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.  

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