Tuesday, February 28, 2012
I read this morning from John 9...a passage that is "fun" to read...makes me smile every time. Why? It's a story of a healing...but after the healing the drama begins...and it has everything to do with "Seeing" versus staying "Blind". Here's how the story is introduced:
John 9:1-5 (NLT)
1 As Jesus was walking along, he saw a man who had been blind from birth.
2 “Rabbi,” his disciples asked him, “why was this man born blind? Was it because of his own sins or his parents’ sins?”
3 “It was not because of his sins or his parents’ sins,” Jesus answered. “This happened so the power of God could be seen in him.
4 We must quickly carry out the tasks assigned us by the one who sent us. The night is coming, and then no one can work.
5 But while I am here in the world, I am the light of the world.”
The story begins innocent enough. The question the disciples ask Jesus is not dissimilar from the quandary lots of us have when bad things happen to good people..."what did he/I do wrong to have this happen?". The young man was born blind...think about it. He has NEVER seen.
When I was in Seminary my New Testament professor, Dr. Aubrey Martin, was blind. He was one of the most remarkable people I have ever met. He memorized the entire New Testament and when he lectured he did so without notes...quoting scripture from memory! He used to say that his blindness was the doorway for his ability to memorize scripture. What most of us would see as a huge handicap had served him in his walk with Christ. Dr. Martin had seen as a young man and didn't go blind until he was around 10...so he had memories of what things looked like. This young man in the story had never seen.
John 9:6-7 (NLT)
6 Then he spit on the ground, made mud with the saliva, and spread the mud over the blind man’s eyes.
7 He told him, “Go wash yourself in the pool of Siloam” (Siloam means “sent”). So the man went and washed and came back seeing!
In a remarkable act Jesus uses something very common - mud - and after washing, the boy is able to see...he opens his eyes after bathing, and everything comes alive. He can now put faces to voices; smells have objects; sounds have shape; and movements are to places...it's all new. I can only imagine the excitement this young man feels come alive within him.
But the story isn't just about the healing that takes place.
John 9:13-16 (NLT)
13 Then they took the man who had been blind to the Pharisees,
14 because it was on the Sabbath that Jesus had made the mud and healed him.
15 The Pharisees asked the man all about it. So he told them, “He put the mud over my eyes, and when I washed it away, I could see!”
16 Some of the Pharisees said, “This man Jesus is not from God, for he is working on the Sabbath.” Others said, “But how could an ordinary sinner do such miraculous signs?” So there was a deep division of opinion among them.
Here is the controversy. Instead of celebrating a healing - the working of a miracle - they become transfixed by the "one-issue" thing of it was done on the Sabbath. They couldn't believe God could "do" something on the Sabbath - hence Jesus could not be from God, according to their theology.
Theology is not the problem...the problem is the blindness of refusing to believe God while clinging to the power and authority of a position. Seeing with your eyes is only "half-seeing".
The story comes to a conclusion:
John 9:35-41 (NLT)
35 When Jesus heard what had happened, he found the man and asked, “Do you believe in the Son of Man?”
36 The man answered, “Who is he, sir? I want to believe in him.”
37 “You have seen him,” Jesus said, “and he is speaking to you!”
38 “Yes, Lord, I believe!” the man said. And he worshiped Jesus.
39 Then Jesus told him, “I entered this world to render judgment—to give sight to the blind and to show those who think they see that they are blind.”
40 Some Pharisees who were standing nearby heard him and asked, “Are you saying we’re blind?”
41 “If you were blind, you wouldn’t be guilty,” Jesus replied. “But you remain guilty because you claim you can see.
The blind boy "sees"...both physically and spiritually - because he believes in Jesus and worshiped him.
The Pharisees "see", but only physically. They don't "see" spiritually and that is the main issue.
Dr. Martin demonstrated that to me 40 years ago in a classroom.
Saturday, February 25, 2012
Today's reading is from:
Mark 4:35-41 NLT
As evening came, Jesus said to his disciples, “Let’s cross to the other side of the lake.” So they took Jesus in the boat and started out, leaving the crowds behind (although other boats followed). But soon a fierce storm came up. High waves were breaking into the boat, and it began to fill with water.
Jesus was sleeping at the back of the boat with his head on a cushion. The disciples woke him up, shouting, “Teacher, don’t you care that we’re going to drown?”
When Jesus woke up, he rebuked the wind and said to the waves, “Silence! Be still!” Suddenly the wind stopped, and there was a great calm. Then he asked them, “Why are you afraid? Do you still have no faith?”
The disciples were absolutely terrified. “Who is this man?” they asked each other. “Even the wind and waves obey him!”
It's interesting that the disciples respond by saying "who is this guy?"
They, like us struggle to believe God would care and do something with what we are praying about. Yet he does.
One of the hardest places to be is to be persistently in a place of private pain and personal faith. We must choose - and I deliberately say choose - to say in our soul and mind, "no matter what I will choose to trust you Lord".
Friday, February 24, 2012
Today's reading may seem a bit disjointed. Why did Jesus curse the fig tree? What does it have to do with what followed in the Temple?
Here's the text.
Mark 11:12-24 NLT
The next morning as they were leaving Bethany, Jesus was hungry. He noticed a fig tree in full leaf a little way off, so he went over to see if he could find any figs. But there were only leaves because it was too early in the season for fruit. Then Jesus said to the tree, “May no one ever eat your fruit again!” And the disciples heard him say it.
When they arrived back in Jerusalem, Jesus entered the Temple and began to drive out the people buying and selling animals for sacrifices. He knocked over the tables of the money changers and the chairs of those selling doves, and he stopped everyone from using the Temple as a marketplace. He said to them, “The Scriptures declare, ‘My Temple will be called a house of prayer for all nations,’ but you have turned it into a den of thieves.”
When the leading priests and teachers of religious law heard what Jesus had done, they began planning how to kill him. But they were afraid of him because the people were so amazed at his teaching.
That evening Jesus and the disciples left the city.
The next morning as they passed by the fig tree he had cursed, the disciples noticed it had withered from the roots up. Peter remembered what Jesus had said to the tree on the previous day and exclaimed, “Look, Rabbi! The fig tree you cursed has withered and died!”
Then Jesus said to the disciples, “Have faith in God. I tell you the truth, you can say to this mountain, ‘May you be lifted up and thrown into the sea,’ and it will happen. But you must really believe it will happen and have no doubt in your heart. I tell you, you can pray for anything, and if you believe that you’ve received it, it will be yours.
The incidents are all connected.
What was happening in the Temple was what happened to the fig tree. What was meant to be full of life had instead died.
All Jesus did was declare what had already occurred.
Such is the nature of religion. There is an outward show but no inner life
Let's ask Christ Jesus for his life in all parts of own life.
Thursday, February 23, 2012
Today we're reading about pruning.
John 15:1-17 NLT
“I am the true grapevine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch of mine that doesn’t produce fruit, and he prunes the branches that do bear fruit so they will produce even more. You have already been pruned and purified by the message I have given you. Remain in me, and I will remain in you. For a branch cannot produce fruit if it is severed from the vine, and you cannot be fruitful unless you remain in me.
“Yes, I am the vine; you are the branches. Those who remain in me, and I in them, will produce much fruit. For apart from me you can do nothing. Anyone who does not remain in me is thrown away like a useless branch and withers. Such branches are gathered into a pile to be burned. But if you remain in me and my words remain in you, you may ask for anything you want, and it will be granted! When you produce much fruit, you are my true disciples. This brings great glory to my Father.
“I have loved you even as the Father has loved me. Remain in my love. When you obey my commandments, you remain in my love, just as I obey my Father’s commandments and remain in his love. I have told you these things so that you will be filled with my joy. Yes, your joy will overflow! This is my commandment: Love each other in the same way I have loved you. There is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. You are my friends if you do what I command. I no longer call you slaves, because a master doesn’t confide in his slaves. Now you are my friends, since I have told you everything the Father told me. You didn’t choose me. I chose you. I appointed you to go and produce lasting fruit, so that the Father will give you whatever you ask for, using my name. This is my command: Love each other.
Yesterday I visited something near and dear to me - a coffee farm. I thought I knew a lot about coffee. But it became clear there was alot I didn't know.
At one point the host showed how they "stump" the tree. Literally cut it down to just where the branches begin. It looks like the farmer killed it. Yet now, as our host explained, it was ready to flourish again. What looked harsh was an act of love.
So Jesus reminds us. Lent is a season of reflecting on God's love...even when he prunes.
Wednesday, February 22, 2012
Monday, February 13, 2012
Psalm 90:1-17 (NLT)
1 Lord, through all the generations you have been our home!
2 Before the mountains were born, before you gave birth to the earth and the world, from beginning to end, you are God.
3 You turn people back to dust, saying, “Return to dust, you mortals!”
4 For you, a thousand years are as a passing day, as brief as a few night hours.
5 You sweep people away like dreams that disappear. They are like grass that springs up in the morning.
6 In the morning it blooms and flourishes, but by evening it is dry and withered.
7 We wither beneath your anger; we are overwhelmed by your fury.
8 You spread out our sins before you— our secret sins—and you see them all.
9 We live our lives beneath your wrath, ending our years with a groan.
10 Seventy years are given to us! Some even live to eighty. But even the best years are filled with pain and trouble; soon they disappear, and we fly away.
11 Who can comprehend the power of your anger? Your wrath is as awesome as the fear you deserve.
12 Teach us to realize the brevity of life, so that we may grow in wisdom.
13 O LORD, come back to us! How long will you delay? Take pity on your servants!
14 Satisfy us each morning with your unfailing love, so we may sing for joy to the end of our lives.
15 Give us gladness in proportion to our former misery! Replace the evil years with good.
16 Let us, your servants, see you work again; let our children see your glory.
17 And may the Lord our God show us his approval and make our efforts successful. Yes, make our efforts successful!
Some Perspective emerges:
God is eternal...we are not.
Our lives are very brief in the scheme of eternity...like dreams, grasses, flowers blooming. Enjoy it while you can.
God knows us through and through - there's nothing hidden from his sight.
God cares for us deeply, but hates Sin in all its forms.
Live into your 80's - that's pretty amazing...but life is still brief. "Life is but a vapor, it appears for a moment, and then vanishes away." says James.
Every morning is a gift - every morning reminds us of God's faithfulness and His Love.
Life gets simple - relationships matter the most, everything else is passing away.
Sunday, February 12, 2012
When the Pharisees saw this, they said to him, “Look, your disciples are doing what is forbidden on the sabbath.” He answered, “Have you not read what David did when he and his men were hungry? He went into the house of God and ate the sacred bread, though neither he nor his men had a right to eat it, but only the priests. Or have you not read in the law that on the sabbath the priests in the temple break the sabbath and they are not held guilty? But I tell you, there is something greater than the temple here. If you had known what this text means, ‘It is mercy I require, not sacrifice,’ you would not have condemned the innocent. For the Son of Man is lord of the Sabbath.” Matthew 12:2–8
Today is a gathering day for our church. I have the privilege of being with dozens of people who come to a gymnasium with folding chairs in order to worship God, and learn from his word. What a neat people I have to share God with.
There's farmers, housewives, electricians, bankers, food processors, students and more. All ages, all levels of income and education. I love the people who are the Church for me.
Church...not a building.
Church...not an event.
Church...not Sunday morning.
Church...not a program.
Church...the people of God gathered to worship God and learn from His word - together, in community, in humility, in their own needs - sickness, disease, economic woes, marital and family woes, etc...
"We have these treasures in earthen vessels..." Paul says to the Corinthians.
Earthen vessels....clay pots...apt to be cracked, even broken.
Church is full of "cracked pots"...I'm one of them.
Sabbath is that time when we cracked pots come to worship God and learn from his word, and do it with a lot of other cracked pots!
Thursday, February 9, 2012
We all know the story of Jesus entering the Temple and overturning the money changers tables.
It's one of the more shocking things, among a number of other ones, that he did to make a point.
Matthew describes it:
10 When Jesus entered Jerusalem, the whole city was stirred and asked, "Who is this?"
11 The crowds answered, "This is Jesus, the prophet from Nazareth in Galilee."
12 Jesus entered the temple area and drove out all who were buying and selling there. He overturned the tables of the money changers and the benches of those selling doves.
13 "It is written," he said to them, "'My house will be called a house of prayer,' but you are making it a 'den of robbers.'" Matthew 21:10-13 (NIV)
Matthew makes it clear, this is Jesus acting in a Prophet's role. He is angry at the way in which the Temple worship has been corrupted. Where did he get this from? The Old Testament of course.
When Solomon received the plans for the Temple from his Father David, he built it with God's blessings, even though God made it clear he "does not need a building to house me." Yet, behind the Temple's magnificence was a clear purpose.
1 Chronicles 22:5 (NIV)
David said, "My son Solomon is young and inexperienced, and the house to be built for the LORD should be of great magnificence and fame and splendor in the sight of all the nations. Therefore I will make preparations for it." So David made extensive preparations before his death.
When the Temple was built, King Solomon held a huge dedication ceremony. He used it as an opportunity to pray and declare the Temple's purposes.
2 Chronicles 6:18-21 (NIV)
18 "But will God really dwell on earth with men? The heavens, even the highest heavens, cannot contain you. How much less this temple I have built!
19 Yet give attention to your servant's prayer and his plea for mercy, O LORD my God. Hear the cry and the prayer that your servant is praying in your presence.
20 May your eyes be open toward this temple day and night, this place of which you said you would put your Name there. May you hear the prayer your servant prays toward this place.
21 Hear the supplications of your servant and of your people Israel when they pray toward this place. Hear from heaven, your dwelling place; and when you hear, forgive.
And, Solomon adds, not just for Israelites:
2 Chronicles 6:32-33 (NIV)
32 "As for the foreigner who does not belong to your people Israel but has come from a distant land because of your great name and your mighty hand and your outstretched arm--when he comes and prays toward this temple,
33 then hear from heaven, your dwelling place, and do whatever the foreigner asks of you, so that all the peoples of the earth may know your name and fear you, as do your own people Israel, and may know that this house I have built bears your Name.
The word "fear" you means to honor, pay respect to. Solomon understood what the Temple would do. The prayers offered there were meant to be a gathering spot for all nations of the earth. God's purposes, his grace, love and mercy are not the domain of one group of people - it is for all people.
Our Prayers Count.
Our Prayers are within Us, and From Us...1 Corinthians 3:16 (NIV)
Don't you know that you yourselves are God's temple and that God's Spirit lives in you?
Tuesday, February 7, 2012
"My God, my rock in whom I put my trust, my shield, the horn of my salvation, and my refuge; you are worthy of praise. Psalm 18:2
"Be strong and let your heart take courage, all you who wait for the LORD." Psalm 31:24
"Lord help me not to be anxious about anything on earth, but to love all things that are of you. While I am here I am among all things passing away, but you said 'let not your heart be troubled, you believe in God, believe also in me.' So I give to you this morning all that is on my anxious heart, and I place my trust in you for the rest of this day. I pray you'll help me to sense your presence as the day goes along, and with the power of your Spirit, lead me to the fulfilling of your purposes, through Jesus Christ my Lord. Amen"
Monday, February 6, 2012
21 For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.
22 If I am to go on living in the body, this will mean fruitful labor for me. Yet what shall I choose? I do not know!
23 I am torn between the two: I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far;
It was the band U2 that sang the words, "I still haven't found what I'm looking for."
I've been reading a new book of late. It's another one by one of my favorite authors, John Ortberg. He has a knack for writing in such a way that I find myself thinking, musing, and praying. So I enjoy his reads quite a bit.
He said something in this book that got me thinking.
"Something has happened, something terrible. Something worse, even, than the fall... In that great tragedy we lost paradise...what has happened since is...we've gotten use to it."
Scripture says that Satan blinds the minds of those that don't believe (2 Cor. 4:4), and the prophet said, "the people who walk in darkness have seen a great light." Perhaps we live around the darkness so much that we've acclimated our eyes to this dimness.
We wake up, brush our teeth, have some coffee or tea, perhaps turn on the news, or read a paper. We go to work, come home and eat some supper. Put the kids to bed, watch the TV, and go to bed...where the next day it begins all over again.
Famine in one part of the world,
Political messes in Washington,
Politicians promising change, or hope, or railing against the failures, etc...
Threats of war in the Middle East,
Life goes on and on without much change.
The TV anchor closes the show with: "And that's the news, good night".
Wouldn't it be great if one news anchor would stop at the end, look into the camera and say, "How far we are from home...if only we had listened to God."???
If I told you that life would always be the way it is now, would you be depressed, or delighted? Would you be happy or sad?
Each of us lives our in such a way that life is either moving towards something, or we're just spinning around and around doing the "same old things".
The secret is that we are NOT HOME YET. Life is usual and yet life is not all that we were made for. If we truly listen to our hearts we will know what the English giant G.K. Chesterton described as "divine discontent".
We are not home yet, and no matter how enjoyable the vacation, and even the times when we think "I wished this would never end..." we always long for home.
The journey of desire is the most important journey of our lives. Whatever else we gain - money, possessions, the approval of others, even the enjoyment of family - it is not the end, and our souls know it.
Matthew 16:25-26 (NIV)
25 For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will find it.
26 What good will it be for a man if he gains the whole world, yet forfeits his soul? Or what can a man give in exchange for his soul?
One of my favorite (I have lots of favorites) movies, the Shawshank Redemption, tells a story of two principles: Red, played by Morgan Freeman, is a lifer; and Andy, played by Tim Robbins, end up as close friends. Andy is looking to escape, but Red is philosophical, accepting, and compliant about what is the "reality" that life will always be behind bars.
At one point, Red explains it to Andy: "At first, these walls, you hate them. They make you crazy. After a while you get used to them, don't notice them anymore. Then comes the day when you realize you don't need them."
It is slavery by simply living in acceptance, losing the desire for freedom and a new home.
It is slavery to prefer death to life.
To desire and not have it...is this not the greatest pain and sorrow?
But does it have to be?
Let us go on a journey together. Take that map of God's word and walk towards truth, and home. Lose our lives in Jesus, find life.
Thursday, February 2, 2012
Luke 18:1 (KJV)
And he spake a parable unto them to this end, that men ought always to pray, and not to faint;
A more modern rendition of the passage is from the New Living Translation:
Luke 18:1-8 (NLT)
1 One day Jesus told his disciples a story to show that they should always pray and never give up.
2 “There was a judge in a certain city,” he said, “who neither feared God nor cared about people.
3 A widow of that city came to him repeatedly, saying, ‘Give me justice in this dispute with my enemy.’
4 The judge ignored her for a while, but finally he said to himself, ‘I don’t fear God or care about people,
5 but this woman is driving me crazy. I’m going to see that she gets justice, because she is wearing me out with her constant requests!’”
6 Then the Lord said, “Learn a lesson from this unjust judge.
7 Even he rendered a just decision in the end. So don’t you think God will surely give justice to his chosen people who cry out to him day and night? Will he keep putting them off?
8 I tell you, he will grant justice to them quickly! But when the Son of Man returns, how many will he find on the earth who have faith?”
A further reading of the context tells us that Luke makes three stories about faith, and how prayer and faith are connected - so read the larger context!
There is something in this parable that is oddly strange. How does an indifferent court official and a persistent widow suppose to encourage us to pray? And to persevere (not faint) regardless? Doesn't he disgust and doesn't she make you envision a nagging woman? Well, Yes.
But the secret in the parable is recognizing that Jesus loved to use outlandish pictures to make people stop and think...and that is exactly what happens here.
Fainting is another way of saying "give up". We lose heart, get discouraged and simply want to succumb to the inevitable disappointment of nothing is ever going to change.
Let's be honest, almost all of us have had times when we've prayed, and prayed, and prayed, and then come to the place where we simply stop praying. Why? Perhaps we feel like God knows what we want so why keep saying it again...or perhaps its because every time we pray it reminds us that we don't have what we want, and it becomes something inside of us that feels undesirable.
I know I have a number of things I've prayed for - for years! Sometimes I've seen answers of prayer come long after I quit praying for something. Sometimes I've continued to pray, but very intermittently.
Being real, it's not easy to maintain a posture of continual prayer when we want something to happen so badly.
and on and on we go.
The point of the parable is NOT that the way of prayer is to naggingly beg God. Jesus says it this way:
Luke 18:6-8 (NIV)
6 And the Lord said, "Listen to what the unjust judge says.
7 And will not God bring about justice for his chosen ones, who cry out to him day and night? Will he keep putting them off?
8 I tell you, he will see that they get justice, and quickly. However, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth?"
It's that realization that if an unjust person can give justice, HOW MUCH MORE will God the Father bring about what is good and gracious. We are not nameless widows; but "chosen ones" and therefore his beloved children.
A.W. Tozer says: "JUST, when used of God is a name we give to the way God is, nothing more, and when God acts Justly, He is....simply acting like himself."
C. Samuel Storms poses some relevant questions in his book Reaching God's Ear that we can use to evaluate our prayer lives.
•Do we repeat a request because we think that the quality of a prayer is dependent on the quantity of words?
•Do we repeat a request because we think that God is ignorant and needs to be informed, or if not ignorant at least he is unconcerned and therefore needs to be aroused?
•Do we repeat our prayers because we believe that God is unwilling to answer and we must prevail upon him, somehow transforming a hard-hearted God into a compassionate and loving one?
•Do we repeat a petition because we think that God will be swayed in his decision by our putting on a show of zeal and piety, as if God cannot see through the thin veil of hypocrisy?
I hope not. We persist in praying...we don't faint... precisely because we believe God is good, gracious, and just, and that we are reminding ourselves of that everytime we come to Him with our need.
Jesus ends with the words: "when the son of Man returns, how many will he find...with faith?" We live in the not yet, longing for the return of Jesus.
This kind of prayer is not only the evidence of faith, but the means of building faith until his return.
It might be that we have to face our discouragements and our disappointments as part of the problem that we address to the Father in prayer.
SO...what do we need to "begin praying about all over again"?
Wednesday, February 1, 2012
My problem is one of what to say, what not to say about that.
One of the things I've spent time thinking about, but don't think I'll have the time to explore is this idea of what the Temptation scene means in itself. In other words, not just the specifics of the temptations themselves - which are important - but what the purpose of Luke was in the importance of this event in and of itself.
This leads me to the fact that the first Adam failed in trusting God and saw humanity's seed permanently corrupted by the sin nature.
Here's some notes I began to write but I know I'll never get to...
15 The LORD God placed the man in the Garden of Eden to tend and watch over it.
16 But the LORD God warned him, “You may freely eat the fruit of every tree in the garden— 17 except the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. If you eat its fruit, you are sure to die.”
1 The serpent was the shrewdest of all the wild animals the LORD God had made. One day he asked the woman, “Did God really say you must not eat the fruit from any of the trees in the garden?”
2 “Of course we may eat fruit from the trees in the garden,” the woman replied.
3 “It’s only the fruit from the tree in the middle of the garden that we are not allowed to eat. God said, ‘You must not eat it or even touch it; if you do, you will die.’”
4 “You won’t die!” the serpent replied to the woman.
5 “God knows that your eyes will be opened as soon as you eat it, and you will be like God, knowing both good and evil.”
- WE DEFINE WHAT LIFE IS ALL ABOUT,
- WE DEFINE WHAT IS GOOD FOR US,
- WE DEFINE LIFE AS WE WANT TO
“Satan, who is the god of this world, has blinded the minds of those who don’t believe…”
1 Once you were dead because of your disobedience and your many sins.
2 You used to live in sin, just like the rest of the world, obeying the devil—the commander of the powers in the unseen world. He is the spirit at work in the hearts of those who refuse to obey God.
3 All of us used to live that way, following the passionate desires and inclinations of our sinful nature…”
When Adam sinned, sin entered the world. Adam’s sin brought death, so death spread to everyone, for everyone sinned.
17 For the sin of this one man, Adam, caused death to rule over many. But even greater is God’s wonderful grace and his gift of righteousness, for all who receive it will live in triumph over sin and death through this one man, Jesus Christ.
18 Yes, Adam’s one sin brings condemnation for everyone, but Christ’s one act of righteousness brings a right relationship with God and new life for everyone.
19 Because one person disobeyed God, many became sinners. But because one other person obeyed God, many will be made righteous.
14 Either way, Christ’s love controls us. Since we believe that Christ died for all, we also believe that we have all died to our old life.
15 He died for everyone so that those who receive his new life will no longer live for themselves. Instead, they will live for Christ, who died and was raised for them.
16 So we have stopped evaluating others from a human point of view. At one time we thought of Christ merely from a human point of view. How differently we know him now!
17 This means that anyone who belongs to Christ has become a new person. The old life is gone; a new life has begun!