God isn’t as religious as you think He is.

IMG_19800105_222751

“It is your father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.” Luke 12:32

This statement might just be among the most anti-religious things Jesus is recorded to have ever said. In one sentence, Our Lord turns over the tables of our religious presumptions and drives out the money changers of self made religion.
The words of Jesus here, must have made every Pharisee in town feel squeamish. He says something here that flies in the face of two prevalent forms of religion. In one joyful declaration or Lord knocked the legs out from under what I call, “The probationary gospel” and the “Cash and Carry Gospel.” Both of these are rampant in our culture today, and are as deadly to the soul today as they were in Jesus day.
1. “The probationary gospel” is a lie that portrays our heavenly father as nothing more than an irate deity, fuming over us with his bony finger poised over the Hell-button, just waiting for an excuse to drop the trap door open and send us screaming into the abyss. It’s a probationary gospel because it is entirely dependent on our good behavior. Imagine God saying to us at conversion, “Alright you little sinner. You’re forgiven for now, but if you don’t keep it clean you’re going back to the darkness.” It’s a fake gospel that says, ” If you die having even the smallest sin unconfessed, you’re going to hell !” Really? A salvation that is only as strong as my ability to confess? A gospel that depends on my goodness is no gospel at all.
Jesus says, “It’s your father’s good pleasure…” Your father was and is pleased to give you the kingdom. His salvation is not an act of obligation, but of divine love. If you are saved you are not on probation. You are not under the wrath of God any longer. God is your father and He is pleased to give you his kingdom and everything that comes with it. This leads to the second point.
2. “The cash and carry gospel” otherwise known as the health and wealth gospel. There are many preachers who are selling the gospel short, by making it primarily about money and health and material things. While I have no problem believing that God will meet all our needs and even give an abundance at times, the notion that the kingdom of God is about material things falls short of the message of Jesus.
The Pharisees loved money. If Jesus message had been about wealth and financial gain, they would never have crucified him. They would have flocked to him. I fear today that many preachers would have quite a following of Pharisees had they preached their messages in his day. The gospel is not about making it in this world, but in the next. Jesus said, “Its the father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.” The kingdom of God is what is being offered here, not the kingdoms of this world.
The message of the gospel is not about how God can make you wealthy, healthy and successful in this life. Too many people become Christians because someone told them Jesus could improve their lives. While that is certainly true, that is not what makes the gospel good news. The good news is that we have an eternal kingdom that never fades, an eternal hope with greater riches than this world could ever offer.
Our lives are hidden with Christ (Col. 3). When prosperity preachers offer us mansions and cars and money they are thinking too small. If you read the verses that follow Luke 12:32 you will see Jesus inviting us to strip ourselves of any concern for material things and go after the real riches found in him. Paul tells us that “The kingdom of God is not meat and drink (i.e. material things) but of righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.” (Romans 14:17)
Friends, Jesus came preaching a message that is liberating to the soul! It liberates us from legalism and materialism, among other things. He liberates us by showing us a father in heaven who is not nearly as religious as we are. God is not religious, God is love. He is Holy love. He calls us to free ourselves from the bondage of sin and self, by faith in him. When we turn to Him by faith we find a heavenly father who takes great pleasure in giving us a kingdom that never fades, never falls, never dies. He’s not inviting you to the burden of religious duty or the greater burden of materialism. But to the freedom and joy we were created for. This comes only through turning by faith and surrender to Jesus Christ, who died to open the door for us.

Advertisements

53 and counting….

IMAG0121

 

I turned 53 yesterday. That puts me two years away from a senior citizen’s discount. I’m trying to wrap my brain around the fact that in seven years. Lord willing, I’ll be sixty. Say what? After 50 birthdays start to become more and more important. (insert chuckle here)

It’s kinda weird to celebrate 53 years, partly because I still feel much younger than that. Even though it takes me longer to get up out of a chair, and I’m getting used to the fact that I can’t read anything without whipping out my reading glasses, I still feel pretty young. I still have lots of energy…most of the time, but I go to bed much earlier now than I did just a few years ago. But whatever delusions of immortality I had in my twenties are long gone. I know that one day this earthly life will come to an end, and statistically, that could happen in just a couple of decades, despite my hopes of living to be a hundred ( I think that would be very cool but only God knows about that.).

It’s kinda creepy to think about your life ending, but at my age I can’t help but at least tip my hat in acknowledgement to that weird guy with a sickle, standing in the shadows. I know one day he’s gonna come knocking and escort me to glory. Fortunately, because of Jesus the trip will be a short passage into life. I think if it weren’t for Jesus I would be in great fear of death. How sad it would be to think that my life was just an existence until death. But I have great hope that this short life is just  a warm up for eternity.

However, despite my great hope, I still feel some apprehension about the future. I’m done looking back with regret about the past. I’ve looked back and seen God’s hand on my life and for that I give thanks. God has blessed me beyond my expectations. But I can see also that I wasted a lot of my life being way too self concerned. God has graciously worked in and through this little clay pot of a life despite some basic mistakes. Here’s a short list of things I could get really depressed about if I tried.

  1. Too much talking. Too little listening.
  2. Too many hours spent on computer games. Too little on relationships.
  3. Too much time looking for affirmation. Too little time giving it.
  4. Too much self preservation. Too little self sacrifice.
  5. Too much concern for appearances. Too little concern for substance.
  6. Too much convenience. Too little perseverance.
  7. Too much fear. too little faith.
  8. Too much self. Too little others.
  9. Too much resentment. Too little forgiveness.
  10. Too much flesh. Too little Spirit.

I’ve spent enough time thinking about previous years and how I could have given more and loved better. I wept. I’ve confessed. I’ve mended fences…or at least tried, some refuse to mend. But as the Bible says, “There’s a time to weep and a time to laugh.” I’m done trying to fix yesterday. It’s time to move ahead into the life God has for me and my loved ones.

The great news of the Gospel is that God is always calling us forward to new life. I’m ready to move into the gift of life with a new zeal for God and His kingdom. In my short 53 years, despite all the ups and downs, one thing has remained. Jesus Christ, my wonderful savior has held my hand all the way. His love is greater than my regrets, stronger than my fears, and more powerful than my insecurities.

He has been unswervingly faithful and undeniably capable in all situations.My king has kept me in His nail scarred hands even in my worst moments. He has given me a wonderful family, amazing friends and tremendous opportunities. The great news is that no matter how long I live on this planet the best is always yet to come. Quite frankly, I have no intention of winding down at this point. My God has given me a great gospel to preach and a great life to live and I feel that I’m just now getting started. I want the second half to be greater than the first. I want my life to burst with God’s glory so brightly that you’ll have to wear sunglasses to my funeral!

If you have read this far, thank you for indulging me. I want to encourage you to live your life completely for Jesus Christ. He is the very ground of your existence. He is the reason for every breath you breathe. He alone can give meaning and lasting purpose to your life. In fact, He alone can give you your life. To Him be the glory now and forever. Amen.

 

 

 

 

Texts, Temples and Traditions ? Is that all God’s got?

“His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence, by which he has granted to us his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire.”   (2 Peter 1:3-4)

Every religion on earth says basically the same thing: “Here’s the textbook. Here’s the temple. Here are the traditions. See ya at the finish line…if you’re good. Good luck.”

You’re left with a text, a temple, and tradition. Every religion hands you the book of choice and leaves it up to you to make it through. But only the message of Jesus Christ says, “Yes we have rules, we have traditions and beliefs, but there’s more.” The good news of Jesus Christ is that God doesn’t just hand you a book and say, “Good luck, see ya at the finish line”…though many Christians live as if that’s exactly what God did. They’re missing the most crucial element. God offers you his very presence and power.

The good news is that God says, “You can’t make it on your own. If you try you will fail. So I have come to live inside of you and be with you along the way. It wont be you doing the work, but my Holy Spirit within you. Let me change you, and empower you to live the live I have called you to.” You see, when a person repents of their sin, and believes in the Lord Jesus Christ, they are not only forgiven, they are indwelt by God himself.

Preaching the first Christian sermon ever, the Apostle Peter said it like this, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” (Acts 2:38) It’s the presence of the Holy Spirit who makes us truly Christian. He also makes us victorious over the sin and corruption of this world. In the passage at the beginning of this blog we see four powerful truths that help us live victoriously, the way God designed us to. Read it again then see below four life changing truths every believer ought to know.

1. God’s divine power has given us all we need to live godly lives in this present world. This means that we are not called to just be forgiven, then continue wallowing in sin, just consoling ourselves by saying, “God accepts me.” He does accept you but he also expects you to put away the old life and walk powerfully in the new one.  We are called to live godly lives as God’s children. You have all you need to do that if the Spirit of Christ is in you.

2. This power comes through knowing God personally. As you get to know him and rely on him, he imparts his power into your life. But you can’t have God’s power without a personal commitment to Christ. You can’t just believe God is out there somewhere. You have to develop a personal relationship with him. This relationship is with a person, not a system. The person’s name is Jesus Christ. He died on the cross and rose from the dead to open the way to eternal life, and to give us access to God’s very life on this earth.

3. We access the power of God by obeying his word and believing his promises. As a society we are great at analyzing the promises of God, but are slow to just believe them. You want to know why we don’t see as many miracles as they saw in the Bible? It’s not because God went on vacation. It’s because we have become so self reliant and cynical that we have trouble just trusting  a God who is way beyond us. But when we trust him, miracles happen. I’ve see high school students literally healed of sickness in my class room because they simply believed God.

4. God desires that we live as free people, not as slaves. We were not meant to just be forgiven. We were meant to be victorious. You can overcome that stubborn sin that keeps tangling you up. You can put away the porn addiction, the cutting, the gossip. You can live free of crippling anxiety and depression. You can walk away from the wreck of an immoral life. God’s power is real and available to all who turn from sin to Christ by faith.

Jesus Christ is offering you more than a text, and temple and a tradition. He offers himself to you. Will you trust him? Will you receive him?

Getting Physical

P1090540

“I appeal to you therefore brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.” (Romans 12:1)
How do you offer your body as a living sacrifice to God? I find it interesting that Paul didn’t say, “offer your spirit”. Offering your spirit would be too abstract, too theoretical. Anyone can give themselves to God in an abstract way. But he said, offer your bodies to God. That’s tangible, active, sensory. This is much more demanding than simply closing your eyes and giving God sentimental feelings. Giving your body as a living sacrifice is physical. Too much so called religious devotion never makes it outside the mind and heart. Our spiritual decisions and intentions bounce around in the subconscious until the feeling goes away, but nothing actually happens out in the world where it’s needed the most. Faith isn’t faith until you get your body involved. Abraham didn’t just ponder a vision for the land of Canaan. He started packing and got walking. The Spirit is not calling you to a feeling, but to a step of faith. Don’t just sit there pining away about your love for God. Do something! –that is your spiritual act of worship.

Then he saw you.

Then he saw you.

Mark 16:14-20

“And he said to them, ‘Go into all the world…’ ” v. 15

Yeshua just stood there in the corner of the room grinning and drinking in the reactions. Mary Magdalene squealed an “I told you to so.” type of laugh, then settled into her normal “Don’t mess with this girl.” stance, while the two who had seen him earlier stood together like a couple of bosses. The rest were frozen in disbelief. Then the reality seized them.

The silent shock evaporated into shouts, and tears. Yeshua held out his hands and embraced them all. Simon Peter nearly trampled the others to the floor and embraced his Lord, both men sobbing for the longest time.

After nearly an hour of embracing and talking, apologizing and forgiving each other all of them reclined around the table on the floor. Yeshua seemed to get a kick out of them staring at him while he ate. Crumbs and drops of wine don’t fall from the mouth of a ghost. Eventually he got them to eat as well. John nearly passed out when Yeshua decided to have some fun. He lifted up his wrist and peered through the hole at the beloved disciple, making him a bit queasy. After that everyone laughed and relaxed a little.

Usually meals together involved a great deal of mundane chatter, but what do you talk about at a time like this? When everything you thought was gone forever is suddenly given back to you, at your least deserving moment, what do you say in return? How do you say thanks in the face of such amazing grace? Moments like these are rare and only happen by the grace of God. They are neither earned nor deserved, they are just granted and received and passed on to others. Such a gift is never fully received until the recipient pays it forward. That is what Yeshua would tell them to do.

Eleven men and a few women sat there basking in this miracle of miracles. There was no doubt that they were dining in the very presence of God. They all marveled at such a gift, especially Simon Peter. They all wondered what they could possibly do in return. Yeshua, looked around the room. Before speaking he peered with a loving intensity into each of them. His gaze seemed to embrace each one completely, despite their weaknesses, fears and doubts. These were his brothers and sisters forever. In his eyes his saints were flawless. He saw what the future held for each of them. He saw how they would live, where they would go, what they would suffer and how they would die. Then he looked farther.

He saw generations of believers from every tribe, every tongue and every nation hearing his name, joining him at his table along with these. He saw men and women of all races and stations in life, kings, queens, thugs, terrorists, prostitutes, professors, and all sorts receiving his grace and passing it along until every nation on earth knew his name.

He continued to look. He saw some things that hurt to think about. He saw crusades and so-called “Holy wars”, inquisitions and witch hunts, and all sorts of evil done in his name. He saw wealthy religious empires trampling the poor into the dust. He saw church splits, political games, and sexual abuse perpetrated by those claiming to serve him. He saw self satisfied saints pushing people out rather than bringing them in, easy believism with no call to follow, and a gospel that calls people to a false prosperity. But even through all of those things he foresaw, he knew it would be worth it. Such darkness would serve only to form a contrast to accentuate the light.

Despite the darkness he saw billions saved and changed through the centuries. He saw Hospitals, orphanages, universities and charitable organizations, all birthed by the true work of the Holy Spirit in the lives of believers. He saw faithful grandmothers kneeling beside their beds, saints sharing pieces of forbidden scriptures in prisons, and little children bringing their shiny offerings to Sunday school to help the missionaries around the world. He saw good neighbors caring for each other and faithful churches transforming communities. He saw innumerable seeds of grace springing up across the centuries. But do you know what he saw that really touched his heart? What really made it worth all the toil and perils?

He saw you. He saw you in this moment. Right here. Right now hearing his gospel. He saw you being invited to come, just as you are with all your good and bad, all your strength and weakness, all your joy and brokenness, and join him at this table of incredible grace and pass it on. When he saw the look in your face he smiled and said to his Apostles:

“Go into all the world and proclaim the gospel to the whole creation….”

And that is the beginning of the gospel. It begins afresh every time someone joins him at the table. Let it begin with you today, and every day let it begin again, until the whole world knows.

Did he or didn’t he?

Mark 16:9-13

“and they went back and told the rest, but they did not believe them.” v. 13

“Enough!” Peter shouted. His eyes were weary with grief but still had enough fire in them to burn your skin right off. In three years the disciples had learned when to back off and just let the big fisherman alone.

“I expect such tales from that crazy Magdalene woman, but you should know better! He’s dead! Gone. And if I hear any more of these wishful stories you just might join him. Besides if he were alive do you think he’d ever trust us again?”

Peter stormed out and climbed up on the roof top to be alone.

The two who had claimed they had seen Yeshua sat on the floor and looked hopefully around the room to the others. The other eight men swam around in awkward silence trying to avoid eye contact. It was clear that no one in the room was ready to believe that Yeshua was actually alive. After a few moments the silence gave way to Levi’s words to the two men.

“Brothers, I know these have been terrible days for you..for all of us. There is not a man here who would not want to see Yeshua alive again….”

“Levi we talked with him!…He said…” Levi holds his hand up.

“I know you two met someone who reminded you of him, and you felt a fire burning in your heart. Maybe God sent someone along who reminded you of Yeshua to comfort you. It’s okay to feel this way, but He’s gone. You’re going to have to face that.”

The two looked hopelessly at one another. One started to speak, but the other said, “It’s no use. We shouldn’t have expected…”

Bartholomew tried to reason with them. “You know brothers, in a sense Yeshua is alive. In our hearts. Yes. In a spiritual way. We can believe he is alive, because he lives in our memory.”

The two didn’t respond, but the others seemed to take comfort in that. Then from the entrance of the room another voice cutting through the dusty air.

” Leave it to a group of men to miss the obvious!” Dumbfounded, the men turned to see Mary Magdalene glaring at them like a mother reprimanding her sons. Then she mockingly waved her hands and pranced around the room mimicking Bartholomew’s words in a deep man voice,

“Maybe he lives in our memory. Maybe in a Spiritual sense he is alive. Blah Blah Blah! Are you serious? Why did Yeshua call such thickheaded men!”

She stood there with both hands on her hips, and in a confrontive stance. One they had seen from her many times. Andrew looked at the stairway praying Peter didn’t come down. She just glared defiantly, “Where is that Simon Peter! Bring him down here. He doesn’t scare me!”

Nobody moved.

“Look at you little boys, sitting here feeling sorry for yourselves. Three of us have seen him in person, The other women went to the tomb and it’s empty….”

Thaddeus weakly suggested, “Maybe somebody stole him…”

“From under the noses of Roman soldiers, they moved a gigantic stone, and just walked away with a dead body? I suppose the whole squad just happened to fall asleep at the same time, and nobody heard the noise.” Mary placed both fingers on her temples and closed her eyes.

“Men”

The another said, “Um maybe Yeshua wasn’t really dead and when he came too he pushed the stone and escaped….”

Everyone laughed at the idea of that one. A man having endured such blood loss, suddenly finding the strength to move a half ton stone then sneak past a squad of soldiers,undetected, didn’t seem too likely.

Mary Magdalene looked out the window then at the two who had claimed to see him alive. Then she took a deep breath and spoke a final word. By this time Simon Peter was standing at the end of the staircase. Mary fired the next words right between his eyes.

“You men have a decision to make. You can sit here and rationalize and feel sorry for yourselves, coming up with theories you can feel comfortable with if you want to. You can all sneak back to your lives acting as if nothing happened, and forget all Yeshua has done. That will certainly be easier. Or you can put on your big boy clothes and take a chance that maybe Yeshua, as always, did what he said he would do. He said he would be killed and on the third day rise again. So did he or didn’t he? ”

Then she turned, threw up her hands and walked out, “Men! Can’t do anything with them.”

Leave your spices on the ground.

Mark 16:1-8

“When the Sabbath was past, Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of James and Salome brought spices, so that they might go and anoint him.” v. 1

The Sabbath was over. A long dark night gave way to piercing orange rays washing over the landscape. The first sounds of morning could be heard in Jerusalem. The animals waking in stalls, millstones beginning the slow mundane grind and bakers kindling fires to announce the beginning of a normal week. Before the morning sun finished prodding the roosters awake three women, laden with burial spices, plodded their way to the place of Yeshua’s burial. They needed to finish the chapter. They sought some kind of closure. They needed a final goodbye, a way to pay respect, a way to move on.

The Sabbath had been everything except a day of rest. How do you take a day off from a broken heart? Each these women had found a new life in Yeshua. Since each of them met him, each in a unique way, from a different set of circumstances, they had found in him the one person in the world who could make sense of their existence. The world had treated them as less than human, pieces of property to be traded for goods. They had been forced into life’s outer court simply because they were women. But Yeshua had brought them into the inner court and called them Princesses in the Father’s kingdom. To them he was life. Purpose. Meaning. The Sabbath was spent quietly weeping. There comes a point in sadness when all a soul can muster is a blind stare into nothingness. You just sit and look into the abyss unable to speak, think or even feel until morning comes.

Sunday morning found them walking together. Three women, who apart from their association with Yeshua, were so different there may have been no reason for them to ever associate with one another under normal circumstances. Yeshua had a way of bringing people together who normally would have been estranged. Now they are bound by one thing, the only thing of any real consequence, their love for Yeshua. They chatted as they walked.

They chatted about spices. They laughed quietly about the things they would have to do later that day, the weather, children and such. After such an emotionally taxing few days, there was something soothing about small talk as they made their way. Then Salome, being the more practical of the three, had a question.

“How are we going to get into the tomb?”

“We can ask the guards to help us!” Mary said sarcastically.

“Oh they’ll help us alright! Help us find our way home!” They snickered. They had little confidence that the guards would be of any help.

“Maybe we could bribe them with our vast riches.” The women laughed. But still they walked on. They had no idea how they would get into the tomb, but something compelled them forward.

As they drew closer to the tomb, Mary, the mother of James, said, “Sisters, we have to do this. Let’s just get there. I don’t know why but I have the feeling that something will…open…up” She froze, taking hold of her sisters, and dropping her bag of spices. Soon all three women were struck with panic.

The guard detachment was gone, replaced by random hurried foot prints. The Governors seal broken and the massive stone moved away from the entrance. The women looked at one another afraid to move for the longest time, then arm in arm, spices left in a pile on the ground behind them, they moved cautiously into the tomb. Mary screamed at the man sitting on the slab next to a folded burial cloth. Fearing the worst they backed toward the entrance to attempt an escape. Then he spoke.

“Do not be alarmed. You seek Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has risen; he is not here. See the place where they laid him. But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going before you to Galilee. There you will see him, just as he told you.” 

Then he was gone. Three terrified women stood in the tomb, frozen. Eventually Salome spoke.

“We have to leave before they return.” “Who?”

“The soldiers! If they find us here they will think we’ve…” She hurried them out and urged them to run with her. Between breaths as they stumbled quickly back to Jerusalem they asked;

“Who was that man? What was he talking about? Where is Yeshua?”

Back at Salome’s house the women sat fearfully replaying what the man in the tomb had said. Mary’s eyes widened and her mouth quivered as she repeated slowly,

“He is going before you to Galilee…there…you will…see him…just as he told you.”

“It can’t be…oh…my…G….” Then the light came on.

Three sets of eyes widened simultaneously as the pieces came together. They screamed in unison and ran to find the disciples…