Saturday, August 12, 2017

God Has a Question...

In 1 Kings 18 we find a story within a story. It is the story of the showdown between the prophets of Baal and Elijah up on Mt. Carmel. But there is an issue at stake that Elijah wanted to point out to the people. Look at verse 21, "Elijah went before the people and said, “How long will you waver between two opinions? If the LORD is God, follow him; but if Baal is God, follow him.” But the people said nothing."

That’s a great question. Here are people who are supposed to be the chosen ones of God. They have a history with Him. But they’ve forgotten who He is and they have been distracted by idols. Sound like anyone else you know? Some things never change.

Many of us have grown up in the church. We have a history with God. We’ve been taught about Him since we were in Cradle Roll and Kindergarten. But as we go through our days now, we are distracted by other gods in our lives. The gods of money, fame or things. The gods of girlfriends or boyfriends. The god of lust. Or perhaps the gods of bitterness and un-forgiveness at an injustice done to us. Or maybe it is just your own intellect. Whatever it is that continually comes between you and God has become an idol. That pet sin. That secret desire. The continual craving for whatever it is. And God has a question for you.

“How long will you waver between two opinions?” There it is. You and I both have to answer that question. It’s showdown time. And we may answer “yes” to God with our mouth…and even our inner desire, but we keep a corner of our heart unyielded and locked tight, harboring our idol.

And as life gets busy and our quiet time with God gets pushed aside, our other idol suddenly gets the attention. We treasure it, coddle it, admire it, sometimes even loathe it, yet always we worship it.

Somehow these things that we’ve made to be our gods, get in the way of us worshipping the true God. We get so into our false god, our sin, that we end up worshipping the very things that will destroy us. We go back to what makes us comfortable, at least for a little while, and we forget that God has called us to be His people. We forget that we at one point in our lives promised that we would follow Him with our whole heart. And so the question comes from Mt. Carmel into our lives this today.

“How long will you waver between two opinions? If the LORD is God, follow him; but if Baal is God, follow him.”

Your choice. Your move.

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Advertising and Me...

Have you ever noticed how many advertising slogans appeal directly to your selfish nature? How many of these have you heard? Admittedly, I went back a few years on some of these, so some of them you kids may have never heard, but I bet your parents have. Listen to some of these.

“You deserve a break today?”
“Have it your way!”
“Calgon, take me away!”
“Carnival’s got the fun!”

Or what about Candy--

Two For Me! None for you- Twix
Snickers satisfies you.
Nobody better lay a finger on my Butterfinger!
Give me a break! Give me a break! Break me off a piece of that Kit Kat bar!

How about Cereal?
Gotta have my pops!
I'm Cuckoo for Cocoa Puffs
Nobody can say no to the honey nut Os in Honey Nut Cheerios

Soft drinks
Live on the Coke side of Life.
Make 7-Up Yours!
It Gives You Wings-Red Bull
All the sugar, and twice the caffeine- Jolt Cola

Even the military has gotten into the act.
An ARMY of one? Who ever heard of such a thing? Think about that—an army of one is going to get trounced every time by an army of thousands.

We could go on and on, but you get the picture. Society has not only accepted our selfishness, they have embraced it. Even going so far as one Reebok ad that almost mimics God’s very title. When Moses asked God at the burning bush, “Who should I say is sending me?” God simply responded, “I AM”. That’s His title. I AM. I always have been, I always will be. I am. Reebok’s take off ad simply stated at the end: I am what I am.

We are steeped in selfishness from birth. As a matter of fact, the only thing that a parent can truly pass on to their child with certainty, is a selfish, sinful nature.

We grow up in it and continue to nurse and protect our sinful natures. Even when we find out that we should share, we do so grudgingly. And even when we think we are not, we continually have an ongoing conversation in our heads about what other people are thinking about us. Don’t believe me? Answer this question.

What happens when you are walking by yourself and you accidentally trip on a crack in the sidewalk? That’s right—you instantly look around to see who saw you.

Advice columnist Ann Landers, once quipped: “At age 20 we worry about what others think of us. At 40 we don't care what they think of us. At 60 we discover they haven't been thinking of us at all.” 

Why is that? Because they’ve really only been thinking about themselves the whole time. It’s been said that the smallest package in the world is a person wrapped up in himself.

So where do we find relief from our selfish focus? The place that it has been found all along. In worship...or ascribing worth to...our Creator. And then serving our fellow man out of love for our God. King Me is really under-rated.

Monday, May 29, 2017

The Reason for Hope...

Anthony de Mello in his book The Heart of the Enlightened, page 19 writes:
Once upon a time in a concentration camp there lived a prisoner who, even though he was under sentence of execution, was fearless and free. One day he was seen in the middle of the prison square playing his guitar. A large crowd gathered to listen, for under the spell of his music, they became as fearless as he. When the prison authorities saw this, they forbade the man to play.
But the next day there he was again, singing and playing on his guitar with a larger crowd around him. The guards angrily dragged him away and had his fingers chopped off.

Next day he was back again, singing and making what music he could with his bleeding fingers. This time the crowds were cheering. The guards dragged him away again and smashed his guitar.

The following day he was singing with all his heart. What a song! So pure and uplifting! The crowd joined in, and while the singing lasted, their hearts became as pure as his and their spirits were invincible. So angry were the guards this time that they had his tongue torn out. A hush descended on the camp, a something that was deathless.

To the astonishment of everyone, he was back in his place the next day swaying and dancing to a silent music that no one but he could hear. And soon everyone was holding hands and dancing around this bleeding, broken figure in the center while the guards stood rooted to the ground in wonder.

Two thousand years ago, thinking to silence hope, the devil looked at the Singer of life and love said, “Destroy this One, and we destroy any hope that humanity ever thought of having!” And he did his best. Satan used one of Jesus’ friends to betray Him. The mob took Him. They spit on Him; pulled out His beard, beat Him until He was almost dead. Then forced Him to carry his cross up a rugged hill, and there, they crucified Him.

“That should do it!” Satan beamed. And for a while, it looked like it would work. The disciple’s world caved in. They locked themselves into a room for fear of the Jews. It was as if a hush descended on the camp, a something that was deathless.

All seemed bleak. Hopeless. Dark. But then someone found the crack in the concrete. A small hole with a single blade of grass hope. “Hey, I wonder if it’s really true?” “What’s that?” “Well, you know, what He said about the third day.”

It seemed hopeless to all, but to the astonishment of everyone, on the third day, Jesus was back in His spot once again singing hope.

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Be Amazed...Again...(For the very first time)

Exhibit B in our journey this week on learning to be amazed once again.

Your name is Jairus. You’ve come a long way to find Jesus. Your only daughter is dying. The doctors have all given up and you’ve taken her home to die. But somehow, you just can’t give up without trying everything. One of your servants has seen Jesus heal and suggests that if you could just find Jesus and have him come, your daughter might not die. You search frantically, from one town to the next. The reports are all the same. “You just missed Him. He was here about 2 days ago and healed most of the people in the town.”

Hope grows stronger, while on the other side of the emotional roller coaster, you become frantic as you realize that you are a few days behind him. You redouble your efforts, trying to reach Him and get Him home before it is too late. Finally, you come racing into a town and discover a large crowd of people gathered around. This must be Jesus. Pushing your way through the crowd, you come face to face with Him. “Master, you must come now!” The urgency is in your voice as you try to get Jesus to follow you back through the crowd. He motions for you to lead and begins to follow. You look back and realize that He has stopped and is asking who touched Him. You turn back to urge Him to hurry when one of your servants rides up to the edge of the crowd on horseback and motions for you.

You can tell by the look on his face that it’s too late. “Don’t trouble the Master any further,” he says, “She’s dead.” Grief wrenches your soul and you slump to the ground. The "if only’s" come. If only you had found Him quicker. If only He had been closer to your home. If only she had held on for a little while longer. If only there were no crowds to slow Him down.”

A hand on your shoulder jars you back to reality. “Don’t worry, just believe.” Jesus helps you to your feet and begins walking towards your town, He and his disciples helping you as you stumble along in a haze of grief. You sleep little that night, and the next day is a blur as you head home. As you come near your house, the mourner’s are there in full force. It really hits home. She’s dead. 

Jesus simply quiets them and says, “Don’t mourn. She’s sleeping.” Laughter meets His statement. How can Jesus mock your pain with such a statement. You enter to find your wife weeping and lying across the bed holding the lifeless form of your daughter. Jesus gently lifts her and you rush to hold her, to hold each other, as Jesus now looks at the little body on the bed.

Gently, yet with authority he says, “Little girl, I say to you arise!” Her eyes flutter open as you heart beats wildly. Your wife screams with joy and leaps toward the bed as your beloved daughter sits up. Suddenly the three of you are laughing, crying, talking, hugging, kissing, and marveling at what just happened. You look again…and He is gone.

Are you amazed yet? Can you just shrug it off with an "I've heard all this before!"? Or is there something, even now, that is begging you to be astounded and astonished at a God who cared so much for you and me that He came and gave us a peek at what God is like. Someone who calls the unloveable. Someone who forgives the hookers... Someone who wants to turn your grief into joy. Look again...for the very first time. And be amazed!

Monday, May 1, 2017

Look Again for the Very First Time

Are you ready for another round of look again...for the very first time? The game where we take a fresh look at some perspective of Jesus life that we may have heard so often that we fail to be amazed by it. Here we amazed...

Your name is Mary. You’re a hooker. A street-walker. A prostitute. Nobody at the church wants you hanging out in front of the entrance, and you assume that if the church people don’t want you, their God doesn’t want you either. You watch from your corner as the people leave the evening service, giving you cold glares as they walk by or drive off. Not a problem for you. You’re not wanting what they have to give anyway. You’re waiting for a certain someone to come out of the church. Here he comes now. One of the Pastoral staff. He shakes hands with the last of the parishioners and watches as they disappear around the corner. He locks the building and then looks your way. You’ve seen that look hundreds of times before. The look of a man hungry with lust. He looks around to make sure that no one is watching and then gives you the signal. You leave your corner and head for your previously arranged meeting place a few blocks away. By the time you get there, he is already inside and waiting. You are barely undressed when the door comes smashing in. It’s the rest of the pastoral team. Grabbing you, dragging you from the bed as you clutch at sheets and try to cover yourself, they half-lift, half-drag you out into the streets.

Your mind is swirling. This is it. This time you lose. Set up by the pastors. You know the rules. You mess around and get caught, you die. You’ve played the odds and this time you lose. You’ve been in and out of a hundred beds, and so you figure it must be your time to go.

Inwardly you cry for a God to save you. But why would He? His people know you’re scum. His word says that an unfaithful woman should be stoned. No. No use crying out to Him. Take the punishment with as much dignity as you can muster. Suddenly you are flung in front of the Teacher, your sheet being ripped away as you hit the dusty street. Curling up you try to cover yourself from all of the laughter and leering eyes as the pastors say, “Teacher, Moses and the law say that we should stone this woman. What do you say?”

You know what any holy man will be forced to say and you brace yourself for the rocks. Abruptly, you realize that all has grown quiet and then you hear the question. “Woman, where are your accusers?” Looking up slowly from your curled up position, you realize no one else is around. It is just you and Jesus. He is taking His outer cloak and covering you. You respond, “I don’t see anyone, Lord.” And then His response takes you totally by surprise, “Neither do I condemn you. Go and leave your life of sin.” You look again. And you see for the very first time that He is smiling.

Go amazed!

Friday, April 28, 2017

Be Still--and Breathe!

It had been a week on an emotional roller coaster. First the people’s hopes were lifted, and then they were dashed. They were trying to follow God, but it didn’t look like they had always dreamed it would. The political machinery of the day looked as if it were going to swallow them once again and relegate them to the bowels of society. They had been there long enough. They knew what that was like and they didn’t want to go back!

And now the Lord had finally freed them. They had put blood on the doorposts—not the typical way of finding relief from oppression, but it had worked. The command came to leave and they instantly obeyed before Pharaoh changed his mind. He always did. It was just a matter of time. So they left Egypt both rejoicing and looking back to see if they were being followed.

And about the time they started relaxing, someone sees a dust cloud on the horizon behind them. Looking ahead at where the giant pillar of cloud was leading, all they could see was water. They were trapped, and they knew the outcome of dealing with Pharaoh’s army. Many of them would die. Most would be re-captured and re-bound into the very slavery they had just escaped. Let’s pick up the story in Exodus chapter 14. Beginning with verse 10.

Ex 14:10-14 As Pharaoh approached, the Israelites looked up, and there were the Egyptians, marching after them. They were terrified and cried out to the LORD. 11 They said to Moses, “Was it because there were no graves in Egypt that you brought us to the desert to die? What have you done to us by bringing us out of Egypt? 12 Didn’t we say to you in Egypt, ‘Leave us alone; let us serve the Egyptians’? It would have been better for us to serve the Egyptians than to die in the desert!” 13 Moses answered the people, “Do not be afraid. Stand firm and you will see the deliverance the LORD will bring you today. The Egyptians you see today you will never see again. 14 The LORD will fight for you; you need only to be still.”

Some things never change, do they? At the first sign or even sometimes, at the first hint of trouble, we grow terrified. And we start complaining and even believing that the very things we are being rescued from would now be preferable to what we are now facing. Look at vs. 11, 12 again.

Ex 14:11 They said to Moses, “Was it because there were no graves in Egypt that you brought us to the desert to die? What have you done to us by bringing us out of Egypt? 12 Didn’t we say to you in Egypt, ‘Leave us alone; let us serve the Egyptians’? It would have been better for us to serve the Egyptians than to die in the desert!”

Why do we do that? Why do we, at the first sign of anything remotely threatening to our security and well-being, start complaining and crying out in fear? To be sure, because we are human. But might it also be that we haven’t developed the ability to be still and trust that God is still in control? Could it be that we feel like we have to rescue ourselves and we don’t see how it’s going to work out? Look, once again at Moses’ command in vs. 13 and 14.

Ex 14:13-14 Moses answered the people, “Do not be afraid. Stand firm and you will see the deliverance the LORD will bring you today. The Egyptians you see today you will never see again. 14 The LORD will fight for you; you need only to be still.”

And you probably remember the story, don't you. God provided a path through the sea and when Pharaoh and his armies tried to follow them, the walls of water came crashing down on them. The Lord had done their fighting for them. They only had to stand firm and watch the Lord's deliverance.

Either we never knew, or we have already forgotten that the Lord will fight for us, we only need to be still. That’s harder than it sounds. Be still. Ok…and do what? Ponder the problem? Seek solutions? Wring your hands in anxiety? No. Psalm 46:10 says:

Psa. 46:10 “Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth.”

That’s what Moses was trying to get the Israelites to see in the middle of their crisis. They didn’t have much choice, did they? The sea on one side, the army on the other…they had to be still…physically. But not all who are still physically are calm emotionally and spiritually. Have you noticed that? But they have no where else to go. So they wait on the Lord to do something. And He does.

What solved their problem? Did they solve their problem? Did they form a giant think-tank to discuss, deliberate and vote? No. How was their problem solved? They waited on God. They had to be still. Was that all? No. They also had to obey God and walk the direction He led. If they hadn’t done the walking, they would have stayed on the other side of the sea. They had to be still. Then they had to obey. Inhale, exhale. Be still, inhale, obey, exhale. We have to learn to breathe spiritually.

We talk a lot about our need for prayer, about how good prayer is, about how necessary it is to our spiritual walk, yet we seldom seem to take the time to pray. It has been said that prayer is the breath of the soul. If this is so, then perhaps the reason we so often feel anxious or overwhelmed in life is because we are not breathing!

In order to do away with the anxiety and panic in our lives, we must allow our souls to breathe deeply. And one of the primary reasons we are not breathing deeply enough is because we are not still long enough to do so. “Be still”, God says. Being still is the first requisite to breathing well.

When difficulties come; breathe. When it feels like life is going to run you over; breathe. When you feel uncertain or scared or anxious; breathe.

Ellen White, in her book Desire of Ages, page 667, says, “The path of sincerity and integrity is not a path free from obstruction, but in every difficulty we are to see a call to prayer. There is no one living who has any power that he has not received from God, and the source whence it comes is open to the weakest human being. {DA 667.4}

In every difficulty we are to see a call to prayer. A call to breathe. A call to Be still. Why? So we can
gain perspective. So we can live life without having to panic. So we can know that He is God. Being still allows God the chance to work in our lives before we go out and do something stupid in our typical reactionary mode. Being still allows us to realize Who is fighting for us. Being still will allow us to remain at peace. Isaiah tells us that.

Is. 26:3 You will keep in perfect peace him whose mind is steadfast, because he trusts in you.

Phil 4:6-7 Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. 7 And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Do you want peace in the midst of life’s storms? Learn to breathe. Be still. Seek God. Keep your mind fixed on Him. Allow Him to bring you peace.

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

A Conspiracy of Grace

Mike Yaconelli, in his book Messy Spirituality relates the following story that I think illustrates what God is doing in what Yaconelli calls “a conspiracy of grace.”

Little league baseball can be a brutal sport, especially for nine-and ten-year-olds who compete in national tournaments. It was the area Little League championship game. The stands were packed with families of each of the players. One young man brought his mother and father, both grandparents, and three uncles and aunts to watch him play.

The bottom of the seventh-inning was a nail-biter. The other team was ahead by one run, the bases were loaded, two outs, and the little boy with the large family was up to bat. If he made an out, the game would be over and his team would lose. If he walked or hit the ball, he would be the hero of the game. He swung at the first pitch and missed.

“Strike one!” the umpire yelled.

The families from the other team cheered, but his family cheered even louder. “It’s okay, Carl. No problem. You almost hit the ball! Now clobber the next pitch!”

“Strike two!” the umpire yelled after the next pitch.

Pandemonium broke out. Both teams and their families were yelling back and forth at each other. Carl’s family and team was encouraging him; the players and families of the other team were taunting. It was so loud no one could even hear themselves think.

Wrinkles appeared on the nine-year-old’s forehead as he waited for the next pitch. As the ball left the pitcher’s hand, it became very quiet. The ball sped towards Carl. It seemed like it took forever to cross the plate, but cross the plate it did, and Carl swung with all his might.

“Strike Three—You’re OUT!”

Not only was Carl out, the game was over. And he was the cause of the loss.

The winning team went crazy, their families swarmed onto the field, and everyone was dancing, laughing, cheering and celebrating. Except Carl’s team. As Carl’s team walked off the field, dejected, they mingled with their families and headed back to their cars in silence.

Except for Carl. Carl was still standing at home plate, devastated, alone, his head down in disgrace.

Suddenly someone yelled, “Ok, Carl, play ball!” Startled, Carl looked up to see his family spread out over the field. Grandpa was pitching, Dad was catching, mom was at first base, Uncle David at second, and the rest of the family had covered the other positions.

“Come on Carl, pick up the bat. Grandpa’s pitching.”
Bewildered, Carl slowly picked up the bat and swung at Grandpa’s first pitch. He missed, and he missed the next six pitches as well. But on the seventh pitch, determined to get a hit, Carl smacked the ball to left field. His aunt ran, picked up the ball in plenty of time, but the first baseman, Mom, must have lost the ball in the sun, because it went right through her hands into the dugout. “Run!” everyone yelled.

As Carl was running to second, the first baseman recovered the ball and threw it. Amazingly, Uncle David was blinded by the sun as well. “Keep running!” yelled someone, and Carl headed for third, where the throw went at least two feet over the head of the third baseman. “Keep running, Carl!” and Carl raced for home, running as hard as he had ever run. The ball was thrown with deadly accuracy as the catcher, Dad, blocking home plate, waited to tag him out, but just as Carl reached home plate, the ball bounced in and out of the catcher’s mitt, and Carl was safe!

Before he knew what happened, Carl found himself being carried around on Uncle Dave’s shoulders while the rest of the family crowded around cheering Carl’s name.
One person who was watching this amazing event commented to a friend, “I watched a little boy fall victim to a conspiracy of grace!”

Carl, the loser—the one who struck out, failed his team, disappointed his family—went from loser to hero. Carl, who would have been left with that awful memory of failure, was instead given a memory of grace, love and acceptance. He heard God’s Love song.

Just like a certain woman at the well. Just like the disciples, or the lame or the blind or those with leprosy. And God continues to sing that same song to you and I today.

Through people who show us a conspiracy of grace. Through family members who hold us in our darkest hours. Through scripture and sunsets. Through prayers and petitions on our behalf. God continues to sing His love song to you and to me. “It’s alright. I’m here…and I love you more than you will ever know. I’ve forgiven you already through the blood of my sacrifice, so whatever it is, confess it and let’s move on. I want to make you whole and happy and free. I want you truly know Love at its’ deepest level. I want you to know Me.”

All that’s left to do now, is respond.