Monday, February 29, 2016

The God of Equal Opportunity


Monday, February 29, 2016

VIDEO


Don’t you see how wonderfully kind, tolerant, and patient God is with you?  Does this mean nothing to you?  Can’t you see that his kindness is intended to turn you from your sin?  But because you are stubborn and refuse to turn from your sin, you are storing up terrible punishment for yourself.  For a day of anger is coming, when God’s righteous judgment will be revealed.  He will judge everyone according to what they have done.  He will give eternal life to those who keep on doing good, seeking after the glory and honor and immortality that God offers.  But he will pour out his anger and wrath on those who live for themselves, who refuse to obey the truth and instead live lives of wickedness.  There will be trouble and calamity for everyone who keeps on doing what is evil—for the Jew first and also for the Gentile.  But there will be glory and honor and peace from God for all who do good—for the Jew first and also for the Gentile.  For God does not show favoritism.   Romans 2:4-11(NLT)

What do God and a mother cat who takes in an orphaned raccoon have in common?  The momma cat in our picture lives with her babies – her kitten and the ring-tailed raccoon child.  The raccoon baby was found in the bushes on Paris Island, SC by a Marine Drill Sergeant while his platoon was on maneuvers.  He is now the official platoon mascot!  And, according to the report, Momma cat shows no favoritism when it comes to meal time.

It’s not a hard leap from there to talk about the impartiality and equal opportunity of Jehovah, the God of equality in both kindness and judgment – everyone’s His target!

Paul begins with God’s wonderful kindness, patience, and tolerance; but the apostle does not leave out God’s righteous judgment for those, who, in their stubborn rebelliousness leave God little choice.

This is the equal opportunity of God – His first choice is to bless us as we come close to Him and walk with Him as friend with friend, learning to obey His commands and learn to live into the purpose for which we were created.

Our problem (and it IS OUR PROBLEM) is that we know this and still want to break away.  Most of our praying is for forgiveness of first-degree sin – that which we knew was wrong, but did it anyway; our selfish will was bigger than our Godly obedience.  We wait to pray afterward, because we know we’d never have gotten permission beforehand!

King David understood this:

“Lord, remind me how brief my time on earth will be.  Remind me that my days are numbered—how fleeting my life is.  You have made my life no longer than the width of my hand.  My entire lifetime is just a moment to you; at best, each of us is but a breath.”  We are merely moving shadows, and all our busy rushing ends in nothing.  We heap up wealth, not knowing who will spend it.  And so, Lord, where do I put my hope?  My only hope is in you.  Rescue me from my rebellion.  Do not let fools mock me.  I am silent before you; I won’t say a word, for my punishment is from you.    
Psalm 39:4-9(NLT)

A Roman centurion came to Jesus because his child was gravely ill; Jesus asked him a question – do you believe?  The soldier’s answer was:  I believe; please help me get over my unbelief.

For You Today


The question from God about the blessing or judgment we receive, to which there can be no suggestion of God’s favoritism or uneven access, is two-fold simple:

Do we obey; and in our predisposition to disobey, will we ask permission first?

You chew on that as you hit the Rocky Road today…and have a blessed day!



[1] Title Image:  By USMC Archives from Quantico, USA, via Wikimedia Commons

Sunday, February 28, 2016

The Frog Asleep in the Kettle


VIDEO


This year we are retracing John Wesley’s favorite texts, and this one was the grist for his sermon entitled, Awake, Thou That Sleepest!

…for the light makes everything visible. This is why it is said,
“Awake, O sleeper, rise up from the dead,
    and Christ will give you light.”   Ephesians 5:14(NLT)

Mr. Wesley presented this text under three headings:

1.     He Described the Sleepers

2.     He Enforced the Exhortation

3.     He Explained the Promise made to those who awaken and arise.

I see no reason to attempt to improve on Mr. Wesley’s method here, but I will update the words a little.  (Language has changed a little since 1742!)

More than 25 years ago George Barna wrote a book entitled The Frog in the Kettle[2] which describes the church as a frog in a cooking pot.  If the frog was thrown into boiling water he would jump out; however, in this scenario the water is “frog-body temperature” – frog-warm, if you will. 

A frog in a comfortable situation will sit there indefinitely.  And if you raise the temperature slowly, the frog will adjust to the increasing warmth, and still not move.  Eventually when the water reaches boiling temperature, the frog will sit there and cook from lack of initiative to get out of the hot water.

George Barna describes the American church as having sat in the rising temperature of increasingly-more-comfort, leading to Godlessness, for many generations, and we are cooking – at this point in very imminent danger of going past well-done.   We are sleeping while being cooked! 

Wesley Described the Sleepers

First – Exposing the Resters


I have to be careful here.  I heard an exceptionally fine sermon by Bishop Claude Richard Alexander in Charlotte this past week which was entitled, They Rested!  The sermon was on maintaining an appropriate rhythm of Sabbath instead of being a workaholic! 

We don’t want to misrepresent, so please understand, we’re not talking about appropriate rest – this is about those who are somewhat comatose as far as spiritual living is concerned.

John Wesley described the frog asleep in the kettle – unbelievers, and believers who are sound asleep to their need of God’s grace.  Without a clue, they are full of the sickness of sin – apathy towards God, no desire of new birth from above, having a godliness – a form of being a Christian – but unknowing – having no relationship with Christ.  They even revile, or make fun of those who do walk with Jesus.

They may be nice people, great church members, moral and even kind and generous – but listen to how Mr. Wesley characterized them: 

But know ye not, that, however highly esteemed among men such a Christian as this may be, he is an abomination in the sight of God, and an heir of every woe which the Son of God, yesterday, to-day, and forever, denounces against "scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites"?  He hath "made clean the outside of the cup and the platter," but within is full of all filthiness. "An evil disease cleaveth still unto him, so that his inward parts are very wickedness."  Our Lord fitly compares him to a "painted sepulchre," which "appears beautiful without;" but, nevertheless, is "full of dead men's bones, and of all uncleanness."

The bones indeed are no longer dry; the sinews and flesh are come upon them, and the skin covers them above: but there is no breath in them, no Spirit of the living God.  And, "if any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of his."….He abides in death, though he knows it not.  He is dead unto God, “dead in trespasses and sins.”[3]

That’s the condition of the sleeper.  

The word in Greek used for those who sleep indicates being “down” as in lying on the floor, being in the condition of ne-kros – a corpse!  So this has nothing to do with physical rest; it has everything to do with spiritual, mortal necrosis – a sin-rotting of the soul.

There are many words offering different concepts of sin in human experience.  There is the concept of transgression – where we know what is right and choose rebellion.  There are sins of omission, where we forget to do what is right, or, worse, we remember, but are too lazy; we slip off the path, and miss the target of Christian living.

So the kind of sleep Paul is warning about is an echo from Isaiah(60:1) where the prophet passionately pleads for God’s people to wake up and shine the light of God for the nations.  And Paul again echoes it in his letter to the Roman church telling them to come out of their apostate sleepiness:

This is all the more urgent, for you know how late it is; time is running out. Wake up, for our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed.  Romans 13:11(NLT)

One author I read put it very well about the sleeping church members:

It is important that we understand that the water in which the frog is cooking is not the culture.  The danger to the frog is not secularism, liberalism, or atheism.  To believe this is to conclude that these worldviews are more powerful than the message of the cross.

I believe the water in which we are boiling is our own spiritual apathy, missional indifference, and prayerless irrelevance.  In essence, the frog stands in danger of boiling in its own water.  Just as Jesus warned some of the churches in Revelation chapters 2 & 3 about their precarious spiritual condition, we too must recognize our own need to take responsibility for the situation.[4]

So, updating John Wesley’s language (quoting Paul the apostle), we have Exposed the Sleepers, and…

Second – Encouraging Resurrection


Mr. Wesley wanted to Enforce the Exhortation, meaning he wanted to highlight it, underline it, and make it bold type:  RISE UP FROM THE DEAD!  Of course Wesley was quoting Paul, who was quoting Isaiah, who got it right from God – who rather knows what He’s talking about when it comes to rising up from the dead!

The Greek word, again, is an·is·tay·mee, which means to rise up again.  It is the same root word from which we translate “resurrection”.

Oswald Chambers pointed out in his book “My Utmost for His Highest” about the man Jesus encountered, who had a crippled and shriveled hand; Jesus told him: 

Stretch out your hand (Matthew 12:13).  As soon as the man did so, his hand was healed.  But he had to take the initiative.  If we will take the initiative to overcome, we will find that we have the inspiration of God, because He immediately gives us the power of life.[5]

Some (many I fear) just won’t take the initiative – that first step – towards God.  In Wesley’s sermon he posed the parable of the Prodigal Son, who was estranged from his family, particularly his father, and living in a land far away.  He had run out of the inheritance money and was sitting in a pig pen of poverty and starvation.  He finally came to himself, remembering how loved and well-cared-for he was at home.  He literally ran home. 

Mr. Wesley then asked the question if it could be that we, who are living in such spiritual death sleep, can finally awaken, but NOT run home to our heavenly Father?   How insane is that?

America’s poet, Ralph Emerson said: 

People wish to be settled; only as far as they are unsettled is there any hope for them.[6]

I pray that if you are somewhat awakened, but have yet to arise out of your sleeping sickness that you will be unsettled entirely until you are moved by God’s Spirit to resurrect from the dead and run to your Father.

Exposing Sleepers, Encouraging Resurrection, and then…

Third – Explaining the Reaction


 Mr. Wesley said he would Explain the Promise which is given to those who awaken and arise from sleep – light!

Many have debated what, precisely the Bible means by that, and how Wesley saw it.  In his sermon he said that no matter what your condition, spiritually-speaking (assuming you’re still drawing breath), this promise is for you, and it is very connected with seeing the One Who IS the light.

And seeing Jesus tends to change everything!

Jesus said:  I am the light of the world.  If you follow me, you won’t have to walk in darkness, because you will have the light that leads to life.”[7]

This is resurrection language…the light that leads to life.  That which leads is a pathway – a direction.  Later Jesus explained fully to his disciples what that meant:

Jesus told him, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one can come to the Father except through me.  John 14:6b(NLT)

In John Wesley’s thinking (which is Biblical thinking), this pathway begins at the moment of surrender to Christ.  There is a promise of Jesus’ light which leads to the way, the truth, and the life…which is true relationship with God. 

But that is a beginning; we are like newborn babes starting on the pathway of eternity, and in need of learning so much.  It is like when you were in your mother’s womb; you had no cares, and no needs that amniotic fluid and your umbilical cord couldn’t supply.  But the moment you made your entrance into this world everything changed. 

The moment your eyes were assaulted by the light – and your behind by the doctor’s hand – it was such a rude awakening, and made you question if leaving that warm Momma-nest was such a grand idea.

But in all, you’ve come a long way, and God’s prevenient grace, including light from above, has been watching over you and changing you – helping you see the right pathway to a heavenly position as a child of the King.

In his book, An Anthropologist on Mars, neurologist Oliver Sacks tells about Virgil, a man who had been blind from early childhood. When he was 50, Virgil underwent surgery and was given the gift of sight. But as he and Dr. Sacks found out, having the physical capacity for sight is not the same as seeing.

Virgil’s first experiences with sight were confusing.  He was able to make out colors and movements, but arranging them into a coherent picture was more difficult.  Over time he learned to identify various objects, but his habits—his behaviors—were still those of a blind man.

Dr. Sacks asserts, “One must die as a blind person to be born again as a seeing person.[8]

That warm nest of a womb you once occupied is similar to the cocoon of the frog’s kettle soup.   It seems so much simpler to keep to the darkness – keep to our nice warm comfortable life.

And God, without having first consulted us, created us with a responsibility to awaken, arise and embrace the light of Christ.  He bids us like the blind man near the pool of Siloam – you let me cover your spiritual eyes with the mud of creation – now go, wash and see.  And when you see, you will then not be content to sit in that earthly pig pen of your comfortable yesterday; it will then be time to come, follow me.

Fellow amphibious kettle dwellers, frogs in the kettle, awaken….arise….let your light shine!

In the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit!


[1] Title Images [modified]: Froggydarb at the English language Wikipedia, via Wikimedia Commons and FiveRings [Public domain], from Wikimedia Commons
[2] Baker Books, June 1990
[3] Awake, Thou That Sleepest, John Wesley, 1872 Edition, I.7,8
[4] Is the American Church the "Frog in the Kettle"? Daniel Henderson, Strategic Renewal Ministries
[5] Oswald Chambers, My Utmost for His Highest
[6] Ralph Waldo Emerson, Leadership, Vol. 7, no. 4.
[7] John 8:12(NLT)
[8] Terry Seufferlein, Norman, Oklahoma. Leadership, Vol. 19, no. 1.

Friday, February 26, 2016

No Place Before God - Part 4

Friday, February 26, 2016

VIDEO


Esau knew that his father, Isaac, had blessed Jacob and sent him to Paddan-aram to find a wife, and that he had warned Jacob, “You must not marry a Canaanite woman.”  He also knew that Jacob had obeyed his parents and gone to Paddan-aram.  It was now very clear to Esau that his father did not like the local Canaanite women.  So Esau visited his uncle Ishmael’s family and married one of Ishmael’s daughters, in addition to the wives he already had.  His new wife’s name was Mahalath.  She was the sister of Nebaioth and the daughter of Ishmael, Abraham’s son.  Genesis 28:6-9(NLT)

If you’ve been following with us this week, we’ve see how Esau had lots of trouble growing up emotionally and spiritually.  The maturing of Esau's spiritual backbone is first evident in his desire to be obedient.  Seeing his mother's anguish over his marital foolishness, he tries to offset his wrong.  No person can be satisfied with self-gratification as a lifestyle for very long. 

In the story of the Prodigal Son, he eventually awakened in the hog pen and had a longing for home and his father.  Not a single one of the hogs wanted to move out.  While the pigs grunted with only a full belly as their need, the pangs of hell got ahold of the Prodigal and propelled him home. 

But in Esau’s life the transformation of grace is twenty more years in the making.  (That’s a long time in the hog pen!)  We don't get the details, but from the time he makes his first step back home to the Lord by trying to soothe his mother's anguish, to the return of his brother (chapter 33), a metamorphosis happens. 

What caused the change? 

It may have been like the country doctor who had just finished delivering the farm family's tenth baby in ten years.  He was aware that the mother wasn't in good health, and they could hardly afford food on the table.  As he sat in the kitchen, the father came up to him and said, "Doc, we've had so many kids, we've plum run outa names.  I sure don't know what to call this 'un."  "If I were you," said the doctor, "I'd call it QUITS!" 

Perhaps Esau just plain "wised-up".  He began to see that his selfishness and hatred only came back on him, and God had a better way.

You will notice in the story that Esau's whole personality and outlook were changed when he was finally reunited with the brother he had once vowed to kill.  His brother Jacob (now Israel) took one look at the new Esau and exclaimed:

…what a relief to see your friendly smile.  It is like seeing the face of God!   Genesis 33:10(NLT)

Where once there was hate, now there is love.  Where jealousy and vengeance reigned, now there is the face of God.  What can bring about a change like this? 

In 1852, in North Carolina, the conjoined twins Millie and Christina were born into slavery.  They were joined at the hip; and lived for 60 years as one person.  Their masters exhibited them at various sideshows and circus events.  When the Civil War brought freedom, Millie and Christina legally ceased to be slaves.  This new freedom changed all the legalities.  They were no more slaves.  However they still chose to exhibit themselves in the sideshows.  They had been freed from their old Masters, but they chose to continue some of their pre-freedom practices as a means of making money.

Jesus died that we might be set free.  Many people claim this freedom as a matter of legality, and then live as if nothing has changed at all. 

People like Esau decide against that.  They decide that new life in Christ means NEW LIFE!  Esau was able to run to his brother and kiss him and throw his arms around him to restore his long lost, new found friend. 

That kind of change is available to all who will come to Jesus. 


For You Today


Is that kind of freedom settled with you?

You chew on that as you hit the Rocky Road today…and have a blessed day!



[1] Title Image:  By Bertram of Minden, via Wikimedia Commons

Thursday, February 25, 2016

No Place Before God - Part 3

Thursday, February 25, 2016

VIDEO


Isaac said to Esau, “I have made Jacob your master and have declared that all his brothers will be his servants.  I have guaranteed him an abundance of grain and wine—what is left for me to give you, my son?”  Esau pleaded, “But do you have only one blessing?  Oh my father, bless me, too!”  Then Esau broke down and wept.  Finally, his father, Isaac, said to him, “You will live away from the richness of the earth, and away from the dew of the heaven above.  You will live by your sword, and you will serve your brother.  But when you decide to break free, you will shake his yoke from your neck.”  From that time on, Esau hated Jacob because their father had given Jacob the blessing.  And Esau began to scheme: “I will soon be mourning my father’s death. Then I will kill my brother, Jacob.” Genesis 27:37-41(NLT)

We’ve been looking at the damage that can come from a lack of care for the spiritual side of life.  Esau was more interested in serving his appetites than his God, and wound-up selling his firstborn-right to be the spiritual leader of God’s people.  Later, when their father Isaac was near dying, the younger brother, Jacob, sealed the deal by not only having the birthright, he tricked his father into giving him the firstborn’s blessing.

Jacob’s deceiving ways, and Esau’s reactionary anger blossomed into a fractured family.

Hatred has killed more relationships.  We know from the story that Esau later mellowed.  But even today the inhabitants of Edom (modern Jordan) still fight the Esau and Jacob battle.  When you do a good job of breaking a family apart, it may take generations and many miracles to put it back together. 

When we act selfishly, doing our own thing, the consequences reach beyond our own circles of friends and daily experience.  We create ripples in our society and universe.  Esau's cavalier attitude towards his spiritual heritage, and his needed leadership in the kingdom brought shame on him, but it brought grief also on his parents, and the ripples of hatred still boil in that region today!

It is that way in churches, families and culture in general.  In the human family of 2016 we exist in a fractured collage of humanity caused by careless words spoken in anger, judging spirits and prideful, reactionary attitudes. 

In the 60's, Paul Simon wrote, I am a rock, I am an island, and a rock feels no pain, and an island never cries; famous lyrics, but flawed thinking!  Try as you might to insulate yourself against pain and heartache, this universe was created to respond to love and hate.  Esau responded to the losses he experienced by trashing the lives of those around him.  Esau and Jacob both chose the selfish path, and the whole family was broken on his island of rocks.

And the pain lasted for more than twenty years!

Jesus was despised by the generation he came to embrace.  He came to His own, and was hung, spread-eagle, on cross-beams.  But Jesus didn’t curse or revile those who crucified him; he didn't break up the family, break his loved-one's hearts. 

Instead, he forgave them. 

Jesus chose to love when he was wronged.  He was a descendant of Jacob’s, but he chose to break the cycle of hatred and honor the place before God.

For You Today


Honoring the God who sent His only son, the Prince of Peace, in a world gone mad with the violence of Al Qaeda, ISIS and every other angry, vengeance-driven neurosis, will never occur with more violence, hatred and vengeance. 

It will take humility and faith.

You chew on that as you hit the Rocky Road today…and have a blessed day!



[1] Title Image:  By Bertram of Minden, via Wikimedia Commons