Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Riot - Part 2

Wednesday, May 31, 2017
Meanwhile, Korah had stirred up the entire community against Moses and Aaron, and they all gathered at the Tabernacle entrance.  Then the glorious presence of the Lord appeared to the whole community, and the Lord said to Moses and Aaron, “Get away from all these people so that I may instantly destroy them!”  But Moses and Aaron fell face down on the ground.  “O God,” they pleaded, “you are the God who gives breath to all creatures.  Must you be angry with all the people when only one man sins?”  And the Lord said to Moses,  “Then tell all the people to get away from the tents of Korah, Dathan, and Abiram.” So Moses got up and rushed over to the tents of Dathan and Abiram, followed by the elders of Israel.  “Quick!” he told the people.  “Get away from the tents of these wicked men, and don’t touch anything that belongs to them.  If you do, you will be destroyed for their sins.”  So all the people stood back from the tents of Korah, Dathan, and Abiram.  Then Dathan and Abiram came out and stood at the entrances of their tents, together with their wives and children and little ones.  And Moses said, “This is how you will know that the Lord has sent me to do all these things that I have done—for I have not done them on my own.  If these men die a natural death, or if nothing unusual happens, then the Lord has not sent me.  But if the Lord does something entirely new and the ground opens its mouth and swallows them and all their belongings, and they go down alive into the grave, then you will know that these men have shown contempt for the Lord.”  He had hardly finished speaking the words when the ground suddenly split open beneath them.  The earth opened its mouth and swallowed the men, along with their households and all their followers who were standing with them, and everything they owned.  So they went down alive into the grave, along with all their belongings.  The earth closed over them, and they all vanished from among the people of Israel.  All the people around them fled when they heard their screams.  “The earth will swallow us, too!” they cried.  Then fire blazed forth from the Lord and burned up the 250 men who were offering incense.  Numbers 16:19-35(NLT)
Have you ever had the experience of a teacher punishing the whole class for the actions of a rowdy few?  It’s doesn’t seem fair, does it? 
God’s judgment of Korah and his followers seemed overly harsh.  Yet, of the people who perished that day, who among them hadn’t been confronted with the truth, and yet chose to stand with Korah’s rebellion?  Korah, Dathan, and Abiram may have been the ringleaders, stirring up the community, but the 250 priests carried incense with their own hands.
It’s really hard to figure out what God is up to when it comes to judgment.  Perhaps, like me, you have lots of questions about that.  For instance, it’s hard to understand why the punishment for Korah’s stubborn desire to serve God at the temple warranted him and his followers being swallowed-up by the ground.  On the other hand, Jonah refused to serve God and his one sermon saved 120,000 people in Nineveh.  Is that unbalanced?
I do not presume to judge God; quite the contrary, I know God is the only one able to pass judgment, and it is far wiser for me to pay attention to my own ways than to try to hold God accountable for what He does.  That would be light years above my pay grade.
Still, in the making sense of it all department, I’ve come to at least one understanding about what appears to be unfairness, or unevenness about God’s judging.  It’s a principle given to Samuel the Prophet after King Saul is rejected and Samuel is sent to anoint a new king.  As he is looking over the sons of Jesse, Samuel imagines one of the more regal-looking sons as the next king; God tells him to have his vision checked:
 But the Lord said to Samuel, “Don’t judge by his appearance or height, for I have rejected him. The Lord doesn’t see things the way you see them. People judge by outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.”  1 Samuel 16:7(NLT)
Therein is why we are not equipped to judge like God judges; we can’t see like God sees!

For You Today

When you discover something else about God that you don’t understand, before you stand with Korah, kneel with Moses; that will likely improve your vision!
You chew on that as you hit the Rocky Road…have a blessed day!

 I Title image: By U.S. Department of Defense Current Photos (140403-M-PK171-789) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Riot - Part 1

Tuesday, May 30, 2017
One day Korah son of Izhar, a descendant of Kohath son of Levi, conspired with Dathan and Abiram, the sons of Eliab, and On son of Peleth, from the tribe of Reuben.  They incited a rebellion against Moses, along with 250 other leaders of the community, all prominent members of the assembly.  They united against Moses and Aaron and said, “You have gone too far!  The whole community of Israel has been set apart by the Lord, and he is with all of us.  What right do you have to act as though you are greater than the rest of the Lord’s people?”  When Moses heard what they were saying, he fell face down on the ground.  Then he said to Korah and his followers, “Tomorrow morning the Lord will show us who belongs to him and who is holy.  The Lord will allow only those whom he selects to enter his own presence.  Korah, you and all your followers must prepare your incense burners.  Light fires in them tomorrow, and burn incense before the Lord.  Then we will see whom the Lord chooses as his holy one.  You Levites are the ones who have gone too far!”  Then Moses spoke again to Korah:  “Now listen, you Levites!  Does it seem insignificant to you that the God of Israel has chosen you from among all the community of Israel to be near him so you can serve in the Lord’s Tabernacle and stand before the people to minister to them?  Korah, he has already given this special ministry to you and your fellow Levites.  Are you now demanding the priesthood as well?  The Lord is the one you and your followers are really revolting against!  For who is Aaron that you are complaining about him?”  Numbers 16:1-11(NLT)
Korah and his followers rebelled against Moses and Aaron in the wilderness.  They saw the leadership of God’s people as a prize to be seized so they could be in the front seat.  They were very wrong! 
Moses responded with humility, praying to God to settle the issue clearly the next day.  As we will see in the next few days, that did not go well for Korah and the 250 other leaders, as well as several thousand of their followers.
A prideful, rebellious spirit is not unfamiliar to the children of Adam; we all have the seed of rebellion.  Even to deny that is a matter of rebelliousness.  In the Garden of Eden when both Adam and Eve had sinned, God showed up in the cool of the evening, and the first thing the couple did was hide.  God pressed the issue and called them out.  Do you recall the conversation?  God initiated the accounting; he asked:
“Have you eaten from the tree whose fruit I commanded you not to eat?” 
The man replied, “It was the woman you gave me who gave me the fruit, and I ate it.”
Then the Lord God asked the woman, “What have you done?”
“The serpent deceived me,” she replied. “That’s why I ate it.”  Genesis 3:11b-13(NLT)
Neither of the only two humans on earth wanted to admit they had rebelled against God’s command to stay away from that tree.  Adam weakly claimed innocence by blaming God for giving him THAT WOMAN; Eve deflected the guilt from herself by pointing to how badly the serpent had treated her. 
Neither was willing to own their rebellious spirit.
And that is an incredibly poor choice when your life is directly accountable to the One who made you, and Who just happens to be the Creator and sustainer of everything in the universe, as well as sovereign God over everything He created.  It’s a pretty foolish choice to think you can hide yourself, or even the smallest detail of who you are in a lie.

For You Today

The first step towards heading-off being on the wrong side of a riot with God is to get honest before God.  So…how’s that conversation going?
You chew on that as you hit the Rocky Road…have a blessed day!

 I Title image: By U.S. Department of Defense Current Photos (140403-M-PK171-789) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Monday, May 29, 2017

It's Not Easy Being Green

Monday, May 29, 2017
Take delight in the Lord, and he will give you your heart’s desires.  Psalm 37:4(NLT)
Jim Henson’s puppet character Kermit the Frog had a lot to say about making peace with yourself about who and what you are, and not entering into destructive forms of selfish behavior in order to make sense of that which troubles you.
Listen to the green philosopher: 
It's not that easy being green;
            Having to spend each day the color of the leaves.
When I think it could be nicer being red, or yellow or gold-or something much more colorful like that.
It's not easy being green. 
It seems you blend in with so many other ordinary things.
And people tend to pass you over 'cause you're not standing out like flashy sparkles in the water-or stars in the sky.
But green's the color of Spring. 
            And green can be cool and friendly-like.
And green can be big like the ocean, or important like a mountain, or tall like a tree.
When green is all there is to be It could make you wonder why, but why wonder?
            Why Wonder, I am green and it'll do fine, it's beautiful! 
And I think it's what I want to be.[ii]
Kermit, figured out that he was created green (after all, he’s a frog); but what’s more, Kermit learned to look for the beauty in what God made.  And in so-doing, the frog accepted the fact of his green-ness and his frog-ness, and found that he wouldn’t have it any other way.
Note the last line of Kermit’s song:
And I think it's what I want to be.
That is one fine frog commentary on the Psalmist’s advice to us this morning about making peace with all that surrounds your life.  Taking delight in the Lord is a matter of accepting everything about the way you came into this world, including your family, where and how you were born, what you look like, and all the other stuff that makes up the hand you were dealt…and thanking God for His wisdom in giving you breath, life, and even the not-so-wonderful circumstances, or overly-wonderful circumstances in which you find yourself.
What is absolutely astounding in 100% of human existence is that once you come to terms with that hand you’ve been dealt in life – you begin to realize that the heart of God created you in a most magnificent way, better than anything you could have imagined – and it has inexplicably become the desire of your heart too!

For You Today

If God created you to be green, be the best green ever!
You chew on that as you hit the Rocky Road…have a blessed day!

 I Title image: By Dawn Endico from Menlo Park, California (Cindy Lou Who meets Kermit the Frog), via Wikimedia Commons

Sunday, May 28, 2017

1 Corinthians 15:12-20 Heaven Series #4. Why is Resurrection So Important?

But tell me this—since we preach that Christ rose from the dead, why are some of you saying there will be no resurrection of the dead?  For if there is no resurrection of the dead, then Christ has not been raised either.  And if Christ has not been raised, then all our preaching is useless, and your faith is useless.  And we apostles would all be lying about God—for we have said that God raised Christ from the grave.  But that can’t be true if there is no resurrection of the dead.  And if there is no resurrection of the dead, then Christ has not been raised.  And if Christ has not been raised, then your faith is useless and you are still guilty of your sins.  In that case, all who have died believing in Christ are lost!  And if our hope in Christ is only for this life, we are more to be pitied than anyone in the world.  But in fact, Christ has been raised from the dead.  He is the first of a great harvest of all who have died.  1 Corinthians 15:12-20(NLT)
In our series on Heaven we have noted that there are a lot of ideas about where it is located, what it’s like and how to get there.  This morning we will look at the role of resurrection in God’s Heavenly plan.
Why is the resurrection so important?  Why not just take us to Heaven like God did with Enoch, or send a whirling chariot for us to let us ride to glory like Elijah?
The resurrection is so important because without it, death is so final.  In fact, resurrection was God’s plan way back before the Garden of Eden.  Scripture says that Jesus is…
…the Lamb who was slaughtered before the world was made.  Revelation 13:8b(NLT)
Every major confession and catechism of faith holds the bodily resurrection of those who trust in Christ, just as Jesus was resurrected by the power of God.  The empty tomb of Jesus displayed the exodus from death’s hold, which was in response to God’s promise to restore the creation which sin corrupted. 
Neo-Christianity denies this bodily-resurrection in favor of some surreal, ethereal “spiritual” resurrection.  This is close to the Eastern concepts of reincarnation or matter being reassumed in the universe after death. 
Some spurious forms of so-called Christian neo-orthodoxy, such as Plato’s metaphysical theory that all matter is relative, and only the spirit is of any value.  But all that flies in the face of the bodily resurrection of Jesus. 
·       In John 21 the resurrected Jesus ate with the disciples (ghosts don’t eat)
·       In John 20:27 the resurrected Jesus appeared to the disciples and, to Thomas in particular he held out hands and said:
“Put your finger here, and look at my hands. Put your hand into the wound in my side. Don’t be faithless any longer. Believe!”
Randy Alcorn wrote:
The nail prints in Christ’s hands and feet are the strongest possible affirmation that the same earthly body that was crucified is now the same heavenly body that was raised.  “It is I myself!  Touch me and see; a ghost does not have flesh and bones as you see I have. (Luke 24:39)[i]
Alcorn wrote:
The physical resurrection of Jesus Christ is the cornerstone of redemption – both for mankind and for the earth.  Indeed, without Christ’s resurrection and what it means – an eternal future for fully restored human beings dwelling on a fully restored Earth – there is no Christianity.[ii]
And so, with that as a background, what does the resurrection of the body mean for us today.  Is there any instruction we can get from this theology about how to live our lives today?
I would like for you to consider with me several scenarios:
·       A little girl is setting-up the most perfect tea party for her favorite dolls, imagining that she is the lady-in-waiting to the throne of England.
·       A ten year old boy is hitting stones over the fence in his back yard; he is pretending each swing is at a critical point of a World Series game.
·       A teenager has a death-grip on his X-Box360 control – his military game “Call of Duty” requires him to kill 82,000 soldiers if he’s going to live through the day.  He is making admirable progress; he aspires to someday be the governor of California.
Most likely we can all see these imaginary events and smile.  After all, a “play event” that a child sees as monumental, adults see as “cute”.  The little ones need to play at being “big people”.  Soon enough they’ll get to the “real world” and have to deal with the bigger, more profound issues.
Life Has Some Serious Issues
Of course adults have big issues.  Today even a ten minute segment of the news can send you running to the medicine cabinet for some valium or Prozac:
·       Depression – it’s a good name for the state of the economy; the issue and its effect are the same word.  Economic depression makes us depressed.
·       War and terrorism occupies our minds and prayer lists.
·       The environment – global warming and disappearing energy sources.
·       Racism, justice, peace, poverty, disease…….and on into the night!

but Life’s Most Serious Issue is still Death

Most of our culture’s problem issues have a solution, or can be addressed.  But what do you do with death?  This is the real public enemy #1!  We have on planet earth at any one moment at least thirty gazillion people working on trying to beat or cheat death.  Count the ways:
Exercise and diet – I know you watch those shows; you’ve ordered at least something to get healthier!  But getting healthier doesn’t change death; perhaps only cheats it out of a few years. 
I did one of those life-expectancy calculators online.  They ask you a bunch of questions about your diet, age, family history, eating habits (ugh) and the like.  After you answer all 75 questions you press “calculate” and the machine laughs at you, but produces a number that is your expected longevity. 
Mine was age 84. 

That seemed pretty good, but it started the left side of my brain crunching the numbers.  I’ll be 70 in a few weeks.  That means if that survey thing is right, 831/3 percent of my life is over, gone….history!  If the number is right I’ve got five times as much time behind me as ahead of me!  Stupid survey!
Once you shake off the depression of that realization you begin to believe the mortality statistic – that for every one person who is alive, there is one person who is going to die.  The mortality rate is 100%; everybody dies.  And it’s quicker than any of us thought. 
The apostle James, brother of Jesus put it this way:

How do you know what your life will be like tomorrow?  Your life is like the morning fog—it’s here a little while, then it’s gone.  James 4:14(NLT)

what to do, what to do??

We try all sorts of things to ward off death, don’t we?
·       Surgery – We have transplants available for most body parts these days.  And if the doctors can’t get a part from another person, they’ll invent a plastic one, or a pig will just have to give up another part for you! 
·       Barring the kind of surgery that actually means something to your physical health, there’s always plastic surgery to fool ourselves and other people into thinking we’re doing better in the race with death!
·       Cryogenics –Some reports say that Walt Disney and baseball legend Ted Williams
had themselves frozen so they might be brought back and given another round at life.  When they freeze you (actually they only freeze your head) it’s proof that, even if we die, we’re still hoping against hope that it isn’t permanent! 

The Fact is Settled – Nobody Gets Out Alive!

A teacher was testing the children in Sunday school class to see if they understood the concept of getting to heaven. 
He asked them, “If I sold my house and my car, had a big garage sale and gave all my money to the church, would that get me into heaven?”  “NO!” the children answered. 
“If I cleaned the church every day, mowed the yard and kept everything neat and tidy, would that get me into heaven?”  Again, the answer was, “NO!” 
Now the teacher was smiling. Hey, they’re getting it, he thought!  “Well, then, if I was kind to animals, gave candy to all the children and loved my wife, would that get me into heaven?” he asked.  Again, they all answered, “NO!”
He was just bursting with pride. “Well,” he continued, “then how can I get into heaven?”  A 5-year-old boy shouted out, “YOU GOTTA BE DEAD.”[1]
In light of that fact, Paul, in our text says:  If all you’re looking at is the tea party for dolls, or hitting imaginary home runs over your back fence, or how much better you’re going to look after the face lift, your focus is on 70-80 years, give or take…and you are to be most pitied[2] for being so short-sighted; eternity is a much bigger issue! 
And so here’s a much bigger question:

Forget About Cheating Death; What Are You Going To Do About Eternity?

Paul told us how God has planned for it to work out.  In the most documented of his miracles, Jesus conquered death by resurrecting from the tomb after three days.  Then he invited us to join Him in eternal life…where death has no place.
The story of the Gospel (in a very small nutshell) is that God made a perfect world and our sin messed it – and us – up, big-time!  That divided us from God because he will not tolerate sin.  Jesus came and died so we can know God again…and the purpose of God doing that is so we can have that relationship with the Father, our Creator!
Does your life have an eternal purpose?  Does your life make sense, have meaning?  Or do you mostly feel like you’re wandering?  Is it 80 years of tea parties and hitting home-run stones over the back fence?  Shouldn’t there be more?  Isn’t your heart telling you that there IS more, and that you’re missing it?
Many people say they’re not afraid of death – but that’s just not wise; death should be feared, because death means separation for eternity from the God who created you.  Death isn’t just when you stop breathing, and you therefore don’t have the struggles and worries anymore.  Your soul and your consciousness are never going to die.  And even your body is going to be resurrected.
The Bible talks of two resurrections.  One is a resurrection to life; the other, resurrection to eternal death – separation from God. 
Jesus came to buy you out of that.  He died for your sins, gave his life on the cross in your place, so that you can have an eternal life, not eternal death! 
There is only one intelligent way to not be afraid of death, and that is to have eternal life. 
And it’s possible because Jesus said so:
My sheep hear my voice.  I know them, and they follow me.  I give them eternal life, and they will never perish.  No one will snatch them out of my hand.  John 10:27 - 28(NRSV)
And when you are being held in the palm of God’s hand of eternal life, you will be able to talk to death like sixteenth century poet and theologian John Donne did in a poem.[3] 
He imagined death standing right in front of him, so proud and cocky, and John told him:
DEATH be not proud for thou art not so,
   One short sleepe past, wee wake eternally,                                      
And death shall be no more; death, thou shalt die.
To give your life to Christ is to celebrate the death of your death!
When you are in the Master’s hand, then you can look at death and truly not be afraid, because the hand of death can never touch you; you will never be separated from the One who loves you just as much now as He did on day one of creation. 
In the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.  Amen

[1] HomileticsOnline, © 2010 COMMUNICATION RESOURCES, INC
[2] 1 Corinthians 15:19
[3] Divine Sonnet X

[i] Aclorn, Randy, Heaven, (Carol Stream, Il, Tyndale House Publishers, 2004), p.121
[ii] Ibid., p.111

Friday, May 26, 2017

God Sovereign - Part 5

Friday, May 26, 2017
Daniel was a Jew serving in the court of Babylonian King Nebuchadnezzar, the most powerful (and narcissistic) ruler on earth.  The king had a scary dream and Daniel interpreted it as a warning from God that if the king didn’t mend his ways he would have the kingdom ripped out of his hands.  Nebuchadnezzar ignored Daniel’s warning:
“‘King Nebuchadnezzar, please accept my advice.  Stop sinning and do what is right.  Break from your wicked past and be merciful to the poor.  Perhaps then you will continue to prosper.’  “But all these things did happen to King Nebuchadnezzar.  Twelve months later he was taking a walk on the flat roof of the royal palace in Babylon.  As he looked out across the city, he said, ‘Look at this great city of Babylon!  By my own mighty power, I have built this beautiful city as my royal residence to display my majestic splendor.’  “While these words were still in his mouth, a voice called down from heaven, ‘O King Nebuchadnezzar, this message is for you!  You are no longer ruler of this kingdom.  You will be driven from human society.  You will live in the fields with the wild animals, and you will eat grass like a cow.  Seven periods of time will pass while you live this way, until you learn that the Most High rules over the kingdoms of the world and gives them to anyone he chooses.’  “That same hour the judgment was fulfilled, and Nebuchadnezzar was driven from human society.  He ate grass like a cow, and he was drenched with the dew of heaven.  He lived this way until his hair was as long as eagles’ feathers and his nails were like birds’ claws.  Daniel 4:27-33(NLT)
King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon was – to say the least – full of himself.  He surveyed his kingdom, and imagined (like Michael Jackson perhaps) that he had created Wonderland.  He celebrated his own greatness!  Look what my hands have made, he boasted. 
To humble Nebuchadnezzar, an earthly king, Yahweh, the real God of all creation, messed with everything the earthly king had.  Nebuchadnezzar wound up a madman, drooling on himself and grazing on grass like a wild animal.
After seven years of life as a madman, the Lord allowed the king’s mind to return to normal, and Nebuchadnezzar gave God His due.  I do not believe we twenty-first century people (particularly those who call themselves Christian) have done any better than Nebuchadnezzar! 
Here’s what I mean by that:
This week’s devotions are part of a sermon first preached 16 years ago on a Sunday in August to a congregation that enjoyed a quite peaceful existence.  There was relative prosperity in the land, and a sense of God’s people enjoying the “good life”.  Twenty-nine days later planes slammed into the twin towers in New York and Washington.  And our lives have not been the same since. 
The lone exception is the way people treat God.  For a few months churches were showing signs of revival.  But to a large extent churches are still empty – lives are just as busy with selfish pursuits and we still, like Nebuchadnezzar, survey our little kingdoms.  We enjoy our grasp on all that pleases us and makes our life “happy”. 
We fail to see the big picture…we assume God should be satisfied if we show up at church, drop a few dollars (if that) in the plate, and go about our business of what’s in it for me with the other 167 hours a week…well that should be good enough for any God. 
But…he’s not just ANY God!  And that’s the whole extent of getting the big picture about what to do with your life; God is not interested in being included in your life; He wants full custody, not weekend visits!

For You Today

A simple but arguably biggest question in any human being’s life:
Is He God…Sovereign King of the Universe……or 
the man upstairs?
You chew on that as you hit the Rocky Road…have a blessed day!

 I Title image: Julius Schnorr von Carolsfeld [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Thursday, May 25, 2017

God Sovereign - Part 4

Thursday, May 25, 2017
Don’t grumble about each other, brothers and sisters, or you will be judged.  For look—the Judge is standing at the door!  For examples of patience in suffering, dear brothers and sisters, look at the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord.  We give great honor to those who endure under suffering.  For instance, you know about Job, a man of great endurance.  You can see how the Lord was kind to him at the end, for the Lord is full of tenderness and mercy.  But most of all, my brothers and sisters, never take an oath, by heaven or earth or anything else.  Just say a simple yes or no, so that you will not sin and be condemned.  James 5:9-12(NLT)
We are looking at practical applications of living in an intentional way as people who serve a sovereign God, and therefore what our attitudes and actions must reflect.  Today we see three more instructions from James, the most practical apostle.

Witness – We Must Proclaim the Kingdom like a Prophet

Living your life in a manner worthy of eternity means you will stand for that which will stand in eternity.  That means sharing your faith in God with people.
It’s never been part of my comfort zone to go out on a limb with my faith.  Nobody likes being thought a fool or being mistaken for an offensive religious bigot.  Sharing your faith is hard work; it’s not an activity for the faint of heart.  But then, farmers and prophets are not lazy people!

Perseverance – We Must Have an Attitude like Job

Job had it all; then he had it all taken away.  He went from hero to zero in an afternoon.  His wife got so discouraged she told her husband, why don’t you just curse God and die?  But Job hung in there.  He wasn’t patient like some say – he was actually ticked, and wanted an answer. 
But he did hang in there, and that’s what perseverance is all about.  You know that God is in charge, so you play by His rules, and leave the results to Him.

Language – We Must Keep Our Speech Clean

James said a word about our words.  Folks, what proceeds out of the mouths of even Christians these days would have made our grandparents turn purple if they’re alive, or turn over if in their graves. 
All of your words are worship.  What James is saying is, don’t offer slop to our Lord!  He is the sovereign God of the universe – not the man upstairs.  He hears our words and attributes each of those words to us as our contribution to either praise or putrification of His name. 
Be careful with your words!

For You Today

Proclaiming the Kingdom of God with clean mouths and persevering hearts and minds – this is anything but self-serving or bigoted; this is work for children of the King!
You chew on that as you hit the Rocky Road…have a blessed day!

 I Title image: Julius Schnorr von Carolsfeld [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons