Posts Tagged ‘God’s word’

“My Lord and My God!”

February 17, 2011

Thomas said to Him,  “My Lord and my God!”

Then Jesus told him,  “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”  John 20:28, 29.

There are those in the world who try to prove through the Scriptures that Jesus was just an angelic-like being sent by God as the sacrifice or example of the way to God.  They deny He is part of the deity as well as dismiss certain texts which might even infer such a thing.  In fact, they explain away any texts which seem to directly state His spiritual nature might be anything more than being just a little more powerful than angels.  Most people believe He was a great teacher and a good man, but they can’t accept Thomas’ testimony about Him.

Why?

I don’t know all the reasons, of course, but the main ones are the plain ones.  First, if Jesus is God, that means everyone should listen and respond by obeying what He teaches.  Second, if they accept Jesus is God, there’s no more question about life in general, for life begins to take on a specific definition once it’s expectations are outlined.  And Jesus outlines life pretty thoroughly.

Thomas exclaimed Jesus as his Lord and his God.  Jesus accepted his statement without any form of rebuke for its content.  In fact, the only rebuke we see in His reply to Thomas centers on a question of faith not His identity.  So by this text alone we know John set out to establish Jesus as not only God’s Son in human form but also in deity.

Jesus’ real focus, however, is the nature of belief and faith.  Earlier, in John 17, Jesus prays for those who will believe in Him based on the testimony of the disciples.  Thomas got off easy, for sure, since he got the evidence most of us feel we need.  The Christian of today, however, must believe based on the teachings alone.  There are those, of course, who set out to prove the truth of the gospels by working miracles or doing outrageous things like handling snakes, etc., but the absolute best evidence for Christ is a life changed for the good by Him.

Years ago, when I was about nineteen, a Kirby (vacuum cleaners) salesman came to our house and demonstrated the latest and greatest model.  We were all impressed because, I mean, it was and still is a great machine.  I don’t remember how the subject came up but this guy started talking to me about working for the company, explaining techniques and praising its benefits.  I worked there 3 weeks and sold one used model so low that I didn’t earn any money at all.  Needless to say I quit.  Later, a friend tried to get my family into Amway.  My dad was convinced we could become rich so he began to buy the product and was gungho for quite a while until it became clear you couldn’t just socialize with your friends anymore but were always waiting to sell them on the product.  The other disadvantage was that to make money one had to get a lot of people buying and selling the products before even a hint of profit became significant.

The hype of these two businesses didn’t equal the sales’ pitch.  The backlash against door to door sales is still being felt today and online marketing has taken over a lot of the personal contact.  I know a man right now who has invested most of his retirement into online schemes for the last 10 years without seeing any return at all.  I’ve asked him why he keeps up with such a known scam and he says the risk is worth getting rich and comfortable.  The problem with all these get rich quick schemes is their glossy sales’ pitch pulls our eyes away from the hard work, sacrifice and dirty underbelly of those further up the money chain.

Jesus’ teachings never promise riches but more likely rejection, loss and persecution this side of glory (see John 15:18 to 16:4).  The difference between the get rich gospels and the teachings of Jesus is simple:  peace and hope.  Our hope isn’t based on getting some now but investing in a lifetime of wholeness.  The gospel changes our perspective on life itself, adjusts our values to match our hope and gives us peace no matter what the circumstances we find ourselves in.  In other words, instead of money and possessions becoming the reward/evidence of our success it is just another tool to use for His kingdom.  Believers need money to complete projects, continue to build the kingdom of God and raise families, but the closer they grow to Jesus through His word the more they realize who really supplies it all.

The message is clear from our text above:  those who believe based on the testimony of the disciples and Jesus’ teachings (which comes under the testimony of the disciples too) will find a special blessing.

Why?

Simply because one must suspend a truckload of reasonable doubts to give oneself over to the truth His Word proclaims.  At the same time, I wonder if Thomas’ need and Jesus’ willingness to meet that need doesn’t say something pretty astounding about God’s heart toward the doubters among us.  For one thing, if Jesus represents the Godhead, then God’s attitude towards doubters who have reasonable problems with belief is more merciful and gracious than most Christians are led to believe.  For another thing, if He met Thomas’ need for proof, He will have to meet others with something similar to be fair.  In other words, I believe when Jesus comes again before He sits in judgment on those who will and won’t be saved, many who doubted before will accept Him on sight as true and fall down like Thomas in humble acknowledgment.

To condemn people for lack of faith in a religion misrepresented so often is to condemn the guiltless.  If the only examples of Jesus are a greedy pastor, judgmental believers, morally challenged “Christians” or a power-hungry eldership, can you blame someone for being not only confused but reluctant to believe in someone who has such bad representatives?  I don’t.  If Jesus didn’t come into the world to condemn the world, but to save it, then our first order of business is to work toward that end over anything else.  God will judge the world, so let’s leave that to Him.

Thomas’ confession of Christ came after clear evidence that Jesus was alive.  What’s our reason for believing?  Unless someone can claim to have seen a vision of Christ or met Him on the road to their own personal Damascus, we have to rest our faith on the testimony of men who died 2000 years ago.  Not only that, the merits of the gospel records have to be trusted despite the shadows of doubt that swirl around them.  To deny real questions exist about the authenticity of the gospel is to be blind and foolish, in my opinion.

Now here comes the good part:  Jesus pronounces a blessing on those who believe just based on the testimony of the NT gospels and writings.  I don’t know what form this blessing takes and, quite frankly, I’m pretty unconcerned about it—curious but not overly anxious to know.  Whatever form the blessing takes God doesn’t tend to be less than extravagant.

As far as Thomas is concerned, traditional history claims he died a martyr for his Master.  Seems he was pretty convinced, huh.

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A Cause for Fear

November 12, 2010

The Jews insisted,  “We have a law, and according to that law He must die, because He claimed to be the Son of God.”

When Pilate heard this, He was even more afraid, and he went back inside the palace.  “Where do you come from?”  he asked Jesus, but Jesus gave him no answer.  “Do you refuse to speak to me?”  Pilate said.  “Don’t you realize I have power either to free you or to crucify you?”

Jesus answered,  “You would have no power over me if it were not given to you from above.  Therefore the one who handed me over to you is guilty of a greater sin.”  John 19:7-11.

Something about Jesus made Pilate believe He stood apart from the general rabble of the common people.  Like I said before, I don’t know what it was about Him that impressed Pilate, but something triggered in him a fear when he heard the Jews declare Jesus’ claim of kinship to God.  Or, may be he believed the Jewish religion superior to all others, therefore, by default, the God the they worshiped was real to him.

The Jews claimed Jesus blasphemed God by claiming to the Son of God.  The only reference I could find in my Bible reference on this subject of blaspheme was in Leviticus 24 where Moses instructs the Israelites to stone a man convicted of blasphemy.  I also looked up the Greek reference for Son of God to understand why the translators used a capital “s” to set Jesus’ designation apart.  What I found was the form in which Jesus used it (see Vine’s pp. 585-6) gave Him a unique relationship with God the Father beyond the normal human claim to be sons of God.  His was an equal as much as any son is equal to his father.  The priests and rulers of the temple understood this difference enough so they could call it blasphemy, since they didn’t accept His status as anything more special than a prophet or miracle worker—in the same vein as Elisha, for example.

In John 5:16-18 we see the Jews understanding perfectly well what Jesus said about Himself and the God.  “My Father is always at His work to this very day, and I, too, am working.”  For this reason the Jews tried all the harder to kill Him; not only was He breaking the Sabbath, but He was even calling God His own Father, making Himself equal with God. There’s absolutely no way around this statement as to John’s intent on making Jesus part of the Godhead.  I know, I know, other people discredit this gospel as being added to or adjusted over the centuries, but the earliest manuscripts discovered still have this text intact, so I’m not sure when the addition would have taken place—especially since the writer was probably still alive.

In this way God created the atmosphere to ensure Jesus would die, even though His claim to Son-ship  would be legit.  Jesus had to die, that’s the point of salvation.  We might lament the way it went down, decry those who betrayed Him, dramatize the violence in order to shame the devil, but in the end, there’s no pretty way to die by murder.  I don’t know the law well, but I think it was just understood that a person couldn’t set themselves up as God or even connected to God in a special way without committing the sin of idolatry—and blasphemy.   Yet Jesus’ relationship stood out in stark contrast to any other claim made in this vein.  Plenty of men were running around the country at that time (refer to Gamaliel’s argument to the Sanhedrin in Acts 5:33-40) yet these were not persecuted not persecuted by the Jews, though some were killed by the Romans themselves.

Yet Jesus’ claims went beyond the pale of anyone else because of the miracles.  He even argued that if the priests and rulers couldn’t accept His claims from His teachings alone they could refer to His impossible works of healing, etc.  I mean, after Lazarus, what could anyone say about His claim to a special connection with God?  According to the Law (Deuteronomy 18), they should’ve been listening to Him instead of trying to crucify Him.  It’s even more significant to me to read Pilate’s reaction to Jesus’ reply, especially since he had no investment in the case being a Roman.

When Pilate heard the Jews say that Jesus claimed to the Son of God, he became afraid.  When Jesus said he would have no power over Him at all if heaven had not granted it, Pilate grew even more fearful.  He understood the ramifications though, vaguely, because he still handed Jesus over to be crucified.  I can’t say what went through his mind, but from his actions and what John says about him here I gather he was more than half convinced of the truth of Jesus’ divinity—or, in his mind, demigod status.  Still, in the tradition of Roman gods and goddesses some of them perished in service of gods’ purposes, so Pilate probably had a fatalistic view of the world, jaundiced by the religious teachings of his culture.

No matter how philosophical a person claims to be or appears to be in an academic situation their true believes, superstitions and core convictions come out when the pressure’s on.  Cynicism or wisdom might prevail in the end, but not without lots of argument or soul searching.  Pilate used an argument of the day on Jesus by saying,  “What is truth?” knowing full well the matter was debatable and the conclusions of whatever side one fell on, inconclusive enough so the argument remained unsettled.  Yet Jesus’ calmness, reluctance to defend Himself and sheer reputed power impressed Pilate—it had to—to the point of being very afraid of making a misstep in his decision.

The symbolism of washing his hands of the matter might have seemed to him a way to absolve himself from the outcome.  I don’t think Pilate knew of any way to save Jesus, for even if he decided against the Jews, Jesus would die in some out of the way place in secret plus there would be a riot instigated by the Jewish leaders.  He was caught between that proverbial “rock and  a hard place” scenario with no way around it, so he washed his hands by making the Jews decide who would go free and who would die.

The decision to abstain from making a decision is still a choice against both options—or however many there are.  No one can say they chose for right if they didn’t choose the right option as opposed to the wrong one, even if they didn’t choose the wrong one.  Pilate, at this point, only held one decision God required of him, his own.  Despite the rulers and powers that be, his own personal decision for Christ would have ended in disaster because of the aforementioned problems, but his own soul would have been on the road to reconciliation with God.  As it was, he chose the coward’s way out and lost everything anyway—including himself.

Yes, he had cause to fear—riots, getting fired, loss of wealth, power, prestige, position, and his own self-worth, but what he lost because of this decision was far more vital to his future than any of the other losses.  Jesus warned us,  “Do not fear those who can kill the body, then do no more.  Rather, fear Him who can throw both body and soul into hell.  Yes, fear Him.” For years this passage has been misconstrued to mean Satan, reputed as the ruler of hell, but Who it really points to is God the Father who alone has the power to judge the righteous and unrighteous, or to sentence anyone for eternity.  The rulers of this world might confiscate our property, destroy our credit, power to make a living and squash our public freedom to the point of killing us, but they can never take away our hope in Christ.  Pilate folded to the political pressures in an attempt to salvage his career; he lost everything eventually anyway.

If we are part the world, it will love us as its own.  Let Pilate’s choice and life demonstrate what kind of love that is be a warning to us who believe.  Nothing is worth more than eternity or loyalty to God.

While You’re Here…

July 1, 2010

“I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace.  In this world you will have trouble.  But take heart!  I have overcome the world.”  John 16:33.

I can’t think of a better way to speak to our expectations in Christ than what He said.  Someone might go “duh?!” but it’s not like most people get it.  If a person claims to believe in the gospel and accept Jesus as their Savior and Lord, how can they not have a changed perspective about the world or adjust their understanding of the contention between good and evil?

Jesus wanted us to have peace in Him which says to me the only place we will find peace is in Him.  Look at the way Jesus (via John) phrases this simple truth:  “…so that in me you may have peace” then “In this world you will have trouble.” The contrast couldn’t be more pronounced or the answer to all our angst so evident than in this.  The world is gonna give us trouble even if we are part of it,  Jesus is the only one who will give us peace.

In a short paragraph Jesus reveals His “secret” to peace:  He’s overcome the world.  This might not seem revelatory to some—or even most—but it should stop us in our tracks when we struggle with loneliness, feeling outcast or outside, loss, belittled, scared, resentful, and host of other emotions growing out of the world expressing its nature.

What did Peter say?  Dear friends, do not be surprised at the painful trial you are suffering, as though something strange were happening to you. 1 Peter 4:12.  How many times do we go through things and feel resentful as if something out of the ordinary were happening to us?  Constantly, if we’re honest.  We have unrealistic expectations as believers and feel we shouldn’t have to deal with this stuff.

Why do I harp on this subject?

The body of Christ is being led down a path of numbing financial, social and spiritual “security” for the sake of shaking them when the storm hits.  Those not prepared for the trial ahead will be shaken down and flushed out of the faith because they didn’t put their roots down in the only thing that mattered—Jesus.  A gospel that teaches earthly security as evidence of God’s favor has missed this text completely.  If we experience economic and other blessings, we should count ourselves fortunate because this is not the norm for believers in most other places in the world.

I come back to this truth constantly as a reminder that when I feel deserted and alone, it’s for the purpose of shaking me down and flushing me out.  The enemy’s primary method is to make the message of Christ an empty promise of peace.  And why does it appear in this light to so many “believers” in the church?  Because they have been fed bad spiritual food and given visions of a world that never existed in the NT message.  Those who depend on their circumstances to reassure them of God’s presence are setting themselves up or are being set up for a great disappointment, and once the disappointment sets in, bitterness and rejection can’t help but be close behind.

We can’t allow ourselves to be deceived by the American dream, folks.  It leads us into a sense of false security and wholly godless expectations.  The only security there is for the follower of Jesus is in Him.  He is our peace, security and sense of well-being.  Nothing else and no one else promises this kind of contentment—that which remains through suffering.

The Wish Factor Context

May 6, 2010

“If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be given you.  This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourself to be my disciples.  John 15:7, 8.

I don’t know about you , but telling a child to “ask whatever you wish” is a fairly dangerous idea from my experience.  The list could go on and on and on and on…  The clever way Jesus proposes we ask, however, is first to set up a condition for the answer,  “If you remain in me and my words remain in you…” places a qualifying clause on getting an answer.

God’s character and nature is taught in every Christian church around the globe.  I’m not gonna’ debate whether or not they get it right (the law of averages and human nature dictate we all have it wrong somewhere in our equation), what I would like to do, however, is debunk this idea that God doesn’t like to give us good things—or won’t.  The answer to our wish list is always a “yes” in Christ when our lives are open to Him and follow His word.

I don’t like conditional generosity because it usually smacks of earning something that should be given free (and many times the person giving owns the receiver), but on this one I have to agree.  A person who will misuse the gifts of God for selfish ends can’t be trusted with them.  Now there are many types of gifts, as we well know, so we have to qualify again what we mean by them in this context.  Since God sends His rain on the just and unjust alike, we can’t think what is natural is out of God’s gifting to humanity at large.  Jesus speaks to that which can only be found through submission to Him, the connection with God’s nature growing out of being conformed to the mind of Christ.

When we have the mind of Jesus, we know the will of the Father, which then means we know what we can and can’t wish for, then in turn what God will answer.  Since God cannot sin nor be tempted to sin (sin being a denial of His sovereignty), we must conclude anything which smacks of greed, self-ambition, lust or immorality is outside of the “whatever you wish” category.  What we can wish for in Christ, however, takes us into a territory unrealized by the average experience.

As we get to know the mind of God, we begin to understand how protected we are in Christ.  Our lives are of infinite value to Him therefore we know He wants us to enjoy our lives, become happy, content and satisfied with good things.

I need to digress here for a minute because I, along with my teachers and mentors, thought the Christian life was about suffering, a constant martyrdom which only had its reward(s) in the afterlife where we would be (bored) for eternity.  Getting to Know the word of God debunked this view for me like the reference in John 10:10 “I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.” Jesus created all life by design, not by accident.  Things didn’t just accidentally fall into place with Him at the helm of creation.  Instead, He set out to create not only living organisms but the characteristics and parameters by which they would operate.  He had in mind a complete picture of what He wanted the human existence to look like.  So when He says He came to give us a full life, He knows what that should look like…which means we won’t unless we have Him and His word as a constant presence in us.

Notice one other thing from this text that’s of utmost importance:  Jesus doesn’t simply tell us His word must remain in us and then we’ll be able to ask whatever we wish, but He must live in us as well.  The combination of Christ’s presence through the Holy Spirit and His word is where we find our knowledge of the truth for without the Spirit to guide us into all truth, we will pervert the meaning because we will misunderstand its intent.

I confess I haven’t sweated in prayer over the things God has promised to provide us.

I can hear some of my friends asking,  “Why would you need to?  I mean, didn’t you just say God wants to give us good things?  Don’t you believe in grace?”

The reason we need to wrestle in prayer, I’ve discovered, is our closed off spiritual condition will not open without it.  God is pouring  out His blessing through Christ on the world, but the world (and, sadly, many believers like me) don’t receive it because of those crusty hard spots closing off our hearts.  We think somehow that God should be able to bless us despite the blockages but He’s just being pissy about it.  God made the rules of believing and receiving for a reason.  As He told us through Jeremiah,  “You will seek me and you will find me, when you seek me with all your heart.” I don’t think He’s speaking about a perfected, healed heart in Christ but all the heart we have available for the effort.  The time we spend opening ourselves to the Master will be time where the crust is chipped away—not by our own efforts, mind you, but through His presence coming in to break apart the stuff that hinders us.

You and I have sin to reckon with on a daily basis which hinders not only our growth but our reception of God and His word as well.  Jesus spent all night in prayer; the prophets fasted and prayed for days on end.  The method isn’t there to earn something from God, however, but a means of opening up the heart so we can hear Him.  I don’t know about you but I have a lot of clutter in the way of my spiritual eyes and ears that distracts me from comprehending God’s will for my life.

If in the past every prophet, servant of God and Christ Himself had to seek God’s will in this way, what will we accomplish if we don’t?  Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us.  Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.  Consider Him who endured such opposition from sinful men so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.  Hebrews 12:1-3.

htjtp://jonnysoundsketch2.wordpress.com/2010/05/04/habitation/

No Hold On Me

April 29, 2010

“I will not speak with you much longer, for the prince of this world is coming.  He has no hold on me, but the world must learn that I love the Father and that I do exactly what my Father has commanded.  John 14:30, 31.

Jesus’ business on earth was about to see its fulfillment.  The prince of this world is coming pointed to His arrest, trial and subsequent death, and since we know He was speaking of Satan, it stands to reason He is submitting Himself to this willingly.

But I like the fact that Satan has no hold on our Master; the reason for His death had nothing to do with Satan’s power over Him—either to arrest or kill Him.  Do you see this?  There’s a proverb which goes  There is no wisdom, no insight, no plan that can succeed against the LORD.  Though the enemy sought to eliminate Jesus from the heavenly equation by killing Him, there was no way to hold Him in the grave or even kill Him, for that matter.  Jesus is God’s Son, our elder brother, therefore He is God.

The sentence structure in Jesus’ statement interprets itself.  Satan’s lack of power over Jesus wasn’t accidental or a matter of defiance, rather it was a declaration of obedience and love.  The Lord wanted His disciples to know that He was safe, as always, and what came next would be His means of demonstrating to the world how much He loved His Father.  Unfortunately, though the world might “get” it they don’t like what His obedience reveals.

It’s quite hard to endure the company of someone who lives exactly like we know we should but either refuse to do so or feel frustrated in our attempts to get there.  You know the type of people I’m talking about:  they show disciplined, purposeful lives and are quite successful at their endeavors.  Those who resent them will either attack them publicly in an effort humiliate and silence them or stop shun them all together.

The world treats Jesus this way, and, in turn, us when we begin to look like Him in character and practice.  If the prince of this world had no hold on our Master, he can gain no hold over us.  Oh, He might trip us up and cause us to fall on our faces once in a while or even daily for a time, but his hold is slipping because our Boss is able to hold us better.  We are loved enough for the God of heaven to send His own to show us how much.  This should immediately increase our value even in our own eyes.

The message for today, then, is:  Don’t be discourage when we feel we don’t live up to the image of Jesus.  The prince of this world had no hold on Him and therefore has no hold on us.  Our sins are forgiven, our lives are being renewed every day, though we fall into sin and fail Him, He will not fail us.  The prince of this world was beaten even before the cross, and so he remains.  We all have failed the Master and probably will again, but the master of this world has no hold on us if we continue to return to the Savior.

The Words

March 2, 2010

“As for the person who hears my words but does not keep them, I do not judge him.  For I did not come to judge the world, but to save it.”  John 12:47.

What does it mean to believe in Jesus then?

Jesus mission the first time was to seek and save that which is lost—and remember “time” for Him is relative since He’s eternal, all times are the eternal “now”.  But the Jesus born in a manger was a different incarnation of the one raised from the dead.  I learned something Saturday night about Christ being the “First fruits from the dead” as touted in Scripture.  He was always at the right hand of the Father, even while He was on earth, for though He laid the power of His position aside for a time (30+ years), He never relinquished it, which means He always retained it.  Remember the passage earlier in the book where Jesus told the Jews,  “I have the power to lay it (my life) down, and I have the power to take it up again.”  The mystery of Christ is only mysterious to those who cannot accept that He is wholly God all the while being wholly human.  The seeming dichotomy is a ruse of the devil to muddy the waters.  Since the created cannot be God, goes the reasoning, how can the infinite Creator inhabit the finite created form?

The faulty reasoning is ours.  We limit the infinite by foolish assumptions and pseudo philosophical reasoning, which equals sophistry in the end.  The Creator makes the rules so He can work them to whatever ends He desires.

Rabbit trails aside, Jesus takes on the role of Judge when the books are opened and the age of sin closed.  His Father leaves all judgment to the Son, for who better than one who experienced humanity’s limitations and frailties to sit in judgment on their spiritual condition?  Yet until that day arrives, Jesus’ mission continues to be rescue not condemnation.  I would go so far as to argue that on the Day itself, He will give one last plea for repentance and submission.

Who will judge the lost?  Jesus’ arbitrary take on the Day or the operation parameters laid down in Scripture?  What will judge our spiritual state of loyalty?

“There is a judge for the one who rejects me and does not accept my words; that very word which I spoke will condemn him at the last day.”

It’s not like Jesus is being arbitrary here or even unfair.  The gospels record His words and those who accept them find life through them.  However, those who find nothing but confusion and hardness have been hardened from the inside out, therefore the death they hear in the Word spoken comes from their reaction to it not the message itself.  The message is life to all who will accept it.

Paul explained this further by writing,  For we are to God the aroma of Christ among those who are being saved and those who are perishing.  To the one we are the smell of death; to the other, the fragrance of life.

Those who are perishing hear the gospel and smell only death, for they are indeed dying and nothing can get the stench of their own decay out of their spiritual nostrils.  But to those who are in the process of being saved, the gospel is the sweet aroma of life for their spiritual bodies are healing and the process of becoming alive again.

The Bible was written as guide for us, certainly, but I suspect that it instructed Christ on His mission, timing and a host of other things we can only guess at without knowing the mind of God—something only the Lord can do Himself.  That said, we can know pretty certainly that those who follow the Scriptures as their guideline to God, will come to know what He expects of them more clearly as well.  “So whatever I say is just what the Father has told me to say.”  Which is to say, the Scriptures placed the message out there for anyone to see it but only Christ understood the whole of it and was able to apply it.  We humans, born under the curse of our own sinful desires, lose the ability to see God’s message as we harden to a bias and a myopia that is not easily cured.

He has showed you, O man, what is good.  And what does the LORD require of you?  To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.  Micah 6:8

How do we walk humbly with our God?

But we have the mind of Christ.  1 Corinthians 2:16b.

The Sound of His Voice

January 11, 2010

“The watchman opens the gate for him, and the sheep listen to his voice.  He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out.  When He has brought out all His own, He goes on ahead of them, and His sheep follow Him because they know His voice.  But they will never follow a stranger; in fact, they will run away from him because they do not recognize a stranger’s voice.”  John 10:2-5.

I grew up with a fear of deception—make that borderline paranoia.  The denomination I was raised in protects its “truth” very carefully (and forcefully would be another understatement) to the point that I think some people in it worshiped the fundamental doctrines more than Christ or even God the Father.  I’m not criticizing the denomination itself because I also learned to know Jesus through some beautiful people in the local church and schools.

So many, both inside and outside the Christian faith, claim to long for knowledge of God, to know Him or Her and understand the purpose of their creation.  Our biggest obstacle to knowing God is which source material truly speaks His/Her mind.  Since I am a Christian and believe wholeheartedly in the message of the gospels, I will refer to the God I worship as the one for whom all are searching, though this may not be accurate in motivation as much as it is in theory.

How do we get to know the Judeo/Christian God accurately so that we can get a handle on what He wants?

By getting to know His voice.

That’s nice. 

So how do we get to know His voice?!?

By studying our source of His message.

The problem of understanding God, which then leads to knowing His voice, is that we have so many seeming contradictions in nature and the Word itself to overcome that we get confused.  Not to mention thousands of voices in this century and all through the ages writing, spewing and proclaiming opposed views of what it means to know Him.

At the council of Nice, back in the 4th century (I believe), they decided to go with known authors for the source material of what we call the “Bible” and reject any writings that were not supported by known authorities.  They chose first the gospels which we now read, the apostolic letters, then studied these to determine which of the OT writings were authoritative in eyes of the NT writers.  In other words, if the NT writers quoted from the OT source, they included the book in the canon.

I don’t know if they got it right or not, though I agree with the method of discernment.  What I do know is that what we call the “Bible” has a voice, a tone to its message and a sound if read out loud which comes from not only the message but the language as well.  Through the gospels, we get to know the Godhead by way of Jesus.  For example, later in the book of John Jesus tells Phillip,  “If you have seen me, you have seen the Father.”  Therefore we may conclude that Jesus represents the heart, intent and character of God the Father on earth.  This, too, gives us a grasp on the voice of God.

Our Shepherd’s voice can be heard throughout the history of Israel and the Christian church’s beginnings.  If we keep ourselves from becoming myopic (tunnel vision), we will hear the tonal consistency of the Scriptures and know the voice of God clearly.

I think being a musician makes me aware of tonal ambiguities more and the harmonic quality of how a thing sounds.  For instance, almost every entry I make on this blog is read aloud so I can hear how it flows rhythmically and in its tonality.   I also want each entry to have a coherent main point which is supported by the small rabbit trails I indulge in—like this one I’m writing.  Paul, when talking about tongues, speaks to the commonsense of playing an instrument clearly and with purpose so that those who hear won’t be bored or confused by its sound.

God’s voice in the Scriptures can sound confusing if one doesn’t take the time to know Him through the eyes of His Son, the only one who can truly interpret the Godhead’s purpose or intent.  Many times preachers or evangelists focus so much time on one aspect of God that people never understand the balance.  Like hell fire sermons, for instance, are preached to scare people away from the punishment to come.  We see the results of this in the fact that we know many a bitter non-believer.  On the other hand, merely focusing on God’s desire to save to the exclusion of His warning about final punishment leaves out a vital aspect to God’s message as well.

Without teaching the whole of the message, we don’t see God’s heart.  In fact, if I hadn’t courageously taken my reluctance in hand and read the book of Ezekiel, I would never have found the message of God’s heart about the lost.  When I read the words,  For I take no pleasure in the death of anyone, declares the Sovereign LORD,  Repent and live!  in 18:32, then found the same message in other chapters, the way I heard God’s warnings about punishment and disaster changed.  The tone of His voice went from stern eagerness to fry us to a Father pleading with His foolish children to turn away from something dangerous.  The warnings of punishment are God’s last resort.

Looking at the history of Israel I see God’s patience and long-suffering work with them in their seesaw loyalty to Him.  It took almost a thousand years from the time they entered Canaan till they went into exile for them to be stripped completely of their homeland.  Even then God gave it back to them out of faithfulness to His promises to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.

If God doesn’t take pleasure in the death of anyone, then His children must not.  The tone of a preacher that speaks more of the judgment of God to the utter disregard of God’s longing to save is out of balance and therefore just as bad as a lie.  On the other hand, if a preacher only speaks of God’s love without His discipline, he or she has repeated the same mistake as those who focus on hell-fire.  Half-truth is a lie of sorts, even if it is all true within the half that is spoken.  To me, speaking half of God’s message without the balance is like drawing a person’s face without features.

No, hearing God’s voice takes careful study as well as His children properly dividing the Word of Truth in not only their teaching but the way they live.

The Heaviest Testimony

August 4, 2009

“I have a testimony weightier than that of John.  For the very work that the Father has given me to finish, and which I am doing, testifies that the Father has sent me.  And the Father who sent me has Himself testified concerning me.  You have never heard His voice or seen His form, nor does His word dwell in you, for you do not believe the one He has sent.  You diligently study the Scriptures because you think that by them you possess eternal life.  These are the Scriptures that testify about me, yet you refuse to come to me to have life.”  John 5:36-40.

The weight we give to people’s words defines who we are to some extent.   Unfortunately, most of us buy into a world view which has nothing whatsoever to recommend it to the the Lord of Heaven and Earth, because it deals only with the temporary.  Look, I’m as guilty as the next guy of dealing in temp agency allegiance, but as I grow in the knowledge of the Word, I have become aware how utterly dangerous it is to buy into the sales pitch.  We give weight to the testimony of the world so much that we actually think the Bible does as well.  This is a utterly false conclusion for we are warned time and again not value things as the world does, that our loyalty is to another kingdom and to beware of the world’s reasoning infiltrating the church.

Just by simple observation we can conclude the world’s methods only work for a time.  Think of how many nations have come to power and faded into history barely remembered.  The once powerful Incas would not have been remembered at all except for the archeologists who discovered them nearly by accident.  No, we have placed confidence too many times in the ways and means of humanity then blamed God for the results.  It takes but a feather of circumstance to break the bone of the mighty; we’ve seen the rich and powerful fall long and hard, yet for some reason we still consider money, power or fame to be an insulation against such a fate.

Jesus tells the Jews how to figure out who He is and whether or not He’s legit, yet they missed the opportunity to instead bend all their efforts to destroy Him.  The testimony that outweighs John B’s is the very work Christ came to do on earth, heaven after the resurrection and finally the Judgment itself, the finali of which is the recreation of everything.  The beginning of His work centered on two major dynamics:  teaching and healing.  His miracles were well known and hard to miss, to be blunt, in such a small country as Israel, for every year people made the pilgrimage to attend the feasts held in Jerusalem, which means they would hear of a man performing miracles.

Telling the Jews that God’s word doesn’t dwell in them seems a little far fetched by a human POV, because these people memorized one book of the Torah by the time they were 12, and the rest by the time they were older.  The Law was read every Sabbath as well as the prophets, discussed, dissected and argued constantly.  Saying these people didn’t have God’s word in their very DNA sounds a little like spiteful rhetoric or simple inaccurate thinking on Jesus’ part.

But it isn’t.

To truly have an ideal living in our souls it has to take on life and breath with us; become a part of our everyday existence to the extent that it comes as natural as drinking water.  The change must be absolute.  So why would Jesus tell people who lived, ate and drank the Scriptures that God’s word didn’t dwell in them?

Those last two sentences  of our passage above changed my perspective on Scripture.  Before I read them, I considered the OT different from the NT, the former being a lost state, the latter being the real message.  Jesus throws that theory out with a vengeance because He claims all Scripture testifies of Him.  The mistake many of us make, just like the Jews, is that we think somehow the Word holds life in itself.  The truth guides us to life, it is not life itself; the same could be said of the Law, which in fact brings death, since none of us can keep it.  The Jews were staunch proponents for the study of the Scriptures, yet they missed the point those very Scriptures were trying to make.  The whole of the Bible points the way to life or warns of the path to death.  It’s no great mystery what it teaches if we read it contextually.  The problem arises for us when we begin to nitpick our way through the Bible, adding addendums and rules where none are needed.

Jesus is the way, the truth and the life by the proclamation of this very gospel.  The Scriptures point to Him as the life we need to live to the fullness of our potential.  He is the life and the light of men, but men loved darkness instead of the light.  This is the theme of the Gospel of John, both a warning against mixing the priorities of heaven with those of earth and an encouragement to walk exclusively in the light of Christ.

I read recently where someone actually thought a passage in Scripture promoted tolerance of polytheism because a main character in a story said,  “You worship your gods and we worship ours, but let us live in peace.”  The person writing the article actually believed the Bible promoted this sort of thing early on and it was the prophets who began the exclusive practice of One God.  Nothing could be further from the truth for the Law is clear, as are the early books and stories about such things.  The case of one character in Scripture tolerating evil is not so much suggestion we do the same as a warning of what happens when we do such things.

I guess my point is that too much philosophizing without the Spirit of God to guide us leads us to conclusions so far outside the purpose of Scripture as to be heresy and useless to our salvation or understanding of God.  If this is true, then the point Jesus wanted the Jews, and now us, to grasp is the whole of Scripture pointed to Him.

The original witness to the truth, the Garden of Eden, left before the flood or was destroyed by it.  Humanity had this testimony of God’s creative power, originality and sovereignty for eons, yet rejected Him out of hand, to be finally destroyed in a flood because they grew to evil to tolerate.  The Law came to give clear guidelines to truth and godliness, yet those who were given it failed to keep it.  Now we are under grace and yet those given this magnificent gift spend more time quarrelling about words and dividing the gospel up into denominations than they do to the command of Jesus to unified in the faith.

Makes ya’ think, doesn’t it.

The Cut of the Sword

April 15, 2009

“Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth.  I did not come to bring peace, but a sword.  Matthew 10: 34.

Sometimes I’m so guilty of forgetting this truth.  The word of God which is the sword of truth comes to divide between soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.  Nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight.  Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of Him to whom we must give account.  (Hebrews 4:12, 13.)

How do we think to escape the penetrating eyes of a God who reads the heart’s motives?  The division spoken of in Matthew is between a person and his or her closest human connections–or the joints and marrow of our existence.  In essence we see this everyday of our lives in Christ.  The choices we make either make a compromise with the shadows or lead the way as a light through the dark of this earth’s twisted byways.  No one is safe from the divisive nature of God’s love for the world resents such boundless love based on the guidelines of righteousness.  It’s strange to say but the world would rather accept  and free a sex offender than give into the borders of God’s love, who’s Word says such a person must pay the penalty for their sin while on earth.  This latter truth doesn’t say anything about their eternity, however, but does declare strict boundaries for public actions.

Those who would follow Christ to the cross and beyond to His resurrection will be rejected by the rest of the world who in an effort to avoid death altogether, run right into its eternal clutches without seeing the warning signs glaring all around them.  It’s unavoidable that we will face opposition to our choice to follow the Man of Sorrows.

Jerome said something Sunday morning (very early I might add) that stuck in my head (paraphrased, of course),  “Those who face the Judge better be sure their fire insurance is paid up because everyone enters the kingdom with smoking coat tails.  This means if any of us have sinned, we must confess it and repent as soon as we’re aware of it.  If we have a problem with another person, we must quickly make it right so that nothing will stand in the way of our connection with God.”  He wasn’t saying our salvation would be forfeit exactly but our transition into the kingdom would be far more traumatic if we have not built our spiritual house with good materials.

Our choice to follow Jesus means we have forsaken all other teachings as authoritative for the authority of the Scripture.  This doesn’t mean we don’t see truth in those other ethics or celebrate the good in them, rather they are not our bottow line or first and last word.  In doing this we paint a big sign on our back which says “kick me” on it.  The world doesn’t like its own all that much because the fighting and discord demonstrate the chaos in its thinking, but it becomes absolutely united when confronted by the message of the gospel–I mean who wants to hear “repent and submit”?  This should serve as a warning to those of us who believe in Jesus as the Christ, at the same time we shouldn’t be all that surprised when professed “believers” misuse the Name for the sake of worldly gain or placement.  Paul claimed the world was dead to him because of Christ, how many Christians can say the same?

Yes, we are to work with our hands to provide for our families and the church; yes, we are to live quiet lives of light so the world sees our example.  And as far as it depends on us we must live at peace with all humanity.  Yet facing this as our responsibility doesn’t negate the reaction of the rest of the world to the message we teach, preach and live out loud.  The opposition to the Word of truth will come not just from those outside the walls of Christian faith but inside it as well.  Our belief will be challenged from inside by people we call our brothers and sisters in the Lord.  Why?  “God made man upright, but men have gone in search of many schemes.”  Solomon.  The world comes to the church in order to find the peace they see in the true believer, yet rejects anything about the church or Christ that doesn’t fit with their core desires.  Jesus warned us to beware of wolves in sheep’s clothing infiltrating the church.  Those who grow discouraged with the church because of the hypocrites in it seem to forget the meaning of their own faith.

Unless those of us who follow Jesus remain true to the Master despite the fakes who run after selfish gain from the truth, who will represent the Master to both the hypocrites and world?  In essence, we are all hypocrites in some form.  None of us is perfectly Christlike and those who might want to portray their walk as better than others imediately set themselves up for scrutiny from not only the church but world.  No, a humble realization of our own clay feet is vital to a clear true witness.

The moment we step into such a faith position, however, we set ourselves up for being cut off from those we value.  I find it strange the gospel brings this on in others because the teaching just doesn’t seem to be all that divisive.  Yet, it is and the proof can be found in 2000 years of persecution, political take overs, power hungry church leaders and martyrdom.  When we stand for the message of Christ in its totality as truth, our closest associates will push us away.

Here’s the kicker, however, we need to chew and swallow:  This separation must not ever be for obnoxious attitudes, presentation or relationship problems we cause.  In other words, if someone pushes me away, it must come as a result of them rejecting the positive change in our life and thinking.  Yes, Jesus demands radical change; yes, He makes radical claims; yes, we choose to follow the way through a very narrow gate.  Paul tells us those in Christ become the smell of life to those who being saved but the smell of death to those perishing.  Have you noticed, people don’t like to be reminded of their bad habits.  Even if we don’t say anything at all verbally, our example and lifestyle shouts volumes.

As far as it depends on us, we must live at peace with the world.  But this doesn’t mean peace will reign because the world is not a peaceful place.  When Jesus said world would reject us, He meant it.  He also said the only way to be accepted by them is to cave to the pressure the put on to conform to their way of thinking and behaving.  Then they will love us as one of their own–which is to say, until it’s inconvenient to their own plans to do so.

Yes, the Word of the Lord is two edged sword which will divide loyalties, connections, motives and convictions.

A God of Covenant

April 6, 2009

“For I know the plans I have for you,”  declares the LORD,  “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.  Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you.  You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.”  Jeremiah 29:11-13.

The Tree of Life was a covenant, one which, if they had eaten of it after their rebellion, would have allowed mankind to live for ever.  God keeps His covenants, though mankind has not.  Even in their sinful state God would have kept His covenant the tree of life’s fruit represented.  He drove them from the Garden in order to prevent eternal sinners.

And the LORD God said,  “The man has now become like one of us, knowing good and evil.  He must not be allowed to reach out his hand and take also from the tree of life and eat, and live forever.”  So the LORD God banished him from the Garden of Eden to work the ground from which he had been taken.  After He drove the man out, He placed on the east side of the Garden of Eden cherubim and a flaming sword flashing back and forth to guard the way to the tree of life.  Genesis 3:22-24

God makes a covenant and keeps it.  No addendum once the agreement has been made.  However, He always remains thorough in His deals with mankind in order to keep things clear.  The reasons are not always clear because many things He requires won’t make sense to a darkened mind, yet once we become accustomed to the light the reasoning behind them grows more sensible.

Some people have argued we have a right to the tree of life and that God is being unfair to keep us from it.  Yet they fail to realize just what eternal life with sin would mean to the human race.  Sin doesn’t promote self-control or limits on desires or behavior, which points us to the simple logic:  If man lived forever, population would grow exponentially beyond what the earth could handle, one person’s evil would grow beyond containment and human suffering would equal one’s lifespan.

God’s word through Jeremiah, however, speaks His heart toward the creatures He made.  There are somethings worse than death, folks, and if we just use a little imagination or read the papers, we would know what they are pretty distinctly.  God drew a boundary around sin to contain it in order to keep it from infecting the whole of life.  He is a God of covenant, never breaking His word for anything or anyone.

What this should mean to you and me is we can count on Him.  If He says He will do something, we know He will.  The requirements God puts on us look nothing like the world’s for He asks us to merely submit to goodness, righteousness and mercy.  He has showed you, O man, what is good.  And what does the LORD require of you?  To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.  Micah 6:8.  Those aren’t evil rules of conduct or anything negative.  He tells us we are to love mercy, for ourselves and to show to others.

It’s amazing how twisted people get with the gospel or even the OT.  It’s like we can’t help ourselves but need to make things harder than God requires.  To be just, love mercy, and walk humbly with God would seem to me to be a great reality to live.  Unfortunately, without God’s mind living in us, we refuse these things in their purity and opt for hybrids (usually adjusted to our own specs).

Mankind’s history speaks to an inability to keep their word or remain faithful to their commitments when the chips are down or no one’s watching.  God, on the other hand, shows Himself as good as His word every time.

If God is willing to make a deal with us and all He requires of us is to be just, merciful and humble with Him, what’s problem?