Tuesday, November 25, 2014

In Troubling Times Turn to the Peace that He has Given Us!

In the wake of the crisis du jour in America, Ukraine, Iraq, Iran, Israel, Honduras, and all the others that are really too numerous to list it is easy to really lose our focus.  I awoke this morning to the news pundits sharing the devastation of the town of Ferguson in Missouri.  My oldest son is a Police Officer in Kansas City and a member of the State National Guard.  I could be worried for him, in fact after seeing all that has happened I should be worried, but I am not.  The truth is I know the condition of his soul.  I know that while he serves in these dangerous positions he is protected by God.  He like all those that have tasted of the sweetness of the spirit of life from Christ has a home that is not here.

The biggest problem that I see here and abroad is that we spend way too much time trying to find our identity in the wrong things.  We look for reasons to be divided.  Paul says in Ephesians chapter 4:4-6; “There is one body and one Spirit, just as also you were called in one hope of your calling; one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all who is over all and through all and in all.”   Any attempt to divide is the enemy trying to sew destruction and devastation.  We may not always agree on all things but we are still all one body of believers and as such we are called to one hope.  That hope is what the world lacks.  That is why those that seek to divide us succeed it is because they have lost hope and we the representatives of God here have not done a good enough job sharing that hope. 

Today take some time to read the 14th chapter of John.  Jesus is about to head to the cross and He is having some final talks with the 12 men that He is closest to in all the world at that moment in time.  They were confused and worried.  Jesus was telling them that He was leaving and they had no idea what He meant.  Phillip even asked that Jesus would show them the Father in some veiled way to reassure them that He (Jesus) was the Christ.  Near the end Jesus says this to them; “These things I have spoken to you while abiding with you. But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all that I said to you. Peace I leave with you; My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Do not let your heart be troubled, nor let it be fearful.” 

He is leaving His peace with them and with us.  In other parts of the New Testament the peace that passes all understanding is brought out.  Ultimately this peace stems from the Hope that we have in Jesus.  Share that hope and His peace and remember that we are just pilgrims passing through this world.  Our home is still being prepared by Jesus and when He is ready for us we will be called home, until then remember the Hope and Peace that He has given us! 

Thursday, November 20, 2014

There is a Fury to the Love of God!

Two of my favorite authors (one a singer and a song writer as well) talk about the fury of God’s love or the furious nature of God’s love. (Andrew Peterson and Brennan Manning)  I remember the first time that I heard this quote from the song Rise and Shine by Andrew Peterson and I could not shake the thought that God’s love can be furious.  It seems like an oxymoron.  Then you read in the news about a famous person beating his/her significant other and then we get a skewed perspective on this term. Paul said, “To be angry but sin not.”  Jesus demonstrated this in the temple and on the cross.  Still I have a hard time reconciling the two concepts. 

As I muse on this furious love my mind is drawn to almost every fairy-tale and heroic story where there was a damsel in distress and a warrior drawn to rescue her.  When I think of Jesus in this light I can begin to get a glimpse of this love that carries with it a weight of fury.
I can imagine Jesus armor clad, sword in hand, muscles rippling as He runs across the rickety rope bridge charging a crusty, craggy, horned fire breathing dragon.  I see Him battling His way through every obstacle only to arrive at the final door behind which we (the bride of Christ waits) bound with chains of our own making to walls of sin, grief, depression, and pride. 

I wonder if He pauses there outside the door and knocks gently with knuckles still bleeding from recent battles.  The more I think of Jesus (the lover of my soul) the more I feel that He would not stand outside that door for even a second.  He would kick it to splinters and fall on His knees before His beloved and gently ask for her hand.  He said He came to set the captives free; He said that he would leave the 99 safe to save the one.  He somehow emptied Himself and became flesh to walk among us.  Too hold us, laugh with us, cry with us, and touch us in ways that would leave a lasting impression. 

In the end of this musing I can only say that there is a fury to the love of God.  He stormed the stronghold of Satan and freed me to love Him for all eternity!  It is not His will that any perish but that all would come to repentance, oh how it must break His heart to get to that final point and face the individual chained to their own sin only to be rejected. 

Jesus, let me experience the fury and intensity of your love and allow me to feel the same toward You.  Help me to Love the Unlovable, and to seek opportunities to share the story of Your love.  Amen.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

A Better Place Awaits in Heaven...(an excerpt from my new book "Musings From An Armchair Theologian")

The figure of the Temple of God is not only well known; it is an integral part of the history of the People of God. And throughout their history, that which made the temple holy was the presence in it of the Living God.   This idea was well establish in the first century church.  They were well versed in scripture but for the most part only had the Old Testament.  They knew that God has always wanted to dwell with His people. 

They knew that when the first tabernacle was dedicated what made the place holy was the presence of God.  Ultimately all preachers want that same feeling and idea in their respective churches.  We want to see God in the midst of His people.  The writer of the Hebrews had evidentially concluded that the current temple was not worth even mentioning so from that we can only surmise that idea was readily accepted within the community that he has writing to. 

The problem that than arose is the same one that pops up now.  The people like to have a place they can go to meet God.  We like our buildings.  Even before Constantine made Christianity legal the need to have a place to worship was strongly rooted in the Jewish and early Christian mind.  The creation of the synagogue system is all the testimony that we need.

What the writer wanted to do was to divorce the idea of the old sacrificial system from the new understanding of the Christian faith.  The burgeoning church also had at their disposal a large body of written work from the time of the Jewish captivity in the form of apocalyptic literature, the Talmud, and other apocryphal works. 

“Apocalyptic literature envisioned a complete temple in heaven.”   In the minds of many of the founders of the first century church this true temple in heaven actually stretched itself into the idea that the entire universe in one way or another reflected or copied this temple motif.  Even the human body could be viewed in this way. 

By reaching back into the history of the Jews to their heyday so to speak the author drew on all of that tradition, imagery and in some ways national pride.  His goal was to show that; “The new possession of the church both corresponds to and surpasses the possession of the earthly Israel. The order of Melchizedek, to which Christ belongs, is "better" than the old (8:6). This discussion sets the stage for the author's description of the "better sacrifices" mentioned in 9:23.”   He needed to get the readers to understand where they really stood in light of eternity and here on earth.  “Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel and others had all prophesied an eschatological temple which would not only re-gather and re-unite the divided nation of Israel but also include the Gentile nations.”  

The writer of the book of Hebrews also was aware that there was a danger in taking away the idea that a physical earthly building was the center and maybe the chief way that people can commune with God.  This danger was seen in the lives and ministries of the Pharisees.  Their strong desire to keep the whole law is what ultimately led them reject Jesus. 

So he was drawing on the idea that was already present in the community chiefly being; “the idea that a community formed a spiritual temple, which is more fully developed in the New Testament epistles, did exist among Palestinian Jews before New Testament times.”   

The writer of Hebrews, while not having the completed text of the Gospel of John to draw on did have the Apostle John to talk to.  As such the idea that when Jesus came, as seen in John’s gospel in the first and fourteenth verse of the first chapter, and tabernacled with us.  With Jesus now playing the role of a better High Priest in the perfect temple in heaven allows the reader to step away from the material, physical world and allow the idea of a better or true sacrifice for the atonement of sin to take place for them.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

For those that run into the breach not from it...THANK YOU!

What drives a man or woman to give of themselves sacrificially for another?  What pushes some to run toward danger and not away from it?  Is that desire to do battle an abnormal gene that needs to be purged from the collective?  On this day that we honor veterans these questions naturally come to mind.  Paul (inspired by the Holy Spirit) said in Romans 5 starting at verse 6 “For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God. For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life. More than that, we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.”

When I think of the men and women that did heroic deeds that ran toward danger to rescue those that were in need I cannot help but to be drawn to this passage.  How often in the stories of these heroes so we see them stopping just short of the rescue and asking if the person in need is a good person?  Is there ever any thought in that moment that the person that needed saving might not be worth saving at all.  For us that are bound by time and cannot see what God sees I can say that I know of no one that would do that.  God however, not bound by time, looked down through he ages and noted that all were not worthy but He sent His son anyway. 

Another way to look at this is that God released His Son Jesus to run into the breach guns of salvation blazing ready to and willing to die so that His bride to be would be safe.  I love a good story of a grand hero.  I have sat side by side with men and women that have served that I would call heroes in an instant but all of them would tell you that they were not a hero.  Their humility and willingness to sacrifice themselves for people that most likely are not worthy of the sacrifice is truly inspiring.  There is a verse that or two that comes to mind when talking about this subject.  “For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places” (Eph 6:12) and; “And what more shall I say? For time would fail me to tell of Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, of David and Samuel and the prophets who through faith conquered kingdoms, enforced justice, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, quenched the power of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, were made strong out of weakness, became mighty in war, put foreign armies to flight. Women received back their dead by resurrection. Some were tortured, refusing to accept release, so that they might rise again to a better life. Others suffered mocking and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment. They were stoned, they were sawn in two, and they were killed with the sword. They went about in skins of sheep and goats, destitute, afflicted, mistreated of whom the world was not worthy wandering about in deserts and mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth.” 

So to all those that have served, both living and dead I can tell you this that while we that you fought for, we that some have paid the ultimate price, we who may not be worthy… WE THANK YOU!

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Dearth of Leadership

In recent years I have spent a lot of time trying to understand what makes a good leader.  I have read book after book and talked to many men that are leaders both good and bad.  As a pastor and a man that has been called to lead or at least shepherd a flock I find that understanding what a leader is could be one of the most important things that I do.  Some of the leadership gurus seem to have some really good ideas but I have found that none of them really can nail down a solid definition of what a leader is.

I would love for there to be a check list that we could just tick off that would tell us what a great leader is:
Good Administrator
Good Communicator
Full Head of Hair

I think you get the idea.  There are a number of characteristics that are necessary for a good leader but trying to nail down and exact definition is like trying to nail water to a tree.  One of the reasons for this is that leadership is an art and like all forms of art beauty is in the eye of the beholder.  That is why we like some leaders and others turn our stomachs. 

For me I feel that God is asking me to take a look at the larger picture.  More and more we are seeing self-styled leaders emerge that are more interested in gaining approval then actually leading.  I see that over the years as America’s greatest generation is fading into history and then that history being revised into something that is more politically palatable.  Gone are the men and women that could look evil in the eye and not blink. 

For a long time I wondered about this.  I have come to the conclusion that the reason that we do not have leaders like this anymore is that we do not have the will or the understanding to name evil for what it is.  We see more and more that the men and women that want to lead feel like they cannot rightly divide what is real evil and what is truly good. 
There is right and there is wrong, there life and there is death; we know this that God has said in Jerimiah 31:31-34 this:

“Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah, not like the covenant that I made with their fathers on the day when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, my covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, declares the Lord. For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people. And no longer shall each one teach his neighbor and each his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, declares the Lord. For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.”

Those of us that have tasted of the pure water of life, that have felt a love that transcends all understanding, that has been given a true beauty for the ashes that we once were know what is right.  God has placed in us that knowledge. 

We can all agree that the world is in a sad way, but while we all may have different opinions as to how to fix them all of us can agree that we need a leader to emerge.  Someone like the great preachers of old, that spoke the truth without reservation and could stand up to evil and not only not blink make evil back down!  Greater is He that is in us then he that is in this world!  Ultimately we need to rely on the truth of God’s word:  “It is He who changes the times and the epochs; He removes kings and establishes kings; He gives wisdom to wise men and knowledge to men of understanding.”  God will send the right leaders when we need them, God will send an awakening when He chooses and He will keep His people safe as best brings Him glory!  Let us pray for God to raise those leaders up!