Thursday, February 28, 2013

"I can't? Watch me."


The Word for today:
Matthew 11:25-12:21
After we get the facts of scripture, we begin to read for the flavor of God's personality.
One of my favorite "flavors" occurs today, in Matthew 12:15, where we read that Jesus healed them all.
The Pharisees broke with Jesus on the question of the Sabbath, the Pharisees’ most hallowed subject (1). The incident which most directly sent Jesus Christ to the cross was the healing of a man's hand!--
Then Jesus asked them, "Which is lawful on the Sabbath: to do good or to do evil, to save life or to kill?" But they remained silent. He looked around at them in anger and, deeply distressed at their stubborn hearts, said to the man, "Stretch out your hand." He stretched it out, and his hand was completely restored. Then the Pharisees went out and began to plot with the Herodians how they might kill Jesus. (2)
The Pharisees said it was wrong for Jesus to heal a man on the Sabbath, so what did the King do? He immediately withdrew to the streets, where great multitudes followed Him, and He healed them all. (3)
Was Jesus obstinate? or contrarian? or contentious? Can we even write those supposedly disagreeable words in the same sentence with the word 'Jesus'? Well, contentious contrarian that I am, I just did.
We see the same reaction from Jesus at another time when somebody--this time a disciple--told him he shouldn't do what God directed him to do. His reaction wasn't pretty:
And He began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things, and be rejected by the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again. He spoke this word openly. And Peter took Him aside and began to rebuke Him. But when He had turned around and looked at His disciples, He rebuked Peter, saying, "Get behind Me, Satan! For you are not mindful of the things of God, but the things of men." (4)
As Jesus' follower, you have the very same Spirit which informed and empowered His speech.
So don't let any unbeliever tell you that Jesus Christ can't save you. You tell them that not only can he save you, he can save us all.
And don't let any believer stand between you and the mission God has set before you. Don't merely tell them to get out of your way. Say it with some flair, like Jesus did:
Invite them to watch you from a posterior point of view.
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
(1) Matthew 12:1-15; the break occurs at 12:14; (2) Mark 3:4-6: (3) Matthew 12:15; (4) Mark 8:31-33

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

The Inspector General


("Jesus Gives John a Drink from a Shell" --Murillo, 1670)
("Jesus Gives John a Drink from a Shell"
--Murillo, 1670)
The Word for today:
Matthew 11:1-14
John...
Baptizer:
"I indeed baptize you with water unto repentance, but He who is coming after me is mightier than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire." (Matthew 3:11)
Prophet:
"Brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Therefore bear fruits worthy of repentance, and do not think to say to yourselves, 'We have Abraham as our father.' For I say to you that God is able to raise up children to Abraham from these stones. And even now the ax is laid to the root of the trees. Therefore every tree which does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire."(Matthew 3:7-10)
More than a prophet:
"A prophet? yea, I say unto you, and more than a prophet." (Matthew 11:9)
Forerunner:
This he, of whom it is written, "Behold, I send my messenger before thy face, which shall prepare thy way before thee." (Matthew 11:10)
Nazirite:
And John himself was clothed in camel's hair, with a leather belt around his waist; and his food was locusts and wild honey. (Matthew 3:4)
Spiritual giant:
"Verily I say unto you, Among them that are born of women there hath not risen a greater than John the Baptist." (Matthew 11:11)
Spiritual commando:
He didn't knock on the door of heaven, and he didn't pick the lock. He kicked the door down--
"And from the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven suffers violence, and the violent take it by force." (Matthew 11:12)
But all of these were secondary roles. John the Baptist's foremost role was that of highest priest (1). In today's terms we might call him God's Inspector General.
To understand John's role, we must go way back to Exodus. There we learn that the priests were to be descended from Moses' brother, Aaron. John was in the line of Aaron, son of the priest Zechariah and his wife Elizabeth.
We also learn that a lamb which was to be offered as a sacrifice for sin was first kept for four days in the household (Exodus 12:3-6).
After four days, the lamb was taken to the Temple, where the priest would inspect the lamb to see that it was without spot or blemish. If the lamb passed the priest's inspection, the sins of the people were ceremonially confessed over the animal. Then the lamb was placed on the altar of burnt offering, taking the fire of God's judgment against sin. (See Leviticus 1.)
John the Baptist was Jesus' cousin.  John knew Jesus before either of them were born:
In those days Mary arose and went with haste into the hill country, to a town in Judah, and she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth. And when Elizabeth heard the greeting of Mary, the baby leaped in her womb. (Luke 1:39-41)
Since Mary and Elizabeth were so close, it can be assumed that John and Jesus grew up together. In fact they were not only close but in some ways alike: the last verse of Luke 1 telling us that John grew and became strong in spirit; the last verse of Luke 2 telling us that Jesus grew in wisdom and in stature and in favor with God and man.
And so time turned the days into years. Learning to walk and talk and run together, the boys turned into men.
At 30 years of age, God presented his Lamb to the highest priest:
The next day John saw Jesus coming toward him... (John 1:29)
Kin to Jesus, he'd grown up with the Lamb. Highest priest of God, he'd upheld God's moral standard more strictly than any priest in all of Aaron's lineage. God had placed John in unique position to be his Inspector.
Having found -- after 30 year of close inspection -- no spot or flaw, John pronounced the Lamb worthy for the altar of sacrifice:
"Behold! The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!"
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
(1) Technically, Jesus is the Highest Priest, of the order of Melchizedek. John, in this writer's view, is the highest priest of the Levitical order, descended from Aaron. See Hebrews 7:11 and Psalm 110:4.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

What would Jesus do?


The Word for today:
Matthew 10:24-42
mark this: Matthew 10:34-36 --
"Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law. And a person's enemies will be those of his own household."
We cannot make of Jesus whatever we wish him to be.
The sentence directly above may be the chief reason for the Bible. The Jesus in those pages is the only real Jesus. And he is what he is--in fact, that's his name:
Then Moses said to God, "If I come to the people of Israel and say to them, 'The God of your fathers has sent me to you,' and they ask me, 'What is his name?' what shall I say to them?" God said to Moses, "I AM WHO I AM." And he said, "Say this to the people of Israel, 'I AM has sent me to you.'" (1)
He is what he is, and the Bible defines what "is" is.
I can nearly always tell the difference between the Bible-honoring Christian and the Bible-demeaning Christian. Those who honor the Bible (by reading it--what a concept!) have met an unsettling Jesus who continually keeps us off balance with his "hard sayings." He has the unique quality of becoming more indescribable the better we know him.
Those who demean the Bible (by not reading it) come to "know" a comfy, agreeable, reasonable Jesus. But that "Jesus," made in man's own image, made to validate our cultural agendas, never existed.
When an exasperated Bible student approaches me, perplexed and unsettled by something about Jesus, it is always the real, biblical Jesus she describes. Some form of the question, "What would Jesus do?" is often raised. Sometimes I think I know. Many times I know I don't know.
Funny, but before I read the Bible, I always knew what Jesus would do.
Those who knew him best feared the man, even as he saved them:
And he awoke and rebuked the wind and said to the sea, "Peace! Be still!" And the wind ceased, and there was a great calm. And they were filled with great fear and said to one another, "Who then is this, that even wind and sea obey him?" (2)
The name of Jesus Christ always produces some type of painful division, even in the most personal of relationships. His words, "I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me" (3), are offensive to a pluralistic society. Jesus did not come to tell people that all paths lead to God. He did not come to tell people that what you believe does not matter. Jesus did not believe that people are innately good. He did not espouse the perfectibility of humanity.  Jesus did not say that you can do what you want as long as you do not hurt anyone else.  His ethics are radical. He demands careful obedience and costly loyalty.
If you attempt to follow Christ, you will experience division:
"Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law. And a person's enemies will be those of his own household." (4)
The Prince of Peace, it seems, will enforce the peace with a sword:
From his mouth comes a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations, and he will rule them with a rod of iron. He will tread the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God the Almighty. (5)
Now tell me, what would Jesus do?
**************
(1) Exodus 3:13-14; (2) Mark 4:39, 41; (3) John 14:6; (4) Matthew 10:34-36; (5) Revelation 19:15

Monday, February 25, 2013

twelve


The Word for today:
Matthew 9:35-10:23
mark this: Matthew 10:2-4--
These are the names of the twelve apostles: first, Simon (who is called Peter) and his brother Andrew; James son of Zebedee, and his brother John; Philip and Bartholomew; Thomas and Matthew the tax collector; James son of Alphaeus, and Thaddaeus; Simon the Zealot and Judas Iscariot, who betrayed him.
One might think, by the title of this article and the highlighted verse, that we'll be learning all about the twelve men whom Jesus chose to be his apostles.
But instead of his choices, we'll look at the choosing and the chooser--because the process Jesus used to choose the Twelve can undo many of the misconceptions we have about Jesus and about ourselves.
Roll these verses over in your mind:
Now it came to pass in those days that He went out to the mountain to pray, and continued all night in prayer to God. And when it was day, He called His disciples to Himself; and from them He chose twelve whom He also named apostles. (Luke 6:12-13)
As you do, forget about the twelve apostles and think instead about the hours--perhaps twelve--that Jesus spent in prayer before he named them.
Why the lengthy prayer? Because he had big decisions to make regarding who should comprise the Twelve.
Jesus was a human being just like us, except that he was without sin. And though he was God, he placed the exercise of his attributes (his omniscience, for example) at the discretion of the Father. Thus he did not possess all knowledge, and his unaided knowledge was not sufficient to know whom to choose.
Jesus had numerous disciples, so it might be that during those 10 to 12 hours he presented them individually to his Father, awaiting the nod given to those chosen. We don't know the particulars of his prayer.
What we know is that dependent prayer was everything to Jesus:
"I do nothing on my own but speak just what the Father has taught me. The one who sent me is with me; he has not left me alone, for I always do what pleases him." (John 8:28-29)
Jesus was dependent upon the Father for everything. In just the same way, we are dependent upon Jesus:
"Apart from me you can do nothing." (John 15:5)
Dependent prayer doesn't come naturally to us. Certainly twelve hours of prayer is something perhaps none of us has approached.
But how about 12 minutes of dependent prayer before meeting each day's choices and concerns?
Jesus' choices were prayer or nothing.
Our choices are exactly the same.
That blinking twelve means a power outage.
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Sunday, February 24, 2013

stuck in yesterday, going nowhere fast


The Word for today:
Matthew 9:9-34
mark this: Matthew 9:16-17 --
"No one puts a piece of unshrunk cloth on an old garment; for the patch pulls away from the garment, and the tear is made worse. Nor do they put new wine into old wineskins, or else the wineskins break, the wine is spilled, and the wineskins are ruined. But they put new wine into new wineskins, and both are preserved."
I want to write about new wineskins today, and I can't even get started.
But I'm learning how this new life works, so I say a prayer first. I ask Jesus to write the article, since he spoke the parable. I congratulate myself, because I used to forget prayer until much later in the process.
But no idea takes shape, so I put my coat on and fetch the mail. Then I take our dog Chip for his daily walk through the fields behind our house.
I go back to my computer and I look out at a late February day. It has that late February light, suffused with a hint of spring. If I could nail this blog, I could run outside today. (For most of three snowy months, I've taken my daily jog on my treadmill. So please, Jesus, hurry up and write this before dark!)
I watch the birds at the feeder outside my window. The feeder is almost empty so I put on my coat and refill it -- which, technically, makes me an agent of God's beneficence (1).  (So wouldn't it be fair -- wouldn't it? -- if You'd refill my depleted head with an idea or two?)
But when I settle back into my chair, the only thing that registers in my empty head is the insistent and relentless ticking of the clock on the wall. When the phone rings, it startles me. It's Shelley.
"Are you writing in Matthew 9?"
"Yes, that's just where I'm writing today. Why?"
"Because I never had a clue about all these old wineskins and these old garments until just this second, and I wanted to ask if I'm on the right track."
"Okay; let's hear what you've got," I said casually, not wanting to let on that her ideas might prove to be an absolute godsend.
"Well, the old gets in the way--old ways of seeing things; old procedures, yesterdays, and bygones. The old clothes don't fit the new person. We get stuck taking the same old steps over and over and we never get anywhere. Is that the right idea?"
"...The old clothes don't fit the new person.  We get stuck taking the same old steps over and over and we never get anywhere..."
It was hard for me to put into words just how right she was. Not only was she right, she was the angel of God's beneficence. As she spoke, the article took shape by itself.  The Pharisees were stuck, running in place.  They weren't responding to the new Light, the new Way, the new day before them.
I'm done.  I run a spell check.  I attach a picture of the treadmill I'm liberating myself from, starting today.
And it's not yet 4:30!  Lots of February light left to run through.
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
(1) see Matthew 6:26

Saturday, February 23, 2013

"O you of little Jesus"


The Word for today:
Matthew 8:23-9:8
mark this: Matthew 8: 25-26 --
Then His disciples came to Him and awoke Him, saying, "Lord, save us! We are perishing!" But He said to them, "Why are you fearful, O you of little faith?" Then He arose and rebuked the winds and the sea, and there was a great calm.
Faith in and of itself is nothing.
Faith is only as valid as its object. The classic example is Sally, who had great and sincere faith in thin ice. Sally took a walk one day in late January and nobody has seen Sally since.
Sally had big faith in small ice. This is not the recipe for success, or even survival.
Jesus told about faith the size of a mustard seed. A mustard seed is tiny. Faith as big as a mustard seed, Jesus said, could move mountains. (1)
Q. Big faith fails, while small faith moves mountains? How does that work?
A. It can be confusing. So let's take a couple of well-known statements about biblical faith and re-phrase them to make more sense.
When the disciples are frightened for their lives because the storm was tossing the ship, Jesus said to them, "Why are you fearful, O you of little faith?" Then He arose and rebuked the winds and the sea, and there was a great calm. (2)
What the disciples had was a little Jesus. He wasn't little, of course--as he shows by calming the sea. But their concept of him was little. So in this case, "little faith" means "little Jesus."
In another instance, a father brought his child to have a spirit cast out of him. Jesus told him that "Everything is possible for him who believes." Immediately the father of the child cried out and said with tears, "Lord, I believe; help my unbelief!" (3)
Q. 'Lord, I believe; help my unbelief!' What does that mean?
A. What that means is 'I've got a little Jesus; help me to have a bigger Jesus.'
These re-phrasings should help us to understand that faith is as big--or as small--as its object. That's why tiny faith in a big Jesus will move mountains, while big faith in small ice drowned Sally.
So don't try to ratchet up the size of your faith. It can't be done. What we need is a bigger Jesus.
Q. How can I magnify Jesus?
A. Well, put no limits on Him. Look up at the stars. If He can make the sun, can He heal your disease? I think so. He who holds together the atom by His power--the little atom which, if split, will blow up an entire city--can He bear your burden? I think so.
The best way to grow Jesus is to do what you are doing right now--'Stand in the Rain' every day and acquaint yourself with him. Look closely at our reading for today: bigger than the natural realm, he calms the sea; bigger than the supernatural realm, he casts out a legion of demons.
But always remember, it's not Jesus who is getting bigger, because Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever. (4) What gets bigger is our understanding of just how infinitely powerful and wonderful he already is!
Q. So how big is 'big' ?
A. Bigger.
Q. How big is 'bigger' ?
A. Bigger.
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
(1) Matthew 17:20; (2) Matthew 8:26; (3) Mark 9:23-24; (4) Hebrews 13:8

Friday, February 22, 2013

Olympics of the Spirit: running to win a trophy for Jesus


The Word for today:
Matthew 8:1-22
mark this: Matthew 8:19-20 --
Then a certain scribe came and said to Him, "Teacher, I will follow You wherever You go." And Jesus said to him, "Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head."
We get all kinds of ideas mixed in with God's truth. I ran into a high school classmate just a few months ago. I'd hardly known the person then, so conversation was forced at best.
"What are you up to these days?"
"Well, for the most part I'm a Bible teacher."
"Give a man a fish and he eats for a day. Teach him to fish and he eats for life."
I didn't have the heart to tell her that the one Bible verse she thought she knew isn't in the Bible at all.
There's nothing wrong with the her favorite "verse." What's wrong is that we've watered down God's outlook with our own.
Even believers are prone to these misconceptions. One such notion, which scripture plainly refutes, is that everyone is equally rewarded in heaven. Like "Give a man a fish," it sounds good--except that it's not biblical. This ought to blow away the misconception:
Jesus said to them, "Truly, I say to you, in the new world, when the Son of Man will sit on his glorious throne, you who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel. And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or lands, for my name's sake, will receive a hundredfold (1).
There is a difference between being a believer (saved) and a disciple (used of God). A person can be saved by receiving Jesus Christ as Savior, but a person will never follow and serve Him until he is willing to make a sacrifice.
All runners run. But then there are the champions. They run to win:
Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize. Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last; but we do it to get a crown that will last forever (2).
It's to the champion that I direct the rest of these remarks.
Perhaps you want to honor Jesus with your best. Perhaps you desire not only to play your drum for him but to play your best for him. Don't let anyone dissuade you.
But before you set out, the Bible cautions you to count the cost:
You cannot be my disciple unless you love me more than you love your father and mother, your wife and children, and your brothers and sisters. You cannot come with me unless you love me more than you love your own life. You cannot be my disciple unless you carry your own cross and come with me. Suppose one of you wants to build a tower. What is the first thing you will do? Won't you sit down and figure out how much it will cost and if you have enough money to pay for it? (3)
Are you still there, Champ?
One by one, other readers have begged off. The price is steep. None of the rewards are guaranteed in the here and now.
But if you're still there, and you've counted the cost, then put your hand to the plow and don't look back (4).
Willing to pay the price, to take up your cross and follow him, you'll enter into the fellowship of his sufferings (5).
You can look forward to sharing his deprivation:
Then a certain scribe came and said to Him, "Teacher, I will follow You wherever You go." And Jesus said to him, "Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head." (6)
You can look forward to being persecuted for his name's sake:
Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness' sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when they revile and persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely for My sake. Rejoice and be exceedingly glad, for great is your reward in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you. (7)
And, as the apostle Paul explained above, you can look forward to a crown.
Upon receiving it, you will yank it off your head and cast it at the feet of Jesus (8). Such a gesture is worth whatever it costs. Such a moment is worth more than the life you'll spend for it.
Because a disciple never runs for the crown or for the crowd. Disciples run for that moment, for that gesture--for the King.
*********************
(1) Matthew 19:28-29; (2) 1 Corinthians 9:24-25; (3) Luke 14:26-28; (4) Luke 9:62; (5) Philippians 3:10; (6) Matthew 8:19-20; (7) Matthew 5:10-12; (8) Revelation 4:10

Thursday, February 21, 2013

The Trouble with Pride


(by Pastor Joe)
The Word for today:
Obadiah
First it was Assyria (see Nahum).
Then it was Babylon (see Habakkuk).
Now we've made it to Edom.
While Edom in no way compares to either of the two aforementioned empires, in terms of size or power or splendor, it does share a common problem: pride.
Edom was the land southeast of Israel, the other side of the Dead Sea.
Edomites were the descendants of Jacob's brother, Esau.
And the same enmity we see early on between Jacob and Esau persisted through the centuries between Israel and Edom.
Obadiah is sent by God to speak against Edom and warn them of the doom that they face. The main reason they are in the position they are in is pride.
It is because of pride that Edom is deceived and has a false sense of security. (v. 3-9)
(Even the ancient fortress of Sela (aka Petra- pictured above) is not enough to prevent the end of Edom.)
It is because of pride that Edom boastfully rejoices in the destruction of their kinsmen (v. 10-14)
It is because of pride that Edom is blindly headed for destruction. (v. 15-16)
What is pride?
To start, I certainly don't mean the warm and commendable feelings you have when your child gets a good grade or when your favorite team wins the Superbowl. No, the biblical understanding of pride is a whole different animal.
Our friend CS Lewis, in "Mere Christianity" describes it as this:
"The essential vice,the utmost evil, is Pride...It was through Pride that the devil became the devil: Pride leads to every other vice: it is the complete anti-God state of mind... Pride is spiritual cancer: it eats up the very possibility of love, or contentment, or common sense."
The scary thing about pride is how much we can be ruled by pride and not even know it. In everything we do, especially in our talents, accomplishments or skills, pride can quickly enter. Even worse is when pride, as it so often does, invades our spiritual life. Remember that was the problem of the Pharisees. Just when we think we are getting somewhere with pride, it rears its ugly head once again, and we fall. (In God's economy, so often strength is really weakness, and weakness is really strength - 2 Corinthians 12:9-10)
So before we proudly condemn the Edomites, let's first bring this home, concerning ourselves.
It is because of our pride that we are deceived and have a false sense of security.
It is because of our pride that we boastfully rejoice in the downfall of others.
It is because of our pride that we are blindly headed for destruction.
Every day I am given a choice:
Will my words and actions and decisions line up with my own make believe world, or with the reality of God's kingdom? Will I accept God's word as the correct assessment or do I think that I know better? Will I humble myself enough to see and live by the Truth, or do I prefer La La Land, where I make the rules, I create reality, where I am god?
Today the choice is ours- but never forget: the theme song for Hell is Frank Sinatra's "I Did It My Way."
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

From Protest to Praise


(by Pastor Joe)
the word for today:
Habakkuk 3:16-19
mark this: Habakkuk 3:17-19 --
Though the fig tree may not blossom,
Nor fruit be on the vines;
Though the labor of the olive may fail,
And the fields yield no food;
Though the flock may be cut off from the fold,
And there be no herd in the stalls--
Yet I will rejoice in the Lord,
I will joy in the God of my salvation.
The Lord God is my strength;
He will make my feet like deer's feet,
And He will make me walk on my high hills.
We have one last crack at this little gem of a book, and I want to make sure we get it right. The past two days we have focused on two specific themes, but before were are through, its very important that we don't miss the bigger picture.
Perhaps the best word to describe Habakkuk is "process."
The entire book, with all of its brilliant questions and answers and promises and declarations, is focused around one man, Habakkuk, and his relationship to God.
Think about the book as a whole:
First Habakkuk asks that age old question: "Why, God?" (1:2-4)
Then God gives a very unlikely answer (1:5-11)
Next Habakkuk asks a follow up : "But why, God?" (1:12-17)
And again God answers with powerful words and promises about:
Faith (2:2-4)
Evil and justice (2:6-17)
Idolatry (2:18-19)
Silence before God (2:20)
Chapter 3 is the final response of Habakkuk- a prayer. What a contrast from earlier on!
Chapter one was focused on the evil Babylonians and the numerous horrors they were unleashing upon God's people (Remember the words used: violence, iniquity, wrong, destruction, strife, wickedness, hooks, nets, dragnets etc.)
Chapter three is focused on the Great & Glorious Lord, and on how He has done mighty things in the past. Habakkuk gives an incredibly profound description of the Exodus story- how God went to extraordinary lengths to redeem His people- shaking, stripping away, splitting, marching, threshing, crushing, piercing, scattering, trampling upon and otherwise kicking some serious posterior; all for His ransomed. All for His Holy Name. (3:1-15)
The Babylonians, with all their might, have nothing on God.
But it is in the last 4 verses (today's reading) that we see the amazing change in Habakkuk. His relationship with God goes from protest to praise. Here in these verses, despite his questions and doubts, despite his fears and pain, despite the complete upheaval of everything he knows and loves, Habakkuk chooses trust. This is not fatalistic acceptance (e.g. Eeyore), this is one of the clearest expressions of faith found in the Bible. Richard Hendrix puts it into modern terms:
Even though the price of gas goes through the roof,
And the bottom falls out of the stock market,
Though my house isn’t worth what I owe on it,
And foreclosures are happening all around me,
Though people I know have been laid off,
And I’m dreading the next round of budget cuts,
And I don’t think a bailout will reach me.
Still I will be glad in my God,
I will celebrate that He is my Savior;
He won’t let me slip from His grip,
He gives me strength to survive this with grace.
What has changed for Habakkuk?
- Not his circumstances
- Not his troubles
- Certainly not the Babylonians
- Not the destruction and exile of Jerusalem
- Not even his own personal fears & dread (3:16)
The only thing that has changed is that he chooses to put all these things in perspective before an Awesome God.
Never forget the process! Never forget that each stage of it is valid, including our questions, our disillusionment, our doubts, our frustrations, our fears. None of us automatically has total faith in God. Our trust must be built, and pretty much every time it is through the process. The main point of life is also the main point of Habakkuk- trusting and relating to the King of kings.
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Babylonian Idol


(by Pastor Joe)
The word for today: Habakkuk 3:1-15
mark this: Habakkuk 2:18-20
There are lots of false gods out there.
Man is an incurably religious being; if you can think of "it", chances are that "it" has been deified one time or another. (In India alone, they have over 100,000,000 gods and goddesses). Every nation has seemed to have there deities- even the atheistic Soviets tried to "hallow" the bones of Lenin.
That was also true of the nations that surrounded the people of Israel. We are familiar with the Egyptian and Greek and Roman pantheon. The Philistines worshipped Dagon, the Ammorites worshipped Molech, the Moabites worshiped Chemosh. But the real problem occurred when God's people decided to turn their collective back on God and worship the idols of the nations.
That happened repeatedly in Israel's history, from the golden calf incident (Exodus 32),throughout the time of the judges, and kings, until Israel was dispersed and Judah was taken into captivity. Most of the prophets sent by God were to warn His people concerning their spiritual adultery with idols.
Why? What was the allure of idols for God's people?
CONFORMITY
First of all, because it helped them "fit in" and be like the rest of the nations. Despite being called out as God's particular people (Deuteronomy 7:6), it seemed much easier to conform to the standards of the heathen people around them. In matters of leadership (1 Sam. 8:5), customs (2 Kings 17:30) and worship, Israel tended to dumb themselves down to the level of their neighbors. They even ended up worshiping local false gods such as Baal and Asherah (2 Kings 17:16). But seeing as how Baal and Asherah were gods of sex and fertility and prosperity, its easy to see why they were so popular.
CONVENIENCE
Idols, by design, are very convenient to the non-discriminating worshiper. Instead of relating to the Indescribable God, one can have simple and tangible interactions with an inanimate object. There is no faith required, no trust and no real relationship. It's always been easier to do "religious things" and think "religious thoughts" when you have a golden calf or an Asherah Pole present.
CONTROL
Ultimately, idols are about control. Instead of having to listen to and obey an all-knowing God, an idol puts you in the driver's seat. An idol makes no demands on your life or behavior, it cannot judge you or rebuke you. Like the words found in Habakkuk, an idol is by nature, mute.
Okay- idols are bad. We get it. But how do we know what idolatry looks like today?
To see what kinds of false gods we worship, I offer you the titles found at the nearest magazine rack:
Self, Shape, Car & Driver, Money, Fortune,
Entertainment, TV Guide, Star, Men's Health,
Allure, Glamour, Newsweek, Sports Illustrated,
Wired, Game Pro, etc.
Our high priestesses are Oprah and Ellen. Our ever-changing pantheon is made up the latest celebrities. Our act of worship is to read Us Weekly or People or to watch TMZ or Entertainment Tonight.
Why? What is the allure of idols for God's people? The same ones that plagued Israel and all of humanity:
CONFORMITY, CONVENIENCE, & CONTROL
Following God is difficult. It means that we will often stick out like sore thumbs in a world that can care less about Him. It means that we will have to trust and relate to the Living God, and not any man-made substitute. It means we must submit our lives and choices to Him, rather than being our own gods. In short, we want ease, total autonomy, and to always fit in; and to follow God means that each of those areas will be threatened.
Never forget that everyone worships and serves something or somebody. The Christian. The pagan. The atheist. The agnostic. There is no neutrality. Everyday, we again are faced with this decision: whom will I serve? Jesus Christ or idols? The One who gave His all for you and demands all of you, or something that has done nothing for you and demands nothing from you. What is your choice today?
Will you trust in lifeless "idols that cannot speak," or will you recognize that "the LORD is in his holy temple..." and therefore "be silent before him?"  (Habakkuk 2:20)
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Monday, February 18, 2013

The Just Shall Live By Faith!


(by Pastor Joe)

The Word for today:
Habakkuk 2:6-20
mark this: Habakkuk 2:4 --
"The righteous shall live by his faith."
Yesterday we dealt with tough questions asked by the prophet:
Why suffering? Why injustice? Why inequity? Why violence? Why silence?
God's first response (1:5-11) was not the solution that Habakkuk expected; and likewise, His second response (2:2-20) was nothing that could have been anticipated. Yet in verse 4, we find not only God's answer, but the central concept in Scripture of how sinful people relate to a holy God. Habakkuk 2:4 is easily in the top 5 of the most revolutionary passages in the entire Bible. This is a verse that has directly affected so much of human history. In fact its safe to say that without Habakkuk 2:5 there might not be any Reformation, at least not in the way we know it. (Who knows, without this passage there would be no Stand In the Rain!)
In 1517, Martin Luther was the monk of all monks. He was downright compulsive in his rigid efforts to be a better servant of God- so much so he stated: "If anyone could have gained Heaven as a monk, then I would have indeed been among them." He was meticulous to follow every letter of the rules given to him, and yet he lived in despair, always fearing and focusing on how he fell short. He tormented himself with doubt and despair and found himself hating the very God he was supposed to love, saying "I lost touch with Christ the Savior and Comforter, and made of Him the jailer and hangman of my poor soul."
Luther lived in a time when the dominant belief was that a person had to earn their way to Heaven, through good deeds, special prayers, keeping special rules and getting on the good side of the church's hierarchy. The church at the time acted like a business that had a monopoly on salvation- they determined who got in, who didn't and how long you and everyone you loved spent in Purgatory. It got so convoluted that the church began to assign specific years off in purgatory for specific actions or prayers. (For example, the Sancta Scala or Lateran staircase, pictured below, once got you seven years off of Purgatory for every step you ascended) Even worse, they began to rip off the common people by selling official "tickets to Heaven" called indulgences.
Luther knew that this was not right- even as he himself ascended the same staircase, while a monk visiting Rome. His son writes:
"As he repeated his prayers on the Lateran staircase, the words of the prophet Habakkuk came suddenly to his mind: 'The just shall live by faith.' Thereupon he ceased his prayers, returned to Wittenberg, and took this as the chief foundation of all his doctrine… . Luther himself said of this text, "Before those words broke upon my mind I hated God and was angry with him because not content with frightening us sinners by the law and by the miseries of life, he still further increased our torture by the gospel. But when, by the Spirit of God, I understood those words – 'The just shall live by faith!' – then I felt born again like a new man; I entered through theopen doors into the very Paradise of God.”
Luther had not invented this idea. In fact, the entire Bible, from Genesis to Revelation teaches us that salvation is a gift from God, received by faith, not anything that we could possibly merit or earn. And from this little verse, a revolution has begun. After all, it was the Apostle Paul who later quoted it in his letters to the Romans (1:17) and Galatians (3:11), explaining the same truth: salvation is from God, by God, through God, and not of ourselves.
What a huge relief! To know that no man or institution can save me or damn me. To know that I don’t have to scrutinize and agonize every offense, wondering if I’ve done enough for God. To know that my salvation has to do with the merit of Jesus Christ and NOT my pitiful merits.
So today, make sure you thank Martin Luther, who conveyed the Apostle Paul, who conveyed the prophet Habakkuk, who simply conveyed the central message for all mankind:
The just shall live by faith!
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Sunday, February 17, 2013

Tough Questions


(by Pastor Joe)
The Word for today:
Habakkuk 1:1- 2:5
For the past two days we've been talking about Nahum, Assyria and Israel. Now its time to switch gears and talk about Habakkuk, Babylon and Judah.
Here's a quick contrast:
So we are right around the time of the Fall of Judah and Jerusalem, and the prophet Habakkuk is voicing his complaints to God. He asks a series of perplexing questions, not much different than the ones raised today by believers and skeptics alike? He asks:
  • How long will You ignore me? (1:2)
  • How long will You leave me in the lurch? (1:2)
  • Why do I have to put up with all this evil? (1:3)
  • Why don't You do something about it? (1:13)
  • Why are You silent? (1:13)
  • How can your plan possibly include that? (1:13)
  • When will all of this ever end? (1:17)
I am sure that you, me, and the rest of humanity have asked, or at least wrestled with, one or more of these questions. Every day we are confronted with challenges and difficulties that we cannot explain away: matters of health and sickness, of justice and punishment, of suffering and faith, of good and evil. We wonder how our trust in God can be reconciled in a very damaged and defective world.
Habakkuk feels your  pain and then some. His cries to God are heartfelt. He has seen what the cruel Babylonians have done and is trying to match that up with God's promises to His people.
But even more impressive than these questions is God's answer. He in no way dismisses the pain or suffering of His people. He doesn't try to convince them everything is going to be okay. He doesn't say "Oh quit yer belly-achin""!"
Instead, He shares with Habakkuk the most unlikely solution, one that causes "astonishment" and "disbelief."  God Himself is using the wicked nation of Babylon to accomplish His purpose (1:5-6). It is not the means that anyone would have expected and certainly not the means that anyone would have wanted. Nevertheless, this "bitter and hasty nation,"  this  "dreaded and fearsome"  people, will pillage and devour and sweep Judah right of the map (1:6-11). It just doesn't make any sense!
That is, it makes no sense from a human perspective. Is that typical of God? It makes no sense that under the intense and bloody persecution of the Roman empire that the early church multiplied and flourished. It makes no sense, that under fierce opposition from the Communist regime, Chinese evangelical believers grew from 1 million in 1950, to over 100 million today. It makes no sense that Europe and America, in times of unprecedented freedom and prosperity, have decided to turn their back on God. It makes no sense that the cross, the cruel instrument of death invented and perfected by the Romans, would one day be the very symbol that ruled over them.
Never forget that God's ways seldom make sense from a human perspective. What better evidence of this is there than the Cross of Jesus Christ. It is the answer that no one would have thought of, and yet it is the only answer that can save mankind:
"For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God....For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not know him, God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe. Jews demand miraculous signs and Greeks look for wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God."   (1 Corinthians 1:18, 21-24)
So go ahead and bring all your doubts and questions and struggles to God, just like Habakkuk. And just like Habakkuk, prepare to be blown away by God's solution.
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Saturday, February 16, 2013

How the Tables Have Turned!


(written by Pastor Joe)
The Word for today:
Nahum 2 & 3
Assyria was a big deal.
At least from around the 13th century BC to 612 BC they were. They controlled the Middle East, all the way from the Mediterranean Sea, to the Caspian Sea, to the Persian Gulf. They ruled over lands that include modern day countries of Egypt, Israel, Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, Turkey, Iran, Iraq and Kuwait.
They shared many of the accomplishments (and debasements) of their Babylonian cousins to the south. They made huge advancements in astronomy, language, roads, literature, inventions, commerce, government and civilization.
They were even more well know for their military power and cruelty. These guys invented the use of large cavalry squadrons. Their weapons and armor were so efficient, they were not improved upon until the time of Napoleon. They were ruthless as well, carrying prisoners by hooks in their mouths, impaling the dead on poles, publicly torturing their foes as a warning to others.
Nineveh (the capital) was perhaps the largest city in the world in the time of Jonah. It had in the neighborhood of 120,000 people: "Now Nineveh was a very important city--a visit required three days. " (Jonah 3:3)  It was an impressive city, with 12 kilometers of walls that were 33 ft high and 50 ft thick.
The Bible records some of the accomplishments of Assyrian kings. (All of which has been verified by archaeology and history).
Tiglath-Pileser III was the first king to attack Israel. During the reign of King Pekah, he began the assault and deportation of Galilee (2 Kings 15:29).
Shalmaneser his son, was the ruler that ended the reign of Hoshea, King of Israel, and the whole northern kingdom. He spent three years laying siege to its capital, Samaria, and when that city fell (722 BC), he deported all the survivors to Assyria. (2 Kings 18:9-12)
Sennacherib his son, was King of Assyria during the reign of King Hezekiah (Judah). His army "attacked all the fortified cities of
Judah and captured them" (2 Kings 18:13) After that, he was basically paid off by King Hezekiah and given "all the silver that was found in the temple of the LORD and in the treasuries of the royal palace." (2 Kings 18:15)
Three generations of renowned kings destroyed Israel and came one angel away from destroying Judah as well.
None of that matters now, because Assyria is doomed for destruction. My, how the tables have turned. The plunderers will be plundered. (3:2) The military ingenuity of Assyria betrays them as shields, chariots, and siege towers are used against them (2:3-5). The inflicters of so much violence and pain now become the "bloody city (3:1)." The nation that sent so many into captivity herself becomes exiled (3:10).
The Apostle Paul wrote the following worlds to his young apprentice, Timothy:
"Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God..." (1 Ti. 6:17)
It is so tempting to put our hope in money or our comfort or our health or our national security or dozens of other things. But we are told not to do that, not to follow the same proud path of Assyria and every empire since then. Why? Because even the most successful human endeavors and accomplishments will fall and fail us. No one at the time believe the puny words of a puny prophet from a puny nation against the reigning world power. But God and history have verified him forever.
Never overestimate the power of any Assyria you face.
And never underestimate the power of a Nahum--a single person who is obedient to God.
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