Wednesday, March 22, 2017

from the inside out

The Word for today:
Luke 11:37-52
"A billion here, a billion there, and pretty soon you're talking real money."
--Senator Everett Dirksen, sometime in the 1960's
Inflation and runaway government expansion have dated Senator Dirksen's immortal quote. Today, our government throws around trillions. But when they throw all that money, what are they aiming at?
They're aiming at what Jesus called the outside of the cup:
When Jesus finished speaking, a Pharisee invited him to eat with him; so he went in and sat down to eat. The Pharisee was surprised when he noticed that Jesus had not washed before eating. So the Lord said to him, "Now then, you Pharisees clean the outside of your cup and plate, but inside you are full of violence and evil. Fools! Did not God, who made the outside, also make the inside? (Luke 11:37-40)
All those dollars are spent on the symptoms, not the disease. They are aimed at the effects, not the root cause, of our problems.
But Jesus knew that people live from the inside out. If you want to change the outside, you can't just slap a coat of whitewash over it. If you do, he said, the inside remains foul and putrefied:
Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs, which outwardly appear beautiful, but within are full of dead people's bones and all uncleanness. (Matthew 23:27)
When you change the inside, he said, the outside will follow suit:
You blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup and the plate, that the outside also may be clean. (Matthew 23:26)
In the gospel of John, he told Nicodemus (one of those blind Pharisees) how to "clean the inside" of the cup:
"You must be born again," he told him -- renewed from the inside, with a new nature.
What about you? Are you continually whitewashing the outside? If you are, then STOP! You can paint a garbage can, but it's still full of garbage. You can paint the outhouse, but it's still full of ... (my wife told me not to swear.)  But Jesus, unmarried, wasn't so constrained:
Don't you know that anything that is swallowed works its way through the intestines and is finally defecated? But what comes out of the mouth gets its start in the heart. It's from the heart that we vomit up evil arguments, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, lies, and cussing. That's what pollutes. Eating or not eating certain foods, washing or not washing your hands--that's neither here nor there. (Matthew 15:17-20/MSG)
So put down the whitewash! The only way to truly clean up the outside is to start from the heart and let a new you make it's way to the surface:
Anyone who is joined to Christ is a new being; the old is gone, the new has come (1).
(1) 2 Corinthians 5:17

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

always greater than

(by Pastor Joe)
The Word for Today: Luke 11:14-36
mark this: Luke 11:31 & 32
...behold, something greater than Solomon is here....
...something greater than Jonah is here.
Jesus Christ is greater than anything we can know or think or imagine. But since everything we know as humans is in comparison to something else, we're given, thankfully, a couple of different units of measurement in today's reading. Luke writes about how Jesus wisely deals with a demanding crowd by giving them a lesson. They want a miraculous sign, instead they get two examples.
The first is Solomon. Why Solomon?
The Jewish mind would be astonished by that statement.
Solomon’s reign was by far the high point of Israel- the time of the most wealth, the best Temple, the most security, the greatest international power, influence, and boundaries.
For every Jew- the reign of Solomon were the glory days of Israel.
And here comes this homeless teacher from Nazareth of all places, declaring that He is greater than Solomon.
Yet that is the truth. From His humble entrance into our world, where He's worshiped and given kingly gifts, to the mocking sign hung on His cross, that cruelly, but accurately, describes Him as the "King of the Jews" to the words written on His robe at His return- all this testifies to His Royalty(1).
The second is Jonah. Why Jonah?
For a while, this brought me some confusion. Jonah only has 4 total chapters in the whole Bible. He was perhaps the worst prophet in history when it comes to attitude. Clearly there were better "prophet of the year" candidates like Elijah, Isaiah, or Jeremiah.
But Christ is brilliant to use Jonah in comparison. Certainly, with the imagery of 3 days Jonah is a foreshadow of the Resurrection, but there is another reason. When Jonah reluctantly came to Nineveh, He didn’t come with wonders and signs. He didn’t give great sermons. He said 5 words in Hebrew which translates as "Forty more days and Nineveh will be overturned (2)."
Jonah needed no sign- He was the sign Himself. His life, how God had mercy upon him and spared Him from death was the message. Jesus, in the same way, is the sign Himself. His life, His character, His words are much greater than any miracle He performed! Jesus is not merely another prophet in the long line of history, He is our great and final revelation of GOD (3). He does just give a message- He is the Message!
Christ is always greater than whatever human comparison we can muster; that is not up for debate. The questions then become this: Is Jesus Christ my Prophet? Is Jesus Christ my King? Will you be like the Ninevites and repent or will you remain in your sins? Will you be like the Queen of Sheba and learn at the feet of the King, or will you remain in your ignorant pride? The choice is yours.
(1) Matthew 2, John 19:19, Revelation 19:16
(2) Jonah 3:4
(3) see Hebrews 1:1-3

Monday, March 20, 2017

prayer 101

(by Pastor Joe)
The Word for Today: Luke 11:1-13
mark this: Luke 11:2-4
He said to them, "When you pray, say:
'Father, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come.
Give us each day our daily bread. Forgive us our sins, for we also forgive everyone who sins against us. And lead us not into temptation. ' "
Let's face the fact that prayer often is a struggle for us. We struggle with the time, with the words, with the place, with our hearts. We don't even know what to pray for. We need help in our prayer life.
This struggle is nothing new. The disciples, themselves strugglers, come to Jesus with a request. They ask for help, not on what to pray for or how to pray, they are asking for basic motivation to pray. We likewise need this kind of help, we need to be taught prayer. It does not come naturally, and every single one of us has felt that frustration.
So in today's passage, Jesus is giving us a primer on prayer. He's teaching us not only the whats of prayer, He's also teaching the whys. There is nothing magical or formulaic about this prayer. This prayer is not something just to be repeated mindlessly. Instead, Jesus models for all of us the very essence of what it means to pray.
1. Prayer means relationship.
Christ calls us to address God as our "Father." That was unheard of for Jews of His day, and it caused a great deal of scandal (1). Nonetheless, it is now the basis on which we approach God. We have been given this privilege only because of the work of Jesus Christ (2). We come before God, not as strangers, but as His children. We're not in line with a number at a deli, we're not cowering before a principal or judge, we're not speaking through an interpreter to a foreign dignitary.
2. Prayer means putting God in His place.
Jesus also calls us to remember just who it is we are praying to. He reminds that God is holy because we need that reminder. We are to thank and worship God, not because He is vain and needs us to say nice things about Him, but because we are so quick to forget just how great He really is. If I refuse to acknowledge God's great love and justice and faithfulness and purity, that takes away nothing from God, but it definitely diminishes me. We are to worship and praise God regularly so that we don't forget just who we are addressing.
3. Prayer means putting yourself in your place.
Jesus told us to ask for God's kingdom to come. I often don't know what that means in certain contexts, but one thing I always know that it always means, is that's its not about my will, but His. We are told not to seek our own little kingdoms and our own petty plans, but instead to ask for God to have his way in us: in our lives, our homes, our churches, our communities, our world. Sadly, this is often the last thing we ask for; Jesus says it should be the first.
4. Prayer means trusting God with you needs.
For far too many of us the phrase "daily bread" means nothing more than a trip to Aldi or a little devotional booklet. But to the hearers of Jesus time, it meant so much. Many in our country live in relative security concerning food, but for so many now, as well as back then, there was no guarantee that there would be available food the next day. Jesus reminds us that God cares about our needs and that we can trust Him to take care of us. Prayer is depending upon God for what we cannot control (which is more than we care to admit).
5. Prayer means confession and forgiveness.
There is no such thing as a dishonest prayer. Since God knows everything, all our prayer is honest or else it isn't prayer at all. Jesus reminds us of that here- the need to be right with God and the need to be right with others, hence the need to confess our sins and also forgive those who have sinned against us. I don't know about you, but for me, this is a daily battle.
6. Prayer means seeking God's protection.
And how we need it! We live our lives in a world that has turned its back upon God and instead chosen to follow its own way. We live in a world that is not even neutral towards the things of God, but rather openly hostile. We live in a world where we have an enemy who seeks to "steal and kill and destroy (3)." We need God's protection and deliverance- from evil, from temptation, from sin, from everything that might ruin us.
So if you find yourself in a place where your prayer has grown stale or repetitive, if you feel like nothing's being heard or you're distant from God, come right back here. There's no formula or magic words, but simply the basic heart of prayer. Your perfect, holy, heavenly Father is present, wanting to have His way in your life, meet all your needs, forgive your sins, help you to likewise forgive, and protect you from all evil. Great place to start- I think I'll stay here awhile.
(1) John 5:18
(2) Galatians 4:4-7
(3) John 10:10

Sunday, March 19, 2017

the day my old Bible became brand new

The Word for today:
Luke 10:25-42
Of all the stories in the Bible, probably the most misapplied are the story of David v. Goliath and the parable of the Good Samaritan.
It's not hard to see why. Man from the very start has attempted to put himself at center stage. (Most idolatry, when you boil it down, is nothing more than the worship of the "image" in the mirror.)
So, call it what you will--pride, or self-centeredness, or even idolatry--it all springs from the urge to vault over others and even over God in order to position ourselves in the spotlight.
Thus we'll read David v. Goliath (1 Samuel 17) as a moral tale which shows us that we ought to become more like David so we can defeat our Goliaths. But that's not what the story is about at all! Rather, the story ought to point to Jesus, God’s greater anointed King, who would come and defeat the greater Goliath for us!
We project ourselves into the role of David. But may I be the first to say that we are not David! (At best we're represented by the soldiers cowering back in the camp while David defeats evil single-handedly.)
In the same way, the parable of the Good Samaritan has managed to become the Do-Gooders' Creed. People want to see themselves not as the broken man in need of rescue, but as the Rescuer! They read the parable as a moral tale starring--you guessed it--themselves.
If that's how you've been reading it, then may I be the first to inform you that you are not the Rescuer! You are not the Good Samaritan! I am not the Good Samaritan! In scripture, there is only one Rescuer--and we're not Him.
Then Jesus answered and said: "A certain man went down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell among thieves, who stripped him of his clothing, wounded him, and departed, leaving him half dead…
In the parable, a certain man is mankind--you and I.
This man goes from Jerusalem (the place where we approach God) to Jericho (Sin City.) That represents the descent of man--the fall of man. He is half dead--in trespasses and sins (see Ephesians 2:1).
The Good Samaritan is Jesus Christ, who healed the broken and paid for them--and will complete the deal upon his return:
But a Samaritan, as he journeyed, came to where he was, and when he saw him, he had compassion.
He went to him and bound up his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he set him on his own animal and brought him to an inn and took care of him.
And the next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper, saying, "Take care of him, and whatever more you spend, I will repay you when I come back."
(Samaritans were half-breeds in the eyes of the Jew. They were from Jews who had intermarried with people from the north following the Assyrian Captivity. I would have you note that Jesus' mother was a Jew, but Jesus' Father was not Jewish! Jesus was the definitive half-breed: Son of God, Son of Man.)
The most tragic misapplication of scripture isn't to misapply its moral principles, but to miscast ourselves in its stories. The day we realize that we are not the King--that we are just powerless soldiers on the hill whom the great King represents--is the day we begin to see what the Bible is all about.
The day we realize that we aren't the Samaritan Rescuer--but that we're broken, helpless, and headed in the wrong direction--is the day we turn a corner in our understanding of God, self, and scripture.
When we give proper place to the Savior King, and place ourselves "in the ranks" of the representatively redeemed, our Bibles--dog-eared as they might be after years of constant use--become brand-new before our very eyes.

Saturday, March 18, 2017

chain reaction

The Word for today:
Luke 10:13-24
We always see pictures of Jesus smiling. I'm glad we do. I hope the pictures are right. But the Bible, for the most part, paints a different picture.
We have before us today the only documented instance of a joyful Jesus:
The seventy returned with joy, saying, "Lord, even the demons are subject to us in your name!"
And he said to them, "I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven.
Behold, I have given you authority to tread on serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy, and nothing shall hurt you.
Nevertheless, do not rejoice in this, that the spirits are subject to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven."
In that same hour he rejoiced in the Holy Spirit and said, "I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that you have hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to little children; yes, Father, for such was your gracious will. (Luke 10:17-21)
It's hard to pin down Jesus' demeanor, but it's fun to wonder about him. I come back to this passage often, when I want to see him happy.
There are hints that he was very happy on other occasions, but we can't say for sure. Children gathered 'round him willingly, and it's unlikely that they would respond positively to a doleful man. There had to be an ironic twinkle in his eye when he told about one blind man leading another blind man until both fell in the ditch; when he described the preposterous picture of a man with a big log in his eye trying to find a speck in another person's eye; and when he told how we are prone to straining a gnat but swallowing a camel!
Jesus' quick repartee with the Syro-Phoenician woman who interrupted his meal (Mark 7) makes little sense unless we can hear a playful, jousting tone behind the words.
Probably my favorite instance of Jesus' sly-but-encouraging humor occurs toward the end of his ministry, when he renamed the notoriously unstable Simon with a nickname which would translate today to "Rocky." At the time it was like nicknaming a fat guy "Slim." That one kills me!
But the only documented instance of his full-fledged joy is found right here in Luke 10.
In one of the truly lovely verses of the Old Testament, the prophet Zephaniah had a revelation of God's future joy over a redeemed Israel in the Millennial Kingdom:
The Lord thy God in the midst of thee is mighty; he will save, he will rejoice over thee with joy; he will rest in his love, he will joy over thee with singing. (Zephaniah 3:17)
Hebrews (12:2) says that Jesus endured the cross for the joy that was set before Him. The Man of Sorrows (Isaiah 53:3) had a future joy--knowing the redemption that his death on the cross would purchase.
But what about today? Well, today is the future spoken about in Hebrews 12:2. He endured the cross by thinking about you, today--about your trust in him, and your new life, and your gratitude, and your praises, and--here's the key--your joy!
When the seventy disciples returned, their joy prompted his joy.  So whenever you want to see Jesus happy, you can come back here to Luke 10 and read about it--or you can close your Bible, look way up in the sky and tell him he's made you happy.
That, we've seen, is what makes him happy, which makes you happy, which makes him happy--which gets joy going round and round in dizzying circles, like a puppy chasing his tail…
So go ahead. Tell him how he's made you happy. Let the chase begin!

Friday, March 17, 2017

alone, with your thoughts, in the rain

The Word for today:
Luke 9:57-10:12
mark this: Luke 9:62
No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.
No one has ever demanded more from his followers than Jesus did:
And he said to all, "If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it. For what does it profit a man if he gains the whole world and loses or forfeits himself? (Luke 9:23-25)
And no one has phrased things this bluntly:
To another he said, "Follow me." But he said, "Lord, let me first go and bury my father."
And Jesus said to him, "Leave the dead to bury their own dead; but as for you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God." (Luke 9:59-60)
I'm going to encourage some introspection today. And then I'm going to leave you alone with your thoughts.
You'll need a pencil and a big blank sheet of paper.
Now draw a line right down the middle.
At the top left, write "What will I lose by following Jesus with my whole heart?"
At the top right, write "What will I gain by following Jesus with my whole heart?"
Then flip the paper over. Draw a line down the middle again.
At the top left, write "Have I put my hand to the plow?"
At the top right, write "Am I looking back?"
You are on your own. The Stand in the Rain article for today is what you will write on that paper.
God bless your deliberations.  Remember Lot's wife (1).
(1) Luke 17:32; cf. Genesis 19:17, 26

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Michael rowed the boat ashore. He did not steer.

The Word for today:
Genesis 26
Yesterday we looked at Genesis 24, the most sustained picture of the Holy Spirit in all of scripture.
Today we are going to focus on one verse from that chapter:
Blessed be the Lord God of my master Abraham, who has not forsaken His mercy and His truth toward my master. As for me, being on the way, the Lord led me to the house of my master's brethren. (Genesis 24:27 / NKJV)
Being on the way, the LORD led me.
We'd all l like to be led by the Spirit, but where to begin? So much about the Holy Spirit can seem so mysterious so much of the time. It can seem like the leading of the Holy Spirit must be for spiritual insiders--which I am not!
So I almost gave up on the idea of walking by the Spirit (1), until I happened across Genesis 24:27, which paints a picture I can understand:
Put it in gear, and God will steer!
I remember, not all that long ago, when a new desire came over me. I wanted to tell everybody how great Jesus is, but I didn't know how to go about doing that. I didn't know where to begin or where to turn. And then I found the answer in Genesis 24:27:
Get underway, and God will lead.
Alright. So I began to type. I typed out article after article with my prevailing theme--"How Great Thou Art!" No one saw these articles, but I kept typing them. Then one day the office manager at a church I'd been attending stopped me in the parking lot as I made my way to our car:
"Franklyn, we need a column in our monthly newsletter. We need a column about the Bible, but it can't sound formal or academic. We need a Bible column written from a personal perspective. And you're going to be our writer."
It was music to my ears! She was halfway through her second sentence when I had already decided which of my already-written articles would be submitted first.
She had no way of knowing that I had already started. But God knew I was underway, and so he led me. And as I kept on going God kept on leading me, right to this very word.
So don't let it become complicated. If you want to be led by God, just take a step. And remember--
Michael rowed the boat ashore. He did not steer.
(1) see Romans 8:4; Galatians 5:16, 25