There are some who question the Season of Lent. Some say that Protestantism do so to maintain a connection to Catholicism; even being under its influence rather than God’s. The thing is that there are historical documents that precede the formation of the Roman Catholic Church that indicate early Followers of Jesus engaged in this discipline. There is even a connection to it at the Council of Nicaea, which produced the original Nicene Creed in 325. Though Roman Catholicism says it began with Peter, most historians agree it began after the Council of Nicaea where Constantine was trying to unite the Roman Empire through Christianity.
Some say that it isn’t commanded for Christians to do in the Bible; only Baptism and Communion. Well, didn’t Jesus say something about Foot Washing? Besides, there is nothing commanded about stain glass windows, pipe organs, projectors, Sunday School literature, or padded pews and seats.
Some say that it’s origins come from pagan religions in Babylon and Egypt; as such, it is idolatry and blasphemy. What about when God instructed Moses to make that bronze serpent to heal all those who were bitten by the snakes? The Asp was a sacred idol in Egypt who was supposed to protect the Pharaoh. The Asp was included on the Pharaoh’s crown for people to see. Was God ignorant of that? Did He promote idolatry? For those who say Lent promotes idolatry, then so did God.
Others say that it’s simply not needed to be a Christian. Well, on this point I must say that I wholeheartedly agree. To BE a Christian rests solely on the atoning work of Jesus and our faith in that work. We need to change one word in that statement: the words TO BE. Change it to AS; so that it reads: “I need Lent AS a Christian!” I need this time to give up something important to me so that I can focus more on my relationship with Jesus.
I admit that I am not yet exactly like Jesus. To become like Jesus I must change even more things in my life, my heart, and my mind. It’s backed up in the Bible. Moses fasted 40 days and 40 nights on Mt. Sinai while God gave him The Law (Exodus 34); he did it again on the behalf of the Hebrews (Deuteronomy 9). Elijah fasted 40 days and 40 nights on his way to Mt. Horeb (1 Kings 19). And Jesus fasted 40 days and 40 nights in the wilderness before He began His public mission (Matthew 4).
In paganism it was the god or goddess who needed its worshippers to fast. It was a demand from them because the god or goddess required it from them to remain a god or goddess–i.e.–it gave the god or goddess power. But in one of my favorite liturgies for Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent, says: “God does not need Lent. But we do.”
Now, if you want to make Lent about paganism and Roman Catholicism and idolatry and being unnecessary–well you are within your rights and free will to do so. As for me? Moses, Elijah, and Jesus Himself thought it important to spend a time away from things in order to focus on God. So, I will embrace it as important in my growth as a Disciple and Follower of Jesus. The Discipline of Lent isn’t about giving up something only to pick it back up later. It is about reflecting on ALL that Jesus gave up for us. Whatever we give up, we spend that time remembering how it came to be that we have been made right with The Father. This season I’m giving up sweets–and those moments I long for something sweet, I will remember what Jesus gave up for me.
Who would deny that the current state of the church, politics and society as a whole is in a state of unabridged and unequivocal chaos. Even the most self-deluded would have to admit this is our current reality. And when it comes to placing the blame…its not any better. On any given day and all day long, the long finger of blame is pointing somewhere. It’s like the Wheel of Fortune or Price is Right–there are lots of options on where to place the blame.
Conservatives are to blame. Progressives are to blame. The Democrats are to blame. The Republicans are to blame. Guns are to blame. Wussy-minded folks are to blame. Millenials are to blame. Baby Boomers are to blame. Professors are to blame. Parents to blame. Spin the wheel and find who to blame. Oy, oy, oy! It’s giving me a headache and makes me want to puke. It’s all Mishigas and Shmegegge. (I love Yiddish!)
But what would happen if we would do what David tells us to do? What would happen if we stopped spinning the Wheel Of Blame and took a long, hard and serious look at our own life?
23 Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. 24 Point out anything in me that offends you, and lead me along the path of everlasting life.
Psalm 139:23-24 (NLT)
Are you willing to allow God to Search, Know, Test, Point Out what’s wrong in your own life? The Wheel Of Blame isn’t helping; so why not give this a full-on try. If we want things to change, then remember President Harry Truman’s personal mantra–THE BUCK STOPS HERE! Start and end each day with this Psalm. Allow God to Search, Know, Test, Point Out what’s going on with you. Don’t just do it to fill your heart and mind with guilt–but do it so that the last line in this Psalm becomes true in you: And Lead Me Along The Paths Of Everlasting Life. Just in case you’re so dense you haven’t figured out the Monday Musing Theme, allow me to put it succinctly–Focus on what God wants for your life, then allow HIM to lead you along The Path!
OK, I’m ready for the blast from the fundamentalists, churchians, tenured pew sitters and all those others who “think they know the Bible but only know what they’ve been told”. Have you ever believed something to be true, but it’s not really true? Case in point: Have you heard about The Patience Of Job? Many say, “Job teaches us HOW to be patient.”
Granted, chapters 1 and 2 can be seen as Job being patient, but as the late Paul Harvey would say, “Now, for the rest of the story.” To keep this from being extra long, I’ll just give you some examples:
Chapter 3–He wishes he had been a stillborn infant, better yet, not even born.
Chapter 6–It’s all God’s fault!
Chapter 7–He has a death wish, and after he dies, God won’t know where he is, in essence, God will soon forget about him.
Chapter 9–God doesn’t care if I’m guilty or innocent
Chapter 10–God made me and now He wants to crush me.
There’s more–read it for yourself!
I honestly can’t see how anyone can tell me, “You need to have the patience of Job!” My response will always be:
Now if all you fundamentalists, churchians, tenured pew sitters and all those others who “think they know the Bible but only know what they’ve been told” are fuming at me but still reading–maybe you will like this next part: Job Doesn’t Teach Us About Patience, But He Teaches Us Much About Faithfulness. Hear me out please!
Job is depressed, discouraged, and angry at God. Yet with all that depression, discouragement and anger at God–He cries out TO and FOR God. I mean, if you thought someone intentionally hurt you, would you turn to them to help heal those wounds? I didn’t think you would. Yet Job turns to the ONE He thought caused all of his suffering. So. . .what’s the great lesson Job does teach us?
Glad you asked that last question. Job teaches us the value and power of faithfulness. In Philip Yancey’s book Where Is God When It Hurts? gives the best definition of faithfulness I’ve ever heard. Faithfulness is crying out to God when everything inside you tells you to let go! Job had every logical reason possible to just let go and walk away from God. But he didn’t! Why? I think it was because somehow, Job still trusted God. He didn’t understand what was happening to him; he just thought he saw God was the cause behind it all. Yet Job somehow knew that if he was ever to be made whole again, it would happen in the presence of God.
Oh, one other thing. Job wanted to face God in a One-On-One Challenge. And when finally did show up–it was a challenge Job found out he didn’t really want. The one question God posed to Job that changed his song was this: “Are you God?” Job had some issues, but he brought every one of them to God. And though Job’s thinking was stinking, God healed and restored Job.
Job teaches me (and hopefully you, too) that I can be really honest in how I feel with God. If Job hadn’t brought his honest feelings to God, he would have continued to believe those feelings were truth, even though they weren’t. Don’t be patient like Job–Be Faithful Like Job!
Then you can love God with all your heart. Love others the way Jesus loves you. And then all the glory will go to HIM!
Well, the Holy Spirit did it again. He did a Leroy Jethro Gibbs slap the back of the head moment with me. It came from J.D. Walt in The Seedbed Daily Text, a daily reading I do. (You can click here to find it) Truthfully, I have been a bit lax in reading it, so I’m behind a bit. But I am catching up.
This morning I was reading it and the text was Luke 10:25-27. You may have heard it referred to as the Parable of the Good Samaritan. I’ve read it and preached it many times over the years. But this morning…like I said, it was that Leroy Jethro Gibbs slap on the back of the head moment. Let’s review the passage one more time.
An “expert” came to Jesus to test him. Imagine that, an expert “testing” the Son of God. The story has 5 questions:
“Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” (The “Expert”)
“What is written in the Law?” (Jesus)
“How do you read it?” (Jesus)
“And who is my neighbor?” (The “Expert”)
“Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?” (The “Expert”)
It’s questions 4 and 5 that got me that slap on the back of my head. Truthfully, it felt more like a baseball bat on the back of my head. I’ve read it, preached it, heard it taught, heard it preached with the emphasis on question 4: And who is my neighbor? And so we walk away thinking that the point of the story is that we need to be looking for and helping that poor person beat up and left on the side of the road for dead. Then taking responsibility for their most immediate needs. Sounds like a good theological perspective to me.
But J.D. Walt pointed out something I had overlooked–and thus–a lesson I had not learned,,,until this morning. It’s Question 5: Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers? Did you see what Jesus just did? In case you missed it, and since I can’t reach out and slap you on the back of the head, I underlined it for you. Can you see it now?
Good grief folks! It’s as clear as the baseball that hit me on the back of the head. Jesus changed the question! The original question was “Who is my neighbor?” but Jesus asked, “Who WAS a neighbor?” Thanks J.D., for helping me see that I’ve been asking the wrong question! Perhaps what we, who claim to follow Jesus, needs to ask ourselves the question J.D. posed to me: What kind of neighbor do I want to be?
Spend the rest of your day…and the rest of your life, asking yourself the question that Jesus posed to this alleged expert. But don’t just ask the question–find the answer. The right answer will be to become the kind of neighbor who reflects this magnanimous and extravagant grace of God.
Love God with all your heart. Love others the way Jesus loves you. And make sure all the glory goes to HIM! Oh, and unless you want to be slapped on the back of your head by the Holy Spirit, remember to ask the right question!
are continuing to look at The Boldest Statements Jesus Ever Made when He
Claimed To Be The Great I Am. Our focus
verse is Exodus 3:15: “Say this to the people of Israel: Yahweh, the God of your ancestors—the God of
Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob—has sent me to you. This is my eternal name, my name to remember
for all generations.” It is God’s
eternal name, His name for all generations to remember. Though it was illegal to use that word in
public, yet Jesus used that Name and He backs up that claim in another moment
when He uses His Eternal Name. It’s
found in John 8:12-20 (NLT)
to the people once more and said, “I am the light of the world. If you follow me, you won’t have to walk in
darkness, because you will have the light that leads to life.”
Pharisees replied, “You are making those claims about yourself! Such testimony is not valid.”
them, “These claims are valid even though I make them about myself. For I know where I came from and where I am
going, but you don’t know this about me. 15 You
judge me by human standards, but I do not judge anyone. 16 And if I did, my judgment would be correct in every respect
because I am not alone. The Father who sent me is with me.
17Your own law
says that if two people agree about something, their witness is accepted as
fact. 18 I am one witness, and my Father
who sent me is the other.”
19 “Where is your father?” they asked. Jesus answered, “Since you don’t know who I am, you don’t know who my Father is. If you knew me, you would also know my Father.” 20 Jesus made these statements while he was teaching in the section of the Temple known as the Treasury. But he was not arrested, because his time had not yet come.
is now making His move toward the ONE reason He came: The Cross.
is making the calculated steps toward His Purpose. And in today’s passage, Jesus lets us in on
yet another dimension of His Eternal Name:
you ever given serious time thinking about “light”? Light tends to be one of those things we
typically do not think about, until—until we find ourselves in the dark.
review where Jesus used that Name. Jesus
has dramatically called people to come to Him.
To the Samaritan woman thirsty for God’s presence, He explicitly called
Himself YAHWEH—the eternal name for all generations who provides us Living
Last week by the Sea of Galilee, Jesus clearly called Himself YAHWEH—The Bread Of Life. They asked for a sign like the manna in the wilderness. Jesus contrasts the Life He offers to the life they were wanting. Unlike Manna that never lasts and never inspires us to the Great Adventures with God, He calls us to a relationship that satisfies the deepest longings of our hearts. And now He refers to himself in a most startling way, saying, I Am The Light Of The World. If you can remember only one thing, this is it: We Will Stumble In The Dark Unless Jesus Is Our Savior And Lord! This claim to be the Light Of The World, like the claim to be the Living Bread, has a setting. This is it!
the Feast of Tabernacles, where they remember how God led their ancestors by
the pillar of cloud in the day and the pillar of fire at night to the Promised
Land. In this feast there was a
lamp-lighting ceremony that took place in the temple every evening of the Feast. Large lamps were set up in the Court of Women
lamps filled every courtyard in the city. In the light of these lamps there was
great singing and dancing all evening in celebration of God’s salvation,
especially His deliverance at the Exodus as He led his people with his presence
in a pillar of cloud by day and the pillar of fire by night. They were never in the dark when it came to
God’s presence and when it came to following God.
sight of these great lamps in the Temple and throughout Jerusalem, Jesus
proclaims himself to be The Light Of The World. Light, pure light, is composed of all the
colors of the spectrum. Filter one of
those colors out and the light changes in appearance—the hue becomes different.
Jesus said, I Am The Light Of The World,
He was saying that He alone is all of God, and to follow that Light means we
accept Jesus as He is. When we reshape
Jesus to someone easier for us to follow by resisting and refusing to do what
He wants, we change the light that we follow.
out a little here, and a little there, and soon we have shaped a formed a Jesus
that is easier to follow; but he’s not the real Jesus. If you take away all the colors of the
spectrum and do you know what you have? Absolute
Total Darkness. For the
Pharisees, that Pillar of Fire, God’s Holy Presence, had been replaced by the
Law. Everything For Them Was About A
List Of Things To Do And An Even Longer List Of Things NOT To Do. They pursued and followed what they thought
was the light with every fiber of their being.
Were Religious For Sure.
why they didn’t have the time to even care about people who did not fit their
description of being religious. They
wrongly believed that following the Law would be the light that would lead them
into the very presence of God. But it
didn’t! All it did was make them feel
more important and better than most folks.
And rather than leading them into the Promise of God, it brought the
darkness into their life.
And there they were in the
middle of the Holy Days, days that were to remind them that just as their
ancestors followed the Light of God in the wilderness, so were they to follow
the Light of God in their day to day life.
It must have been a spectacular sight at night…but:
Surrounded By All Those Lamps, Illuminating The Temple Courts, Lights Shining Out Into The Streets Of The City, They Didn’t Have A Clue Of What It Meant To Follow God.
lot of people today are clueless just like those Pharisees and Teachers of the
Law. They think they’ve got it all
figured out—following everything from power and money, to rules and traditions. And they think in their hearts, “Eureka! I’ve found the light, I’ve found the
light!” But all around them is
darkness—without a clue they follow and follow and follow and then they wonder,
“Why is my life so empty? Where’s the
purpose? What’s the meaning?”
And then Jesus makes the bold statement: “If You Want Light—If You Want To Know What It Means To Follow God—If You Want To Know That Your Life Is Meaningful And Has A Holy Purpose—Then Follow Me! I AM—YAHWEH—The Light.” And let me share with you why Jesus is The Light!
1. First, His Light Is Revealing
He Is The Light
That Reveals The Secrets We Hide In Our Hearts. We can all be
masters of deception when it comes to what goes on inside our hearts. Any of a number of us could have an Academy
Award sitting on a shelf in our living rooms—if others just knew what we were
I think about Jesus as The Light, I must be honest; there are times when
thinking about The Light that I shudder.
I tremble because Jesus sees those times that I am living a lie, those
things that make me feel ashamed. Every
corner, every dark cave where we try to push down those things we don’t want
anyone to see, Jesus sees because He shines The Light in there. When He shines The Light and reveals the true
me, I feel the shame and regret. But
He isn’t disgusted with what the Light shows. His light makes us
deal with some dark stuff that resides in our heart. And here’s why:
His Light Reveals The
Solution, The Cure For What Is Ailing Our Hearts And Spirits. He isn’t
content to leave us in the dark because He loves us too much to leave us
there. He wants to lead us out of the
dark places of our heart with the Light of His Love, His Grace, His Mercy. It’s the Light that shines and shows us what
we need the most.
And what we need the most is to kneel, kneel at the foot of the Cross that is soaked with His blood. If you feel like everything has gone dark in your life, Look! Look at Jesus because His Light shows us our shame, and His Light shows us the way out of the darkness.
2. Second, His Light Is Restoring
Jesus Came Because God Wanted
To Restore His Image Bearers Who Are Held Captive By Sin. He came to
set back right everything that was wrong.
He came to put things back right—to put us back right with our
Creator! What Sin Takes Away, What Sin
Destroys Is Our Birthright To Be The Daughters And Sons Of God. Jesus Is All About Restoring Everyone Who Is
Broken In Their Heart—Alienated From The Father.
overlook what happened just before this revelation from Jesus. Earlier that day, the Pharisees and Teachers
of the Law had dragged a woman into the presence of Jesus. They publicly shamed her. They publicly declared this woman was
worthless. She was wasting space and
oxygen. They did that when they said,
“Rabbi, this woman is guilty of adultery.
The Law says she should be stoned to death. What do you say?” But Jesus ignored the question and quietly
started writing something in the dirt.
They push Jesus for an answer and it never ends well when anyone tries to push
He does, “Let the first stone be thrown by the one who is without sin. Then the rest of you can join in.” Then he goes back to writing. Do you ever wonder what Jesus was writing?
do. Maybe it was from Numbers 14:18—“The Lord is slow to anger
and filled with unfailing love, forgiving every kind of sin and rebellion.” Maybe it was Psalm 107:1—“Give thanks to the
Lord, for he is good! His faithful love
endures forever.” Whatever
it was, it must have been powerful because one by one the rocks hit the ground and
they drifted away until it was only Jesus and her. And what does Jesus do?
restored her by forgiving her and releasing her from her shame and guilt—restored
her back into fellowship with God. He
came in the flesh, died on the Cross, Rose from the grave to Restore us to the
relationship we were created for—with God our Father.
3. Third, His Light Is Renewing
There Are No Chains, No Fears,
No Prison That Can Stand Against The Light. When the way gets hard and
difficult; when the pressures and stresses of life puts the squeeze on us; when
it feels like the last drop of energy is about to leave us—The Light comes to
put everything back in us, and more.
In Those Times
When The Life In Grace Feels More Like A Routine Than A Relationship—
The Light breaks
the shackles that have imprisoned us.
The Light cleans
and heals those wound caused by the shackles.
rekindles the Fire of the Holy Spirit in us.
The Light places
the song back into our heart.
The Light puts
the step back into our dance.
His Light Lifts
Up Our Hearts With Joy, Hope And Purpose. The Light IS the Life. It’s all
about the relationship.
not just a dim light, but the Light that literally shatters the darkness. He is the Light of the World! The word John used from the Greek was “kosmos”. It means more than just the globe we call
earth. It means literally everything
around us—what we see and what we can’t see—what we understand and what we
don’t understand! It’s the realms of
both time and eternity.
And He Wants To be The Light
in us, but He wants something more from us.
He wants to be The Light that shines through us. Jesus said in Matthew 5:13-16—“You are the light of the world—like a city on a
hilltop that cannot be hidden. 15 No one lights a lamp and then puts
it under a basket. Instead, a lamp is
placed on a stand, where it gives light to everyone in the house. 16
In the same way, let your good deeds shine out for all to see, so that everyone
will praise your heavenly Father.”
Motel 6 had a very popular
slogan: We’ll Leave The Light On For You. God has left the light on for you first. Will you allow Jesus to be the Light that
will guide you to the very throne of your Heavenly Father?
It’s the same as last
week. Our world needs the Light of
Jesus. It’s our responsibility to get it
Come Up With An Idea Of A Way We, As A Church,
Can Get To Know People Around Us.
Up With An Idea Of How We Can Connect With Other Churches Around Us In Order To
Do More For The Kingdom Of God!
It took going to the funeral of a friend which lead to a dear friend reminding me to write, and the phone call of a close friend telling us she was dying, to kick me in the butt to get back to writing. So here I am, more resolved to not set His gift aside; rather to use it even more.
Since it’s been a while since I’ve written, allow me to explain the purpose of these, call them insights. I’m reading the Book of Acts every morning. As I read, I’m looking and listening to The Spirit for those things I’ve overlooked over the years. Today I want to share something else I’ve missed all these years. It’s Acts 2:32-33
“God raised Jesus from the dead, and we are all witnesses of this. Now he is exalted to the place of highest honor in heaven, at God’s right hand. And the Father, as he had promised, gave him the Holy Spirit to pour out upon us, just as you see and hear today.”
I call this Elevator Truth. Think about an elevator. I find here a microcosm of life, and a spiritual truth. What do you see and hear? Of course, Elevator Music! Music that rarely if ever moves the heart and stirs the soul. My hypothesis is that they use that kind of music so that you will quickly get off so the elevator can go to its next assignment.
Face it, sometimes life is as boring as Elevator Music. But that’s not the truth I want to share. It’s those 2 buttons outside the elevator door: Up or Down. Unless, of course, you are on the bottom floor (or the top floor). Elevators will take you up–elevate you–or they will de-elevate you–take you down.
In life, you have the choice to elevate your life or de-elevate your life. The News of the Kingdom of God is countercultural and revolutionary. Our world thinks that to elevate your life you need to push the up button (thus, my elevator analogy). But here in Peter’s sermon, elevation comes through the example of Jesus.
Before His Resurrection, Jesus pushed the down button, twice! First, when He left Heaven to enter Mary’s womb. And then as He died on the Cross and was placed in that tomb. Because Jesus was willing to push that down button, and because He did it out of love for the Father and love for us, The Father then elevated Him. And what an elevation it is! The world changed then, and it continues to change now, all because God elevated Jesus.
And remember WHEN that elevation occurred–after Jesus died! If you want your life elevated–lifted above the muck and mire of this culture–then you need to do what Jesus did: DIE!
Die to guilt
Die to fear
Die to sin
Die to self promotions
Die to your agendas
Die to self-importance
Die to who others say you are
Die to ________________ (you fill in the blank)
In order to be elevated, then you need to surrender–anything and everything–in your life. The good, the bad, the ugly–ALL OF IT! In an age of self-promotion this is radical and revolutionary–but it works. It worked for Jesus. It will work for you.
Love God with all your heart. Love others the way Jesus loves you. And make sure all the glory goes to Him! And the next time you stand outside an elevator and see those 2 buttons, remember which button Jesus pushed, TWICE!
(This is Part of my current 3 Part Sermon Series I’m calling Everybody! Next week I’ll share the third, and final installment. Click Everybody Has A Past to read the first.)
Everybody Has A Present! Joshua 24:14-15 (N.L.T.)
We’re in Week 2 of 3 of the series that I’m calling Everybody. The Theme Verse of this series is Galatians 3:28—“There is no longer Jew or Gentile, slave or free, male and female. For you are all one in Christ Jesus.” The Holy Spirit is inspiring this series because we live in a culture that divides people into groups. Us and them. We and they. Those people! These have become the iconic words of our culture. Black Lives Matter. White Lives Matter. Blue Lives Matter. Red States. Blue States. Republicans. Democrats. Socialists.
Such are the words that describe this Fractious And Fractured culture called the United States. This spirit of division is fueling fear and hate—and it’s leading us deeper and deeper into chaos. Remember that it’s not always been like this. In the beginning, it was an “Everybody”. In the beginning, God designed life to be lived, experienced and celebrated TOGETHER! Together with Him. Together with the world. Together with each other. That’s how the Image, His Image looked in the beginning. But this “Everybody That Was Together” was shattered when Adam and Eve made their tragic decision to be their own god.
But God longs to bring us back together—back to being EVERYBODY. Throughout time, God has been seeking to bring us back together. The Kingdom of God is all about bringing the “Everybody” back into His Design.
Though we are Fractious And Fractured, there is still Everybody. Everybody has 3 conditions in common. Everybody Has A Past. Everybody Has A Present. And Everybody Has A Future. And here’s the 1 thing you need to remember:
Your Present Will Either Echo Your Fears Or Express Your Hope.
The Scripture this morning is all about echoing fears or expressing hope. It comes from Joshua 24:14-15 (NLT)
14 “So fear the Lord and serve him wholeheartedly. Put away forever the idols your ancestors worshiped when they lived beyond the Euphrates River and in Egypt. Serve the Lord alone. 15 But if you refuse to serve the Lord, then choose today whom you will serve. Would you prefer the gods your ancestors served beyond the Euphrates? Or will it be the gods of the Amorites in whose land you now live? But as for me and my family, we will serve the Lord.”
This particular passage has been applied to the thought that God wants us to have Christian families. All kinds of pictures and wall plaques have been manufactured and sold. Now, don’t misunderstand me. God does want Christian Families. Christian families are the most important battle formation in God’s fight to reclaim what Satan took away from Him in the Garden.
But, if you would indulge me, I would like to give you a lesson in good, solid biblical exegesis. Oh, that big word like Mahogany—exegesis. Exegesis means to study in ways that helps understand a passage so that we can find ways to apply it to our lives.
Now, you certainly can apply these words of Joshua to you home, family, kids, grandkids and so on. BUT. . .before you can do that, you need to understand the original setting. Joshua has been leading them in the conquest of The Promised Land. They’ve occupied most of the territory, but there’s still work to be done. And Joshua is getting old. This is his retirement announcement.
He’s not going to be around much longer—so they need to decide what they are going to do now. Keeping walking with God in the present moment, or go back to some point in their past. It’s about choice. This is a defining moment for them.
In this moment, this defining moment, what are they going to do? Joshua has made his own decision. Joshua understands the importance of the Present. He’s made his decision. Now they have to decide—make their own decision.
I realize not everyone has had equal opportunities. Not everyone has had a wonderful family background—not everyone has had a good past. Bad choices were made. Unfair situations happened to them. But. . .we can allow the past to make us its captive—or—we can use it as a classroom where we learn to mold a new future. And that New Future begins with The Present!
As with Joshua, our Present is all about The Covenant With God and What He Is Doing. Just as at the foot of the Cross, we are all equal, so it is with The Present. Everyone of us has The Present—it contains 60 seconds in a minute—60 minutes in an hour—and 24 hours in a day. It’s the same for everyone. How you choose to spend this time—what you choose for The Present—is your own decision.
Everybody needs The Present. The Present is for everybody because some need a fresh start, all of us need to adjust our course and we all need to live out our true purpose. Let’s look at each of these reasons.
The Present Is For Those Who Need A Fresh Start
Sometimes we have made such a mess of our lives a remodel won’t do the trick. Sometimes we have made such a mess of our lives an upgrade won’t do the trick. A fresh coat of paint won’t work.
There are times in our life when no amount of tweaking will be enough. It may be bad choices, lots of bad choices. It may be that we’ve been hurt so deeply that the grudges have caused bitterness to take root and grow like kudzu. There are lots of reasons why some of us need a Fresh Start. And the Grace for that Fresh Start is available now—in the Present. Now, I’m not saying that there may not be grace for you in the future—because grace is always there for us. But. . .but there’s no guarantee that you will have that future. Grace works in the Present—it’s made for the here and now.
And when you look at others—remember! Remember that their past is not so horrendous that God doesn’t have a fresh start for them. God’s grace is all about a fresh start for anyone and everyone. Grace isn’t reserved for the brightest and best. It’s for the least, the last and the lost. Here in the present, we remember that it is never too late for God’s grace for anyone. We need to stop judging people by their politics, their addictions, or anything with their outward appearances. God can use anyone and everyone.
He used a dishonest tax collector to write a Gospel. He used an unstable fisherman to be a leader in the very first churches. He used a murderer and hater of Gentiles to be the one HE sent to the Gentiles. Look at the genealogy of Jesus. He used a prostitute to be the great-great grandmother of Jesus. He used Jonah to show grace to the Ninevites, even though Jonah didn’t want to go, and even hated that God showed mercy and grace to the Ninevites. That person you look down own, has a Present—This moment for God to give them a fresh start. Stop judging others on their past. Know that God has a Fresh Start—with their name on it. And who knows, there may come a day when in your life, YOU need a fresh start. The Present is for those who need a Fresh Start.
The Present Is For Those Who Need To Adjust Their Course
I remember reading this years ago from Chuck Swindol—I don’t remember which book—but I remember what he wrote: “Believing we are right, we can be wrong. Thinking that we are hitting the mark, we can miss it by a mile.” While else would David write in Psalm 139:23-24—23 Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. 24 Point out anything in me that offends you, and lead me along the path of everlasting life.
Can I be honest with you? This is about me. I have learned more about God, about this relationship with Him, and about His design for my life in the last 15 years than I learned in the first 47 years of my life combined. I now know it all started in that moment when I was broken. And I know I still need some more course adjustments.
David points out 3 things in Psalm 139:23-24—
We don’t know everything about our hearts. If so why did David invite God to dive deep into his heart? Test me. Know what makes me anxious. Like when we’re taking a trip and there’s a blocked road or detour—the GPS does this thing called “recalculating”. We need that for our hearts as well.
We all have blind spots. David asked God to point out anything that was offensive to God. Why? Blind spots. Sin has this sneaky characteristic of slowly changing our thoughts—changing them to beliefs and attitudes that are not those of God. We need that course correction when we become blind to our own sinful ways. They are called Blind Spots for a reason: We can’t see them, but HE can.
We don’t know it all. David asked God to lead him along the path of everlasting life. David knew he couldn’t get there by himself. He needed a Guide. The Holy Spirit is with us to help us get to where God wants us to be.
Remember what Paul said in Romans 8:14—For all who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God. The leader is out front, making those adjustments in the course so that we can reach the goal of holiness in this life in Grace. And the last thing:
We All Need The Present To Live Out Our True Purpose.
What I am about to say, may upset someone–but just hang with me and listen to the whole thought:
Jesus didn’t die on the Cross just to get you into Heaven. He saved us to get Heaven into us and into this world right now.
Right now, in The Present, is where we live out our true purpose. And true purpose is live and love in ways that makes God real to each other—and to the world.
You can’t put off the work of the Kingdom of God. It’s for here and now. God has a plan, a purpose and the Power for your life. You can’t put off doing what God wants done now. Paul wrote in Ephesians 2:10—For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago. It means we begin now, in the present moment.
We all have the Present. Your present will either echo your fears or express your hope. Everyone Can Make A Difference Beginning Now, In The Present—YOUR Present!
Here are your Next Steps:
Everybody Has A Choice With What To Do Right Now. You can follow Jesus, get closer to Jesus, or not. . .
Everyone Can Make A Difference Beginning Now. If you know anything about Jesus, if you’ve given Him your heart and life, you already have enough to make a difference now. And by doing it now, you can make a bigger difference down the road.
DEFINING OUR FUTURE, which we are going to talk about next week, begins with The Present. The Future isn’t what you wait for—it’s what you develop and work towards in The Present. You Have The Present To Change Your Future! The Present Is For Those Who Want To Have A Future Of Hope.
Well, time for my daily class assignment: What did you learn yesterday? As the day began I was looking forward to it. But now? I admit that it is a bit more difficult than I imagined. Has that ever happened to you? Something you thought you could do, easily do, but out of nowhere it became difficult. Truthfully….I don’t like difficult. Thinking about what to write was as blank as this graphic. So what does one do when preparing for test time? You review your notes.
Set up the beach canopy–check! Cooler with drinks–check! Beach towels–check! Beach chairs set up–check! Bag with snacks–check! Reading materials–check! Sunscreen and applied–check and check! Feet buried in the sand–check. What next? Sitting in the shade of the canopy, looking at the scene graciously provided for us by The Creator. Listening to the sounds of waves and birds. When we were a bit warm, going into the Gulf to cool off, floating on the gentle waves. Then a southerly breeze came in helping to keep us cool. A couple of naps between finishing that book.
Where’s the lesson? WHAT’S the lesson? What am I forgetting? And it finally hit me. There was that moment I realized my mind was totally blank. (Please, no comments from the monkey gallery!) And there were other moments when my mind was blank….cleansed from everything. No thoughts about writing, the churches, my Dad, my own grief from Mother’s recent death. My mind has been cleansed. Think of it as a computer reset. Cleansers–that’s the lesson.
There are cleansers for the face, microwaves, ovens, bathtubs, commodes, even this thing called a colon cleanse (now try to get that image out of your mind!). My Father knew what I needed on that day–for my mind to be completely cleansed–to set aside all my thoughts–just to be me in the presence of my King and Creator!
The blood of Jesus cleanses our hearts, but what can cleanse our minds? The mind is more complicated and delicate matter. A few sentences back I mentioned “colon cleanse”–how many of you still have that image in your mind? If we try to get some thought out of our mind, say a certain song or a colon cleanse, it only seems to linger and grow roots. And should we cleanse our minds of all thoughts, what will we replace them with?
I’m thinking about a story Jesus once told found in Matthew 12. A man seemed to have rid his mind and heart of a demon. The demon went looking for another home. Failing to find one, he returned to that man. Found the home of his heart and mind cleaned but unoccupied. So he goes and gets 7 buddies and moves right back in. And the point is??? Once your mind is cleansed, make very sure that it is immediately occupied with God’s presence.
When I had my mind cleanse, I did it intentionally in His Presence. The result was that He rearranged some thoughts and replaced others. Along with that process, He provided me with balance, perspective and wisdom. And I urgently needed that to happen. So when your thoughts overwhelm you, when you mind resembles that junk closet, take the time to be in His presence. No agenda, no asking, no searching for answers–just alone with Him. As you as prepare for this cleansing, and before you begin, make the decision to ask Him to sort it all out. Add this “cleansing” process to your regular spiritual disciplines. Allow it to be a part of your spiritual disciplines. Balance, perspective and wisdom–all are gifts found only in His presence.
Love God with all your heart. Love others the way Jesus loves you. And make sure all the glory goes to Him!
Excuse me now, I hear the bell for the next class to begin. And I am ready for it, more than when this week began because I now have His balance, perspective and wisdom.
Got up this morning, went out to the garage. walked into the utility room, and to my horror (deep horror–Stephen King kind of horror) there was still some things to pack. And then there was those boxes we are opened after taping up that had to be re-taped. Oh, my tool chest wasn’t properly prepared for moving. I was moving from detail to detail, and about to become overwhelmed. OK, I WAS overwhelmed. But then this extreme ADHD man focused on one box, one thing, and I calmed down.
The movers arrived and it was going through showing what moved and what stayed. The food pantry hadn’t been touched. So it’s finding the small boxes left over and packing away. The movers brought some wardrobe boxes, so Debbie boxes up my suits, jackets and more clothes. This to pack. This to move out of the way. Then waiting to see what room was left on the truck and quickly adding to their load. The pictures I shared was just a portion of what they loaded. My wife and her sister could open a Crocheting & Scrapbooking Store with what they put on that truck. Good thing I went to the liquor store yesterday. I was about to think I need to make another trip to the liquor–FOR BOXES–empty boxes.
Now it is early evening. My muscles ache, my shoulders are sore. Honestly? I’m thinking the only lesson here is that I should have never become a Pastor. At the age of 17, that was my plan–until…. So what other lessons did I learn today?
There is still much to be done. The work of God’s Kingdom is an ongoing work. It is an ongoing work inside of me. And it is an ongoing work in the world, for which God has called me to partner with Him
We can do more than we think. Just as there was more room on the truck, there is a way that the Holy Spirit uses use to do more than we think we can, or even imagine we can.
Stay focused on the main thing. Just as I was overwhelmed at 5 a.m. at what still needed to be done, I managed the tasks, one at a time. As people of the Kingdom of God, we need to stay focused on the main task–which is connecting people where they are with God and His plan and purposes.
Now, if you will excuse me, it’s time to see if there is anything to eat around here.
Welcome back class. We’re looking at How Do You Get To Heaven? I’ve come up with a subtitle to this class: Spiritual Navigation Course. Yesterday we look at the Santa Claus Plan and its obvious failure. By the way, you can’t drop this course. Even those who skip class or refuse to sign up for it, they, too, will have the Final Exam by the Head Master. So I say again, take good notes and refer back to them daily. Now, on to the next plan:
God is the Cosmic Prison Warden who lays down the rules for us inmates. Know the rules, obey the rules and you get into heaven. That sounds simple enough. Here’s the Rules you need to remember:
Now if you can do this, you’ve got it made. It’s the religion of the Pharisees with a Protestant twist. It’s what I call “Legalism Light”. The biggest rule to remember is #4. Got it? It focuses on the external parts of our lives. Work on Rules Keeping. Everything you need to get into heaven is in the rules. Now, there is a beauty to this plan, in Rule #3. Every local church has its own set of rituals and traditions. If you don’t like the rituals and traditions at one church, shop around until you find one you like.
Well, there’s a problem. God is more than just rules, and so is His Kingdom. Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 4:20—For the Kingdom of God is not just a lot of talk; it is living by God’s power. It is a Kingdom, HIS Kingdom which means HE alone determines what it looks like to live in that Kingdom. God invites us to experience His power, the power that raise Jesus from the dead. And that power can never be found in rituals and traditions. Rituals and tradition can point us in the direction of that power, but they are NOT the power.
And then there’s this: Believing we are right, we can be wrong. In the end it doesn’t matter what we think God wants. It’s about what God really wants. Talk is just that–Talk. Power is what we need–words, rituals and traditions have none–unless they lead us to the throne of Grace.
That’s it for today. You know what I am about to say: Keep good notes. Review them every day because The Final Exam will happen. And remember…Love God with ALL your heart. Love others the WAY He loves you. And make sure ALL the glory goes to HIM.
Tomorrow we will look at the last plan, and then the last class will hopefully open your mind and heart to the only plan.
Welcome back class. We’re already half-way through this subject. Yesterday we talked about The Sponge Plan where God is The Cosmic Observer who hopes that we are in the right place at the right time. In case I didn’t mention it, The Cosmic Observer doesn’t seek us for transformation, but hopes we find the right information.
God is the Cosmic Santa. The nitty-gritty of the Santa Claus Plan is that there is a naughty and a nice list. We just need to be sure we get in on the nice list. But here’s the thing about the Santa Plan—everyone still gets Christmas presents. The naughty list is just something to try to get us to behave a little better when we get sick or get old. It’s what they call at cemeteries, excuse me, seminaries, Universal Salvation. Universal Salvation says that there is no hell and that In The End, We All Get In.
Don’t sweat it or worry about it. Dying is Christmas Day—we’re going to get a present after all. No, we don’t! In James 1:15 you can read—These desires give birth to sinful actions. And when sin is allowed to grow, it gives birth to death. Maybe James is overreacting here, but I don’t think so. Sin will consume and destroy us and keep us out of heaven. Even Jesus said that not everyone who says “Lord, Lord” gets in. In this plan, the death of Jesus is applied to us whether we want the Gift or not.
Our purpose in life is to hopefully make this world a little better place until God brings the Final Kingdom. This plan says we are just waiting around. Whatever “mistakes” we make, really don’t matter. Even if you believe that In The End We All Get In, the thing about sin is that it is overpowering and thus destroys the Image of our Creator. This plan is a lie from the pits of hell designed to keep you from the loving relationship God longs to have with you.
That’s it for today. Review your notes for THE Final Exam. And remember…love God with all your heart. Love others the way HE loves you. And make sure ALL the glory goes to Him. See you tomorrow and maybe the next plan will help.
Good Morning Class, or whatever time of the day it is you are reading this. I’m so glad you decided to return. Remember there will be a Final Exam on this class of How Do You Get To Heaven? I cannot tell you when it will be because, well I don’t know. This test will be administered at some point, not by me, but by the Head Master. So pay close attention to this lesson.
As you remember from our last session this question about getting into heaven is really about this question: How Do I Have A Relationship With God? Remember from our text book, John 3 that it is this guy named Nicodemus who posed this question to Jesus. So let’s proceed with today’s lesson with one of the ways some people think they can get into heaven. Each of these “ways” has a name, that I cleverly came up with; well, truthfully, it was the Holy Spirit that gave me these names. Here is the first plan:
This one is really easy to understand. Raise your hands if you have a checking account or savings account. OK, you’ve got this plan. God keeps a set of books with debits and credits—good things we do and bad things we do. God is the Cosmic Accountant keeping tabs on us. At the end of each business day, The Cosmic Account runs a tally of your life. And if we do more good things than bad things, we get into heaven. The good things we do help cover the costs of the bad things we do.
Now this is very appealing to many folks. It’s relatively simple. Some days you make a lot of deposits because you are kind and helpful. That’s good because some days, well some days you are not so good. So the Cosmic Accountant subtracts from your good things. You just have to make sure you have more “good things” deposited to your account that “bad things” that are taken away from your account.
But Sin is more than just a “bad” thing—Sin is rebellion against God, against our Creator, against His design and purposes. And then there’s what Jesus said God demands from us. Matthew 5:20—But I warn you—unless your righteousness is better than the righteousness of the teachers of religious law and the Pharisees, you will never enter the Kingdom of Heaven! Now these teachers of the law and Pharisees, man they had a lot of deposits. Don’t misunderstand me–they had their “withdrawals” as well. But they certainly had more virtuous deeds than bad deeds. But–you don’t get into Heaven because you think you have more virtuous deeds than bad deeds.
God is MORE than the Cosmic Accountant. He IS the Righteous God who expects nothing less from us that Righteousness. He IS the Holy God who demands nothings less from us that holiness. Were this so, then it was a waste of time for Jesus to become our flesh. If it were so, then the death of Jesus on that Cross was a tragedy. But His life AND death were neither a waste of time, nor was it a tragedy.
Well, that’s it for today class. I hope you took good notes because there will be a test at the time determined for you by the Head Master. Until tomorrow…..remember to love God with all your heart. Love others the way HE loves you. And make sure all the glory goes to Him!