Wednesday, February 22, 2017

'Lord, Lord'

The Word for today:
Luke 8:40-56
We Christians use the word 'Lord' a lot. It's 'Lord' this and 'Lord' that. Jesus, for one, thought the word was misused and overused, and he said so:
"Why do you call me, 'Lord, Lord,' and do not do what I say?" (Luke 6:46)
We use the term unthinkingly, as if it were a name. 'Lord' is not a name. It's a word that defines a certain relationship--a relationship that looks like this:
He's in charge, and I am not.
With that in mind, let's listen to Jesus' words once again:
"Why do you call me, 'Lord, Lord,' and do not do what I say?" (Luke 6:46)
Luke has just marched us through a well-orchestrated section of scripture which serves to illustrate one big theme: Jesus is Lord.
He is Lord of the natural realm:
And they went and woke him, saying, "Master, Master, we are perishing!" And he awoke and rebuked the wind and the raging waves, and they ceased, and there was a calm. (Luke 8:24)
He is Lord of the supernatural realm:
"What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are--the Holy One of God." But Jesus rebuked him, saying, "Be silent and come out of him!" And when the demon had thrown him down in their midst, he came out of him, having done him no harm. (Luke 4:34-35)
He is Lord over sin and its effects:
Which is easier, to say, 'Your sins are forgiven you,' or to say, 'Rise and walk'? But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins"--he said to the man who was paralyzed--"I say to you, rise, pick up your bed and go home." And immediately he rose up before them and picked up what he had been lying on and went home, glorifying God. (Luke 5:23-25)
He is Lord of life and death:
While he was still speaking, someone from the ruler's house came and said, "Your daughter is dead; do not trouble the Teacher any more." But Jesus on hearing this answered him, "Do not fear; only believe, and she will be well." And when he came to the house, he allowed no one to enter with him, except Peter and John and James, and the father and mother of the child. And all were weeping and mourning for her, but he said, "Do not weep, for she is not dead but sleeping." And they laughed at him, knowing that she was dead. But taking her by the hand he called, saying, "Child, arise." And her spirit returned, and she got up at once. And he directed that something should be given her to eat. (Luke 8:49-55)
May I make a modest proposal that, in a backward way, will actually do great honor to Jesus...
If Jesus is not in charge of our lives, then let's cut out the 'Lord, Lord' jive. Let's declare a moratorium on the word, and just call him Jesus for awhile. There's no lie in that.
A moratorium might serve to remind many of us that he is not the comprehensive Lord of our lives. And if the day should arrive when he becomes--in truth and in deed--the Sovereign King of our souls, then we'll hold a party, invite all our friends to the coronation, and crown him Lord of Lords.
Words, as used by Jesus, were raised to the level of binding contracts, even covenants:
"Let your yes be yes and your no be no."
May we do the same. Let's let our 'Lord' be Lord.

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

May you never cease to find the questions to your Answer.

The Word for today:
Luke 8:22-39
mark this: Luke 8:25
"Who then is this, that he commands even winds and water, and they obey him?"
Which came first--the chicken or the egg?
Which came first--the question or the answer?
I'm not here to strain your brain or place you on the horns of a dilemma. I just want to point out that the Q & the A have a more complex inter-relationship than often meets the eye.  Jesus knew this, and often made a question his answer.
The other day I was reading some political commentary, and a government program was described as "a solution in search of a problem"--an answer in search of a question!
Now that your brain feels like it's been tumbled in the dryer, I'm going to tell you where the Bible has taken me. Are you ready?
Jesus is the answer. Now, what's the question?
Today's reading provides no less than the ultimate, most consequential question ever asked:
"Who then is this, that he commands even winds and water, and they obey him?" (Luke 8:25)
The answer, of course, is embedded in the question. The disciples knew their Old Testament scriptures, which taught that God controls the seas. Psalm 107:24-30 is a precise parallel of what they had just seen:
They saw the works of the LORD, his wonderful deeds in the deep. For he spoke and stirred up a tempest that lifted high the waves. They mounted up to the heavens and went down to the depths; in their peril their courage melted away. They reeled and staggered like drunken men; they were at their wits' end. Then they cried out to the LORD in their trouble, and he brought them out of their distress. He stilled the storm to a whisper; the waves of the sea were hushed. They were glad when it grew calm, and he guided them to their desired haven.
Psalm 65:7 refers to God as the one "who stilled the roaring of the seas, the roaring of their waves." Psalm 89:9 addresses God directly: "You rule over the surging sea; when its waves mount up, you still them."
The disciples knew that Jehovah could still the seas by his word alone:
But at your rebuke the waters fled, at the sound of your thunder they took to flight. (Psalms 104:7)
He rebuked the Red Sea, and it dried up. (Psalms 106:9)
All waters flow and cease to flow at God's command. Logic demands, therefore, that Jesus must be the Creator, God. The disciples understanding of Christ suddenly shot right out of the universe!
There's a man in our office with the most ironic ring-tone of all time. His phone blasts out the old U-Tune called "I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For."
My spirit has turned the song's original intention inside out, so that each time I hear it, I'm reminded that there's no end to the thrilling questions I've yet to encounter, every one of them revealing a heretofore undiscovered facet of Jesus.
May you never cease to find the questions to your Answer.

Monday, February 20, 2017

Soil Testing 101

(by Pastor Joe)
The Word for Today: Luke 8:4-21
The Parable of the Sower/Soils is "the" parable.
It is not as beloved as the Good Samaritan.
It is not as cherished as the Prodigal Son.
But it is perhaps the most important of all the parables that Jesus told.
While nearly all the other parables cover a certain aspect or portion of faith (e.g. forgiveness, readiness, grace, love, money, prayer, etc.), this parable covers the even more fundamental issue of whether or not we receive the Gospel message to begin with.
Furthermore, we are blessed not only with three accounts of this parable (1), but also the interpretation straight from the mouth of Jesus Christ. We may err in some of our interpreting of other parables, but here its impossible because our Lord has already given us the correct answer. He uses this particular parable to explain to us why he used parables to begin with.
We know, from Jesus Himself, that the seed is the Word of God, scattered for all to hear. The rest of the parable describes four different types of soil and how they respond to the seed. Let me introduce you to them, with a bit of personification:
Mr. Pathy: His heart soil is too compacted to even receive the Word.
Mr. Rocky: His heart soil is too shallow for anything real to grow.
Mr. Thorny: His heart soil is too crowded for any healthy growth.
Mr. Goodly: Is the only one who has the depth and space to grow.
Every single person who has ever heard the message of Jesus Christ can be described in one of these four camps.
Which soil are you?
Have you found yourself to be in different camps in your own history?
(For a real challenge, try figuring out which of the 4 camps are "saved." I wouldn't feel so secure for Rocky or even Thorny.)
But before we congratulate ourselves for not being Pathy or Rocky or Thorny and moving on from this parable, let me ask you one question: How's your heart? I mean right now.
Certainly, these types of soil can speak concerning one's salvation, but I believe that they speak to every believer, each day. How's my heart, how's my soil right now? Just because it was good for a season does not mean that hardness or shallowness or thorns will never again be an issue for me.
Every day, I can choose to be in any one of these camps. I can become callous towards the things of God. I can start off well, but quickly lose my focus and passion. I can certainly allow all the stuff of life to put a stranglehold on anything that really matters with God. Or today, I can choose to "humbly accept the word planted in you, which can save you (2)."
The truth is, not one of us has "graduated" past this parable to where it no longer applies to us. Not one of us has got this thing down, or reached a place where we no longer need to listen. So I urge all of us to follow the words of Jesus: "He who has hears to hear, let him hear!"
(1) Here, and in Matthew 13:1-23 and Mark 4:1-20
(2) James 1:21

Sunday, February 19, 2017

Franklyn, the Pharisee**

The Word for today:
Luke 7.36-8:3
mark this: Luke 7:47
"I tell you, her sins – and they are many – have been forgiven, so she has shown me much love. But a person who is forgiven little shows only little love."
(Stand in the Rain today offers the raw, uncut, unfiltered version of the day Franklyn lost his spiritual bearings, and turned into the Pharisee described in today's passage. **Recommended for Spiritually Mature Audiences Only.)
I scratch my head over the Bible all the time. I've read every word uttered by Jesus about a billion times, but his words continue to catch me by surprise. Half the time, I don't know where he's coming from. But that's OK, because half the time neither does anybody else whom I've ever known, heard, or read.
Another baffling aspect of the Bible isn't within the Bible itself, but in the way that it's been "heard." It never ceases to puzzle me why certain Bible stories are so well known, while others get lost in the shuffle. We have an incident before us today, for example, which is absolutely central to the Christian life, yet it somehow remains obscure to many.
The story is about a woman, implied to have been a prostitute, who wipes Jesus' feet with her tears, then anoints them with a jar of costly aromatic oil. The thing the story is most widely known for is the mistaken belief that the woman is Mary Magdalene. (That's not her. Nowhere in scripture is it implied that Mary Magdalene was formerly a lady of the streets.)
But what's forgotten is the direct correlation that Jesus proclaims between sin and love: those forgiven the most love the most.
I see that correlation in effect all the time. The fervent and ardent lovers of Jesus Christ are those who sense the depths of their own sinfulness. Blessed by their poverty of spirit (1), they are shot through--all the way from their intellects to their hearts to the marrow of their bones--with the sense that without Jesus they don't have a prayer; that they are utterly lost without him.
Jesus is, without a doubt, a far bigger deal to those who know the depths of their depravity and how much, therefore, it must have cost for him to redeem them.
On the other hand are the cool, the diffident, the tepid--typified by the Pharisee in the story. His lukewarm love for Jesus is in direct correlation to his middling sense of personal sin.
So much that we see in the church is explained by this story. It goes a long way toward explaining the oft-noted phenomenon of a cool love that churched-from-their-youth people can have for Jesus when compared to the enthusiastic and overt love of Johnny-come-lately's to the faith.
I will even go so far as to say that I can predict eventual Bible literacy by the sense of sinfulness--and thus the sense of forgiveness--that a given individual has. Those who think they have little to forgive don't seem to be as fascinated by Jesus, as hungry to chase his heart through the scriptures.
This is not just theoretical truth to me, because I have experienced the direct correlation between forgiveness and love. It was the most harrowing moment of my Christian experience: The Day That Franklyn Felt Holy. (Because of my fear that this subject can be misunderstood, I've previously conveyed this experience to only Shelley, but here goes…)
It happened that I was sailing through a Bible class. It was one of those days when I knew I was bringin' it; I was coming across with power and even a bit of style.
And why not. I'd had a good couple of weeks. I was "all prayed up," as Christian lingo phrases it. I had my besetting sins under control. I was on a spiritual winning streak. By God, I was feeling sanctified, I'll tell you.
And that's when terror struck. All of a sudden I was so clean I didn't need Jesus anymore.
My spiel continued, on autopilot, for the remainder of the class. But there were at least three times in those final 20 minutes when I came this close to quitting in mid-sentence. Not just quitting for the hour, or for the day, but forever.
Because at the core of me, I knew I didn't understand the cross any more. In fact, the cross looked like overkill. My sense of sin had escaped me, and what Jesus had done for me escaped along with it.
In a real and terrifying way, it was my "Why hast Thou forsaken me?" moment. The desperate need I'd had for him was gone--and along with my need went the Savior I had known.
I was pretty much a basket case--a sanctified, sanctimonious basket case for the rest of that day. I had come spiritually unglued. For the first time I understood this previously puzzling scripture concerning Esau:
He found no place for repentance, though he sought it diligently with tears. (2)
I thought that I would never be able to convey the cross again. If you can't convey the cross, you've got no business teaching scripture. I actually began typing a formal resignation.
Shelley told me to wait before I clicked "Send." She said I might feel differently about things in a few days. I am in the habit of taking her advice, so I did not "Send."
Two days later--thank the great and dear LORD--one of my besetting sins returned to proclaim, in no uncertain terms, that he was back. It was my old adversary, Pride, and he was back with a vengeance.
I can hardly begin to tell you what this meant to me. O happy day! God had sent a messenger from Satan to buffet me (3), as Paul says. Pride, my chief nemesis, had been allowed back in. But when Pride got in, he kicked my newfound sin -- self righteousness -- out.
I was a sinner again, a low-down, proud, egocentric, vainglorious sinner again. Franklyn was back!
And Jesus was back! And I was in rabid, stupefying, and ardent love with him again.
I'm going to publish this little memoir as is. I'm not going to go back and polish it, or touch it up. I'll probably spell-check, but that's all. Then I'm going to hit "Publish."
I don't want this to come out prettified, or pasteurized, or sanitized. I am the notorious sinner in the story, but for a while I became the Pharisee instead. And the Pharisee chased the Jesus right out of my life.
(1) Matthew 5:3; (2) Hebrews 12:17 (3) 2 Corinthians 12:7

Saturday, February 18, 2017

"Should we look for someone else?"

The Word for today:
Luke 7:18-35
John the Baptist was the greatest person who ever lived--all the way from Adam up until Jesus Christ. He was as great, or greater, than Abraham, Moses, Elijah, Isaiah, Job, Daniel, or David. How do we know? Because Jesus said so:
I tell you, among those born of women none is greater than John. (Luke 7:28)
And yet John the Baptist had doubts that crossed his mind. How do we know? Because John said so:
And John, calling two of his disciples to him, sent them to Jesus, saying, "Are You the Coming One, or do we look for another?" (Luke 7:19)
I want to speak to the doubting and the disappointed today. If you've watched a child die, or if you've been overtaken by disease, or if you've watched a calloused spouse drive away with your heart in his suitcase,
despite prayer after to prayer to God, who could have saved, healed, and restored with just a word, if he'd cared to…
If that's you -- if that was your child, your health, your family, your heart -- that God left to die, to disintegrate, to shatter…
Then you've known John the Baptist, who was in prison because he had so faithfully served as God's spokesperson against evil; and because he had prepared the way for the great Messiah. He was in jail because he'd been obedient to God.
So where's the justice in that? And where was God? Where was the Messiah? No doubt John had prayed to be released, but Jesus was nowhere to be found. Could it be that he'd been wrong about Jesus?
Jesus replied with an astonishing display of power and purpose:
When the men had come to Him, they said, "John the Baptist has sent us to You, saying, 'Are You the Coming One, or do we look for another?' "
And that very hour He cured many of infirmities, afflictions, and evil spirits; and to many blind He gave sight.
Jesus answered and said to them, "Go and tell John the things you have seen and heard: that the blind see, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, the poor have the gospel preached to them.
And blessed is he who is not offended because of Me."
 (Luke 7:19-23)
All those miracles, but Jesus did not free John from jail.
Could it be that you've been wrong about Jesus? Should you look for someone else?
Talk can be cheap in this regard, coming from someone, like me, whose life has not been marked by the profound depth of your tragedies. And so I offer answers not from my experience but from the experience of God,
who with a word might have stopped the crucifixion of His only son, but could not say that word.
Within that realization is the answer you're looking for. It might not, right now, specifically address all your questions, but it will put you in company with a great prophet who died wondering why; and with an even greater Prophet who'd readied himself to die, but not to die as He did,
alone, crying out to His Father, who returned only silence in reply.

Friday, February 17, 2017

Jesus marveled

(by Pastor Joe)
The Word for Today: Luke 7:1-17
mark this: Luke 7:9
"When Jesus heard these things, he marveled at him, and turning to the crowd that followed him, said, "I tell you, not even in Israel have I found such faith."
"I've never met a _______ that I didn't like."
Each one of us could fill in the blank with something different.
Maybe it's a candy bar or a type of clothing or a certain car or a something electronic.
The Bible, we never encounter a centurion that we don't like.
Think about it. In a book full of all kinds of unsavory or at least flawed characters, there is nothing mentioned negatively concerning centurions. We have good patriarchs and bad ones, good and bad kings, good and bad priests, good and bad prophets, even good and bad apostles (well, just the one that went rotten.) But nary an unfavorable word concerning centurions.
Centurions were the backbone of the Roman military. They, by hard work and leadership, were placed in the officer rank over a group of around 100 soldiers. But they certainly were not of the higher general rank. They would lead and then fight beside their troops in battle.
In the Bible, it was a centurion that spared the imprisoned Apostle Paul's life (1). In the Bible, the very first Gentile conversion in the early church is a centurion named Cornelius (2). In the Bible, it is not the priests or rulers, but instead a humble centurion who recognizing the crucified Jesus as "the Son of God (3)."
Today's passage (also found in Matthew 8) we see another centurion highlighted. It begins like so many of the healing accounts found in the Gospels. You know, a person or persons with an urgent physical need come to the "miracle maker" and Jesus provides healing and restoration.
In this account, the unnamed commander is greatly concerned for a servant of his, and he sends a delegation to make the need known to Jesus.
Jesus does agree and, indeed, heals the servant. But that is where the similarity with the other healing stories ends. We know from verses 4 & 5, this centurion was a real, stand-up guy. But what stands out even more is just how big and accurately he saw Jesus. He recognized that Jesus could help his sick servant, and he took action that brought that request to Jesus. But even beyond that, he also recognized that he was not deserving of even hosting the Son of God. He recognized that Christ's power was not limited to certain proximity. All his life he had been a part of the Roman authority structure, with Caesar at the top. Now he recognizes that one greater than any Caesar is here, whose very words bring life and hope and restoration.
The results are remarkable. Not only is his servant well, but we see a unique reaction and commendation from Jesus Himself. Jesus marveled, was amazed, astonished. The only other instance in all the gospels of this kind of reaction from the Lord comes from the blatant "lack of faith" of the people from his hometown (4). This story involving the centurion provides us with not only a great example of Jesus' miraculous ability, but also a great example of what it means to trust Jesus for salvation.
Like the centurion, we are not worthy or deserving to even welcome Christ anywhere near us.
Like the centurion, we depend solely upon His word.
Like the centurion, we recognize that Jesus alone has the real authority over life and death, Heaven and Hell.
So if you find yourself weak in the areas of faith and trust, don't try to artificially inflate yourself with bigger faith. Instead, follow the example of the centurion and come to understand a bigger Jesus- the only thing worth marveling over.
(1) Acts 27:43
(2) Acts 10
(3) Matthew 27:54, Mark 15:39, Luke 23:47
(4) Mark 6:6

Thursday, February 16, 2017

never, no, never, no, never

The Word for today:
Luke 6:37-49
mark this: Luke 6:47-49
Whoever comes to Me, and hears My sayings and does them, I will show you whom he is like: He is like a man building a house, who dug deep and laid the foundation on the rock. And when the flood arose, the stream beat vehemently against that house, and could not shake it, for it was founded on the rock. But he who heard and did nothing is like a man who built a house on the earth without a foundation, against which the stream beat vehemently; and immediately it fell. And the ruin of that house was great.
When I was seven, I learned this song at summer camp:
The wise man built his house upon the rock,
The wise man built his house upon the rock,
The wise man built his house upon the rock,
And the rains came tumblin' down.
Oh yes, the rains came down and the floods came up,
The rains came down and the floods came up,
The rains came down and the floods came up,
And the house on the rock stood firm.
The crazy man built his house upon the sand,
The crazy man built his house upon the sand,
The crazy man built his house upon the sand,
And the rains came tumblin' down.
Oh yes, the rains came down and the floods came up,
The rains came down and the floods came up,
The rains came down and the floods came up,
And the house on the sand went WHOOSH!!
It was wacky and funny and at the end when the house blows away, we yelled out the "WHOOSH" with all our might!
It would be a while before I found out that the lyrics were by Jesus. I thought the words were just words…
until many, many years later, when the words of the song turned very, very true. They turned so true that it wasn't even funny any more. "WHOOSH" is putting it mildly.
Then after the Whoosh--quite possibly because of the Whoosh--I sought out the author of "The Wise Man Built His House Upon the Rock." He was right about the Whoosh, so I wanted to see what else he had to say.
After reading his book, I built another house. But this time I built on a different foundation. As I was building, I came across a grown-up version of that old camp song. It goes like this:
1. How firm a foundation, ye saints of the Lord,
Is laid for your faith in His excellent Word!

What more can He say than to you He hath said
To you who for refuge to Jesus have fled?
2. "Fear not, I am with thee, oh, be not dismayed,
For I am thy God and will still give thee aid;
I'll strengthen thee, help thee, and cause thee to stand,
Upheld by My righteous, omnipotent hand."
3. "When through the deep waters I call thee to go,
The rivers of sorrow shall not overflow;
For I will be with thee thy troubles to bless
And sanctify to thee thy deepest distress."
4. "When through fiery trials thy pathway shall lie,
My grace, all-sufficient, shall be thy supply.
The flames shall not hurt thee; I only design
Thy dross to consume and thy gold to refine."
5. "The soul that on Jesus hath leaned for repose
I will not, I will not desert to his foes;
That soul, though all hell should endeavor to shake,
I'll never, no, never, no, never forsake!"
Jesus wrote the lyrics to this song, too (1).  Don't make the mistake I made, when I thought His words were just take 'em or leave 'em words. His words maintain a different standard than man's words often will; His yes means yes, His no means no (2), his Whoosh means Whoosh.
And when he says he will "Never, no, never, no, never forsake," he means never, no, never, no, never.
(1) Each stanza of the hymn emphasizes a different promise (see 2 Pet. 1:4) in God's Word:
Stanza 1: see Luke 6:47-49 (above)
Stanza 2: Isaiah 41:10
Stanza 3: Isaiah 43:2
Stanza 4: 2 Corinthians 12:9
Stanza 5: Hebrews 13:5
(2) Matthew 5:37