Wednesday, February 27, 2013

I Can See Clearly Now


In His Sermon on the Mount, Jesus is speaking primarily to and about two groups of people. Those who are following Him…early disciples and the curious…are one group. The second group is made up of the religious leaders of the day, the Scribes and Pharisees. In the first section of Matthew 7, Jesus’ primary focus is on the latter group, but He shares information that is relevant for everyone. Earlier in His message Jesus talks about the Pharisees’ desire to garner the praise of men. They would do any number of things in order to make themselves appear pious…pray openly on street corners, while wearing big robes with their attachments. Here, Jesus cuts to the center of the issue with these religious leaders, and as the result, He exposes their spiritual heart problems. The Pharisees and Scribes, in their arrogance, were very judgmental of others – it is this attitude that Jesus sets out to confront.

Jesus explains that among the first principles of judgment that we need to consider…is to look at ourselves. This whole concept should be humbling, and it is all too easy for it to escape us…it is not difficult for us to allow Satan to manipulate our feelings so that we become judgmental. The principle that the Lord shares is, if we first judge ourselves then we are preparing for that final judgment when we face God. In essence, when we judge, we are playing God. This is precisely what the Pharisees are doing by regularly condemning others. They do not really consider the concept of facing God at judgment. But, how could they? Even when we get caught up in ourselves…our perspectives…our agendas…our opinions…rarely do we consider God’s opinion in matters. Jesus gives “the law of spiritual returns” -- when it comes to judging, in as much as we may be judging others…we are setting ourselves up for judgment from others. We receive from people whatever it is that we give…if criticism, then criticism…if grace, then grace. In fact, criticism just perpetuates criticism…while grace will beget more grace…

The argument is laid out and to drive home His point that we need to take a look at our own hearts…to do self-examination…Jesus offers a hyperbole. Certainly in his years of wood-working, Jesus probably had dust in His eye more than once. What a great statement that He makes…the image of a man trying to remove a 2x4 or log from his own eye before removing a speck from another’s eye. This is ridiculous…but, according to Jesus, this is how foolish the Pharisees look in their unjust judgments of others. If we are not humble and do not honestly face up to our own sins…and confess them…we become blind to ourselves, and are incapable of helping others. It is important that we use discretion…wise discernment…in our relationships with others. We can observe and examine others’ attitudes and actions, but reserve judgment on their motives, for only God can see their hearts. A wise person once shared – we need to discern the facts…“he did not speak to me at the meeting” from judgment…“he does not care.” The fact that we may not be in a position to speak to someone does not mean that we do not care. The Lord knows our hearts…we must humble ourselves before him and avoid a spirit that is critical or judgmental. If we do find ourselves in a place where we are judging, we need to look by faith to Jesus Christ and ask for forgiveness and allow Him to forgive and to restore us.

We have choices to make and these choices will come from our hearts -- just what will they be?
People generally tend not to put sins like dishonesty, arrogance, gossip, slander, contentiousness, critical spirit on the same level as more visible (what they might consider "greater") sins such as immorality, drunkenness or murder. Yet, these so-called "social sins" are no less deadly. A little leaven from any of these, allowed to ferment in our spirits, will lead to spiritual death just the same as any “more visible” sin. We really need to heed Jesus’ message and guard our hearts. If we have a problem with a brother or sister, we must humble ourselves and go and make amends. We will perpetuate what is in our spirits…if it is criticism, then more will come. Yet, if our hearts are focused on living according to grace and love, then this is what is going to be revealed in our lives. Once we have made an honest judgment of ourselves before God and have allowed Him to remove those things that blind us…then, we are truly in a position to help others.

Blessings, Don

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

The Price of Genuine Love


There are hearts that are hard enough to resist the forces of wrath and the fury of pride. But hard is the heart that can resist the warm flame of Love.  In his own way, Solomon seemed to understand this, as he shares in his love story in Song of Solomon 8:6, 7a.  There is a strong fire-like passion in love.  There are times when we “feel the love”…and at other times, perhaps, “not so much.”  Solomon explains that the strength of commitment is like a seal over the heart and on the arm.  The seal is a symbolic reminder of the commitment of love.  The seal could be likened to steel for any relationship, and should be so…particularly for the marriage relationship.  Our commitment to love another is to be like solid steel.  Even though we may not always “feel” like love is present…it is not about feelings most of the time.  Feelings ebb and flow like the tide, but the solid steel commitment to love should our foundation for life.  These are Jesus’ final hours with His disciples, and so He wants them to understand matters of genuine importance.  So, it should not be a surprise that “love” is at the center of it.

The story of the Bible is about relationship…it is about how God chooses to befriend mankind and bring salvation.  The basis for our loyalty as Christians is founded upon this very principle.  It is because of the love of the Father that He shares with us through His Son, as seen in John 15:12-17, that we are even able to understand genuine love and commitment.  As John tells us in chapter four of his first letter – it is not how much we love God that makes the difference for our lives, but how much we truly understand that God loves us.  He has granted us a multi-faceted special relationship with His Son.  He is Savior because of His sacrifice on the cross on our behalf in order to take away our sins…and because His sacrifice is empowered by the resurrection, we are able to live eternally.  He is Brother, as Jesus shares in Matthew 12:50, “For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven, he is my brother.”  He is also Lord, which means that He is to be our Master.  As His bond-servants we Christians take our marching orders from Him!  In this passage, Jesus offers yet another form of relationship.  He calls His disciples His friends (v.14).  We who are His disciples, likewise, are His friends.  Jesus’ relationship with His friends is based upon love and respect, as well as knowledge.  This should be the primary concern of Christianity at its most fundamental and important level – it is about a relationship with Jesus.  As His friends, the disciples are able to interact with Jesus and get to know Him, “What we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we beheld and our hands handled concerning the Word of life…” (1 John 1:1ff)  Jesus let His disciples in on His plans, which included their call to become apostles who would go out and spread the gospel message.  God loves you and me and He wants us to be a part of His family for eternity.

Jesus’ also shares concerning how important it is that His disciples be selfless…to love as He loved.  This is called, agape, or unconditional love.  Commitment to unconditional love seeks to put others first…serving without expecting anything in return.  This is the new commandment as seen in 13:34-35.  Jesus says, “This is my commandment,” which is not necessarily to be taken as an exclusive command (although, I do not necessarily have a problem with it), but it is the primary commandment.  This old commandment has been reshaped in a way that only Christians can understand and assimilate it – “love one another, even as I have loved you.”  “Greater love” indicates the ultimate love for disciples…that they would be willing to lay down their lives for their friends, and perhaps others.  All of this adds a whole new dimension to the commandment -- sacrifice.  Jesus’ love is sacrificial.  He willingly laid down His life as the Sacrificial Lamb for all mankind…including those who were His enemies.  Many of us would lay down our lives for our family and perhaps for some close friends, but we would not do so for all, and certainly not for those who would hate us or mistreat us.  While we may not ever be called upon to literally lay down our lives as the early disciples did, we must be prepared to do so.  And we must be prepared to continually give ourselves in service to our Lord and Savior.  Jesus and His disciples had to learn to live beyond their comfort zones.  Should we be any different?  Sacrificial love has a cost.  This is the commitment of love…this is the “steel” that is supposed to be a part of our lives.  We are to live lives of service, building relationships with one another, and others, to the building up of the Kingdom of God.

We live in a pragmatic world that is governed by many other things than agape.  Loyalties have been divided concerning a principle where loyalty is critical.  Agape is not to be “optional” but “imperative.”  Genuine love is necessary in order that the church may prosper and grow…but it comes at a cost.  It may cost us time, energy, some spirit, but nothing that does not come back to us as a far greater reward.  When we come together, we may see some evidence of agape, but being friendly and shaking hands does not necessarily mean that we are committed to one another, the body of Christ, or to Christ himself.  Jesus paid the price so that we could overcome shallow ups and downs…so that we could survive “the feelings” of love…ultimately, so that we could experience “the commitment” of love -- agape.  Be willing to live a life committed to genuine love…to living life abundantly…and do not settle for something less.  Loyalty to the Savior and His body is the steel that is going to grow and prosper our spiritual lives as well as the Kingdom of God.

Blessings, Don

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Jesus to the World


Caleb Bell of the Huffington Post reports..."A Lutheran pastor in Newtown, Conn., has apologized after being reprimanded for participating in an interfaith vigil following the shooting massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School. The Rev. Rob Morris, pastor of Christ the King Lutheran Church, prayed at the vigil the Sunday following the Dec. 14 shootings alongside other Christian, Muslim, Jewish and Baha'i clergy. Morris...' church and the denomination's constitution prohibits ministers from participating in services with members of different faiths."

I am not picking on his is not the point...because a lot of tribes, including many folks in my own, have the very same attitude. At some point, we are going to have to learn that our sectarian principles, particularly as it relates to the community, only serve to cast a shadow on Christianity and do damage to the cause of Christ. When we display a sense of community it can and will enhance and promote the cause of Christ and the Kingdom of God. We don't have to parse any verbs or discuss any issues in order to be Jesus to others in need and come together in a loving and beneficial way (to help hurting people in the above case).
For some, faulty world views, philosophies based on suspect interpretations have led to attitudes and actions that have little do with the spirit of Christ and are more in line with humanistic reasoning. And we cannot make a difference for Christ with the humanists when we reason on their terms.  But, if we are willing to be led by the Holy Spirit, and live according to the spirit of Christ to those around us who are in need, then the Kingdom of God is able to grow and expand.

Blessings, Don

Tuesday, February 5, 2013



Years ago, a great European artist sought to portray his concept of Jesus Christ on canvas. Unfortunately, his good friends expressed disappointment with his production.  Later, he made a second attempt and it was met with the same disapproval.  After visiting galleries and examining famous paintings of Christ by other artists, he made a third attempt and was told it was not as good as the first.  Disheartened with His failure, he determined to give up painting altogether, and he retreated to a country resort.  During the second night, he dreamed that Jesus came to him and asked him why he was so disheartened.  After he told of his grief, Jesus said to him, “didn’t you know that you cannot paint me for anyone else? You have to do it for yourself.” 

We humans often fall into this trap…that is, we believe that we have to try to please other people all of the time.  This is, as Solomon says, “chasing after the wind.”  We will only make ourselves miserable.  We cannot live to try to please others, nor can we seek to live other people’s lives for them.  What is our goal?  It is to glorify God and allow Him to enable us to live for Him…and in doing so, to live life to the fullest.  This is my hope and prayer for all of us.  I think we often get caught up living to please a parent, spouse, significant other person…and in so doing…we also may not be pleasing to the Lord.  In 3:14-21, Paul challenges the Ephesians believers to consider these matters when it comes to living according to faith.  There were a lot of other voices vying for their attention, just as there are for us.  We need to hear what Paul has to say…and he says it wonderfully in prayer.

Paul shares and exemplifies for believers some thoughts concerning prayer, just as Jesus does in the Lord’s Prayer.  He speaks of “bowing the knees”…perhaps this where we get the concept of “being on our knees” in prayer.  Although, the Bible does not command any special posture for prayer, there are some examples -- Abraham and Solomon “stood”…David “sat”…and Jesus “fell on His face.”  However, in praying, it is important to understand that what matters most is the posture of the heart.  We must bow our hearts, wills to the Lord in humility.  In his prayer, Paul addresses the Father through the Son (and as part of the usual pattern…in the Spirit vv.14, 16-17…which is also the case here).  So, even though the concept of “trinity” is nowhere mentioned in the Word of God, it is evident here.  This provides a glimpse of the perspective which all men in general, and Christians in particular, should have – we all share the Fatherhood of God.  He is Father and we are family.  All people originate from the Father as children by creation, but only we who are in Christ “through birth” are special sons and daughters.  He can only be “Father” in the fullest, truest sense for those who believe in Him through the Son.

Paul proceeds to pray for strength.  I believe that this is one of the most important things that we can do, as well.  He prays that the Ephesian believers have spiritual strength in their inner person. This, in turn, leads to a deeper experience with Christ.  And strength must run deep…it must be grounded, rooted in Christ, so that it will not grow weak, nor be easily swayed.  This reminds me of a tamarack tree that we saw up at some friends’ property one time…it was 18 feet in circumference and 180 feet high.  That one had some deep roots…it was solidly grounded.  We will be able to comprehend God’s truths through prayer  This means not only to mentally grasp, but also to apprehend the truths, to experience them and hold on to them.  We can understand such truths without making them our own, and this is not a good thing.  God wants us to experience His fullness, and we do so through the Holy Spirit.  He fills us up spiritually when we seek Him.

Nonetheless, it is easy for us to want to use people as our measuring stick.  In fact, it is often an easy excuse when we do not “measure up.”  Satan can easily manipulate us and our pride when our focus is in the wrong place.  All too often, instead of allowing God to enable us to be “better” for Him, we enable others in the wrong way to continue to go down wrong paths.  In fact, it has become a psychological definition.  Paul says elsewhere, “imitate me in as much as I imitate Christ.”  The true measure is – “am I being like Christ”?

After contemplating the wholeness of his spiritual experience, Paul finishes with a powerful doxology…and it is all about the power of Christ.  Some power is dormant…available but unused (like the power stored in a battery).  This is not supposed to be the case with Christ. Jesus’ power is always available to all of us.  We need to have hearts that are filled up with Him…filled up with His Spirit…filled with praise, wonder.  In all of this, we are to give glory to God.  What we do in His power today will glorify Christ forever.  What we do now…how we live our lives today…will have eternal ramifications. 

Rob Chaffart shares this -- what is the devil's biggest weapon? Discouragement! He tried this on Jesus Himself, 2000 years ago, using one of his closest disciples: “From that time on Jesus began to explain to his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things at the hands of the elders, chief priests and teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life. Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him, 'Never, Lord!' He said. 'This shall never happen to you!' Jesus turned and said to Peter, 'Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; you do not have in mind the things of God, but the things of men.'" (Matt 16:21-23 NIV)  Those who gave up quickly never were able to fathom the wonders that God would have performed through them. They could have reached the stars, driven by God Himself!   “Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.” (Gal 6:9 NIV)

"Giving up" is music to the ears of the enemy.  However, we serve One who is bigger and more powerful than all the possible obstacles that could face us.  We serve One who is interested in “filling up.”  “Giving up should never be an option in relationship to learning lessons in life when “filling up” is the blessed alternative.  We can learn from the prophet Micah and stand firm, watching attentively where God invites us to join Him in His work and reach out to those who have no hope.  "But me, I'm not giving up. I'm sticking around to see what God will do. I'm waiting for God to make things right. I'm counting on God to listen to me." (Micah 7:7 The Message)  We have the power available to us to live life abundantly (John 10:10).  But, it is up to us…it is our choice as to whether we access it or not.  As Paul says, we must by “enabled” by the Father through the Spirit in order to live like the Son.  Living right and powerfully for Christ is very much about position (of the heart)…about power (recognizing whose matters)…and about praise (the Lord for whom He is).  As Paul exemplified, all of this…in a great way…is comprehended and apprehended through prayer.  Paul reveals to the Ephesians and to us what should be the focus of our prayers.  The ability to be filled to the full, to be enabled to live life abundantly is the greatest and most fulfilling thing that we can do with our lives. 

Blessings, Don

Friday, February 1, 2013

Seeing the Unseen


In 2 Kings 6:8-23, we come to understand that Elisha, the servant of the Lord, lived within the presence of God. This is the reason why he was able to live the victorious life. Surrounded by the enemy Syrians, it looked as though his fate was sealed, because they had come for him. But there was no terror in Elisha’s face…there was no panic in his heart. With calmness, courage and confidence he replies, "Don’t be afraid," "Those who are with us are more than those who are with them" (vs.16). The Apostle Paul echoed those sentiments when he wrote to the Christians at Rome, “If God is for us, who can be against us?” (Romans 8:31)

Elisha’s servant stands as ample proof that even God’s own people do not always practice the presence of God in times of stress. No doubt he believed in God, but when the time came to put his belief to a practical test, he panicked. "Oh, my lord, what shall we do?" he asked. Have we ever felt like this? Elisha’s servant represents those today who concentrate so much on their difficulties and obstacles that they cannot and do not see the power of God.  Now before we are too harsh on this servant, we need to ask ourselves how we would fare in regard to faith.  Do we see the chariots of fire when we are facing serious surgery?  Do we confidently trust in God when we’ve been slandered unjustly?  When we are down to our last dollar, how do we react? Do we believe that God will somehow provide for us?  As I see it, Elisha’s servant represents a good deal of humanity. He is so overcome by the magnitude of the problem that he failed to recognize three things -- God’s presence, protection and provision.  We believe that we are children of God, and that He takes care of people, yet perhaps there are times when we become anxious about work, health, financial status, etc. and we allow ourselves to be weighed down by causeless fears. We need to learn to realize God’s presence with us and say with the Psalmist, “My times are in Your hand.”

The servant could see and yet he could not someone who has lost his glasses or contacts. What he really needed were some “spiritual spectacles”. He saw the enemy surrounding the city, but not the greater host of God’s angels who protected the man of God.  Elisha’s servant was gazing so intently at the Syrian army that he couldn’t see the chariots of fire!  He could see the danger, but not the deliverance!  When we feel all alone in our struggles, we need to lift up our eyes…the hosts of God are all about us. The same chariots of fire that whisked Elijah away are back to protect us! This isn’t the only place where we see such a message.

When Jesus was asked by His disciples why He taught the crowds in parables, He answered, “This is why I speak to them in parables: Though seeing, they do not see; though hearing, they do not hear or understand. In them is fulfilled the prophecy of Isaiah: ’You will be ever hearing but never understanding; you will be ever seeing but never perceiving’” (Matthew 13:13-14). 
The greatest and wisest men are those who see further and deeper than others. Jesus saw what blind eyes could not see, and He was calm and joyful, even in the presence of agony and death.  The truest vision is the vision of faith. The world says, “Seeing is believing”…whereas, the Gospel says, “Believing is seeing.” There is a great spiritual world that we’ve never seen with our physical eyes. The clearer sight we have of the power of heaven, the less we shall fear the troubles of earth.

Two missionaries in Malaysia walked to a distant village for some money which had been sent to a bank for them. When they were returning to their station, night overtook them. They prayed and committed themselves to God. Then they lay down to sleep on a lonely hillside. Some weeks later a man came to the mission hospital for treatment.  He looked intently at the missionary doctor. “I have seen you before,” he said. “No, I don’t believe we have ever met,” the doctor replied. “But we have met before,” insisted the man. “You were sleeping one night on a hillside. Several of us saw you withdraw some money from the bank. We followed you, intending to rob you when it was dark. But we could not get near you because of all the soldiers that were surrounding you. “Soldiers!” exclaimed the missionary. “There were no soldiers with us!” The bandit said, “But there were soldiers with you. I saw them and so did my companions...16 of we ran away."  Psalm 34:7 says,“The angel of the Lord encamps round about those that fear him, and delivers them”.
Jesus has come to correct our spiritual vision! Luke 4:18: “The spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor; he has sent me to heal the broken-hearted, to preach deliverance to the captives, and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty them that are bruised.” So the next time your heart is filled with fear, look up and see the chariots of fire!  If you’re afraid of death and judgment, then look to Jesus as Savior. Don’t be blind to His love and power to forgive you.

Blessings, Don