The With Us God: The God Of Peace!

God Is Much Bigger Than Your Circumstances.

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(This is the final installment of my current message series, The With Us God)

Here are the names we have looked at thus far.  Yahweh Yireh—The God Who Provides.Yahweh-Nissi—The Lord Who Fights For Us.Yahweh-Shammah—The God Who Is There!  William Shakespeare wrote in his tragedy “Romeo and Juliet” a famous line:  “What’s in a name?  That which we call a rose by any other name would be as sweet.”  His point was that a name did not change the essence of a thing or a person.  There is nothing significant about a name.  And to a degree he is right, but not always.  Change the name of the skunk to honeysuckle and he will still stink.  It doesn’t change its nature.

However, when it comes to Immanuel, the With Us God, the name is uniquely special in both meaning and power.  These names of God from the Old Testament say something about God.  And even more important, these names say something about relationship—our relationship with God.  “What’s in a name?”  Relationship is in these names!  And on this Sunday before Christmas, we see this name:  Yahweh-Shalom—God Is Peace!  It comes from the story of Gideon in Judges 6:11-24 (NLT).

11] Then the angel of the Lord came and sat beneath the great tree at Ophrah, which belonged to Joash of the clan of Abiezer. Gideon son of Joash was threshing wheat at the bottom of a winepress to hide the grain from the Midianites. 12] The angel of the Lord appeared to him and said, “Mighty hero, the Lord is with you!”  

13] “Sir,” Gideon replied, “if the Lord is with us, why has all this happened to us?  And where are all the miracles our ancestors told us about?  Didn’t they say, ‘The Lord brought us up out of Egypt’? But now the Lord has abandoned us and handed us over to the Midianites.”  14] Then the Lord turned to him and said, “Go with the strength you have, and rescue Israel from the Midianites.  I am sending you!”

15] “But Lord,” Gideon replied, “how can I rescue Israel?  My clan is the weakest in the whole tribe of Manasseh, and I am the least in my entire family!”  16The Lord said to him, “I will be with you.  And you will destroy the Midianites as if you were fighting against one man.”

17] Gideon replied, “If you are truly going to help me, show me a sign to prove that it is really the Lord speaking to me. 18] Don’t go away until I come back and bring my offering to you.”  He answered, “I will stay here until you return.”

19] Gideon hurried home.  He cooked a young goat, and with a basket of flour he baked some bread without yeast.  Then, carrying the meat in a basket and the broth in a pot, he brought them out and presented them to the angel, who was under the great tree. 20] The angel of God said to him, “Place the meat and the unleavened bread on this rock, and pour the broth over it.” And Gideon did as he was told. 21] Then the angel of the Lord touched the meat and bread with the tip of the staff in his hand, and fire flamed up from the rock and consumed all he had brought.  And the angel of the Lord disappeared.

22] When Gideon realized that it was the angel of the Lord, he cried out, “Oh, Sovereign Lord, I’m doomed!  I have seen the angel of the Lord face to face!” 23] “It is all right,” the Lord replied.  “Do not be afraid.  You will not die.” 24] And Gideon built an altar to the Lord there and named it Yahweh-Shalom (which means “the Lord is peace”). The altar remains in Ophrah in the land of the clan of Abiezer to this day.

Let’s get the 1 thing you need to remember this morning:  God Is Much Bigger Than Your Circumstances.  The story of Gideon is the story of the oppression of the Israelites by the Midianites.  And, It is the story of countless lives that live under emotional and spiritual oppression.  Gideon is living a life of fear.  Hiding from the Midianites, smallest member of the smallest clan, Gideon is found fearful, feeling weak and convinced he’s useless. 

Then out of nowhere, this angel appears and says, “Mighty hero!”  Not exactly what we would call a Mighty Hero.  No skin-tight costume with a cape; no special clothes loaded with weapons and devices, and no unique ability that sets him apart from the rest of his world.  Nope, not exactly our image of a hero.  For heaven’s sake, he’s hiding from the enemies.

Now, if this is not bad enough, the angel says “The Lord is with you.”  And listen to his response in verse 13: “If the Lord is with us, why has all this happened to us? And where are all the miracles our ancestors told us about?”  Maybe you know someone like Gideon, or maybe you understand Gideon because YOU are fearful, weak and convinced you’re useless.

And maybe, just maybe, some of you this morning are wondering the very same thing Gideon wondered.  These words of Gideon are still being said today.  If you aren’t hearing these cries, then you’re spiritually deaf.  If the Lord is with me why does my spouse have Alzheimer’s?  If the Lord is with me why did my child die?  If the Lord is with me why did I lose my job?  If the Lord is with me why is my teenager so rebellious?  If the Lord is with me why do I have cancer?  If the Lord is with me why does all this stuff keep happening to me?  

When you find that life is just too much to bear, you wonder:  If the Lord is with me, why?  It’s a legitimate question and one that must be asked, otherwise we keep it inside us and it festers and we become cynical at best, or disillusioned at worst.  The answer God gave Gideon is the answer he gave us 2000 years ago in the city of Bethlehem.  Immanuel!  With Us God!

When we are in pain, when we are afraid, when we are confused, Life forces the question:  “If the Lord is with me, why has all this happened to me? And where are all the miracles I’ve heard others talk about?”  There are 3 possible answers to this tough question: 

1.  He’s Not Here Because Doesn’t Care About Me.

The oppression of the Midianites made Gideon think God didn’t care.  We think this, and much too often we believe this because we see God as Santa Claus—if we just believe hard enough then all of this stuff will just go away.  And when it doesn’t, we either blame ourselves for NOT having enough faith, or we blame God for not caring for us.

When the weight of fear and worry crushes us, the Enemy whispers, “See, He doesn’t care about you.”  Given enough heartache, given enough pain, any of us is subject to hearing that sinister whisper—more than hearing that whisper, we will entertain that thought—“He Really doesn’t care about me.”  And given enough time, not only do we hear it, we believe it!

This just isn’t true.  In the Garden of Gethsemane God was with Jesus.  When He was beaten and whipped, God was with Him.  When the spikes were driven into his hands, God was with Him.  When the soldiers raised that cross up and the weight of His body rested on those nails and that pain wracked His body, God was there.  Jesus never doubted this truth until…until the penalty of every sin was paid.  Only at that point does Jesus say, “My God, My God, Why Have You Forsaken Me?”

Not in the Garden, not at the trial, not during the scourging, not when the cross was placed on His shoulders, not when the nails were driven, not when He was raised on the Cross—but when the Penalty was paid—for the only moment in all eternity, God turned away from His Son.  And Jesus cried out:  “My God, My God, Why Have You Forsaken Me?”  Don’t you think it broke the heart of The Father and The Holy Spirit to turn away from that part of them that had always been there? Of course it it–but they suffered that in order that we would not have to face that moment–IF we put our trust in Him and walk with Him for the rest of our lives.

But God came back to Him because He accepted the only sacrifice that once and for all times atones, covers over, and wipes away ever sin.  Another answer to why all this stuff happens is this:

2.  He’s Not Here Because He Isn’t With Me

Because they were beaten back and beaten down, Gideon thought it was because God wasn’t there.  Maybe he realized that they had sinned against God, so God turned away from them.  Maybe he thought that God simply forgot about His promises.  I mean, it’s got to be a tough and time consuming job being God.  Maybe He was so busy, He simply forgot about them and left them alone.

When We Place The Reality Of Circumstances Over The Truth Of The Kingdom, We Can Believe That, Too.  The emphasis is on the Circumstances.  When circumstances are good then it’s because God is with us.  When circumstances are bad, God isn’t with us.

For decades, the “Name It And Claim It” group has been around.  They believe and teach that with enough faith, your circumstances will always be good.  And that simply isn’t true.  Look at the story of Job.  This is what God said about Job (Burbank Paraphrase)—“Have you seen my good buddy, Job?  Man, there’s no one like Him.  He’s always walking with me.”  But Satan said, “Well, change his circumstances and he will change.”  At first it didn’t work.  Job maintained his integrity.  But when his 3 Name It And Claim It friends showed up, it was then that Job got angry. Job isn’t patient, but He is faithful–He still longs to see God.

If your confidence that God is with you only when the circumstances are good, then your faith is shallow and insincere.  Our Confidence In God Must Be Rooted In The Character Of God, not in what God will do for you.  This is seeing God as the Cosmic Vending Machine and all you need is the right amount of coins.

A contemporary song done by Natalie Grant, More Than Anything has this chorus:  “Help me want the Healer more than the healing.  Help me want the Savior more than the saving.  Help me want the Giver more than the giving.  Oh Help me want you Jesus more than anything.”  The message is clear—it’s about wanting God over anything that God can do.  There is one more answer to these tough questions. It comes from the name:  Yahweh Shalom.

3.  He Is With Us Because This Is Where We Learn To Trust And Rest

In All This Painful Stuff, God Has A Plan And A Purpose That We Can Trust.  This means we do not focus on the pain, but on the Presence.  Jesus told His disciples in John 14:27—I am leaving you with a gift—peace of mind and heart. And the peace I give is a gift the world cannot give. So don’t be troubled or afraid. 

Peace in the worldly sense is the elimination of all the threats, and the absence of conflict.  The worldly view of peace is that it happens when we get all we want, and then some more.  Having more than enough treasures, more than enough food, more than enough shelter, more than enough stuff.  The problem is, there is never enough.  So God gives us something better: peace of mind and peace of heart.

1.  Peace Because He Has A Plan—that plan is always about bring out your best—to reveal His Image in you.

2.  Peace Because He Has A Purpose—to bring honor and glory to Him, not you.

3.  Peace Because He Has Youalways has you in His heart.

It is the inner peace that can only be found in a relationship with God, and on God’s terms.  God’s terms are simple:  Surrender.  Surrender your pride, your will, and your desires.  Surrender your inadequacies.  Surrender your guilt and condemnation.  Surrender you time, energy, abilities and resources.  Surrender to grace.

When Gideon realized he had seen face to face an angel of God, he thought he was doomed.  But when Gideon came face to face with God’s grace—and under that enormous tree, he named that place, Yahweh-Shalom—The Lord Is Peace.  He named the place BEFORE the Midianites were defeated.  Have you accepted the gift of God’s peace?  We do not earn it and we can never deserve it.  So it comes to us as a gift—bought and paid for on the Cross. 

Next Steps

  • Do you have a relationship, or do you just know about Him?  It’s not about how much knowledge you have about the Bible.  You can know all the Books of the Bible in order.  Heck, I don’t know that.  But I do know the person of Jesus.  Do you?
  •   Renew You Commitment To The Relationship As Being More Important Than Anything Else. Jesus longs to be closer to us.  It’s easy to drift, easy to take for granted, to assume.  It’s not about us doing our best for Him, but allowing Him to do His best work IN us.

Yahweh-Shammah—The God Who Is There!

This Advent season we are taking a journey deep into this name, Immanuel—God is with us.  To look at this word literally, we could say it means:  The With Us God.  He moves from the realm of eternity and infinity and steps across into the limitations of time and place.  In the O.T. names of God we find insights into what it means to have God with us.  Week 1 we looked at the name Yahweh Yireh—The God Who Provides. Last week we looked at another name for God:  Yahweh-Nissi—The Lord Who Fights For Us.  Let’s review for a moment what these names mean:

  1. Yahweh Yireh—The God Who Provides.
    1. Release from guilt and condemnation.
    1. Relief when life becomes too difficult to handle on our own.
    1. The Reason for your life—something that you can do only with His strength.
  2. Yahweh-Nissi—The God Who Fights For Us.
    1. Even When You Are Unaware Of His Presence.
    1. Equipping You With The Weapons To Win Those Battles.
    1. Staying In The Battle With You Until The Final Victory

This is the kind of With Us God who wants us to surrender to Him in Relationship.  And today we look at another Old Testament Name:  Yahweh-Shammah—The God Who Is There!  This comes from Ezekiel 48:30-45  (The Message)

“These are the gates of the city. On the north side, which is 2,250 yards long (the gates of the city are named after the tribes of Israel), three gates: the gate of Reuben, the gate of Judah, the gate of Levi.“On the east side, measuring 2,250 yards, three gates: the gate of Joseph, the gate of Benjamin, the gate of Dan.

 “On the south side, measuring 2,250 yards, three gates: the gate of Simeon, the gate of Issachar, the gate of Zebulun.

 “On the west side, measuring 2,250 yards, three gates: the gate of Gad, the gate of Asher, the gate of Naphtali.

 “The four sides of the city measure to a total of nearly six miles.  “From now on the name of the city will be Yahweh-Shammah:  “God-Is-There.”

This passage is about the power of hope.  When you know the background of this passage you can literally see the power of hope drenched in these words.  The people of Israel had been led into exile to Babylon.  The city of Jerusalem had been destroyed and that magnificent Temple erected by Solomon now lay in ruins. 

God sends Ezekiel to them with the word they needed most:  Hope!  God promises them that they will go home and that God will restore them.  And beginning in chapter 40, Ezekiel shares with them the hope that only God can give when one is living their life in exile.  Many of them left Jerusalem with this image permanently etched on their memories:  the walls were destroyed, homes and businesses burned, and the Temple looted and broken in pieces.  That image was burned into their memories.  Try as they might, they could never get rid of that mental picture. 

That mental picture of Jerusalem became their conviction that their life would never be more than broken, burned, looted, destroyed.  Hope was lost and they could not see how things would ever be better.  And in that moment, God delivers the message of His hope. 

And nearly 600 years later, that message of hope, Yahweh-Shemmah–The God Who Is There—came in the form of a child.

Let me ask you, have you ever felt like these Israelites, that your life is broken, burned, looted and in ruins?  Have you ever faced a moment when it seems to be a struggle to hope?  The loss of hope for restoration, renewal, a better day, or just the loss of hope in general, just to survive another day, is debilitating and God understands this. And the message of Ezekiel to those exiles is the same message to those of us who are living in exile.

One Thanksgiving evening we baby sat 2 of our grandchildren, Ethan and Caroline, so that my daughter Leslie and her husband Michael could go see the movie “The Blind Side.”  When they came in, Debbie and I knew we had to go see it, too.  So we did.  It’s the story of Michael Oher.  Michael came from the poorest side of Memphis.  He had little education, and even less encouragement, until the Sean and Leigh Ann Touhy took him in literally off the street one evening and brought him into their home. And an adventure into hope began to take place.  In one scene, Leigh Ann Touhy took him back to the projects.  Picture this white upper class woman driving a BMW in the projects.  But Michael told her, “Don’t worry, I’ve got your back.”  With help and encouragement, Michael graduates from a private Christian school, and is given a scholarship to play football at Ole Miss.  Instead of a criminal record, he achieved a long list of honors.  He had a very lucrative 7 year career in the NFL until injuries took their toll. 

And it is all because one family decided not to turn their back on a kid literally living on the streets and gave him the one thing he never, ever had before:  more than a room of his own and more than his very first bed to sleep in—they gave him hope.  It began to change how Michael saw life.

If you can remember only 1 thing today, this is it:  Hope Changes How We See Life.  And When We Change How We See Life, It Changes How We Live Life.  If all we see is what we don’t have as individuals and a church, then that dictates how we will live as individuals and as a church.  All we will see is what’s wrong, what’s missing, and there’s no hope for the future. 

Advent comes to us every year with not just the promise of hope, but the reality and truth of hope because God doesn’t send us an idea or a principle or nice warm fuzzy feelings.  God has sent us His One and only Son.  The Message of Christmas is more than, “Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus.”  The message of Christmas is Yahweh-Shemmah–The God Who Is There!

As Michael promised Leigh Ann Touhy that he had her back covered, and as Michael Oher protected the blind side of quarterbacks, God has us covered.  He protects us by giving us a never ending provision of hope.  Hope is what keeps us going when we would rather give in and give up. 

Are you living in a spiritual exile?  What kind of image has been burned into your mind about your life?  Is it that image of failure?  You try and try to honor God but there is this sin, maybe 2 or 3, that keeps tripping you up and you just can get a handle on it.  Is it relationships that never seem to work out?  So, Failure is the image that is burned into your mind, and hope fades quickly. 

Is it that image of Fear?  When facing situations, you always manage to see the worst possible outcome, and you allow that focus to rob you of joy and you honestly believe there is nothing is going to change and you can do about it.  Coward is the image that is burned into you mind and you resign any hope that life could be different. 

Or is it that image of Despair?  You look around and honesty see very little that is good.  You cannot see how things can change and so you surrender that there is no future for you, your family or your church.  So, Defeat is the image that is burned into you mind and you give up hope that anything will change.  3 things about the Hope that God provides us. 

1.  You Have God Living In You. 

Gal. 2:20—Christ lives in me. The life you see me living is not “mine,” but it is lived by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.

This is why the Christian calendar begins with Advent—The With Us God!  It doesn’t help if we journey through Lent, remember Good Friday, celebrate Easter, commemorate the arrival of the Holy Spirit, or talk about the Kingdom of God if we are not living with the overwhelming assurance and conviction that God is more than with us, but actually living in us. 

God Came To Be With Us Because He Wants To Live IN Us.  Nurture this thought, embrace this thought, cling tightly to this thought, and say this thought out loud every day and all day:  Christ Lives In Me!  Life is not always easy and there will be times when life is too much for us to handle.  That’s why we need more than God with us; we need God In Us

Hope does not come from what WE can imagine or do.  Hope Comes From Knowing That God Is IN You and that He will always give us the strength and courage to face every obstacle in our life.

2.  You Have A World Needing You. 

James 1:27—Real religion, the kind that passes muster before God the Father, is this: Reach out to the homeless and loveless in their plight, and guard against corruption from the godless world.

It is easy to be overwhelmed by the needs of our world.  It is easier to believe that since we don’t have enough to help everyone, we can’t help anyone.  If all you do as disciples of Jesus is sit here on Sun. morning then it’s no wonder that your reserve of hope is gone. 

The unique and wonderful characteristic about Hope is that it grows in us when we share it with others.  Just like love, when we selfishly cling on to it and refuse to release it, hope dies.  Hope Builds And Grows In Us As We Bring Hope To Others.  Did you see how James formed his words?  It’s not about the homeless and loveless coming to you.  It’s about YOU reaching out to those whose well of hope has gone dry.  Pour the water from your well into theirs. 

Don’t worry about your water running out.  For all the hope you pour into the lives of others, God replaces every drop, and then some.  In the movie “The Blind Side”, when the Touhy’s gave Michael hope, the Touhy’s admit that they received much more.  And this is what hope does—it multiplies over and over again.  In one scene, one of Leigh Ann Touhy’s friends remarks, “You are really changing that boy’s life.”  And her reply was, “No, he is changing our life.”  That’s how hope works!

3.  You Have A Home Waiting For You In Heaven. 

Col. 1:28—The mystery in a nutshell is just this: Christ is in you, so therefore you can look forward to sharing in God’s glory.

  • When we worship, it’s the practice field for when we get into the real game of Worship in heaven. 
  • When we choose to honor Christ by helping others with food, shelter, clothes, water and most of all friendship, it’s the conditioning work-out when we get to heaven and raise all honor to the Lamb that was slain! 
  • When we reach out with love and compassion to be a friend to the least, the last, and the lost, it’s prepping us for that day when together we will all sit around the heavenly banquet table that God has prepared for us. 

Everything In This Life Is A Dress Rehearsal For What Awaits Us In Heaven.  If you don’t learn it here, you will not have the opportunity to learn it up there.  Paul wrote in Col. 3:23-24—Do your best.  Work from the heart for your real Master, for God, confident that you’ll get paid in full when you come into your inheritance.  Keep in mind always that the ultimate Master you’re serving is Christ.

When hope seems gone, there is a word for you:  Yawheh-Shammah—God is there!  He will be found in that place your heart is thirty for, that place you are created for—to live in that relationship with God, and to live out that relationship in your world.  God does not want you living in exile.  Christmas reminds us that God is here and yearns to be in you, restoring you, reviving you, and encouraging you.  Christmas is the time for hope—for you and for your world.  Hope is not about waiting for the sweet by and by.  Hope is about empowering you for living today to the max!

Here’s Your Next Steps:

  1. If you have been whining about your life, about other people. or the conditions in the world—Stop It!  Know that there is hope for you; the same hope is for others; and the same hope is for our culture.
  2. Find someone this week who needs Hope, and find a way to give it to them.  The only way you can know how to put Hope back into their life is to listen to their Story and get to know them.

The God Who Fights For Us!

God’s Purpose Is To Bring Sinners Like You And Me Back To Himself.

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The With Us God: The God Who Fights For Us! Exodus 17:8-16 NLT

This Advent season we are taking a journey deep into this name, Immanuel. We know what this name means thanks to Matthew—God is with us.  In the Hebrew, this name is comes from two words:  ‘Immanuw’ which means“with us, or toward us.  The other word is ‘El’ which means “God.”  To look at this word literally, we could say it means:  The With Us God.  He moves from the realm of eternity and infinity and steps across into the limitations of time and place.  He is the With Us God because He became one of us.

Have you ever been talking about an issue or problem and shared with someone what you think ought to be done and their reply was “I’m with you.” It means they understand and more than understand, they are willing to put themselves on the line with you.  This is what Immanuel means.  God puts himself on the line with us.  God has chosen, out of His infinite love and grace, to be with us in the most unique way.  He surrenders His place in heaven and chooses to become wrapped in human flesh.

And why?  Why would God enter our world as one of us?  I mean, He has the ability to step out of eternity and into our world without ever shedding any of His eternal nature.  Yet He emptied himself of that eternal form and exchanged it for a human form. Why did God do that?  The most obvious answer is because He loves us enough to do just that.  But my inner child wants to know more; more than just the “why” of incarnation, but I want to know the what! 

What is God seeking to do in humanity, and what is God seeking to do in me? The“Why” Of Love Is Found In The “What” Love Does For Us.  So this Advent season we are going to be looking at just what God wants to do in us, for us, and through us. 

We are looking at this through some of the names that God revealed Himself through in the Old Testament.  Each of these names reveal something about God and something about WHAT it means to have this “With Us God” as we go through life with all of its ups and downs.

Today we are going to look at another name:  Yahweh-Nissi.  It means:  The Lord Is Our Banner.  This name is found in Exodus 17:8-16 NLT: 

While the people of Israel were still at Rephidim, the warriors of Amalek attacked them. Moses commanded Joshua,“Choose some men to go out and fight the army of Amalek for us.  Tomorrow, I will stand at the top of the hill,holding the staff of God in my hand.”  10 So Joshua did what Moses had commanded and fought the army of Amalek.  Meanwhile, Moses, Aaron, and Hur climbed to the top of a nearby hill. 

11 As long as Moses held up the staff in his hand, the Israelites had the advantage.  But whenever he dropped his hand, the Amalekites gained the advantage. 

12 Moses’ arms soon became so tired he could no longer hold them up.  So Aaron and Hur found a stone for him to sit on. Then they stood on each side of Moses, holding up his hands. So his hands held steady until sunset. 13 As a result, Joshua overwhelmed the army of Amalek in battle.

14 After the victory,the Lord instructed Moses, “Write this down on a scroll as a permanent reminder, and read it aloud to Joshua: I will erase the memory of Amalek from under heaven.” 

15 Moses built an altar there and named it Yahweh-Nissi (which means “the Lord is my banner”).16 He said, “They have raised their fist against the Lord’s throne, so now the Lord will be at war with Amalek generation after generation.”

As you know, the Exodus from Egypt to The Land of Promise had more than its share of problems.  But still they are moving every closer.  Earlier they were running out of food, and God provided them with manna and quails. They were running out of water, and God gave them water out of a rock.  And now they are facing a battle with the Amalekites but these are people who had been slaves, notwarriors.  Moses instructs Joshua to assemble an army to go out to fight. That next day Moses stands on a hill overlooking the battle.

As he raises the Staff, that Staff that Moses held when he encountered God at the burning bush.  That staff represented God’s calling and anointing.  As Moses holds up that anointing and calling, Joshua and the army gets the upper hand.  But when Moses’ arms get tired and he lowers them, the Amalekites get the upper hand. Aaron and Hur support Moses’ arms and finally they win the battle.  Then Moses gives that place a name that reflects the truth that God had fought for them.  He names the place YAHWEH-NISSI!  The idea of “banner”isn’t a sign.  It’s the banner of an Army—the Army of God.  But spiritually it means that God fought the battle for them.

This is more than history.  It’s about the one who is always raising his fist in defiance against the God of Heaven.  No, not the descendants of Amalek.  It’s none other than Satan himself.  Satan is waging war against God and His purposes. 

Here is the One Thing You Need To Remember:  God’s Purpose Is To Bring Sinners Like You And Me Back To Himself.  And Satan is shaking and raising his fist against that purpose. 

And the battle is not a valley in the Sinai desert.  The battle is going on inside every person, and inside each of us.  If Satan is anything, he is persistent, and he does not give up easily.  And you and I know that battle all too well.  Just when we think we are getting the upper hand, we get beaten back again and again and again. 

Maybe someone here this morning is fighting a battle deep inside you. Maybe it’s an attitude that you don’t like but it keeps coming up again and again.  Maybe it’s a habit that you are trying to break, but it has broken you. Maybe it’s the feelings of guilt and condemnation that you just can’t shake off. 

Maybe it’s over some thing that is controlling your life and making you miserable.  You struggle and struggle and struggle, but the result is always the same:  defeat!  And maybe you have reached the point where you wonder, “Why keep on trying?”  Maybe you have even raised the white flag of defeat and the banner that is flying over you is defeat and despair. 

God knows that when it comes to warfare with Satan, we cannot win.  We are like Joshua’s army when Moses’ arms dropped.  Satan gets the upper hand.  Regardless of how hard we try and fight, we always lose the battle with Satan when all we have is our own strength.  God knows how weak we are in this battle. 

So 2,000 years ago, God sent an angel to a carpenter named Joseph with an incredible message: “Your fiancé is pregnant and you, Joe, will be the father on earth to the Son of Heaven.  This Son will be known as Immanuel—The With Us God!”  This With Us God is the Yahweh-Nissi—The God who fights for us! 

As when Moses raised his staff and the battle with the Amalekites changed, so The Battles We Face Change When We Know That With Us In The Battle Is Yahweh-Nissi.  There are three things you can count on when you give your life to Yahweh-Nissi:

1.  He Fights For You Even When You Are Unaware Of His Presence.

Do you doubt this?  Do you feel, “Well, if God is so concerned about me where is He now?  Why can’t I beat this habit?  Why is all this happening to me?”  Listen carefully to Paul in Romans 5:8—But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.  The battle Jesus fought in the Garden of Gethsemane wasn’t just about Him. 

It was about humanity and about us.  At stake was whether or not we could be forgiven of our sins, released from our guilt and condemnation, have a real purpose for life, have a relationship with God now and a home in heaven later.  THAT was the battle that Jesus fought in that olive grove.  And if He fought that hard for you then, don’t you think He still fights for you now?  Does a bear like honey?  Does a cow eat grass?  Do gasoline prices go up?  Does Immanuel fight for you even when you are unaware of it?  The answer is the same of all these questions:  unequivocally YES.  He stepped out of eternity and into time to be with you in the battle for your soul.

2.  He Equips You With The Weapons To Win Those Battles.

Because this is a spiritual war, conventional weapons of strength and knowledge will not work.  Spiritual battles require spiritual weapons.  And Paul tells us what we can count on from The With Us God in Eph. 6:12-17… 

12 For we are not fighting against flesh-and-blood enemies, but against evil rulers and authorities of the unseen world, against mighty powers in this dark world, and against evil spirits in the heavenly places. 13 Therefore, put on every piece of God’s armor so you will be able to resist the enemy in the time of evil.  Then after the battle you will still be standing firm. 14 Stand your ground, putting on the belt of truth and the body armor of God’s righteousness. 15 For shoes, put on the peace that comes from the Good News so that you will be fully prepared. 16 In addition to all of these, hold up the shield of faith to stop the fiery arrows of the devil. 17 Put on salvation as your helmet, and take the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.”

The Message puts it like this:  Be prepared.  You’re up against far more than you can handle on your own.  The weapons we need come from the arsenal of God himself. Truth, Righteousness, Peace, Faith, Salvation,And The Word Are More Than Words. They are the weapons of God’s design that Satan can never defeat.  He is with us to equip us so that Satan will lose the battle. 

And we know we can trust and rely on these weapons to work because Jesus used these same weapons to conquer Satan.  He is With Us so that we can win the battles that wage inside us by giving the only weapons that are proven successful again and again and again. The proving ground of these weapons was a cemetery outside Jerusalem that failed to hold on to the body of Jesus.

3.  He Will Stay In The Battle With You Until The Final Victory.

Maybe you heard the joke about a time when the Lone Ranger and Tonto were surrounded by the Apaches.  The Lone Ranger looked at Tonto and said, “It looks like they have surrounded us.”  And Tonto replies, “What do you mean, us, pale face?”  Have you ever had been abandoned by someone you thought you could count on?  It hurts, doesn’t it.  The sting is painful and the bruise goes deep.  But God will never do that to you. 

In Deut. 31:6, God reveals something of His heart to Joshua as he is about to lead the Hebrews into the Land of Promise—The LORD himself goes before you and will be with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you.  Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged.  This is the nature of God’s heart to you. Skip town on you?  Never!  Run and hide in the thick of battle?  Forget that ever happening!  Slip away during the night?  Ain’t gonna happen!  How do I know this?  How can you know this?  Listen again as Paul opens the door of heaven and gives us a glimpse of the With Us God: Phil. 1:6—And I am certain that God, who began the good work within you, will continue His work until it is finally finished on the day when Christ Jesus returns.  And you can be certain too, that God will continue His good work within you until the day when Jesus returns.

How?  Because one night a long time ago, an angel visited carpenter with a message and a name—Immanuel!  The With Us God.  If you think your god is far off and distantly removed from you, then it’s time you meet the only God who dared to do the unthinkable:  He became the With Us God.  And one reason He came to be the With Us God is so that we might know Yahweh-Nissi:  The God Who Fights For Us.  You can run away from Him this morning—but He won’t ever give up His pursuit of love for you.

Next Step:  Get To Know The Weapons

Truth, Righteousness, Peace, Faith, Salvation, And The WordMake a commitment now to study, then use them.

My Apology: “Why does HE Eat With Tax Collectors And Sinners?” (Like me?)

(This post is for those I wounded last week.  I am truly sorry.)

 

 

 

 

15 While Jesus was having dinner at Levi’s house, many tax collectors and sinners were eating with Him and His disciples, for there were many who followed Him. 16 When the teachers of the law who were Pharisees saw Him eating with the sinners and tax collectors, they asked His disciples: “Why does He eat with tax collectors and sinners?”  Mark 2:15-16 (NIV)

We know the Pharisees, A.K.A. The Religious Police, loved to ask questions.  Many of their questions directed to Jesus were attempts to discredit Him or find just cause to put Him to death.  So today we often ignore and disregard their questions.  But this question…this question is a great question and deserves our full attention.  Regardless of their motives, it is a question that should be allowed to roll over in our gray matter.  And I believe the answer says something, not about the nature of the Pharisees, but about us and the very nature of God, Himself.

Sharing a meal in their culture was a very important moment.  Meal time was a moment of sharing life with friends or showing hospitality to a stranger.  It was deep and intimate, even sacred.  Perhaps in our day of take out, eating in front of the TV, families eating in shifts, meals don’t seem to be sacred moments.  And the images of the Walton Family around the dinner table are forgotten memories.  But when this question was asked, it shows the significance of the dinner table.  Why does He eat with tax collectors and sinners, like ME?  Who are we to have Jesus share such an important moment?  Look at the people who would have been around that table that evening.  Better yet, look at ourselves as being at that meal.

  • Like the tax collectors, we can driven by greed
  • We become overly obsessed with our feelings
  • We put others down for our own reasons.  Yes, the Pharisees put down those tax collectors and sinners.  Don’t you think they did the same toward those Pharisees?
  • We allow ourselves to be over-inflated with a sense of self–self-importance, self-righteousness, selfish-desires
  • We make poor choices in our life
  • We do not consider the consequences of those choices
  • When wounded we lash out at even our friends in anger
  • We manipulate people for our own ends
  • We allow labels to become our sole identity
  • We point out the faults of others while ignoring our own
  • We ignore what matters the most
  • We close our eyes to the needs around us
  • We find all kinds of good excuses for our sins
  • We put blame on the doorstep of others
  • We gossip
  • We smear the good name of others
  • We withhold forgiveness when hurt and tightly hold on to our grudges
  • We give in to our lustful desires
  • We point out the problems without offering solutions
  • We worship idols of our own making, misuse God’s name, excuse ourselves from weekly worship, dishonor family, kill both literally and figuratively, violate God’s sexual ethic, take what is not ours, lie to and about others, and we want what our neighbor has
  • I know I missed some more of mine, and in case I missed your sin, fill in the blank here_____________________

I know that I am truly the least deserving of sharing a meal, of eating dinner with Jesus.  I fail Him more times than I care to admit.  I mess things up.  I assume.  I forget.  I become careless.  I surrender to the wrong things.  I fail to fight the right things.  I am sitting at Levi’s table.  And there HE is, passing me the mashed potatoes, smiling at me and my fellow sinners.  Laughing at our jokes and telling his own.  Why in the world does HE seem to enjoy sitting at the sinners table?  I hide it, but inside I’m twinging at the thought that here I am, eating a meal with Pure Holiness, with God Himself.  Inside I’m cringing, desperately wanting to run out the door and hide in my shame.

And then I overhear the Pharisees question: “Why does HE eat with tax collectors and sinners, like him (pointing that finger at me)?”  Or am I pointing my own finger at me?  (Heavy sigh, and some tears right now.)  “Why, Jesus, why?  Why me?  Why now?  Can’t you see what a mess I am?  I can’t stand to look at myself in the mirror.  I am a man of unclean lips!  Why are you smiling at me?  Why?  Why?  Why?  Quit looking at me with that smile, I’m unfit and worthless.  I’m a failure!”  But HE keeps on smiling and says, “Would you like some more bread?  Here, let me refill that cup.”

More bread?  Refill the cup?  Me?????  Now I really want to run out that door and hide and bitterly cry.  I could, I should–I ought to run away now!  “Run, Randy, Run!”  My hands are shaking as I take the bread.  My legs are shaking as I take that cup.  Were I to stand up now, I feel like my legs would collapse.  So I stay at the sinners table, holding the bread in one hand, the cup in the other, and my eyes locked into the eyes of Jesus.  I just don’t understand, why?  I am so small, so unfit and unworthy, such a mess.  I feel like this failure is final and fatal.  Washed up and washed out.  But then HE says, “Eat that bread, I know you’re hungry.  And that Cup has the finest wine ever.  You should taste it.  It is really good.”

Could it be true?  Does Jesus still care about me?  Dare HE forgive me?  A fresh start?  Is there unfinished business that this sinner needs to do for HIM?  I’m still unsure, uncertain when He reaches out and touches my hand with HIS hand.  And I see it, clear as day–the Scar!  It’s the exact size of those spikes used by Roman Soldiers to nail someone to a Cross.  I have to ask, “Jesus, does that scar still hurt?”  He keeps on smiling and gently says, “Not anymore.  In fact, I’m rather proud of that scar.  I have a few more I could show you, but not at the dinner table, Randy.  And I’m just as proud of them, too.”  Vainly I hold on to my question, “But why?  Why Jesus?  Why me?”

The smile is gone but the look is serious, like urgent business, like something important needs to be said, MUST be said.  His lips begin to move and HE says, “Randy, just eat the bread, son, and drink the wine.  It really tastes great.  None better, I tell you.  If that doesn’t answer your question, then ask ME again.”  That scarred hand lifts my hand holding the bread to my mouth as if to say, “It’s OK.”  I taste that bread, and tears roll down my cheeks; not tears of shame I had been holding back.  They were tears of release.  With that same scarred hand, HE guided my hand holding the cup, and I drank.

There was a flood of relief coming over me.  Oh, I still had some uncertainties about the future, but I knew those scarred hands were holding me now and would not fail me later.  And reality hit me back to the moment; the moment of that question:  “Why does HE dine with tax collectors and sinners like Randy?”  Those disciples looked terrified.  Why don’t they put those Pharisees in their place?  I wanted to jump up and shout, “Hey!  Why don’t you just ask Jesus?  You cowards!”  The word cowards being directed at both the disciples and the Pharisees.

But it was like Jesus knew what I was about to do.  His hand gently pushed me back into my seat, at the sinners table.  HE leaned into me and whispered, “Don’t be so hard on My disciples there.  They don’t know what you know.  Not yet, but they will, they will.  Besides, I’ve got this.  And about last week?  If you had given your pain over to me, I would have handled it, too.  Excuse me for a moment, I need to say something.”

“Guys, you are right.  I am here eating with tax collectors and sinners.”  His scarred hand now rests on my shoulders, as if to say “Like this one”.  He continues talking, every eye in the room on HIM, including mine.  What will HE say?  “Healthy people don’t need a doctor—sick people do. And these people around this sinners table?”  Now HE is looking at me, and smiling again.  “Unlike some, they know they are sick.  So they have come to the Doctor, all in hope that they could become whole again.  Now, if you will excuse me, MY patients are waiting for me and I don’t need to keep them waiting any longer.”

And as for me?  I don’t have to ask why anymore.  The wonderful taste of that Bread and that Wine are still in me.  He IS right, the taste is good, great, and wonderful.  I should have trusted Him last week.  I was just thinking, “You know, Randy, if you had done that last week you wouldn’t be sitting at the sinners table now.”  But, I thought again, “No, I need to be at the sinners table at every meal, because I am still sick and need what this Doctor alone will give me.”  Now excuse me, Jesus is about to tell another joke and I do not want to miss a word He says…

Give Up The Guilt! 

Romans 8:1-4 (NLT)

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

There’s nothing worse than a guilty feeling, is there?  Maybe you can go back to a time when you were younger, and you were just waiting for Mom or Dad to find out what you had done.  You wanted to avoid that conversation more than anything else in the world, but you knew it was coming.  Perhaps recently or in the past you made a mistake at work that was just inevitable someone was going to notice, and you’d have to answer for it. And then, once someone uncovers your mistake then you have to live with the fact that whatever discipline comes down on you because of that, it is your fault and if you had just not done that one thing, you could have avoided all of the bad from that situation that is now in your life.

By nature we live under a cloud of guilt because we’re born knowing that there is a God, a God that demands a perfect life from us.  We also know that in so many situations we have failed to live up to his perfect ways.  So there we sit, like a child waiting for Mom and Dad to see the destruction that one marker can make on freshly painted walls, hoping the day of punishment never comes.

But in this situation, it is so much worse because we’re not talking about being grounded from TV for a few nights; we’re talking about our soul’s eternal welfare.  And if you can remember only 1 thing tonight, this is it:  Jesus Paid It All For Our Deliverance From Sin!

These words in chapter 8 are a continuation of that thought in chapter 7.  Paul has just wrestled with his own inclination to sin in the famous words of Romans 7:15-19 “15 I don’t really understand myself, for I want to do what is right, but I don’t do it. Instead, I do what I hate. 16 But if I know that what I am doing is wrong, this shows that I agree that the law is good. 17 So I am not the one doing wrong; it is sin living in me that does it.  18 And I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature.  I want to do what is right, but I can’t. 19 I want to do what is good, but I don’t. I don’t want to do what is wrong, but I do it anyway.

Paul finds himself continually facing sin because of the sinful nature that dwells in him.  He can’t get rid of it, despite feeling like an alien part of himself.  He wants to be freed from it, but can’t be.  And guilt keeps hanging over him.  And it hangs over us.

Despite all of that, though, Paul says clearly and confidently, “So now there is no condemnation.”  So what happened?  The law didn’t lose its bite; God didn’t stop caring about sin. The difference is that So there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.

How does Jesus do that?  What is so remarkable about what He did on the Cross that it causes God to remove the Guilt and then the power of sin over us?  We still can’t overpower sin.  God still demands holiness.  How does the guilt go away?

Allow me to share with you 4 insights into why we can give up guilt.

  1. He Suffered In Our Place

For God made Christ, who never sinned, to be the offering for our sin so that we could be made right with God through Christ. 2 Corinthians 5:21 (NLT)

Jesus became our substitute.  Anyone here ever watch Major League Baseball?  In the American League there’s this person called the Designated Hitter.  He doesn’t play any position in the field, just bats.  Why?  Because pitchers are not known for being good hitters.  They are paid to throw strikes, not hit home runs.  So the Designated Hitter takes the place of the pitcher in the batting order.  I know this is not a good analogy—but it is an image of what happened on the Cross.

We need to be punished, every one of us, for our sins.  Punishment isn’t being put on probation or writing 500 sentences that says, “I will not do that again.”  It’s receiving the wrath of the Holy God and then separation from Him.  This is exactly what Jesus did for us.  And the thing is, Jesus had the choice—to accept this or walk away.  And as mind-blowing as this is—The Father had a choice.  He could have stopped this whole thing—and been well within His authority.  Guilt is taken away because Jesus carried it for us while on that Cross.

  1. He Breaks The Curse Sin Has Over Us

21 I have discovered this principle of life—that when I want to do what is right, I inevitably do what is wrong. 22 I love God’s law with all my heart. 23 But there is another power within me that is at war with my mind.  This power makes me a slave to the sin that is still within me. 24 Oh, what a miserable person I am!  Who will free me from this life that is dominated by sin and death? 25 Thank God!  The answer is in Jesus Christ our Lord.  (Romans 7:21-25 NLT)

The Curse is that knowing that no matter how hard we try, we keep messing up.  It’s a constant battle where we lose again and again and again.  None of us are good enough, strong enough to resist the power of sin in us.  The curse of sin is that it reminds us of our failures.  It points out again and again where we mess it up.

Oh, we may win a skirmish or 2 along the way.  Who knows, you may win enough skirmishes with sin to make you say, “Hey!  Know what?  After looking at how other people are living, I’m not so bad.”  Sure, everyone here looks better than Charles Manson.  And if being better than Charles Manson was the standard?  Hey, we got this.  But it’s not about comparing our lives with someone else’s life.

You will always find someone who appears worse than you, and you will always find someone who is better than you.  The measuring standard for us is to be just like our Creator.  Sin shows how much we miss that mark, because sin’s curse prevents us from being Holy.  By dying on the Cross, Jesus delivers us from the curse that we can never be good enough.  Jesus is good enough—for God and for us!

  1. He Reconciles Us To God

19 For God in all his fullness was pleased to live in Christ, 20 and through him God reconciled everything to himself.  He made peace with everything in heaven and on earth by means of Christ’s blood on the cross. (Colossians 1:19-20 NLT)

In the Greek, there are 2 different words that are translated RECONCILE.  One word is “katallassō” and it describes an exchange, such as currency.  It describes a transaction that produces the same results on both sides of it.  But the word here in Colossians is “apokatallassō” and it means to restore completely.

In this “transaction” it is God who is providing the means and the process.  There isn’t some kind of ladder of things to do that you climb up to get to God. There is only one way—that’s Jesus and He is able to fully reconcile a man to God.

All we bring into this act of restoration is to accept God’s offer.  Since God has taken away the barrier to peace with Him through Jesus dying on the Cross.  Where’s the guilt?  It’s Gone!  Gone with the Blood of Jesus!  One more thing:

  1. He Breaks The Power Of Sin In Us

14 He canceled the record of the charges against us and took it away by nailing it to the cross. 15 In this way, He disarmed the spiritual rulers and authorities.  He shamed them publicly by His victory over them on the cross. (Colossians 2:14-15 NLT)

Every person born after The Fall of Adam and Eve was dominated and controlled by sin.  Adam and Eve did not foresee that consequence, but Satan did.  And until the end of everything we now know, it will remain this way.  But Jesus broke sin’s power by nailing my sins and your sins to the Cross.

Jesus and only Jesus breaks the chains that sin puts on all of us.  We remain the prisoners of sin until we allow Jesus to set us free.  We are now free to live righteously.  We are free now to pursue the life of Holiness—where we honor and glorify God through Holiness of Purpose, Holiness of Heart, Holiness of Spirit, And Holiness IN Community.  It’s both personal holiness AND social holiness.  Redeeming our hearts and redeeming society by pursuing love, hope and justice.

In the end the Roman authorities and the Jewish council wanted Jesus dead.  He was a political, social and religious trouble-maker.  But what made the death of Jesus more significant than the countless other crucifixions carried out by the Romans and witnessed outside the city walls by the people of Jerusalem?

Jesus was far more than a political, social and religious radical. The death of Jesus was part of a divine plan to save humanity.  The death and resurrection of this one man is at the very heart of the Gospel of The Kingdom.  For followers of Jesus, it is through His death that their broken relationship with God is restored.

(For a bit of context, worshipers at the Good Friday Service were given a nail to take home with them.  For my readers, I want you to find a nail, any size will do.  Remember that nail represents what really held Jesus on that Cross.  It was our sins that held Him there.  Think about that kind of love as you look at that nail.  Friday is dark.  But God has an answer to that Friday!)

Slide19

 

STOP WASTING TIME!

Slide2

(This is the last of the series about the Hard Sayings of Jesus.  Thanks for all the comments and likes!)

 Disclaimer

We do not have the time to get into all the Hard Sayings Of Jesus, so this will be our last in this series.  I hope by now you have the tools and the courage to tackle on your own the hard, even harsh things Jesus had to say.  Simply because we don’t like them or do not want to deal with them doesn’t mean we have the luxury of simply ignoring them.  Frankly, I do not want to face Him on the day of judgment and have Him ask me why I chose to ignore them.  So let’s get to today’s passage found in Matthew 10:5-15 (NIV)

These twelve Jesus sent out with the following instructions: “Do not go among the Gentiles or enter any town of the Samaritans. Go rather to the lost sheep of Israel. As you go, proclaim this message: ‘The kingdom of heaven has come near.’ Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse those who have leprosy, drive out demons. Freely you have received; freely give.

“Do not get any gold or silver or copper to take with you in your belts— 10 no bag for the journey or extra shirt or sandals or a staff, for the worker is worth his keep. 11 Whatever town or village you enter, search there for some worthy person and stay at their house until you leave.12 As you enter the home, give it your greeting. 

13 If the home is deserving, let your peace rest on it; if it is not, let your peace return to you. 14 If anyone will not welcome you or listen to your words, leave that home or town and shake the dust off your feet.  15 Truly I tell you, it will be more bearable for Sodom and Gomorrah on the day of judgment than for that town.

What exactly is Jesus saying here?  There is a principle and a Truth that is guiding all the other messages we see and hear.  And it is in Verses 14-15—If anyone will not welcome you or listen to your words, leave that home or town and shake the dust off your feet.  It will be more bearable for Sodom and Gomorrah on the day of judgment than for that town.  2 things about this image:

  1. It was a sign of an unclean place. It’s what devout Jews would do if they ever had to go into a Gentile city or home.
  2. It was a sign that you were finished with that person or place, and you were not responsible for their decisions and actions. It was a sign of letting them know that God’s judgment was now upon them—no more excuses.

It seems that Jesus is saying that when people reject Him and His Kingdom, His disciples are to shake the dust off their shoes and move on, and that Sodom and Gomorrah will do better at judgment than them.  But Where is the Grace and Mercy and patience of God?  Well, let’s apply the process of the 2 questions:

  1. Is It Possible?

Jesus was in His hometown of Nazareth and in Mark 3:6 we read—“He could not do any miracles there, except lay his hands on a few sick people and heal them.  He was amazed at their lack of faith.  Then Jesus went around teaching from village to village.” Obviously Jesus moved on.  Now look at the second question:

  1. Is It Consistent With The Principles And Message Of The Kingdom?

In Acts 13, Paul and Barnabas go to Pisidian where the people began listening to them.  But the religious leaders stirred up trouble and expelled them.  And we read in Verse 51—So they shook the dust off their feet as a warning to them and went to Iconium.

So the answer to both questions is clearly yes.  If you can remember only 1 thing from Slide15this message, this is it:  Nothing Is More Important Than The Mission Of God’s Kingdom.  I am not more important than The Mission.  You are not more important than The Mission.  Our families are not more important than The Mission.  This nation and its politics are not more important than The Mission.  Your wants and wishes are not more important than The Mission.    The church is not more important than The Mission.  Nothing Is More Important Than The Mission Of God’s Kingdom.

So, how do we apply this authoritative word?  Does it mean that we go up to someone and ask them, “Do you want to be a Christian?” and if they say “No”, we forget about them and ask the next person and the next and the next?  Absolutely not.  Putting this hard saying of Jesus into the right context is the key to the application of His Truth.  This is The Pattern for how The Kingdom works and moves:  Jesus SENDS!  Jesus sends the First 12 Disciples, and He continues to send His Disciples.

This isn’t an Apostolic Age thing.  The word apostle means one who is sent.  Everyone is sent somewhere for the sake of the Kingdom of God.  It may not be to a pulpit or foreign country, but you are sent nonetheless.  Jesus is sending Disciples.  They aren’t apostles (lowercase a) until they are sent.  And notice where He sends them:  Not to the Gentiles, not to the Samaritans—but to those He calls “the lost sheep of Israel”.  Why?

Because The Kingdom Of God Should Begin Here!  Before we can take the Kingdom of God into the world, it must be firmly rooted in our hearts.  God has a Mission for Real Disciples.  Those who attended the Small Group Training learned that it’s wrong to say Slide16the church has a mission.  Truth is that God’s Mission has a church.  We call it Missio Dei—the sending of God.  God’s mission needs a church that will embrace and follow His Mission.  I see at least 3, let’s call them Kingdom Principles, that Jesus demands from us if we are going to be more than Christian in name, but in heart and life.

1] The Mission Needs To Be Focused.

“Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse those who have leprosy, drive out demons. Freely you have received; freely give.”

God sends Disciples to the places that needs what only God provides.  This passage, these words of Jesus, is where we need to focus.  First focus on ourselves, then on others.  Here’s where the focus needs to be rather than on all the external trimmings that we think give us our identity:

  • Heal the sickthe word “heal”, means to serve. The word “sick” means those who are weak, powerless, without the strength to change their life
  • Raise the dead—it means to wake up and cause people to stand in life, not the death that sin produces in us. The Walking Dead TV series isn’t original.  There are the Walking Dead all around us.  Not zombies, but broken and lifeless people.
  • Cleanse those with leprosy—that word leprosy includes the disease of leprosy but was also applied to a variety of skin diseases. Spiritually it’s about those who are carrying around external labels that crush and destroy the human heart.
  • Drive out demons—the devil is having a heyday and causing mayhem because the church has stopped fighting them and starting fighting people. The phrase here means with force and strength.  This is the warfare that God calls us into.

Freely have you received, freely give—It’s about sharing the extravagant grace and mercy that God has shown you with others.

2] We Need To Give A Clear Message.

And as you go, preach, saying, ‘The kingdom of heaven is at hand.

The church can be really good at sending mixed messages.  For example:  Jesus can set you free—but to be with us, there are certain ways you need to act and a certain way of doing things.  Here’s another:  God has an unlimited supply of grace for you—but don’t be surprised if my supply of grace is limited.  Oh, this is a good one:  Christ makes all things new—just like they were 40 years ago.

The Greek word for “at hand” is eggizō (en-gē’-zō).  It means: to join one thing to another.  The Message of the Kingdom is to connect people to the Kingdom of God!  The gospel message is not difficult. The Message Is Clear:

  • Let’s be clear that brokenness persists in all of us. We are all broken somewhere. We are sinners in need of the Savior.
  • Let’s be clear that Only by faith in Jesus can we be forgiven and set free from sin’s dominion over us.
  • Let’s be clear that when we are forgiven we join in with what God is doing in the world.

Some people place the stained glass windows of tradition and liturgy in front of Christ and hide Him. Some are destroying the Good News of the Kingdom by replacing the authority of Scripture with the authority of how we feel and what WE want to believe.  The apostles were to “go and preach, saying, ‘The kingdom of heaven is at hand.’  It’s about the Kingdom, not the local church.  We are to keep the message of God clear—it’s all about Jesus and His Authority to rule us.

3] Do The Mission With Urgency.

If anyone will not welcome you or listen to your words, leave that home or town and shake the dust off your feet.  It will be more bearable for Sodom and Gomorrah on the day of judgment than for that town. (vs. 14-15)

What I see missing in so many lives is The Passion for the Mission.  Until we see and know how Urgent the Mission is, we will never have the Passion.  Urgency Creates Passion.  And that Passion motivates us to become apostles—people who are sent!

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The Greek word for apostle is apostolos and it means a delegate, messenger, one sent forth with orders.  It comes from the word apostellō—to order one to go to a place appointed.  Real Christians Are Sent People.  You Have Stopped Being A Sent People When You Become A Settled People.  Me?  I’m not going to be a settled person.  I’m moving with God and with those moving with God and I’m shaking the dust off my shoes for those who have settled.

Without that sense of Urgency with Passion, then there is coming a time when those who are supposed to know—know the Truth and Live it in Urgency and with Passion—but have ignored and rejected The Kingdom—that God is going to shake the dust and judgement is going to be upon those people and churches.  The judgment against Sodom and Gomorrah will not be as severe as those people and churches that reject God’s Kingdom for their own Kingdom.

Until you know how urgent the message and mission of the Kingdom is, you will never be a real Disciple of Jesus.  People are hurting deeply all around us.  Every day people are going into eternity without Jesus.  Every day people are being deceived and believing the lies.  Our work is urgent.  Join in now before someone shakes the dust off the shoes towards you.

The Apostolic Age? Really?

 

 

 

OK, I’m not doing this to start a theological debate, doctrinal fight, nor a “Roman Catholic” versus “Protestant” argument.  It really is just a question:  “Where did the concept of the ‘Apostolic Age’ come from?”  I’ve had the mandatory seminary classes on church history, and I know the traditional thought about this alleged Apostolic Age.  But when and where did this concept of an alleged The Apostolic Age originate?  And I know that the consensus is it ended with the death of John.

Many teach and many more believe that it was limited to those Original 12, well, excluding Judas.  But according to Matthew 10:2-4, Judas is listed as one of the 12, you guessed it, “Apostles”.  but were there just those 12, including Judas?  Well, maybe including Paul there were 13 “Apostles”.  Perhaps we could add Barnabas to make an even 14.  Maybe we could add Silas for 15.  Some might have a good argument to include Timothy as an “Apostle”, making the number an even 16 “Apostles”.

Could it be this “Apostolic Age” is the result of the interpretation of History?  I know, I know, most want history to be just the facts.  Yet most of written history includes the result of human interpretation.  And herein lies my contention:  Is the concept of this alleged “Apostolic Age” the result of human interpretation?  Now please understand, I’m not asking you to agree with my hypothesis, theory and conclusion.  I am asking that you simply think for yourself, and then draw your own conclusion.  I have a “Leroy Jethro Gibbs” gut feeling some of the comments may disagree with me, or some might stop following this blog.  I’m OK with this, as long as you are thinking and seeking the Holy Spirit.

Me?  I’m a KISS kind of man–Keep It Simple Stupid!  With this as my backdrop, let me frame these words as best I can.

  • My Hypothesis:   Our God is a “Sending God”.  It is His nature and His deepest desire to send out His heart and message to redeem and restore fallen humanity; the ones who alone bear His image.
  • My Theory:  He sends others that He has redeemed and restored to Himself for the purpose of redeeming and restoring others.  Don’t try to sell me on the benefits of a Ford if you are only driving Chevrolets.  If you want to reach deep into me, tell me what (or whom) is deep inside you.
  • My Conclusion:  Because God is still reaching out to His Fallen Image Bearers through those whom HE sends, this thing called The Apostolic Age as defined by historians, hasn’t really ended.  Furthermore, I assert this concept of an “apostolic age” to be anathema and has robbed the Body of Christ of it’s most basic identity–that of being a sent people.  The result of no longer living with that sense of being “sent”, most, especially Churchians and Tenured Pew Sitters, are living with a sense of being settled.  And that, my blogging friends, is one of the worst tragedies; for a people who were redeemed and restored in order to be sent, to accept being settled.

What started this train of thought (some may say this train never left the station, or has derailed by the end of these thoughts) was my work on this week’s sermon.  This work included the passage from Matthew 10 when Jesus “sends out” those 12 “apostles”.  I looked up that Greek word we have translated “Apostle” (*NOTE the typical use of the Capital “A” as in THE Apostles and THE Apostolic Age, which “capital” letter is not found in the Greek texts) is apostolos.  An apostolos is a delegate, messenger, one sent forth with orders.  It comes from the word apostellō— which means “to order one to go to a place appointed.”

So, why isn’t an apostle (lowercase “a”) simply someone sent as a messenger to go to an appointed place with The Message?  If my hypothesis is true, that God is the Sending God, doesn’t this mean He is still sending today?  Tomorrow?  Next week?  Next month?  Now this left-handed, right-brained preacher is about to put it into overdrive.  What if we forgot about this “historical” image of an alleged long gone “Apostolic Age” and began living our lives right now as apostles (note the lowercase “a”)?  Live as people who are sent to a certain place with a certain message?  Can you imagine the transformation that could happen?

I now see myself as an apostle–but not with the delusions of grandeur.  I see myself as one who is being sent with a Message to specific places and people.  And you do not have to be a pastor, preacher, evangelist or missionary to be “sent” somewhere.  God is looking for people to send to specific places.  Those places are where there are human hearts and lives, made in God’s image, that need to be redeemed and restored to the Father’s Glory.  God is looking to send someone across your street.  God is looking to send someone across the aisle, across the hall, across town, across county lines, and who knows, maybe across the state or across the world.

What are the places that God is looking to send people to?  The places where people need to be redeemed and restored.  God’s best work is always done through ordinary people.  Remember 2 Corinthians 4:7 (NIV),

But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us.

Sent people are never settled people.  They are ready and willing to go into every human situation with the Message of The Good News, this Kingdom News that redemption and restoration are now available to anyone and everyone.  First these 12 were disciples before they were apostles (lowercase “a”, please).  They learned from Jesus and then they went.  How I pray for more people to live first as disciples, then go as apostles–people sent on a Mission from God!  If you live with that sense of being sent, then the Apostolic Age isn’t over.  How sad it must be to think God has stopped sending ordinary people to do extraordinary things.  Nothing is more miraculous nor extraordinary than when another heart has been redeemed and restored by The Maker, our God who sends!

I may not have convinced a single person that this alleged “Apostolic Age” thing is a human concept.  But if there is just one of you who are now thinking, “Could God be sending me somewhere?”, then it has been worth it!  It is both overwhleming and liberating to know that we can be “sent”.  And it is a prison all it’s own, to be simply settled where you are.  Still think that the Apostolic Age is over???

Whoa+buddy+where+did+that+come+from+_ac52e5aa1a3afada376dc770b298ee8d

The Other Side Of Grace And Mercy

3 The Other Side Of Grace And Mercy

DisclaimerI don’t know about you, but this has been and continues to be a difficult series for me; perhaps even more than the Messy Grace series last year.  And I’ve noticed that there are a few that are heeding the disclaimer and are staying away, like with the Messy Grace series.  And I am OK with this.  Who knows, if I was sitting in the pew I might do the same.  So let’s get to today’s passage found in Matthew 18:21-35 (KJV)

21 Then came Peter to him, and said, Lord, how oft shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? till seven times?  22 Jesus saith unto him, I say not unto thee, Until seven times: but, Until seventy times seven.

23 Therefore is the kingdom of heaven likened unto a certain king, which would take account of his servants.  24 And when he had begun to reckon, one was brought unto him, which owed him ten thousand talents.  25 But forasmuch as he had not to pay, his lord commanded him to be sold, and his wife, and children, and all that he had, and payment to be made.

26 The servant therefore fell down, and worshiped him, saying, Lord, have patience with me, and I will pay thee all.  27 Then the lord of that servant was moved with compassion, and loosed him, and forgave him the debt.

28 But the same servant went out, and found one of his fellow servants, which owed him an hundred pence: and he laid hands on him, and took him by the throat, saying, Pay me that thou owest.  29 And his fellow servant fell down at his feet, and besought him, saying, Have patience with me, and I will pay thee all.  30 And he would not: but went and cast him into prison, till he should pay the debt.

31 So when his fellow servants saw what was done, they were very sorry, and came and told unto their lord all that was done.  32 Then his lord, after that he had called him, said unto him, O thou wicked servant, I forgave thee all that debt, because thou desiredst me:  33 Shouldest not thou also have had compassion on thy fellow servant, even as I had pity on thee?  34 And his lord was wroth, and delivered him to the tormentors, till he should pay all that was due unto him.  35 So likewise shall my heavenly Father do also unto you, if ye from your hearts forgive not every one his brother their trespasses.

OK, did that last verse sink in?  Jesus said that if we refuse to forgive any person—withhold grace and mercy, God withdraws HIS forgiveness of us—and withholds His Grace and Mercy.  Does He really do that?  Wow!  Now, if you are a Biblical Fundamentalist, meaning every word in the Bible is absolutely true, then Yes, God will withdraw His forgiveness of our sins.  But I must ask, “Where’s the grace and mercy?”  Well let’s put our 2 questions up:

  1. 1. Is It Possible? NO!
  • Isaiah 43:25—“I, even I, am He who blots out your transgressions for My own sake; And I will not remember your sins.”
  1. Is It Consistent With The Principles Of The Kingdom?

So, this is obviously hyperbole.  Remember that even in His use of hyperbole, there is a Kingdom Message and Principle Jesus is trying to teach us.  To find it we turn to the 3 Questions:

  1. What Is Happening Just Before Those Words?

A question is asked by one of the disciples:  Who’s the greatest in the Kingdom of God?”  In other words, How Does God Measure Greatness?  What’s His standard?

  1. What Happened Or Was Said Right At The End Of Those Words?

Jesus moved on.  In other words, Jesus has made His point, and He doesn’t explain any more.  You may have noticed that I used the KJV this morning—for a reason.  The reason is the first 2 words in Verse 35—“So likewise”—there is a most important lesson in the story about that King’s decision to withdraw Grace and Mercy and those who refuse to show Grace and Mercy.

  1. What Is The “Point” Jesus Is Trying To Make?

Let’s go back to the question that started all of this:  “What does God consider ‘Great’ in His Kingdom?”  Greatness in the Kingdom of God is found as we show Grace and Mercy to everyone.  And here is the 1 thing you need to remember:  Failure To Show Grace And Mercy To Another For Any Reason, Cuts Us Off From All Future Grace And Mercy From The Father!

It is all about how well and how willing we are to extend Grace and Mercy others.  Though God doesn’t take back His forgiveness—He is making an important point.  It’s like this little poem I found:

to dwell

Grace and Mercy are the virtues we most enjoy—and least employ in our walk with Jesus.  We all love to receive Grace and Mercy—we expect it and want it.  But we find it a struggle to extend that Grace and Mercy.  We resist it, and oftentimes refuse to do it.  C. S. Lewis wrote in his book Mere Christianity“Every one says forgiveness is a lovely idea, until there is something to forgive”

Look again at the story.  Peter asked a question:  “How often should I forgive the same person?  What about 7 times?”  Why did Peter use the number 7?  Was it because “7” is the number of perfection?  I do not think Peter was into numerology.  The rabbinical teaching said 3 times, and then you’re free to not forgive them.  Well, Peter is feeling generous that day, so he doubles that number and adds in 1 more for good measure. Peter is making sure his righteousness exceeded that of the Pharisees.  The response of Jesus to Peter’s question doesn’t really provide an answer—but it points out that Peter is asking the wrong question.   The question should have been:  “Do I have to show Grace and Mercy to everyone?”

God has shown every Christian extravagant and expensive Grace and Mercy.  Grace and Mercy should never not be present in our lives and in our relationships.  That’s the issue. Grace and Mercy is part and parcel of the Kingdom of Heaven.  It’s the constant. Showing Grace and Mercy is neither a choice nor an option.

We want it to be a choice—and that’s at the heart of Peter’s question.  As much as we may want to be like Jesus, we cannot bring ourselves to accept or imagine the endless and immeasurable nature of Grace and Mercy that Jesus demands from us.  For anyone who has received Grace and Mercy from God, to choose NOT to extend Grace and Mercy to anyone for any reason—to God that is unimaginable—and it has consequences, especially when someone directly asks for it.

Listen again to the story.  A King calls in all debts.  One servant owes 10,000 talents—usually meaning in silver or gold.  1 talent weighed approximately 130 pounds.  So that’s 1.3  million pounds.  At just $17 per ounce of silver that comes to 353.6 million dollars in today’s dollars.  The King demands full payment, but he doesn’t have it.  He pleads for more time with the promise to pay it all back.  But instead of receiving a time extension on the debt—the King forgives it.  Now that’s 353.6 million dollars of forgiveness.  Got it?

Now this servant is having a great day.  He wanted an extension but received a pardon.  Life is oh, so good.  Then he sees another fellow servant who owes him hundred pence or denarii.  The value of a pence or denarius was known as a day’s wages, and in our terms, an average entry level job pays approximately $65 a day.

This forgiven servant was owed in today’s dollar, $6,500—or about 100 days of work.  6,500 compared to 353.6 million.  The servant who had his debt canceled demands payment.  The other servant begged for more time with the promise to pay it all back.  Does this all sound vaguely familiar?  But the response from his fellow servant is totally unacceptable to the forgiven servant—so he has him thrown into prison until the debt is paid in full.  When someone is forgiven $353.6 million in debt, word spreads and spreads fast.

The other servants report it to the King, who calls this forgiven servant back before his throne, and lowers the boom.  He takes back the pardon of debt and has that servant thrown into prison until the $353.6 million debt was settled.  You may be thinking, “How could he just take back what had been given?”  Answer is simple.  He’s a King and He makes the rules.  Now we come to that hard saying of Jesus.  “So likewise shall my heavenly Father do…”

Now, we have established this is hyperbole—but it’s with a message and here’s the message:  Failure To Show Grace And Mercy To Another For Any Reason, Cuts Us Off From All Future Grace And Mercy From The Father!  Here’s why your failure to show grace and mercy is so serious:

The Failure To Show Grace And Mercy Disrupts

First, it cuts off the life-line between us and God.  Our need for Grace and Mercy doesn’t end at our moment of salvation.  Truth is, it has only just started.  There is not a one of us here who is a Christian, who does not realize that we did not stop sinning when we were first forgiven in Christ.  When you choose to withhold Grace and Mercy from anyone for any reason, God chooses to withhold Grace and Mercy from you—the connection is disrupted.

Second, it creates chaos in the community.  What holds us together as the body of Christ is God’s Grace and Mercy.  When you refuse to show Grace and Mercy, it destroys what God is trying to build—a community of broken people seeking and finding wholeness in the unmerited Grace and Mercy of God.  It disrupts our connection to the life-giving Grace and Mercy of God.

The Failure To Show Grace And Mercy Distorts

How does it distort whom God has made us to be?   First, it is hypocritical.  You demand from others what you think is right.   The sign that we are acting based on what you think is right and not Grace and Mercy is that, like this servant, you act harshly. You speak severely and sharply to the other.  It distorts the truth about God’s Grace and Mercy in you.

Second, it puts you back under judgment.  If you insist there is no more room for Grace and Mercy for any person, then God will insist that there is no more room for Grace and Mercy for you. “But if you have been merciful, God will be merciful when he judges you.” (James 2:13).  When you fail to show grace and mercy, you will be turned over to those tormentors of consequences.

The Failure To Show Grace And Mercy Degrades.

First, it degrades you by filling you with a sense of self-righteousness.  You must see that your sins against God constitutes this kind of a debt, an impossible amount.  Your selfish acts and thoughts, your willful choices, your lack of love toward anyone, the hurt you have caused others, your pride, your anger, your bitterness, your hates, and your lies; all these add up through the years to a debt we owe God which we cannot repay.

Second, it degrades the worth that God sees in others.  Refusing Grace and Mercy to anyone is you telling them, “You’re not worth it!”  And it crushes their heart and spirit.

Third, it degrades the Sacrifice of Jesus.  When you withhold Grace and Mercy, you are telling Jesus, “You made a mistake dying on that Cross for them!”

So, how can you show Grace and Mercy to someone who has “trespassed” against you, the Grace and Mercy that has been lavished on you?  Remember that Grace and Mercy does not originate in you.  It begins with God.  That’s what the slave who refused to forgive didn’t understand.  It was not about him.  It’s about God.  You do not choose to offer grace and mercy.  You allow Grace and Mercy to flow out of you.  You share the Grace and Mercy you have already received.

Jesus isn’t talking about those initial moments when someone wounds you.  It is difficult, maybe even impossible to offer Grace and Mercy immediately after being wounded.  We need space and time to process it.  Jesus is talking about 2 specific circumstances:

  1. First, it’s that moment when someone asks you directly for Grace and Mercy, and you refuse. You may think you have some good reasons and are justified.  So likewise shall your Heavenly Father withdraw His Grace and Mercy to you.
  2. Second, it’s that moment when you have had time to reflect on your initial unwillingness to show Grace and Mercy—and you continue to refuse to offer Grace and Mercy. So likewise shall your Heavenly Father withdraw His Grace and Mercy to you.

On those days we need to remember the grace and mercy lavished on us.  If you withhold Grace and Mercy for any reason—God withdraws that grace and mercy from you.  Now, the difficult NEXT STEPS.

Next Steps

A New Definition Of Hate

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OK, I admit it.  Sometimes I don’t keep up with all the current events.  The past 7 days, though, I have a good, a very good excuse.  But then, don’t we all?  Well, I feel like mine has some merit.  Last Wednesday I had a heart ablation from which I am recovering very well.  Then there’s this thing called HARVEY.  As our tribe’s (some call them denominations) Disaster Response & Recovery Coordinator there is much work I have to do in this role as a Bond Servant of Jesus.

This morning I checked my Twitter feed and was seeing all this stuff about The Nashville Statement.  It was a diatribe of hate, so I decided to read it for myself rather than read what others said about.  I know, how dumb can I be!  Wanting to read it for myself rather than trust all those progressive voices telling me what it means.  I saw some tweets comparing the writers and signers as supporters of the American Nazi movement.  Well, I read it and was left scratching my head wondering, “Where is the hate?  Did Google lead me to the wrong site?”

So I went back to those Tweets.  Aren’t they always reliable and truthful?  I found this link to an article written by John Pavlovitz titled The Nashville Statement (A Plain Language Translation).  Well I thought, “OK!  I love plain language translations.  Here I can get to the heart of the real NASHVILLE STATEMENT, not the wrong one Google gave me.”  Well, there I go thinking again.  And thus why I am writing this morning.

His alleged “plain language translation” was simply a rehash of all the hate speech I had seen on Twitter.  After careful review and reflection of John’s comments and other similar reviews, I have reached an assessment, call it conclusion, not only about many progressives, but our culture in general.  And here it is:  “If you do not agree with me and my views then you automatically hate me and others like me.”

Really, John, et.al.?  I realize that in the arena of discussion about human sexuality that there is some hate speech going on, especially in the name of the Body of Christ.  And to those who express hate speech and identify yourself as (an alleged) Christian, I say to you, “SHAME, SHAME, SHAME ON YOU!  REPENT IMMEDIATELY AND TURN TO GOD!”

I realize a lot of morons, excuse me, “well-meaning people” have taken biblical texts out of context to justify their position and made the Bible say things it doesn’t say.  But if one will take the time to see the whole picture of the Bible, there are only 2 stories.  The first story is God’s creation and His Intended Design.  It was perfect in every way.  And in the realm of sexuality it is very clear:  God created them biologically male and female, both equally revealing His image.  And marriage was defined as 1 husband (a man) and 1 wife (a woman).  Together they were to live in perfect relationship with God and together explore God’s creation.  Story #1!

The second story begins with the Fall, which introduces into God’s Creation a totally different purpose.  The rest of the Bible is the story of God attempting to restore fallen humanity back in His Original Intent and Design and away from this “Fallen” purpose.  Now anyone like me, who believes that God is busy setting back right all that we humans have messed up, is simply filled with hate, well John, you are all wrong about that!

Our culture has gone into a moral and spiritual wasteland when anyone with a different view or belief, is labeled HATEFUL!  Quite frankly, I’m getting sick of it!  But then I remember those words of Jesus:  (Matthew 5:44 NLT) “But I say, love your enemies! Pray for those who persecute you!”  I hear a lot of people like John, who label themselves as progressives, pray AGAINST their perceived enemy and all the while calling for love above all.  Is it just me that sees the hypocracy of progressives?  They rant, rail and pray against their “enemy” while insisting that love should rule the day.

Yes, we are called to love but not at the sacrifice of the Truth.  I’ve heard the argument, “What did Jesus say about homosexuality?  Nothing, so we shouldn’t.”  Well, He didn’t say anything against using meth or cheating on your tax return, or keeping that extra change that the cashier gave you, or a lot of other every day “stuff”.  But Peter made the connection in 1 Peter 1:15-16–“15 But now you must be holy in everything you do, just as God who chose you is holy. 16 For the Scriptures say, “You must be holy because I am holy.”  And Holy is to be who and what God designed us to be.  If that is hate, then maybe you need a new definition of hate.

Love God with all your heart.  Love others the way Jesus loves you, and make sure all the glory goes to Him!

 

Tamed And Domesticated. How Sad!

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I was just thinking this morning.  In my world of those who know me, many shudder when I say this.  Some even do the face palm thing while shaking their heads wondering to themselves, “Dear Lord, what is this man up to again?”  And a few even run and hide.  I’m OK with that because I am convinced God gave me a mind–a mind to learn with and a mind to question things–sometimes everything.

I am thinking about that word “TAME” and its partner word “DOMESTICATED”.  Somehow, there are those who think that the purpose of a relationship with God is about taming us.  There are many tribes (tribes are groups of people with a similar belief system and mindset about God, also known as denominations in some circles) who believe that in order to follow Jesus, we must be tamed.  They treat desire as if it were the modern-day equivalent of Biblical times leprosy.

And so this idea of desire is pushed back and beaten down so that respectability can rule and reign.  As I was thinking about that word TAME I realized that it rhymes with another word:  LAME.  So what if we started seeing DESIRE as something to, well DESIRE, to want, to insist on having?  Not just any DESIRE, but to have DESIRE for God–for what God is doing–and especially for what God wants us to do!

Can we agree, at least those smart enough to believe in Intelligent Design, that we have been created in God’s image?  OK!  God has DESIRES.  So if HE has DESIRES, why shouldn’t we?  Unfortunately many have traded in the God who has Great Desires for a god who is nice and kind and always gentle.  In others words, a domesticated god.  When something is domesticated it means we have TAMED it for OUR use, to use the way we want.

The True and Living God is neither TAME nor DOMESTICATED.  He is wild with DESIRE!  Oops, someone just said, “I don’t believe that!  Prove it from the Bible!”  Okey Dokey, be careful what you ask for; you just might get it, as in this case.  God sent a messenger to Eli the priest saying He, God, would take away the priesthood from Eli and his sons and raise up priests who do what, and I quote God, “I DESIRE!”  And in Isaiah 55:11–“It (His word) will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I DESIRE and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.”  And Jesus said in John 17:24–“Father, I DESIRE that they also whom You gave Me may be with Me where I am, that they may behold My glory which You have given Me; for You loved Me before the foundation of the world.”

Now, when it comes to US, should their be desire?  Now David was called a man after God’s own heart.  When he selected a worship leader, he chose Asaph.  I am sure David, who loved to worship God, wanted someone just as passionate as he.  Read these words of Asaph:

24 You guide me with your counsel, leading me to a glorious destiny.

25 Whom have I in heaven but you?  I DESIRE you more than anything on earth.

26 My health may fail, and my spirit may grow weak, but God remains the strength of my heart; He is mine forever. (Psalm 73:24-26 NLT)

Let’s stop being Tame And Lame, and reclaim that word DESIRE.  The enemy has used it for too long as a sign of evil.  Desire, as God put it in us, is both good and necessary.  When we become “tame”, the enemy no longer fears us.  He has domesticated us, meaning, we are here for his pleasure and guess what else.  His “desires”, desires which are to keep us away from our created purpose and to prevent us from being Warriors.  One of the things that makes the enemy tremble with fear and trepidation is when he sees one of God’s Image Bearer’s doing exactly what Asaph wanted, to DESIRE God more than anything else.  When God’s designed DESIRE flows through you, the enemy runs and hides.  He wants you domesticated, God wants you wild and free as He designed you.  If you are not living out your relationship with God with that God-Designed-And-God-Pleasing DESIRE, you have been Tamed And Domesticated by the evil one.  And you are just plain old LAME.  And that is so sad, so very sad!

Love God with all you heart.  Love others the way Jesus loves you.  And make sure all the glory goes to Him and it will as you DESIRE Him more than anything else on earth.

 

RADICAL! Mercy, Part 1

Jesus is a Radical and He calls us to follow His pattern for being the ultimate Radical.  I’ve been writing about Radical Grace, and we can’t talk about Radical Grace without also talking about Radical Mercy.  The radical nature of God’s mercy is that it is NOT a feeling or an emotion.  God’s mercy goes much deeper.  Often the view of mercy is like a cartoon I once saw.

2 boys were walking away from a church building and one said to the other:  “I think I got it.  Grace is getting from God what we don’t deserve and mercy is NOT getting from God what we do deserve.  I like grace, but I really love mercy.”  And that’s not necessarily a bad way to distinguish the difference from Grace and Mercy.  But Mercy is more, so much more than NOT getting what we actually deserve.  It’s more than an emotion; it is rooted in the heart and actions of God.  It’s more than what God DOESN’T DO to us—it’s more about what God wants to do for us—and here’s the really radical thing—What God Longs To Do THROUGH us.

Think about the story in Matthew 9:9-13.   Jesus had been on the other side of the Sea of Galilee where He put a beat-down on some demons who had possessed 2 men.  Now He’s back in His other “town” of Capernaum.  I know He’s from Nazareth, but think of Capernaum as His lake home.  He had performed 2 miracles on 1 man.  First He forgave the man of his sins and that got the local Self-Righteous Police up in arms.  And to back up His claim to be able to forgive sins, He healed the man of his paralysis.  That second miracle made the crowd go wild for Jesus, and this infuriated the Self-Righteous Police even madder.

Picture this:  He’s walking down the streets of Capernaum and there it is:  The Evil Tax Collector’s Office!  Those Pharisees, those Holier-Than-Thou, Better-Than-You, The Protectors-Of-Religion, would probably never walk on that side of the street.  They would have gone out of their way to avoid him.  He’s a traitor!  He’s Made The Bad Choices!  He’s gotten rich off the backs of hardworking, honest folks.  They would have seen him as disgusting—absolutely disgusting.

You know, like so many do to the homeless.  They look at them believing they had made bad choices.  That if they just tried harder, had refused the booze and the drugs, they wouldn’t be out there bumming on OUR streets.  So they look away in disgust, just like those Protectors-Of-Religion.  Have you ever done that to a homeless person?  Have you looked away as if they didn’t exist?  Did you ever feel disgust, like it was their own fault they were homeless?  I know I have and I am totally ashamed of myself.  When I do that, I’m not acting like Jesus—I’m not doing what Jesus would do.  There’s no Radical Mercy in me!  And I hate it!

And this tax collector has a name.  He’s called Matthew, but he has another name—probably the name his parents gave him.  It’s Levi!  Now there’s a name with a lot of potential—it’s a priestly name—the name of the tribe God selected to serve HIM in the Tabernacle.  I wouldn’t doubt that those Protectors-Of-Religion had even more disgust because this man was such a failure.  He doesn’t deserve the time of day—and he certainly doesn’t deserve to be in the synagogue nor the Temple.

Yet, Jesus does none of those things they would have done.  He walks right up to his booth, and gets right in front of his desk.  Here’s how I would imagine it happened.  Matthew knew he was a Rabbi and probably thought, “Oh, good Lord, another sermon aimed at me.”  But Jesus didn’t do that—I can see Jesus looking Matthew square in the eyes and then Jesus smiles—extends His hand and makes an offer that radically changes the life of this despised and hated man.  The fact Jesus approached him without judgment or condemnation, smiles, and extends His hand in friendship changed the course of Matthew’s life.  And it started with just 6 words—6 words mind you—“Follow me and be my disciple.”

 I bet you a dollar to a donut that Matthew didn’t see that coming.  And what does Matthew do?  With just an approach without judgment, then extending of a hand and an offer—look at what Matthew does:  So Matthew got up and followed him.  And to mark this change of direction in life, Matthew does what Matthew knows to do—He throws a party with Jesus as the guest of honor.  But what’s a party without people?  The only friends he has are fellow sinners, so he invites them.  And what does Jesus do?  He goes to the party!  And if the Protectors-Of-Religion weren’t mad enough, this infuriates them.  But notice, they don’t dare approach Jesus about the matter.

So they turn on the other disciples with the question:  “Why does your teacher eat with such scum?”  You know my imagination; I would bet those other disciples were scared spit less.  After all, how can you answer such a question?  Everyone knows you’re not supposed to associate with that kind of people.  If you did, next thing you know they would be in church with us!  And the Protectors-Of-Religion knows you can’t have people like that in church.

But Jesus doesn’t know you’re not supposed to do that.  He hears them talking to His disciples and Jesus Steps Up And Steps In with a quote from the prophet Hosea in 6:6—“For I desire mercy, not sacrifice, and acknowledgment of God rather than burnt offerings.”

He states it in a challenge:  “Now go and learn the meaning of this Scripture:  ‘I want you to show mercy, not offer sacrifices.”  Mercy isn’t the withholding of what is due.  Mercy isn’t an emotion or feeling.  Mercy is a verb.  In the Hebrew, this word mercy has 3 key meanings that we will look at tomorrow.

And remember, love God with all your heart.  Love others the way Jesus loves you.  And make sure all the glory goes to Him!

RADICAL!: GRACE, Part 2

Let’s continue on from yesterday.  I ended with the truth that God will bring you back to the place He wants you to be, and He will forgive those sins.  Period.  They become part of the past, and there are some things your past sin doesn’t change. Today, we’re going to look at three of those things that our past sin doesn’t change.

 1.  Your Past Sin Doesn’t Change God’s Plans!

Then the Lord spoke to Jonah a second time: “Get up and go to the great city of Nineveh, and deliver the message I have given you.” (Jonah 3:1-2 NLT)

God told Jonah to do the same thing in chapter three that he said in chapter 1:  Go to Nineveh and preach.  Jonah’s disobedience didn’t change God’s plan for Jonah’s life.  Nineveh still needed to hear the word of God, and Jonah was still God’s man for the job.  Once Jonah got his heart right, God was ready to put His plan back into action.  Throughout scripture we see how God was able to use people even after they committed major sins.   Abraham tried to get his wife to commit adultery, and God used Abraham.  Moses committed murder, and God used him. King David committed adultery and murder, and God used him again.

You may try to run away from God at some point in your life, but once you stop running, God’s plan for your life goes back into effect.  It doesn’t matter that you let your life take a different course!  Now is time to pick up where you left off and pursue the plan God has for you.  Your Past, Your Yesterday Doesn’t Have Authority Over You When You Come Back To God’s Grace Because Your Yesterdays Were Taken Care Of At The Cross!

2.  Your Past Sin Doesn’t Change God’s Power! 

On the day Jonah entered the city, he shouted to the crowds: “Forty days from now Nineveh will be destroyed!” The people of Nineveh believed God’s message, and from the greatest to the least, they declared a fast and put on burlap to show their sorrow.  (Jonah 3:4-5)

Jonah went to Nineveh and did as he was supposed to do.  He proclaimed the word of God.  And the result was that revival broke out and people’s lives were changed!  Just because Jonah disobeyed God doesn’t mean God’s word lost its power.  Once he got back into the place God wanted him to be, once he began pursuing God’s plan for his life, he was able to experience God’s power.

Let’s look at another example from scripture. While Jesus was facing death on the cross, Peter denied Jesus 3 times and abandoned him and left him to die all alone.  Peter went out and wept bitterly.  Some follower of Christ he was.  He ran from Jesus at a time Jesus needed him most.  How could he expect to have any credibility as a leader ever again?  How could he expect to experience God’s power ever again?  But on the Day of Pentecost, Peter stood up and over 3,000 people were saved.

Not long after that, he and John healed the man who was crippled.  Peter’s sin didn’t change God’s power.  When Peter got back on track, he was again able to experience God’s power in his life.  It was the same with Jonah, and it is the same with you.  Just because you have failed God in some area of your life doesn’t mean you have forever lost the ability to experience God’s power.  God’s grace is greater than your sin.

3  Your Past Sin Doesn’t Change God’s Promises! 

When God saw what they had done and how they had put a stop to their evil ways, he changed his mind and did not carry out the destruction he had threatened. (Jonah 3:10)

Nineveh was sin city long before there was Las Vegas, and God was ready to destroy it.  He was willing, however, to give them another chance.  He sent Jonah to Nineveh to make them a promise:   If you repent, your city won’t be destroyed.  The people of Nineveh repented, and God had compassion on them and saved the city.  God’s promise is:  If You Repent, You Will Be Saved.  Nothing can change that.  His promise is as good as gold.  In fact, it’s better than gold.  Amazingly, this made Jonah angry.  He wanted to see Nineveh burn, from outside the city limits.  Instead, it turned into a revival meeting.  Jonah didn’t think it was fair.

Jonah Got Mad At God For Showing The Same Grace To Nineveh That He Had Shown To Jonah Just A Little Bit Earlier.  (Do you understand what I just said??)  Jonah Didn’t Argue With God When He Was Forgiven, But He Didn’t Like It When Nineveh Got Off The Hook.  That’s because Jonah had become self-righteous again.  There are some of us who think other people’s sins are worse than our own—that we deserve to be forgiven but other people don’t.  That’s self-righteousness.

In spite of Jonah’s sin, God’s promise remains the same:  If You Repent, You Will Be Forgiven.  This Applies To Everyone The Same.  There may be times in your life when you are beaten down by your own failure and you think, “I don’t deserve to be forgiven.”  Yet, God’s promise is just as true for you as it is for everyone else:  If you repent, you will be forgiven.  Sin Doesn’t Change God’s Promise.  It’s as true today as it ever was.

If you run from God—and I hope you never have and never will—but even if you do, that doesn’t mean God is finished with you.  When you’re ready to stop running, God will help you pick up where you left off.  God’s Grace Isn’t Based On What You Deserve To Receive; It’s Based On What God Is Willing To Give.  That’s why it’s called Radical Grace.  When we repent, our sins are forgiven, and those sins become part of the past and those past sins cannot prevent us from pursuing God’s plan for our life; past sins cannot prevent us from experiencing God’s power in our life; past sins cannot prevent us from receiving the benefits of God’s promises in our life.

If you are running from God—that includes running from a relationship with Him, running from His plans and purposes—listen closely to me today.  The word of God is coming to you a second time.  Please, hear it today, and respond with your heart.  Now this, my friends, is radical!

Love God with all your heart.  Love others the way Jesus loves you.  And make sure all the glory goes to Him!