Monday, September 28, 2015

From Chaos to Christ! Part I

Let us begin with Psalm 19's declaration:

The heavens declare the glory of God;
the skies proclaim the work of his hands.
2 Day after day they pour forth speech;
night after night they reveal knowledge.
3 They have no speech, they use no words;
no sound is heard from them.
4 Yet their voice goes out into all the earth,
their words to the ends of the world.

What are the stars telling us?  They are telling us, along with all of creation, that our God is the God of order, and is actively involved in reversing what sin brought to the planet.

What is the news telling us? Disorder and chaos are everywhere. It is what it is.

Who is right? The creation or CNN? Do you fear what you see, or do you stand on what is promised?

Let's go back to being an ancient people, staring out into the world around us. Is the order that we see permanent? Subject to change? Will sooner or later disappear?

Last night, we had a harvest moon and lunar eclipse. The night before, the full moon was so bright, it lit up the night with a lovely silver light. Last night, however, it was shrouded in darkness, with a deep russet hue. It was a scary contrast from the night before. (But I am a child of the Enlightenment and science; I know why the moon did what it did.) But, thousands of years ago, I would have trembled under such a moon.

Ancient people feared chaos. To the Greeks, for example, Chaos was the first thing that existed; darkness (“Erebus”) and night (“Nyx”) came from Chaos. One philosopher claimed that chaos was a “shapeless heap” and all the elements were thrown together in a formless mass.

Why this fear of chaos? Ancient people were one harvest, one insect plague, one blight, one flood, one epidemic away from disaster from the natural world. Ancient people were one invasion, one battle, one defeat, one siege, one capture away from disaster from the human world.

In ancient times, chaos led to disorder, which led to death. Pure and simple.  This dark water is a nightmare for ancient people—if things started out that way, they can revert very easily...right?

Let's look at this key element, the water over which God hovers. Genesis was written by a man of the desert, Moses. It was read by a people of the desert: the children of Israel. Water to desert people (Canaan, Mesopotamia and Egypt) was a symbol of chaos as well as order. If it was controlled--irrigation--it provided a life-sustaining force. If it went out of control--flooding--it meant destruction and death.

God hovers above the water: He is above chaos; He is not in it or controlled by it. He is over it. Later on, Jesus walking on the water is no coincidence. He is walking over chaos.

What does God do? He imposes order on the chaos: "In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. 2 Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters. 3 And God said, 'Let there be light,' and there was light. 4 God saw that the light was good, and he separated the light from the darkness. 5 God called the light 'day,' and the darkness he called 'night.'" God makes light triumph over the dark.

Next, "And God said, 'Let there be a vault between the waters to separate water from water.' 7 So God made the vault and separated the water under the vault from the water above it. And it was so. 8 God called the vault 'sky.'” God separates and thus controls the waters above. The sky will not fall, even in the most violent of rainstorms. Water is given a place under His hand.

Next, "And God said, 'Let the water under the sky be gathered to one place, and let dry ground appear.' And it was so. 10 God called the dry ground 'land,' and the gathered waters he called 'seas.' And God saw that it was good." God separates and thus controls the waters below. Ground is assured of not forever disappearing back under the waters.

Next, "Then God said, 'Let the land produce vegetation: seed-bearing plants and trees on the land that bear fruit with seed in it, according to their various kinds.' And it was so. 12 The land produced vegetation: plants bearing seed according to their kinds and trees bearing fruit with seed in it according to their kinds. And God saw that it was good." If you open an apple, you see an orchard yet to be born. The seeds in all plants means generation in perpetuity. Life is commanded to go on and on.

Next, "And God said, 'Let there be lights in the vault of the sky to separate the day from the night, and let them serve as signs to mark sacred times, and days and years, 15 and let them be lights in the vault of the sky to give light on the earth.' And it was so. 16 God made two great lights—the greater light to govern the day and the lesser light to govern the night. He also made the stars. 17 God set them in the vault of the sky to give light on the earth, 18 to govern the day and the night, and to separate light from darkness. And God saw that it was good." God designates lights that govern day and night, keeping darkness under control and separate; even night itself has light in it. Darkness is not the norm; light is.

Next, "And God said, Let the water teem with living creatures, and let birds fly above the earth across the vault of the sky.' 21 So God created the great creatures of the sea and every living thing with which the water teems and that moves about in it, according to their kinds, and every winged bird according to its kind. And God saw that it was good. 22 God blessed them and said, 'Be fruitful and increase in number and fill the water in the seas, and let the birds increase on the earth.'” Reproduction means abundance in perpetuity. Emptiness is not the norm; abundance is.

Next, "And God said, 'Let the land produce living creatures according to their kinds: the livestock, the creatures that move along the ground, and the wild animals, each according to its kind.' And it was so. 25 God made the wild animals according to their kinds, the livestock according to their kinds, and all the creatures that move along the ground according to their kinds. And God saw that it was good." Again, reproduction means abundance in perpetuity. abundance is God's design.

Next, "Then God said, 'Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.'” We govern the animals; we are a partner in God’s order.

Next, "So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them." We reflect Him and thus His order: we are the very embodiment of His orderly design.

Next, "God blessed them and said to them, 'Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground.'” Reproduction provides continuity and order. We are designed to continue on; children represent this aspect of the divine order.

Next, "Then God said, 'I give you every seed-bearing plant on the face of the whole earth and every tree that has fruit with seed in it. They will be yours for food. 30 And to all the beasts of the earth and all the birds in the sky and all the creatures that move along the ground—everything that has the breath of life in it—I give every green plant for food.'” He assures food is available, because in an orderly system, all are provided for, whether animals or humans. Sustenance is not an accident or at the caprice of a impersonal system; it is in His design.

Next, "God saw all that he had made, and it was very good."

Good is equal to order, and order is equal to good. Chaos is banished. There is now form, fullness and light—the exact opposite of what God was originally hovering over.

Next time, "Where Four Rivers Meet" From Chaos to Christ, Part II

Monday, September 7, 2015

Get Growing!

     Interestingly enough, only Mark (4:26-29) records this parable.  Here it is:
     "He also said, 'This is what the kingdom of God is like. A man scatters seed on the ground. Night and day, whether he sleeps or gets up, the seed sprouts and grows, though he does not know how. All by itself the soil produces grain—first the stalk, then the head, then the full kernel in the head. As soon as the grain is ripe, he puts the sickle to it, because the harvest has come.'”
     Jesus compared Himself to a grain of wheat: "And Jesus answered them, saying, 'The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. He who loves his life loses it, and he who hates his life in this world will keep it to life eternal'" (John 12:24)
     Jesus sees the potential that is contained in a seed.  He knows of its amazing hidden power to grow beyond itself.  Jesus' death, like a seed, contained the hidden power of the Resurrection, which would not be made evident until Jesus was put in the earth.  
    The Kingdom of God is no different.  It must be planted and then its amazing power will be released.  
    You open an apple, and in its heart, in its center, is a group of seeds.  Small and black, they look nothing like an apple or an apple tree.  They certainly do not look like an orchard.  So, in effect, it takes faith to take these seeds outside and plant them in the ground.  Why faith?  Because they look nothing like what they contain.  They show no power.  They show no growth.  They are merely a handful of black seeds in the palm of your hand.  For now. 
    That's where this parable tells of Jesus and His Kingdom.  "A man scatters seed on the ground."  The man is the Man.  
     Jesus came to earth with nothing to recommend Him.  He was poor and from the boondocks.  Philip was so excited about this Man, Jesus, but look at Nathanael's reaction:  "Philip found Nathanael and said to him, 'We have found Him of whom Moses in the Law and also the Prophets wrote-- Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.' Nathanael said to him, 'Can any good thing come out of Nazareth?' Philip said to him, 'Come and see.'" (John 1:45-6)
     Jesus scatters the message of the Kingdom on the ground:  the soil of His followers.  No matter what Jesus was doing, the seeds--the message of hope that His death and resurrection will inaugurate--took root.  The seeds grew because Jesus was all too aware of the power contained in the message.
     Why?  The message was of His Father, the Almighty God:  "For I did not speak on My own initiative, but the Father Himself who sent Me has given Me a commandment as to what to say and what to speak. I know that His commandment is eternal life; therefore the things I speak, I speak just as the Father has told Me." (John 12:49-50)  The words, the message, the seeds:  the power contained therein is of God Himself.  
     Seeds grow and produce a harvest.  Jesus' ministry grew and produced a harvest.  But even more so, His death and resurrection released a power that now we as believers possess: "And if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies because of his Spirit who lives in you." (Rom. 8:11)
    Did you catch that?  We have the same power living in us that raised Jesus from the dead!  Whoa!  Now that's good news!  You may see yourself as a wee seed.  God sees you as a field of waving grain, able to feed many.  How so?  The same Power that raised Jesus--the Father in heaven--raises you to new life and His abundance.
   You see a seed.  He sees an orchard.
   You see a seed packet in the garden section of the store.  He sees a beautiful garden.
   You see a pine cone.  He sees a forest.
   You see yourself as one insignificant person. He sees His child, set to work by His power and His message of love.   
   See yourself as He sees you, and in the power of His Son, get growing!

    This is a tiny baby praying mantis.  He (or do you tell?) may be small now, but as it grows, it will be a mighty hunter, able to take down butterflies.  God loves the small things, for He is excited by what will be.  He loves you and is excited by what will be!


Wednesday, August 26, 2015

WOO's There

     I have an interesting digression from the parables.  I learned an important lesson the other night.
     The other night, I could not sleep.  The moon was about three-quarters full.  The stars were washed away in such a brightly lit sky.  As I sat at my computer, I heard the lovely sound of an owl.
      I love owls.  One night, many years ago, as I was walking through a park, I heard two owls hooing to each other.  I joined in and much to my delight, they responded back.  The park was dark, and the owls were in the trees, hidden from my view, but our lovely conversation went on for quite awhile.  I have never forgotten this.
    Whenever I hear an owl, I try to locate it.  This is never easy, given its nocturnal habits.  So, I looked intently to find it.  Perhaps it was perched on a fence railing or on the roof of our shed.  I would have settled for a silhouette!  I couldn't see anything from my living room windows.  Despite the brightness of the moon, the shadows were dark and deep.  But I could still hear it...
     So, I went to the back door and crept outside.  The wind was softly blowing, and I hoped the owl did not hear the creak of the back door.  It was out in the front yard somewhere, but I know owls have amazing hearing. I tiptoed around the side of the house, and yes it was still there, quietly hooing.
     I peered around the edge of the house, and could not see it.  I was disappointed.  I tiptoed back, hoping I would not run into a bear, mountain lion or surprised husband.  I went back into the house, and I heard it.
I thought about sneaking around the other side of the house, and then logic took over.  It was time for bed.
     OK, what did I learn?  (I know what you are thinking:  It's an owl.  Why sneak around your own house to see an owl?  You're sounding a bit crazy here...)
     Boom!  That's Point #1:  You are not smitten by owls, thus you will not go sneaking around your house on a late summer night.  No owl, however big or beautiful, will lure you out of your house.
     So...let's run with this.  If the owl is comparable to sin, then I am lured out by what I am tantalized by, and you are not.  You might hear the alluring call of an owl, but you stay put.  But:  What if the alluring call is an elk (OK, hunters, here we go) and you have an elk tag...You will grab your rifle or bow of choice and head out that door.  I, on the other hand, will not step outside to hear/see/confront an elk.  Elks are big (I have seen them mounted on walls, and if their heads are that big...) and I dare not run into one unprepared.  I would stand my ground during an elk call.
     Owls?  Away I go.
     So, we are only enticed by that which we enjoy/delight in/are curious about/have an appetite for.  Owls for me, elks for you.  But, we hear the call.  So, if I am in the house, you can be sure Satan will have an "owl" perched out there.  If you are in the house, he'll post an "elk."  James puts it this way:  "Let no one say when he is tempted, 'I am being tempted by God'; for God cannot be tempted by evil, and He Himself does not tempt anyone.  But each one is tempted when he is carried away and enticed by his own lust.  Then when lust has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and when sin is accomplished, it brings forth death.…" (1:13-15)
     Wow.  That says it all.
     Now:  Point #2:  The owl wasn't going to oblige me and come into my house and perch on my living room couch for a chat.  I couldn't even see it, let alone invite it in.  It wouldn't come in unless I somehow managed to catch it, and even then, the results of one ticked-off owl would be unpleasant.
      So, I went out to find it.
      So, sin is out there.  It calls your name.  It entices you.  It intrigues you.  It piques your curiosity.  What is going on outside?  Ignoring it is easy if you have no interest in it.  But, you have to open the door and go out and find it.
     Look how the Lord warns Cain as he is contemplating killing his brother:
     "Then the LORD said to Cain, 'Why are you angry, and why is your expression downcast?  Is it not true that if you do what is right, you will be fine? But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at the door. It desires to dominate you, but you must subdue it.'”
     Doors don't just open themselves.  You turn the handle.
     Computers don't just turn on by themselves. You have the mouse.
     The TV won't turn itself on.  You have the remote.
     Sin is always calling, crouching, waiting.  But you have to go out and meet it.  I left my house, walked in the dark, looking for the owl.  I could hear it, but I wanted to see it. 
     I couldn't control its hooing, but I could control my searching for it.
     Here comes Point #3:  Sin is out there.  Period.  There has never been a time when sin wasn't hooing outside mankind's door.  Sin has its territory.  I went out into the night, into the owl's territory.  It can see in the dark; I cannot.
     If you go out into sin's territory, you are going to be in a place where you can't see around every corner and where the dangers lay hidden.  I could have stepped on a rattlesnake, or tripped and fell, even though I know my front porch.  But a porch in the daytime is not the same porch at night.  Shadows hide the places where I could have fallen.
   Jesus has a remarkable comment to make on how we are to deal with sin.  He teaches us to avoid it.  Don't go out into the night:  "If your hand causes you to stumble, cut it off; it is better for you to enter life crippled, than, having your two hands, to go into hell, into the unquenchable fire..." (Mark 9:43).  
     In other words, do whatever you must to stay out of sin's territory.
     If the computer causes you to sin, put it in the kitchen or in some very public place in your home.  If it still calls your name, throw it out.
     If the TV causes you to sin, limit your cable package, drop your cable or throw it out.
     In other words, be serious about sin.  It's serious about you.
     Finally, Point #4:  Noticed how I sneaked out of my house to find that owl?  I didn't dash in the bedroom, awake my sleeping husband, and shout, "Honey, there's an owl out there.  Wanna help me find it?"
     Nope.  Do we run up to people and shout, "Hey, I'm gonna look at porn.  Wanna join me?"
     If you have to sneak/keep secrets/hide what you do/avoid discussing what you do, then you are sinning.  Period.
     Sin will always hold a fascination for us.  Our nature responds to its call.  My owl experience taught me to not seek out sin's territory.  Stay in the house:  The Father's house, and listen to Him.
This is the only picture I have been able to take of an owl.  It was growing dark, it was foggy and as you can see, I won't be winning any awards for this shot.

Friday, August 7, 2015

What to do While Waiting for Him

     Matthew in Chapters 23-25 chronicles an interesting series of parables as we come to the end of Jesus' earthly ministry. 
     Jesus excoriated the Pharisees for their hypocrisy, warning the crowds and His disciples not to be like them in any way.  He mourned for Jerusalem, knowing what will befall it in the future.  His disciples, astonished that anything will come against the mighty City of David (after all, God's house is there!), asked Him to elaborate on the coming destruction and what will precede His return.
     He tells them the signs to look for and how the future will be similar to Noah's time.  People will be focused on their daily lives and will ignore the warnings until this future "flood" will come and sweep them away. 
     Jesus subsequently starts a series of parables, underscoring the preceding discourse.  He talks of the "faithful and wise servant" who serves his master faithfully, even though the master is not around.  He contrasts this with a "wicked" servant, whose self-serving behavior betrays his supposed love for his master. 
     He then talks of the ten virgins.  Five are completely prepared to meet the bridegroom.  He contrasts these with the five who didn't care enough to be ready for him. 
     If Jesus told the crowd and His disciples not to be like the Pharisees (who are the supposed local role models for Godly living) then who should they emulate?  These parables unpack that question beautifully:  Love and serve the Master and Bridegroom out of reverence and love, and act as if each coming day will be that Day!  Don't behave out of fear and duty. 
     Love is the calling card of this new Kingdom.  The older Kingdom with its Temple, sacrifices, and priests will be fulfilled by a new covenant.  This will be the New Covenant of Jesus' blood.  He will enter Jerusalem as the final sacrificial Lamb.  God will be fully satisfied by what His Son will soon do. 
     The Temple will be demolished by the Romans in 70 AD and the Jewish people will be scattered to the four winds.  But this New Covenant will sustain and supply the Kingdom of God will everything it needs:  faithful servants of God, empowered by His very own Spirit. 
     The Temple of God will be these new believers, as they come to be indwelt by His Holy Spirit.  The Sacrifice will be His Son.  And the priests?  Us.

     Next, Jesus talks of three men who were given talents, and were expected by their departing master to use them wisely, multiplying what they have.  The one fellow who buries his talents, because he considers his master harsh and unforgiving, is castigated for acting out of fear and selfishness. 
     Onto the next parable, the one about the sheep and the goats in Matthew 25:31-46:
31 “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his glorious throne. 32 All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. 33 He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.
34 “Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. 35 For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, 36 I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’
37 “Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? 38 When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? 39 When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’
40 “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’
41 “Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. 42 For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, 43 I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.’
44 “They also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’
45 “He will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’
46 “Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.”      The sheep are sheep because of how they acted.  They relieved the suffering of others, especially those whom the old order--the Pharisees--despised:  the hungry, the naked, the foreigner, the sick and the criminal.  While the Pharisees stood about, debating the minute details of the Law, dressed in glorious attire and sought to silence Jesus, those who really knew His Father were out and about, meeting the needs of the people who needed God the most.   
     The goats are goats because of how they acted.  They saw the need.  They weren't ignorant of the hungry or the naked.  What they refused to see was that their Heavenly Father wanted to use their hands and feet to push His Kingdom forward.  They were too busy debating, parading and masquerading as if the Kingdom was on their terms.  They could do what they wanted, when and with whom they deigned to be kind with, and that was good enough.  Right?
     All of these parables boil down to one key truth:  while you are waiting for Him to return, serve others.  Love others as you love Jesus.  Prompted by His Spirit, be willing to be His hands and feet in this needy world.  
     Know your Master well by reading His Word and spending time with Him.  Thus, you will serve Him out of reverence and love.  Duty and fear have no place in this Kingdom.
     You'll be so busy doing Kingdom work, His return will happily catch you by surprise.  


Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Hey, Brother, Can You Spare Some Oil?

     Jesus has just discussed (as I have in the previous blog) about how leadership in the Kingdom of God is characterized by "servantship." He describes a person who is dutiful in love and commitment whether or not the master is present. This person serves out of love for the master and for his fellow servants--pure and simple. 
     Love is the hallmark of a Kingdom servant.  The "job qualifications" for such a servant is outlined by Paul so wonderfully in the 13th chapter of 1 Corinthians.  God's love for us was made manifest in the giving of His Son:
  • 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. (John 3:16)
  • But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. (Romans 5:8)
     Commitment is equally important, and comes from love.  Love is the attitude such a servant takes because he responds to the great love lavished on him by the Master.  Commitment is love put into action.
     Love says, "I will be there for you."
     Commitment says, "Hold on! I'm coming!"
     So, Jesus moves from His servant parable in Matthew 24:45-51 to the Parable of the Ten Virgins in Matthew 25.  The servant parable shows how love is our attitude.  This next parable shows how commitment is love in action: 
     “At that time the kingdom of heaven will be like ten virgins who took their lamps and went out to meet the bridegroom. Five of them were foolish and five were wise. The foolish ones took their lamps but did not take any oil with them. The wise ones, however, took oil in jars along with their lamps. The bridegroom was a long time in coming, and they all became drowsy and fell asleep.
      6 “At midnight the cry rang out: ‘Here’s the bridegroom! Come out to meet him!’
      7 “Then all the virgins woke up and trimmed their lamps. The foolish ones said to the wise, ‘Give us some of your oil; our lamps are going out.’
      9 “‘No,’ they replied, ‘there may not be enough for both us and you. Instead, go to those who sell oil and buy some for yourselves.’
     10 “But while they were on their way to buy the oil, the bridegroom arrived. The virgins who were ready went in with him to the wedding banquet. And the door was shut.
     11 “Later the others also came. ‘Lord, Lord,’ they said, ‘open the door for us!’
     12 “But he replied, ‘Truly I tell you, I don’t know you.’
    13 “Therefore keep watch, because you do not know the day or the hour."
    OK, we could talk about being prepared for that momentous day when He returns.  Yes, the parable illustrates that.  But why be prepared in the first place?  The other five ladies went with the first five.  They at least brought their lamps.  That was worth something, right?
    Yes, only if a servant's motivation is to appear prepared.  
    In other words, the servant is acting as if love for the master drives what that servants does.  The servant appears to love the master. 
    But Jesus isn't about appearances.  He is concerned about the heart and its ultimate motivation.  He is asking in this parable:
  • Are you doing just the minimum for My Father--do you just grab the lamp but figure you'll get the oil later?   Do you think, Hey, I am doing my duty.  That should be enough.   
  • Are you doing what you can for My Father--grabbing the lamp and the oil and waiting in eager expectation for the Son?  Do you think, Hey, I am ready no matter when He shows up, because I love Him.
    Love is the sustaining factor.  The Bridegroom may be awhile.  It is our love for Him that means you come prepared with whatever is needed to further Kingdom work.  If you bring a lamp, you need to bring the oil.  You can't be light if you serve Him out of duty.  Your love is the oil--it keeps the light burning in the darkness and lights the way for others. 
     In the parable, when the bridegroom appears, all the ladies were asleep.  I like the tender touch here--Jesus recognizes that in our weakness, we may grow tired and perhaps take a snooze.  Our flesh is weak--witness the apostles on the night Jesus was arrested.  They fell asleep.  
     But, if we know we are weak, then His strength is manifested in us and our love drives us to grab His hand and get going.  We don't allow our weakness to be the excuse for self-pity, which leads to inaction.  "But he said to me, 'My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.'  Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ's power may rest on me." (2 Cor. 12:9)
     Wake up; don't wallow up.  Grab your lamp and oil.  The Kingdom needs your light.
     Our love for Him, united with His strength, will yield joyful servants in His kingdom.  It will end, yes, with a wedding feast.  That's why Jesus used a wedding feast to illustrate what His arrival will be like!  
      One more observation about this parable:  all the ladies woke up with the announcement of the bridegroom's arrival, but not all were ready.  We can't rely on our pastor, our mom or dad, our whatever, to walk as servants for us.  There are no grandchildren in God's Kingdom:  only sons and daughters, who have made the choice to be His own.  We can't borrow from others.
     What would we think of a best man who grabbed a bouquet from the flower girl at a wedding and presented it to the bride as if he had bought it for her?
      We would scowl at him and say, "You knew you were the best man.  You knew that you were responsible for bringing a bouquet to the bride.  You knew all of this before the actual day, for the bridegroom told you when he asked you.  Do you think the bridegroom will not notice how careless you are by trying to pass off that little girl's bouquet as your own?"
     Bingo.  Jesus, in His parables and teachings, is the Bridegroom instructing us as to what to do and what to bring as His day approaches.  We are to bring love and commitment to what He asks of us.  We gladly go out and do it, even if we get tired now and then.  
     Isn't it interesting that at the end, when the door is shut, and the five ladies ask to come in, the bridegroom says, "I don't know you."  Duty, guilt and obligation are not substitutes for knowing and serving Him.
     Our servant's heart is created the day He enters in.  With His Holy Spirit, He gives us a heart of flesh for a heart of stone.  We love Him, wanting to know Him better at the end of the day than we did at the beginning.  His mercies are new every morning, so we start afresh as servants each day.  We put feet to our love by being committed to Him and His kingdom.   


Monday, July 20, 2015

"How To Not be a Fool" School

     Let's put the parable of the "wise and faithful servant," in Matthew 24:45-51 into context.
     Jesus excoriated earlier the Pharisees for their willingness to burden people with rules that they themselves do not follow.  He presented His case against them as "woes," telling what they do and how this doesn't square with what the Scriptures say.
     He then leaves the Temple.  His disciples excitedly point out the beauty of this structure to Jesus, joyful at seeing the permanency of God's House.   
     The disciples are looking for something that pleases God in all of this.  Jesus has effectively dismissed the religious leaders as non-viable leaders in God's kingdom.  The disciples are saying, If the religious leaders are not worthy servants in God's house, then let's look at the Temple itself, and be thankful that God's house stands!  Here is something we can be proud of, right, Jesus?
     Jesus, in response to their confidence, says that every stone will be "thrown down."  The Temple itself will be dismantled.
     They all walk up to the Mount of Olives and gather around Him. I am sure while they were walking, the disciples were disconsolate; this beautiful Temple, God's own house, will not forever stand.  How could this be?  By the time they are able to sit down, and ask Jesus to explain, their hearts are very troubled, but open.
     Jesus explains what signs will precede the end.  He gives His disciples information empowering them to not fear and to continue what He has begun.  The Temple, the religious leaders and what they see will all soon disappear.    

     So, who will carry on God's work on this earth?  Who will staff and run what You have begun, Lord?
     Jesus then teaches, by way of several parables, what a citizen of God's new kingdom will be as the old order passes away:
  • Willing to have a servant's heart ("The Parable of Wise and Faithful Servant")
  • Willing to get ready and stay prepared for His arrival  ("The Parable of the Ten Virgins")
  • Willing to use whatever God bestows to further His Kingdom ("The Parable of the Talents")
  • Willing to serve God by serving the "least of these" ("The Parable of the Sheep and the Goats") 
      Here's the text: “Who then is the faithful and wise servant, whom the master has put in charge of the servants in his household to give them their food at the proper time? It will be good for that servant whose master finds him doing so when he returns. Truly I tell you, he will put him in charge of all his possessions. But suppose that servant is wicked and says to himself, ‘My master is staying away a long time,’ and he then begins to beat his fellow servants and to eat and drink with drunkards. The master of that servant will come on a day when he does not expect him and at an hour he is not aware of. He will cut him to pieces and assign him a place with the hypocrites, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth."
     To be an active member of the newly arriving God's Kingdom, your status is one of a servant.  But, you have a choice of what kind of servant you'll be.  
     OK, class.  Here we go.  The faithful servant will:  Take care of the other servants, even down to serving them their daily bread.  This servant will be attentive to others' needs, making sure that they are taken care of, so they can go out and do the work that the master requires.  This servant isn't obedient just when the master is watching or is in residence.  This servant is dutiful all the time, doing what is necessary all the time and cheerful all the time.  Why?  Because this servant, heart and soul,  wants to please the master.  That is the servant's only motivation. 
     This servant lives a key element in the Kingdom:  You serve the Master by serving others.
     The Pharisees served God, but in reality, they were serving themselves.  Their motivation was one of personal aggrandizement.  They wanted the accolades of others, and their service to God was a means to that end.  Serving God alone was not enough.
     A true servant serves God because it is extension of that servant's love for Him.  Love alone is enough to serve.  Why?  Because the servant knows the Master deeply and thus loves the Master deeply.  Service is based on a relationship, not an obligation.
     The master, seeing the servant's love played out in selfless service, hands over his possessions to this servant.  He trusts the servant without reservation and likewise the servant to the master.  Mi casa su casa:  All I have is yours, and all you have is mine.
     Now, let's look at the foolish servant.  
     His love for the master wanes as the master is away.  It's a kind of proximity love:  I love you when you're around, because it meets a need in me.  When you're away, I look elsewhere.  My love is not based on who you are but on what you can do for me.  So, with you away, I am in charge.  I am not acting on the master's behalf; I am taking the reins of the master and acting as if I am the master.  So, I will beat offending servants, not take care of them.  I will go where and when I please.  Besides, the real master is taking his sweet time...Why can't I? 
     Because this servant is so busy serving himself, he won't notice the signs.  The master's absence has caused this servant's heart to grow cold.  And hard.  This servant is not just hanging out idly; he's actively beating his fellow servants and getting loaded with a questionable crowd.
     But the master does return.  He is appalled by such hypocritical behavior.  The master hears this servant's heart:  Hey, yeah, I am your servant, but I while I like the title, I do not like the responsibilities.  I am serving myself, because I tried the servant thing, and that grew boring.  The other servants didn't appreciate all my hard work on your behalf.  You didn't appreciate all my hard work, either.  I should get something out of this service thing.  I like it when the other servants shrink away in fear, and act as if I am the master.  It's good to be king.
     Sounds like the Pharisees, doesn't it?
     Leaders in this new Kingdom will be servants who wash others' feet and give of themselves
wholeheartedly.  They will do so for one reason:  their love of God.
     The fate of this foolish servant is a "place with the hypocrites."  Pride will be traded in for tears, and disobedience for regret.
      The Temple will soon be gone.  The old order of sacrifice will soon be gone.
       The new temple will be each servant's heart, a new house of God, indwelled by the Holy Spirit.  The sacrifice will be Jesus on the cross, and His death will satisfy God's demand for justice for all time.
      Class dismissed.
       Now, go choose. 



Monday, July 6, 2015

Kingdom Rules--The Parable of the Unmerciful Servant

     Interesting how God's ways are not our ways.  That's an obvious statement, but how quickly we forget this truth.
     The disciples come up to Jesus with a question in Matthew 18:  "Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?"  Not who is the most blessed, not who is the least, not who is the most qualified...just who is the "greatest."  Their question is implicitly full of worldly values:   
     Who will reign over all the sheep that You, Jesus, are constantly ministering toWe follow You every day...that should count for something in this new kingdom You are creating.  May we humbly suggest that we, Your disciples, are truly the best qualified to run the show.  We have sat at Your feet, we have managed the crowds, we have distributed food and we have been able to answer questions and do wonders in Your name.  We think this is enough for us to get to the head of the line.  Besides, who knows Your teachings better than us?
     Jesus understands all too well what the disciples are really asking.  They want to be the leaders in this new Kingdom.  Jesus wants the children of God running things.  People who see themselves as family members who serve each other, not as dispassionate leaders who lord it over others.  Jesus is saying:
     Look around, boys.  The kind of leadership you are asking about is what we have already have here:  just look at the religious leaders.  Look how unloving they are.  Look how much attention they want simply for being leaders.  They show no real compassion.  They want praise from men.  They dishearten My Father, for they have the Scriptures and should know better. Do they even see the children running about?  Are the little ones ignored because they can't do anything in the eyes of the leaders? 
     So, what does Jesus do to illustrate His point?  He places a small child in front of Him and His disciples.  He then launches into a long teaching about how the Kingdom is built upon a child-like trust of God and how its members are family.  He wants the disciples to have no illusions of greatness; He wants them to have a revelation of who will occupy and lead His Father's Kingdom:  People who are children of the King.
    He concludes His teaching by saying that just as a shepherd will seek high and low for a sheep who has wandered off and rejoices in finding it, and so too does His Father not want any of these little ones to be lost.
     In other words:
     You are looking to be leaders, boys.  What kind of leaders is My Father looking for?  
     Here they are:  These little ones who dash about our feet and smile when I enter the town.  
     These little ones trust that they are loved by a Father they cannot see.  
     These little ones rejoice in the butterflies, flowers and the stars that come out every night.  
     These little ones understand Who I am.  They come with no ulterior motives, just a love that reaches out and embraces Me without reservation. 
     These little ones demand nothing but to be loved.  They sense the operating principle of My Kingdom:  Love, and love alone is what this Kingdom is built upon. 
     My Father's love is as unreserved as their smiles.
     He then talks of how to restore a fallen brother.  The Kingdom is built on restoration of its family members. 
     He then talks of binding and loosening.  The Kingdom is built on discerning where disobedience has led to a shackling; how those shackles need to be loosened, and how forgiveness, not condemnation, will set others free.
     He then talks of asking His Father as family members:  two or three gathered together in His name, making requests and trusting the Father for the results.
     Jesus has just sketched out, in clear and uncompromising terms, the contours of the Kingdom.
     Peter then pops up with a legitimate question in light of all that Jesus has been teaching:
     OK, Lord...we are beginning to understand.  Love is the foundation.  A child-like acceptance is the attitude.  We approach this Kingdom as a member of a family.  But, wait!  Every family has its obnoxious members:  the uncouth brother-in-law who can't shut up; the nagging mother-in-law and of course, the cousin who sits and does nothing while everyone else is working. What about those family members in this Kingdom? 
     Peter, to his credit, at least got it right:  "How many times shall I forgive my brother when he sins against me?"  Jesus responds with a parable in Matthew 18:23-35: 
     “Therefore, the kingdom of heaven is like a king who wanted to settle accounts with his servants. As he began the settlement, a man who owed him ten thousand bags of gold was brought to him. Since he was not able to pay, the master ordered that he and his wife and his children and all that he had be sold to repay the debt.  At this the servant fell on his knees before him. ‘Be patient with me,’ he begged, ‘and I will pay back everything.’ The servant’s master took pity on him, canceled the debt and let him go.
     But when that servant went out, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred silver coins. He grabbed him and began to choke him. ‘Pay back what you owe me!’ he demanded.  His fellow servant fell to his knees and begged him, ‘Be patient with me, and I will pay it back.’
     But he refused. Instead, he went off and had the man thrown into prison until he could pay the debt. When the other servants saw what had happened, they were outraged and went and told their master everything that had happened. Then the master called the servant in. ‘You wicked servant,’ he said, ‘I canceled all that debt of yours because you begged me to. Shouldn’t you have had mercy on your fellow servant just as I had on you?’
     In anger his master handed him over to the jailers to be tortured, until he should pay back all he owed. This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother or sister from your heart.”
     Servants were part of the master's family.  So, the family theme is maintained here.
     Look at how much the servant owed his master:  10,000 bags of gold.  Whoa.  That is a lot to loan a servant, but obviously, the master trusted the servant to give out such a generous loan.  In fact, you get the impression that he might have been at the top of the list because this servant is called up a the beginning of the accounts to be settled.
     He owes a lot, so a lot is demanded from him to pay the debt.  His family will be sold into slavery and all that the man owns will be sold as well.  Whoa.  But, the servant knowing the heart of this master, begs for mercy.  "Be patient with me..." he begs.  If the servant thought his master wouldn't negotiate at all, he would have accepted his fate, knowing that the master was cold-hearted and wouldn't budge.
     But he didn't!  He appealed to the master's heart, knowing the compassion that lingered there.  He begged for patience from the master.  The master took "pity" on his servant, knowing how great the debt was.  So, instead of just a reprieve, he received a cancellation altogether of the debt.  Whoa.
     The mercy and compassion in the master's heart exceeded all expectations that the servant held.  The master's heart was far bigger than the servant could even imagine.
     The master "let him go."  The servant was free of debt; free to start afresh; free to hug his wife and children, knowing they were safe for now on.  He could walk down the street not just debt-free, but loved.  Loved by a master whose mercy was great because the love for his servant was even greater.
     But did this love remain permanently lodged in the servant's heart?  No, like  fog wafting through the trees under a warming sun, it left.  Why?  The servant now focuses on the debt he is owed, not the love he just received.  He is focused on what is missing, not what he possesses.
     It's not like he needs the money--his debt is cancelled.  So, why does he look up his fellow servant? On principle:
     I am owed this money.  He borrowed it from me, promising me he'd pay it back.  Has he?  Nope.  I am within my rights to demand it of him; that's what I am going to do.  Promptly.  What a whiner!  He wants me to be patient with him!  I HAVE BEEN!  He's taken too long to pay.  He shouldn't have borrowed it unless he planned to pay it back in good time.  Maybe this choke-hold will show him I AM SERIOUS!  What a baby!  You're going to prison, you loser.  You can rot in there for all I care.  No one makes a fool out of me.  What if everyone finds out I am not serious about collecting what is rightfully owed me?  Everyone will then want a piece of me!  Stop your begging. You lose.
     Whoa.  The other servants, appalled by this servant's actions, go back to the one who has the real power.  This servant is pridefully waving his "power" around, acting as if he in charge.  Acting as if the other servants are subservient to him.  He's somehow gained the notion he's above all the other servants.  Why?  Because he's debt free?  Because he received his master's favor?  Because he is free to start again?
     Whatever is going through that servant's head, it is not love.
     Debt free: yes, because a great love cancelled his debt.  Favored: yes, by a master who saw his need, and released him with mercy.  Start again:  yes, with a heart no longer burdened by fear.
     The Kingdom of God is built on love, mercy and freedom from fear.
     But, this servant is not using Kingdom materials to build his house.  He fiercely reminds the other servant what he owes him; he shows no favor nor mercy, just violence; he puts fear into the soul of that other servant, burdening him with an even greater debt.
     The master calls back the servant.  He is furious with him.  He reminds him, in no uncertain terms, that the mercy he received needed to be extended without reservation to this other servant.  His mercy cup runneth over, and needed to fall into the cup of the other servant.
     Instead, he is now visited with the same measure that he measured out:  he is thrown into prison, and will now have to pay the debt.
     How can he pay the debt if he's in prison?  Exactly:  The Kingdom of God operates on impossible principles from a human point of view:
     We are forgiven much; we are to forgive much.  (But he owes me!)  
     We are given mercy; we are to give mercy.  (But he's been so mean to me!) 
     We have been given love in abundance, not because of what we have done or not done, but because of who are are:  children of the King.  (He's a child of God?  You've got to be kidding!)
     Impossible with us.  But God is the Master of the Impossible.
     Only He can change our hearts.   
     Only He can open our eyes.

     You and me and all who call on His name are His family.   Yes, we are to see all humanity as God's children.  But when we enter into the Kingdom and live under the wise rule of our Heavenly Father, love, mercy and forgiveness are the order of the day.  Every day.  How we treat one another, especially with forgiveness, will be a hallmark of our membership in this Kingdom.
     The Kingdom needs children to lead it:  forgiven and free members who cherish what the Father has bestowed on them, and a willingness to bestow it on others. 

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