want me to learn from this?"  Then, this morning, looking at my previous blog post about how we deal with people who are not aligning their lives with Biblical norms, it hit me: change is slow, uneven, and sometimes rather hidden for awhile.

As my pastor points out, we are quick to shower a new believer with God's forgiveness, but we are even quicker to throw them under the Condemnation Bus when after a while, their lives are not aligning with Biblical norms.  Yet Romans 8:1-14 sounds the clarion call:

So now there is no condemnation for those who belong to Christ Jesus. And because you belong to him, the power of the life-giving Spirit has freed you from the power of sin that leads to death. The law of Moses was unable to save us because of the weakness of our sinful nature. So God did what the law could not do. He sent his own Son in a body like the bodies we sinners have. And in that body God declared an end to sin’s control over us by giving his Son as a sacrifice for our sins. He did this so that the just requirement of the law would be fully satisfied for us, who no longer follow our sinful nature but instead follow the Spirit.

Those who are dominated by the sinful nature think about sinful things, but those who are controlled by the Holy Spirit think about things that please the Spirit. So letting your sinful nature control your mind leads to death. But letting the Spirit control your mind leads to life and peace. For the sinful nature is always hostile to God. It never did obey God’s laws, and it never will. That’s why those who are still under the control of their sinful nature can never please God.

But you are not controlled by your sinful nature. You are controlled by the Spirit if you have the Spirit of God living in you. (And remember that those who do not have the Spirit of Christ living in them do not belong to him at all.) And Christ lives within you, so even though your body will die because of sin, the Spirit gives you life because you have been made right with God. The Spirit of God, who raised Jesus from the dead, lives in you. And just as God raised Christ Jesus from the dead, he will give life to your mortal bodies by this same Spirit living within you.

Therefore, dear brothers and sisters, you have no obligation to do what your sinful nature urges you to do. For if you live by its dictates, you will die. But if through the power of the Spirit you put to death the deeds of your sinful nature, you will live. For all who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God.

I quote this long portion for a reason.  It outlines the transformative process that we all undergo once we are born again.  It takes time for us to live according to Christ in us.  He provides the power; we must surrender each and every area of our lives to His lordship.  Some areas of our lives may be instantly conformed to Him; others will take time.  So, let's allow the trees of New England to illustrate the process.

Look at this tree.  Half is in glorious color; the other half still speaks of summer and spring, with just a hint of fall colors.  Why haven't the tree's leaves all turned at the same time?  One side was closer to some other trees; the other side was fully uninfluenced by other trees.  It had more direct sunlight but also more direct contact with the chilled air.  Within this one tree is a variety of color.

Doesn't this speak to our walk in Christ?  We have surrendered certain areas of our lives to His lordship and the glorious color of His power is evident.  We have not surrendered other areas and they still speak of the old nature, the old us.  We are changing, yes, but at an uneven rate.  Christ wants all of me, but not all of me wants Christ.  

Here is a group of trees, all next to each other.  Only one is showing evidence of the change, even though all the trees are nourished by the same soil and receive the same amount of light each day.  

Not too dissimilar from church, is it?  We sit with others who seem not to evince Christ's work in them, even though they are hearing the same pastor's message and fellowship with the same people week after week.  We show the power of Him in our lives and expect others to be experiencing the same rate of change that we have. 

But these trees have taught me a valuable lesson:  Change is uneven in myself.  It is equally so in others.

So, what do we do with those people?  We trust that the same loving God who is infinitely patient with us is likewise with them; if we don't see the change, pray that it will come through an obedient heart.  Pray for such a heart.  Condemnation never won anyone over.  

The church will face those people in every generation.  Why?  Because human nature needs to be transformed by Christ in every generation, regardless of the sin that is being expressed.  He wants us to reflect His glorious power and presence and can only do so with surrendered hearts.

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

What Do We Do With THOSE People? Part I

The church, from its inception, has faced the conundrum, "What do we do with those people?" We are studying Jesus in the Old Testament through His name, Yeshua.  This ties in because if He came to bring us salvation, then who exactly is the "us"?

Yeah, I know, you're thinking, "The whole world, based on John 3:16--you should know that!" but in reality, we have always wrestled with what "the world" means and has meant throughout history.

 Let's go to the book of Acts and see this early debate:   

 When they arrived in Jerusalem, Barnabas and Paul were welcomed by the whole church,      including the apostles and elders. They reported everything God had done through them. But then some of the believers who belonged to the sect of the Pharisees stood up and insisted, “The Gentile converts must be circumcised and required to follow the law of Moses.”

So the apostles and elders met together to resolve this issue. At the meeting, after a long discussion, Peter stood and addressed them as follows: “Brothers, you all know that God chose me from among you some time ago to preach to the Gentiles so that they could hear the Good News and believe. God knows people’s hearts, and he confirmed that he accepts Gentiles by giving them the Holy Spirit, just as he did to us. He made no distinction between us and them, for he cleansed their hearts through faith. So why are you now challenging God by burdening the Gentile believers with a yoke that neither we nor our ancestors were able to bear? We believe that we are all saved the same way, by the undeserved grace of the Lord Jesus.”

Can you see it?  All throughout the Old Testament, the Jews were promised salvation from their enemies, their sins and their captivity.  God's love never would fail them: "The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness." (Lam. 3:22-23)  Each generation longed for the day of Redemption, embodied by the Suffering Servant in Isaiah 52-53.

Many Jews in that first century AD said, "It is Jesus!  Yeshua is the promised Messiah!"  Even though the Old Testament alluded to the universality of God's love, many Jews chose to stay focused on their own nation.  Jonah, for example, a prophet called to preach to those other people, the Ninevites, disobeyed God by running away rather than to have fulfilled his calling.

In that first century, Jesus became the Great Divide.

Earlier, Jesus asks the disciples who they think He is:

When Jesus came to the region of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say the Son of Man is?”

They replied, “Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, Jeremiah or one of the prophets.”

“But what about you?” he asked. “Who do you say I am?”

Simon Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.”

Jesus replied, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by flesh and blood, but by my Father in heaven. And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it."
(Matt. 16:13-18)

Now, fast forward to the new church as chronicled in Acts.  It's no surprise it is Peter who broke the stalemate.  He declared the Messiah once before, and now here he is again, speaking to a wider audience.  Peter, in his flesh, would have preferred to keep Jesus exclusive to his people (remember the sheet with all the food on it that he was commanded to eat?) but now, under the Holy Spirit's revelation, he gets it: Jesus is for all people, for all time.

Let's take a moment to go into the mind of a good, God-fearing Jew in this first century, sitting in at this council and debating the issue:

Those people.  Those Gentiles.  They eat food sacrificed to idols (which we know are demons); they engage in public nudity at the gymnasium; they enjoy pederasty; they enjoy prostitutes; they worship gods--gods under every rock and in every tree, and their worship is equally as scandalous.  

Their orgies defy description, and their behavior, oh dear.  Their women are not modest.  They place unwanted babies outside to languish and die, all because some father doesn't want the child.  I could go on, but I am feeling nauseated. They, in a word, make me sick. 

Those people.  But here is Peter saying that the Holy Spirit, the Almighty's precious Spirit, has been given to the Gentiles, cleansing their hearts because of their faith (is it even possible for such people to even have faith?)  He is saying God is making no distinction.  It is true that the Law is a heavy burden, and I have failed more times than I can count to obey it, but those Gentiles...they don't even try to be moral!  They are steeped in sin.  But here's Peter saying their faith has saved them.  Our precious Messiah, Yeshua, has saved them.  Oh, Lord, what am I to think?  I feel as if the whole world is spiraling out of control...

Ponder this man's conundrum for awhile. Maybe you sympathize with his horror, or maybe you are aghast at his judgmental attitude.

Maybe you're thinking, Hey, lighten up, I am that Gentile.  I am the descendant of those people, and without Peter and Paul's courage to take the message outside the walls of the synagogue, I wouldn't be here.  

Now, fast forward to now.  Who are THOSE people we are debating about?  Think about this and pray.  We are not alone in this and yet the answer is the same for every generation:  Jesus.

To be continued...

Friday, September 23, 2016

Satan's Endgame

We are looking at Jesus in the Old Testament, especially in the book of Isaiah.  We are going to digress a bit, but not really. 

If Jesus' name in Hebrew, Yeshua, means "salvation," then one might ask, "Saving from what?"  Of course, we would respond, "From sin and death!"  

We distill Jesus' ministry down to: "I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh." (Eze. 36:26) Then we would quickly add: "The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full." (John 10:10)

Sin and death:  These are the two greatest obstacles from fully experiencing God in this life.  Jesus came to give us victory and life.  

We have passed Theology 101.  Or have we?

Yes, but we have missed a key point that I had driven home to me this week.  Let me share what happened.

My husband is an eminent scholar in the field of gun rights.  He was asked to speak to the Texas Bar Association in Austin on Wednesday.  The presenter before him spoke about two cases he was an expert witness for.  The stories broke my heart.

Both involved domestic violence.  Two women had hooked up with two men who were involved in the biker subculture.  The first woman was a Christian.  She met him and he was willing to go to church with her.  Over time, his drug abuse and ill treatment of her led to finally kick him out.  Her fatal "mistake" was to say disparaging things about his biker patches and his biker club.  After screaming, "I am going to kill you!" he jumped on top of her with a knife.  She was able to get the knife and she stabbed him to get him off of her.  He went to the hospital with fourteen stab wounds and she was convicted of 2nd degree murder.  Her case was overturned, however, and the judge agreed that she had indeed acted in self-defense.

The second woman, after twelve years of being involved with her biker partner, and having found him in their home having intercourse with another woman, said disparaging things about his club and his patches.  He later menaced her with a knife and having threatened to kill her and her family, she drew a gun and shot him.

The presenter was discussing self-defense, juries, and women whose self-esteem is so low that they cannot see themselves with any other guy, thereby putting themselves at risk.  It was a sobering presentation, complete with ER and autopsy photos.  

My point?  We Christians tend to focus on the sins that people commit.  We look at the adultery, the homosexuality, the greed, the pride, the abuse, the whatever, and say, "You should not do that." 

We are horrified at what people do.  The presenter did not mince words about what losers these two men were; he repeatedly used the phrase, "***holes" in describing them.  Looking at their tats, their pictures and their attitudes, it was a label that easily fit.  In fact, the audience laughed their agreement every time he used that word.

I was horrified at what he presented.  I felt anger that these men had pushed these women to such a breaking point that one was stabbed and the other shot.  I felt awful that these women stayed with these men and now themselves were being viewed as criminals.

I was focused on what everyone had done.

Let me bring up a quick analogy.  A person walks into a room filled with numerous bottles of poison. The person is trying to select which one to drink.  We run in and focus on each bottle, and list all of the consequences of drinking such and such poison.  While we are talking, the person turns around and gulps down a bottle of cyanide.  We quickly say, "How could you do that?"  We then proceed to tell the person the horrible things cyanide does to the body.  Only after much detailing of poison and its effects do we yell, "It'll kill you!"  

We focus on what the person did and what will or could happen.  Then, almost as an afterthought, do we say, "It will kill you."

Now, let's go back to our presenter.  We listened to the horrible aspects of these people's lives and what they had done.  It was almost an afterthought that all of these behaviors would result in death.

Then it hit me:  Satan does not care what you DO.  He could care less what bottle of poison you drink.  His endgame is your death:  six feet under and cold as dirt.  Did any of those four people wake up that morning and say, "What we are doing will lead to our death.  We need to stop,"  No.  The one young man laying on the coroner's table never thought he'd end his day like that.  

My point is this.  We need to stop focusing on what people DO and focus on what will happen in the future.  Your drug habit will lead to death.  Your adultery will lead to death.  Your greed will lead to death.  Your pride will lead to death.

We are so focused on the horror of the sin, we lose sight of the most horrible outcome of all:  the death of the sinner.  

Oh, come on, you say, how could my adultery lead to death?  Adultery is the poison in the bottle. Once you introduce it into your life, Satan now uses it to separate you further and further from God and as the sin courses through your spiritual bloodstream, the more vulnerable you are to his attacks.  He isn't concerned what poison you drank; he just wants you to drink it and that starts the process.  He wants you dead.  The means are not his thing; the end is.

At the end, all four lives were destroyed.  The two women served time.  One man was dead and the other severely injured.  Even though one of the women was exonerated, her life is forever changed. She is a Christian and now has left death to enter life.  I pray for the other woman and the man who survived.  Satan would like the job to be completed and until we are in Jesus, Satan will not let up until we are dead.

That is why Jesus so focused on bringing life.  He is the Antidote to the poison of sin and its result, death.  Jesus says that Satan the thief is out to "steal kill, and destroy."

As followers of His, let's focus on the endgame:  Satan's is your death, by whatever means necessary. 

Jesus' is your life, and He provided the means:  His death on the cross.   

So, in loving the sinner and hating the sin, let's expand that to loving the sinner and hating the death that awaits them, if they don't find Jesus.

Let's be diligent to show the trajectory of the sin, and not let the sin itself steal our focus on sharing the beauty of Jesus.  He is Salvation, and He is what we need to counter the wiles of Satan. 

Monday, September 12, 2016

The Servant of God: Yeshua

We have two uses of the word and name of Jesus (Yeshua) in Isaiah 49.  It would easy to just select the two key verses, but I much rather have you read the whole context.  It is powerful and speaks mightily of the Messiah to come, with His name woven into the text.  

Did the people know this back in Isaiah's day?  I doubt it, but given their captivity and their hope for deliverance, these verses would not only comfort them but echo the cry of their heart for salvation. 

We can hear the name of the One who would make release from an even more painful captivity--sin and death--possible, for us and the world.  

Jesus inaugurated His ministry by reading from Isaiah:

"He went to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, and on the Sabbath day he went into the synagogue, as was his custom. He stood up to read, and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was handed to him. Unrolling it, he found the place where it is written:

'The Spirit of the Lord is on me,
because he has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners
and recovery of sight for the blind,
to set the oppressed free,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.'

Then he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and sat down.The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on him. He began by saying to them, 'Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.'”

The listeners would be very familiar with all of Isaiah.  Here is Yeshua standing before them and reading about yeshua ("salvation").  Would they grasp that the very man standing in front of them was the embodiment of true salvation?  

The captivity in Babylon did not last forever; the Jews eventually returned.  But the people went on sinning.  They still felt alienated from God.  They eventually died. 

Many generations later, a man would stand in a synagogue, and read from the words of the prophet who had promised salvation from captivity.  He would state categorically that the words had been fulfilled.  Quite a statement from a carpenter's son, if that's what he was.

Let's look at the first part of Isaiah 49.  It is powerful:  

"Listen to me, you islands; hear this, you distant nations: Before I was born the Lord called me; from my mother’s womb he has spoken my name. 
2 He made my mouth like a sharpened sword, in the shadow of his hand he hid me; he made me into a polished arrow and concealed me in his quiver.
3 He said to me, 'You are my servant, Israel, in whom I will display my splendor.' 
4 But I said, 'I have labored in vain; I have spent my strength for nothing at all. Yet what is due me is in the Lord’s hand, and my reward is with my God.' 
5 And now the Lord says— he who formed me in the womb to be his servant to bring Jacob back to him and gather Israel to himself, for I am honored in the eyes of the Lord and my God has been my strength— 
6 he says: 'It is too small a thing for you to be my servant to restore the tribes of Jacob and bring back those of Israel I have kept. I will also make you a light for the Gentiles, that my salvation may reach to the ends of the earth.' 
7 This is what the Lord says— the Redeemer and Holy One of Israel— to him who was despised and abhorred by the nation, to the servant of rulers: 'Kings will see you and stand up, princes will see and bow down, because of the Lord, who is faithful, the Holy One of Israel, who has chosen you.' 
8 This is what the Lord says: 'In the time of my favor I will answer you, and in the day of salvation I will help you; I will keep you and will make you to be a covenant for the people, to restore the land and to reassign its desolate inheritances, 9 to say to the captives, "Come out," and to those in darkness, "Be free!" They will feed beside the roads and find pasture on every barren hill.'"

As we are working through the Old Testament, and finding Jesus throughout its pages, we see Him very much represented in Isaiah, who focuses mightily on the Servant of the Lord.  We all have read Isaiah 53, which describes the suffering of this Servant and His death for our healing and restoration. Yet I find it interesting that yeshua is not mentioned--the word for salvation and Jesus' name, in Isaiah 53.  

Yet yeshua is found in Isaiah 49.   

I believe that Isaiah is presenting this Servant by His character and His deeds.  

Names represent the character of someone in the Old Testament.  God's name--Yahweh--is not just what Moses was to call Him.  It is His character as well:  "I AM Who I AM."  Moses was given an insight to the One he was to serve.  This One has always been and will continue to be.  He was not made by human hands or dependent on human ritual or belief.  Moses is privileged to be introduced to Him, but whether or not the children of Israel believe in Him, this One will exist and reign in the universe He created and still sustains.  

That is why there are many names for God in the Old Testament, for each name gives an insight to Who He is, an aspect to His character.  Like a multi-faceted diamond, that catches light as you look at it from various angles, so too do the names of God give us a flash of light into Who He is.

So, Isaiah in chapter 49 is telling us who the suffering Servant IS:  He embodies salvation, for the Jews and for the Gentiles.  He is chosen in the womb to be the Servant and the Covenant for the people.

Isaiah 53 tells us what the Servant will do, how He will be received and what His mission is.  

But in the end, the two are really inseparable.  Who the Lord is and what He does cannot be divided. All He does is based on Who He is, and Who He is, is revealed by what He does.  

Have blessed day as you ponder the majesty of Who He is and what He does.

Friday, August 26, 2016

Jesus in Isaiah: Where Do You Stand in Troubled Times?

We are exploring Jesus in the Old Testament, and this next verse is a Holy Wow!  It is from Isaiah 33:6:  

"He will be the sure foundation for your times,
a rich store of salvation and wisdom and knowledge;
the fear of the Lord is the key to this treasure." (NIV)

The word in Hebrew for "salvation" is yeshuw'ah--Jesus' name.

The King James translates this verse like this:

"And wisdom and knowledge shall be the stability of thy times, and strength of salvation: the fear of the Lord is his treasure."

"Sure foundation" and "stability of thy times."  Wow:  This so speaks to us today.  

Right now, it's Trump This and Hillary That.  Who will  do what.  We are hoping, deep down inside, that the Right President will turn this country around.  For some, that means go deeper into a left-wing vision, of open borders, a place for refugees, free health care, limited to no ownership of guns, low-cost education and America getting out of the way of world affairs.  For others that means a wall, vetted refugees, repeal of Obamacare, 2nd Amendment rights, and America returning to being a world leader.

I am truly not trying to be nasty as I summarize what I believe each candidate stands for--these are my impressions from the speeches they have given.  But when elected, presidents tend to forget the speeches and do what they intended to do all along.  In other words, in an election years, presidential promises are pie-crust promises:  easily made and easily broken.

But notice the list of what has been said (again, my impression, not a condemnation) versus Isaiah's vision.  He, too, is looking at Someone to provide stability and certainty in the current (then and now) times.  But, Isaiah, unlike today's politicos, sees the real issue.  First, and foremost:  We need saving. We don't need yet another program, plan, promise or priority.  We need to have our hearts changed, and our standing before our God changed.  Why?  

Yup, the s-word:  SIN.  We are blinded, broad-sided and collided with sin.  It's in us, controlling us and making us blind to our deepest need:  Him.  

Our salvation in Him provides a "rich store."  Unstable times deplete our store.  Our resources.  Our hope.  We throw up our hands in numb despair and say, "What are we to do?"  But, Isaiah says that in yeshuw'ah/Yeshua comes "wisdom" and "knowledge."  

Wisdom in Isaiah is not just a desirable and much needed quality in troubled times: It's a Person. Paul says in 1 Corinthians 1:30:  "It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God--that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption."

God's plan all along was for us to seek wisdom from Him and Him alone.  But, by Adam munching on the fruit from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, he no longer sought God.  He sought wisdom now from within.  That "within," now having been corrupted by sin, meant that wisdom and knowledge would be anything but.  

God's reclamation of Adam's children meant giving us not only a new heart (otherwise it would be putting godly lipstick on a sinful pig) but also returning us to the real source of true wisdom:  Jesus Christ.  That is why we are no longer in Adam, but in Christ:  "So it is written: 'The first man Adam became a living being'; the last Adam, a life-giving spirit." (1 Cor. 15:45)  Jesus, as the last Adam, came to bring us back to the Garden, so to speak.  We are now able to walk in the newness of life and perfect fellowship with God because of Jesus' death on the cross.  

The debt was paid and now we are saved.  

With Jesus, now as our very Wisdom from God, we ask Him for guidance and knowledge on how to navigate in these troubled times.  Our respect for God, ("fear" in the verses from Isaiah) is our "treasure": precious and of the utmost value. That respect means following the One that God sent: 
"Jesus answered and said unto him, 'If a man love me, he will keep my words: and my Father will love him, and we will come unto him, and make our abode with him.'" (John 14:23)

Jesus is our very Sure Foundation, our very Rock that we stand on: “Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on the rock. And everyone who hears these words of mine and does not do them will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell, and great was the fall of it.” (Matt. 7:24-27)

So, where do I stand in troubled times?  On the Rock.  

Is that synonymous with voting for Trump?  Being a right-winger?  No.  It means shutting my mouth and doing a heart check:

Am I regularly praying for those in authority?  "I exhort therefore, that, first of all, supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks, be made for all men; For kings, and for all that are in authority; that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and honesty. For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior; Who will have all men to be saved, and to come unto the knowledge of the truth. For there is one God, and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus; Who gave himself a ransom for all, to be testified in due time." (1 Tim. 2:1-3)

Am I seeking His will for how I am to participate as a citizen?  "Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that believeth on me, the works that I do shall he do also; and greater works than these shall he do; because I go unto my Father.  And whatsoever ye shall ask in my name, that will I do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son.  If ye shall ask any thing in my name, I will do it." (John 14:12-14)

Am I ready to share my faith if asked why I am doing what I am doing? In other words, do I listen to Him and move political discussions into a way to talk about eternal matters: "But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts: and be ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you with meekness and fear:  Having a good conscience; that, whereas they speak evil of you, as of evildoers, they may be ashamed that falsely accuse your good conversation in Christ." (1 Pet. 3:15-16)

Presidents come and go.  Yes, we are citizens of this world, but we must keep the eternal perspective. 

Before election day and on the day, I will be praying.  I will not fear, become angry or bad-mouth what is going on.  Standing on the Rock gives me confidence to face the storms, pure and simple.

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Not Judgin’, But Not Budgin’

This is a wee departure from our talk about Jesus in the Old Testament. It's important topic to cover,
especially these days.

So often we hear today, especially in Christian circles when controversy comes calling, “Don’t judge. That’s the unloving thing to do. Jesus calls us to love.” True enough. No one would support the idea that Jesus calls us to hate, even though some people would accuse us of doing so in His name.

Let’s explore this whole judgment thing. The old saying, “A text without a context is a pretext” may apply here. If we don’t view the scripture on not judging in its context, it can be used to shut down legitimate discussion about morality and other topics people fear will create discord and offense.

Let’s begin with the familiar verses from Matthew 7:1-3: “Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you. Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye?

These verses are very simple. Look at the larger context: These verses come from the Sermon on the Mount, where Jesus is laying down the principles of the Kingdom of God. Just as Moses came down off Mount Sinai carrying the stone tablets inscribed with God’s commandments, so too does Christ stand on the mountain with the new commandment of God: to love one another.

So, in this context, love rules. We want mercy from God but how we love to mete out justice to others. I want to keep my eye, but I want to take off your hand. No. The Law of Moses arbitrated relationships, between us and God first and then with each other. Fairness, mercy and compassion underpinned Moses’ Law.

Jesus’ Law is no different, except that love is the operational force, in addition to fairness, mercy and compassion. Thus, how you treat others will directly affect how God sees you. The same standard you use will be then the same standard He uses.

I want mercy, God.

Fine. Show mercy.

I want understanding for my shortcomings, Lord.

Fine. Show understanding for others’ shortcomings.

I want to do right, but when I fail, I don’t want to be punished beyond reason.

Fine. When others fail, offer a punishment that is for their restoration, not destruction.

My shortcomings are not as bad as that person’s—I deserve the benefit of the doubt.

Fine. But your prideful plank has blinded you to the seriousness of what you do.

But he’s got the sawdust of sin in his eye! I must remove it!

Fine. But your prideful plank will not allow you to see his failures objectively. Focus on you. I will focus on him. I am the Great Physician.

Now let’s look at Luke 6:36-8: “Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful. Do not judge, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven. Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together, and running over will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured back to you.”

Again, fairly straightforward. Mercy is love applied to justice. Yes, people sin. Yes, people hurt one another. But Jesus is saying that judgement and condemnation are not in the vocabulary of the Kingdom of God. The word He is presenting is “forgiveness” only because that is what His Father does. If we are His children, we must follow the Father, knowing that our Father knows best.

Now, I could end right there. You could say, “There it is! We all need to love one another! When someone is sinning, who are you to say anything?”

But there’s more. Let’s go to the verses in John 5:9-15:
     So Jesus explained, “I tell you the truth, the Son can do nothing by himself. He does only what
     he sees the Father doing. Whatever the Father does, the Son also does. For the Father loves the
     Son and shows him everything he is doing. In fact, the Father will show him how to do even
     greater works than healing this man. Then you will truly be astonished. For just as the Father
     gives life to those he raises from the dead, so the Son gives life to anyone he wants. In addition,
     the Father judges no one. Instead, he has given the Son absolute authority to judge, so that
     everyone will honor the Son, just as they honor the Father. Anyone who does not honor the Son
     is certainly not honoring the Father who sent him. I tell you the truth, those who listen to my
     message and believe in God who sent me have eternal life. They will never be condemned for
     their sins, but they have already passed from death into life. And I assure you that the time is
     coming, indeed it’s here now, when the dead will hear my voice—the voice of the Son of God.
     And those who listen will live."

Jesus moved, taught and judged us all with permission from His Father. All He did was in fact under commission from His Father.

We, who follow Jesus, can and should do no less.

If we are called to make a judgment, it must be based on what the Father has revealed. The Father has revealed His will in the Bible. So, if we judge, it needs to be based on that; culture, modern thinking and what makes us feel good is not the foundation upon which we judge.

What is the word "judge" mean in the Greek? There are three meaning: One means to judge, as in a court of law. 

The next meaning to critically evaluate something, or to be discerning. One of the spiritual gifts is discernment, so using it is part of our walk. We need to make judgments as we navigate this world. "I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves." (Matt. 10:16)  Shrewdness comes from evaluating a situation fairly and objectively; snakes do not run into rocks.  So, discernment is part of judging.  We need the Holy Spirit's revelation of the Father's will in order to be discerning and wise.

The third meaning is a judgement that condemns.  We cannot take God's authority, cloak ourselves with it and then act in His stead.  He and He alone will judge the world. 

So, does that mean we cannot judge at all?

No.  Look at John 7:24: "Judge not according to the appearance, but judge righteous judgment."  We cannot issue condemnatory judgments, but judgments based on mercy, love and compassion.  

Mercy calls sin, sin, but also factors love into the equation, as Jesus did.

Love speaks truth, but also factors patience for change into the equation, as Jesus did.

Compassion takes a person's hand, and if that person is willing, leads them into freedom by leading them to Jesus.  

Thus, we must make an inventory before we speak, and look without wavering into our motivation for saying what we want to say.  Let us ask with bold honesty:
  • Are my words based on the full counsel of God (Acts 20:27)?  Or have I cherry-picked verses to satisfy my position?
  • Have I prayed for the right words in the right tone?  The right words delivered in a harsh tone will destroy their potential for a positive message.
  • Have I prayed for the other person's heart to be open to the words I say?  Pray for tilled soil in this person's heart, so that the seed of the Word will fall into a productive place.  Only the Spirit can prepare the soil.  No argument ever won a person to Christ. 
If the answers fall in line with His Word, then I must speak, trusting that:

For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven
and do not return there but water the earth,
making it bring forth and sprout,
giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater,
so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth;
it shall not return to me empty,
but it shall accomplish that which I purpose,
and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it. (Is. 55:10-11)

Walk in His authority and in His love.  The two are inseparable, as we and the Lord should be.

I am indebted to Lloyd John Ogilvie's The Greatest Counselor in the World--A Fresh, New Look at the Holy Spirit for the part on the three meanings of the word "judge."

Friday, July 29, 2016

Jesus as the Mercy Seat

We are exploring Jesus in the Old Testament. I posted in an earlier blog that Jesus' presence is found in the Ark of Covenant.  I would like to explore this idea a bit further. Specifically, I would like to look at the covering or lid of the Ark.  In Exodus 26:34, we read: "Then put the Ark’s cover—the place of atonement—on top of the Ark of the Covenant inside the Most Holy Place."

The Ark of the Covenant is really two pieces of furniture: the box itself and the lid. It was behind a curtain. There was no light in the Holy of Holies, or Most Holy Place, where it stood. The lampstand that provided the light was outside of the curtain. Thus, only God Himself and His glory would provide the light in the Holy of Holies.

Jesus constantly referred to Himself as the Light. Interesting.

The cover of the Ark was pure gold, and was to be the very dwelling place where God met His people. Remember what was in the Ark? Manna, Aaron's rod and the Ten Commandments. Yet, all are covered by this gold lid. You might expect to see them displayed to the people or set alongside the bread and the lampstand. But they are covered. Why?

Without Jesus, none of this makes sense.  But if He is the Light, then expect illumination!

You would want to proudly display the Ten Commandments, written by the very finger of God upon stone. This permanent material shows the everlasting nature of this covenant. The Law provides the very basis of your existence, and thereby grants you an identity: you are the chosen ones, living in a convenantal relationship with the Almighty King of the Universe. You would want it proudly visible, reminding you and everyone else of this special relationship.

You would want to display Aaron's rod, with its bud, to show that Aaron's priesthood is superior to all others. It budded miraculously, and has stayed budded. The staff he carried was not a dead piece of wood. It budded as if it were still wedded to the tree. Why wouldn't you want everyone to see how your priest is chosen and his staff is a sign of that favor?

You would want that manna out where everyone could see it. Remember how any extra gathered manna would rot? You weren't allowed to store it and yet, look at that! It sits in a jar, perpetually fresh. You could point to the jar and comment how God fed you and your people with bread from His very own hand.

Yet, into a box they go, and they have a lid over them. Out of sight. Nothing to brag on or point out. Covered. Now, admittedly, the gold cover is beautiful, with its cherubim adorning the top. But the ark is behind a curtain, and only one person, once a year, could go in. He sprinkled blood over the cover or Mercy Seat on Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, for himself and for the people.

The Ark was not a show piece, nor its contents.

Did that bother the people? Did they desire to show something off, akin to the ostentatious displays of the Egyptians?

What if you dared to look into the Ark? 1 Samuel 6:19 shows us: "But God struck down some of the inhabitants of Beth Shemesh, putting seventy of them to death because they looked into the ark of the LORD. The people mourned because of the heavy blow the LORD had dealt them."

So, how does Jesus illuminate the Ark and its rather odd (humanly speaking) treatment of its contents?

The contents under the lid had to be covered. Why? Without a covering, the contents are powerless in and of themselves. The blood, sprinkled over the lid once a year, illustrates the need for cleansing the people from sin. That is first and foremost.

But, those objects within the ark speak of a time to come when The Blood will bring life to the contents contained within. How so?

Hebrews 10:1-4 says, "The old system under the law of Moses was only a shadow, a dim preview of the good things to come, not the good things themselves. The sacrifices under that system were repeated again and again, year after year, but they were never able to provide perfect cleansing for those who came to worship. If they could have provided perfect cleansing, the sacrifices would have stopped, for the worshipers would have been purified once for all time, and their feelings of guilt would have disappeared. But instead, those sacrifices actually reminded them of their sins year after year. For it is not possible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins."

So, the annual covering of blood upon the Mercy Seat of the Ark was pointing to the One to come, Who would impart life through His own blood.

Let's start with the tablets inscribed with the Ten Commandments.

Without the Law having a covering of blood, it stands starkly, condemning all we do. 

Paul says of the Law in Romans 7:21-23: 21, "I have discovered this principle of life—that when I want to do what is right, I inevitably do what is wrong. I love God’s law with all my heart. But there is another power within me that is at war with my mind. This power makes me a slave to the sin that is still within me."

What is the answer to the Law with its standard of righteousness and our sinful nature? 

Paul says in Romans 7:24-5 and into 8:1-4: "Oh, what a miserable person I am! Who will free me from this life that is dominated by sin and death? Thank God! The answer is in Jesus Christ our Lord. So you see how it is: In my mind I really want to obey God’s law, but because of my sinful nature I am a slave to sin....So now there is no condemnation for those who belong to Christ Jesus. And because you belong to him, the power of the life-giving Spirit has freed you from the power of sin that leads to death. The law of Moses was unable to save us because of the weakness of our sinful nature. So God did what the law could not do. He sent his own Son in a body like the bodies we sinners have. And in that body God declared an end to sin’s control over us by giving his Son as a sacrifice for our sins. He did this so that the just requirement of the law would be fully satisfied for us, who no longer follow our sinful nature but instead follow the Spirit."

The Law needed the covering of the blood, for people had to be cleansed each year. But that very blood points to Jesus.

Now, within us (like the contents being kept inside the box) this Law is transformed into a new law: the Law of the Spirit. This law doesn't negate the older Law. Our sinful nature, made into a new nature with the blood of the Lamb, now wants to do righteous things that God asks of us.

How about the budded rod? How does something dead, like a severed branch, have life in it? It needs sap to reanimate it. It is subject to the covering of blood on the Mercy Seat each year, and yet it points to The Blood to come. This Blood becomes our very life, as Jesus says in John 15:5: "Yes, I am the vine; you are the branches. Those who remain in me, and I in them, will produce much fruit. For apart from me you can do nothing."

We produce buds and then fruit: "But if you remain in me and my words remain in you, you may ask for anything you want, and it will be granted! When you produce much fruit, you are my true disciples. This brings great glory to my Father." (John 15:7 & 8)

Aaron and his priesthood needed a covering in order to conduct their appointed office. But a greater Priest will come and be the covering itself.

Then there's the manna. It provided life to those in the desert. The manna tells of His very life in John 6:53-8: "So Jesus said again, 'I tell you the truth, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you cannot have eternal life within you. But anyone who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise that person at the last day. For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink. Anyone who eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me, and I in him. I live because of the living Father who sent me; in the same way, anyone who feeds on me will live because of me. I am the true bread that came down from heaven. Anyone who eats this bread will not die as your ancestors did (even though they ate the manna) but will live forever.'"

The manna needed a covering year after year--it was food that would only temporarily satisfy a person. But One was coming whose very flesh would satisfy forever our deepest hunger.

Jesus Himself provided the blood and is Himself the Mercy Seat--the ultimate covering--for He covers us, makes us righteousness, provides us with His own life within us and nourishes us: "For God presented Jesus as the sacrifice for sin. People are made right with God when they believe that Jesus sacrificed his life, shedding his blood. This sacrifice shows that God was being fair when he held back and did not punish those who sinned in times past, 26 for he was looking ahead and including them in what he would do in this present time. God did this to demonstrate his righteousness, for he himself is fair and just, and he makes sinners right in his sight when they believe in Jesus." (Romans 3:25-27)

Jesus accomplished this as our High Priest:  "Under the old system, the blood of goats and bulls and the ashes of a heifer could cleanse people’s bodies from ceremonial impurity. Just think how much more the blood of Christ will purify our consciences from sinful deeds so that we can worship the living God. For by the power of the eternal Spirit, Christ offered himself to God as a perfect sacrifice for our sins. That is why he is the one who mediates a new covenant between God and people, so that all who are called can receive the eternal inheritance God has promised them. For Christ died to set them free from the penalty of the sins they had committed under that first covenant."  (Hebrews 9:13-15)

Hebrews 1:3 proclaims: "The Son radiates God’s own glory and expresses the very character of God, and he sustains everything by the mighty power of his command. When he had cleansed us from our sins, he sat down in the place of honor at the right hand of the majestic God in heaven."

No need to be a raider of the lost Ark. It disappeared for a reason. Its job was done. It pointed the way to the One to come.

Jesus became The Mercy Seat for us to encounter God. Now that the curtain is torn, and with His light flooding in, we can "come boldly to the throne of our gracious God. There we will receive his mercy, and we will find grace to help us when we need it most." (Hebrews 4:16-17).

Now it all makes sense.


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...