Friday, May 18, 2018

"Shake a Tree and Save a Life"

Acts 11.14-15 “The Message”

‘He’ll tell you something that will save your life...’

So I started in, talking. Before I’d spoken half a dozen sentences, the Holy Spirit fell on them”.
  
An angel of God promised Cornelius that “a man named Simon, who is also called Peter ” (Acts 10.5) would say something that would forever change his life. He was ready for the message Peter came to deliver. Cornelius and his household were ripe fruit ready to fall from the tree. All Peter had to do was shake the trunk a little.

I must obey God and shake a few trees. Fruit will fall. There are people who need what I have. Ripe fruit is everywhere. It’s ready to fall. Trees just need a little shaking. When presented with an opportunity to share my faith, I should start “talking.” People may be thinking of me: “He’ll tell you something that will save your life.” I mustn’t disappoint them. 

Shake a tree and save a life.
______________

Drawing from "Fruit of the Barren Tree (http://www.fruitofthebarrentree.com/) and used by permission of blog author, Michael Loenard. The drawing was created by Adam Todd(http://livingtower.com/).

Thursday, May 17, 2018

"While Peter Was Still Speaking"

Acts 10.44 NIV

While Peter was still speaking these words, the Holy Spirit came on all who heard the message.”


I am a salesman. I am trained to speak in a way that conveys truth and inspires trust. I truly care for prospective clients and believe my service will add value to their lives. Like many good salespeople, I have a little problem with talking, or should I say over-talking. Most of my business comes from repeat customers and referrals, so trust may be established before we sit down to speak together. Nevertheless, I eagerly launch into my sales presentation in all its glorious detail even when it is apparent that the client is already convinced I’m the right man for the job. 

I’ts not hard to read a fidgety client’s mind. Glazed-over eyes, apologetic yawns, throat clearings, paper shuffling, and wrist-watch glancing are all non-verbal hints suggesting, “Let’s wrap this thing up! Where do I sign?” I usually get the hint, but I don't always take the hint. I want to say, “You can’t buy yet! I’m not finished with my presentation!” In those moments I try to remind myself that the goal is not to talk. Rather, the goal is to complete the sale so I can get on with serving my new customer.

Peter was sent to Cornelius by an angel of God. That’s an excellent referral source! Cornelius was ‘sold’ even before he met the apostle! Peter’s contact with Cornelius confirmed the client was ready, willing, and able to make the purchase. In fact, if anything, it was Peter who was reluctant to make the sale. He had to be reminded three times that the prospect was worthy of the product.

“What God has cleansed no longer consider unholy.”
Acts 10.15 NASU

The Lord intended to impart the Holy Spirit to the household of Cornelius and demonstrate His universal love for all people. Peter finally got the message:

“God has shown me that I should not call any man unholy or unclean.”
Acts 10.28 NASU

With an attentive and ready-to-buy audience, Peter launched into his full gospel presentation. Luke’s record states, “While Peter was still speaking these words, the Holy Spirit came on all those who heard the message.” Peter wisely recognized the signals, stopped preaching, and closed the sale with the water of baptism.

Lord, make me wise enough to shut up long enough for You to work in the lives of those you want me to reach with the message of Christ.

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

"A Man and His Bed"

Acts 9.33-34 NASU

“Aeneas… had been bedridden eight years, for he was paralyzed. Peter said to him, ‘Aeneas, Jesus Christ heals you; get up and make your bed.’ Immediately he got up.”

Aeneas was “bed-ridden” for eight years. He was very acquainted with and dependent upon his bed. It was his home for almost a decade. Aeneas’ bed was his crutch. Sleep was his drug of choice. Bed was a magical place of retreat and isolation from the harsh reality of his condition. Bed eventually became indistinguishable from the disease that kept him there. Aeneas fully identified with his bed. He was “paralyzed” and incapable of enjoying the sights and sounds of his home town, Lydda. Instead, bed became his only real friend offering the comfort and solace he needed to make life bearable. Bed, for Aeneas, was an escape into fantasy and unhealthy friendship. He hid from his misery in the comforting embrace of bed, his best friend... 

“When you’re down and troubled

 And you need some loving care

 And nothing, nothing is going right

 Close your eyes and think of me

 And soon I will be there

 To brighten up even your darkest night.”[1]

Peter crashed through the pitiful relationship between a man and his bed. He made the killing of that unnatural affinity a condition of healing…

“Get up and make your bed.”

You have been raised to new life in Christ and, like Aeneas, your life has a purpose…
 
“Get up and make your bed.”

Say good-bye to your old friend. You no longer need a “bed” (emotional pacifier, cherished drug, addictive behavior, comfort zone). “Make your bed” and do not return while there is still light in the day. Close the bedroom door behind you. End your dependence. Receive power from the Holy Spirit. “Get up... make your bed,” and go on with your life.
________________

[1] You've Got a Friend, Carole King, Tapestry album, 1971.

The picture of a man's feet poking out from under the bed covers is called "My own bed. 365 Days, day 176" and used by permission of photographer Mark Radford at http://www.flickr.com/photos/misterrad/

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

"Get an Invitation"

Acts 8.31b NIV

“So he invited Philip to come up and sit with him.”

An Ethiopian official with a fascination for the prophet Isaiah invited Philip to “come up and sit” in his chariot and explain the Scriptures. How did Philip get an invitation from a complete stranger? Philip was an inclusive and invitational Christ-follower. He warmly received those who sought truth. A good evangelist is friendly and easy to talk to. Philip was so welcoming, he inspired an invitation. The Ethiopian was compelled to ask Philip to join his entourage. The Holy Spirit arranged the circumstances and Philip made the invitation happen.

Jesus was like that. Jesus informed Zaccheus He was coming to the tax collector's home for dinner, and received no argument from His eager host...

Zaccheus, hurry and come down, for today I must stay at your house.
And he hurried and came down and received Him gladly.”
Luke 19.5-6 NASU

Jesus Christ was more than controversial and courageous. He was also kind and approachable. Jesus was welcoming, and so inspired the tax collector's  invitation. I suspect most people, given the opportunity, would jump at the chance to invite Jesus home for dinner.

Philip and Jesus make me wonder what kind of person must I become to make others want to welcome me into their quiet home, their circle of friends, their close confidence?  How do I inspire an invitation?

Monday, May 14, 2018

"BE One!"

Acts 7.38c NAS

“Moses… received living oracles to pass on to you.”

Just prior to his death by stoning, the first Christian martyr preached with passion to his accusers. Stephen recounted Jewish history highlighting the lives of patriarchs Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, Joshua, David, and Solomon. He concluded with a stirring portrayal of Jesus as the persecuted Messiah whose “betrayers and murderers” (v. 52) now stood before him, rocks in hand.

The bulk of Stephen’s sermon was spent on Moses who is arguably the greatest leader who ever lived, second only to Jesus. “Moses was educated in all the learning of the Egyptians, and he was a man of power in words and deeds” (v.22). As a young man of forty “it entered his mind” (v. 23) to offer some leadership and help his downtrodden people.

“He thought his brothers would be glad that he was on their side; 
and even see him as an instrument of God to deliver them. 
But they didn’t see it that way”!
Acts 7.25 The Message

Leadership is the highest of all callings the greatest of all leaders are those who receive living words from God and endeavor to pass them on. A young or new leader should not be surprised when his or her words are not readily received. Although he was forty years old when it first “entered his mind,” it was not until an encounter with a burning bush, at the ripe age of eighty, that Moses’ impact was felt and his leadership recognized.

“After forty years had passed” (v. 30), Moses led two million people from the bondage of slavery through the wilderness to the brink of the promised land. His amazing gift of leadership was made possible by God who chose Moses as a receptacle for “living oracles” which he faithfully passed on “to you” and me.

You are a receptacle for the “living oracles” of God, qualifying you as a leader.  So,... be one!
____________

The woodcut illustration above, called “Moses and the Burning Bush” was created by German artist Julius Schnorr von Carolsfeld (1794-1872) and originally published in Das Buch der B├╝cher in Bilden.

Friday, May 11, 2018

"Stick to the Assignment"

Acts 6.2b, 4 “The Message”

“It wouldn’t be right for us to abandon our responsibilities… we’ll stick to our assigned tasks of prayer and speaking God’s Word.”

There are many good things to do in life; an abundance of noble causes, professions, and service opportunities. Of course, I cannot do them all. I must limit myself and do only that to which I am called. 

When my daughter Rachel was four years old, she was fond of saying, “When I grow up, I’m going to do everything and be everything.” At a minimum, I understood she would have a spacious home on a ranch with vast acreage where she would care for her aging mother and me. She would own horses and teach us all to ride. I entered the dream and imagined myself enjoying long rides on a gentle steed trotting into the sunset of my golden years with my wife and Rachel (and her rich husband) by my side. I delighted in my little girl’s innocent and (what she thought was a) fully achievable ambition to “do everything and be everything.”

Sadly, Rachel’s idealism lessened with time. At the ripe age of sixteen, my youngest child is already more realistic than I wish she was. She no longer believes she will “do and be everything.” At 10 she wanted to be a veterinarian and “take care of animals.” Now she is content to play volleyball, take care of her beloved Aussie Doodle, get good grades in school, and giggle with her friends. Lofty goals are attainable, but no one, not even Rachel, can “do everything and be everything.” Life’s way too short and humans are far too limited. With age we (normally) earn enough wisdom to accept the limitations of time, space, and calling.

The early apostles were extremely aware of the limitations imposed by their calling. They resolved to ‘stick to their assignment’ of prayer and preaching. The church leaders argued, “It is not desirable for us to neglect the word of God in order to serve tables” (Acts 6.2). The congregation would select deacons to ensure fair treatment of widows among the Hellenistic Jewish converts in the daily rationing of food. As for the apostles, they would limit themselves to their “assigned tasks of prayer and speaking God’s Word.”

Should every follower of Christ strive for an apostolic expression of faith and focus exclusively on prayer and preaching? Not at all. Each person of faith is charged with the responsibility of discovering God’s specific will and must stick to the “assigned tasks,” whatever those may be.

Thursday, May 10, 2018

"Keep Right On..."

Acts 5.40b-42 NASB

“…they flogged them and ordered them to speak no more in the name of Jesus, and then released them. So they went on their way from the presence of the Council, rejoicing that they had been considered worthy to suffer shame for His name.

And every day, in the temple and from house to house, they kept right on teaching and preaching Jesus as the Christ.”

What do you do when there’s nothing else left to do? When you have no hope and all is lost? When the obstacles appear insurmountable and no one cares? Your heart is heavy with discouragement and a sense of dread overtakes you with a rush of panic and the certainty of failure?

Do what Peter and the apostles did… “they kept right on” doing what they knew they must. Do that. Let nothing deter you from performing what you know is right and good. Do that in the face of failure, discouragement, persecution, fear of rejection, unfair treatment, reprisal, loss of reputation, or even prison. “Keep right on!” Stay the course. Don’t give up. Make a commitment. Place one foot in front of the next, push forward with determination and focus. Navigate this thing called God’s will for your life. “Obey [and seek to please] God rather than men,” (Acts 5.29). Trust Him for the outcome.

“Let your eyes look straight ahead, fix your gaze directly before you.
Make level paths for your feet and take only ways that are firm. Do not
swerve to the right or the left; keep your foot from evil.”
Proverbs 4.25-27 NIV

______________

The footprints photo is entitled "I Went Out Walking..." by Matt McGee and used by his permission. You can view his excellent photography at http://www.flickr.com/photos/pleeker/.

Wednesday, May 09, 2018

"Been with Jesus?"

Acts 4.13 NASU

“Now as they observed the confidence of Peter and John and understood that they were uneducated and untrained men, they were amazed, and began to recognize them as having been with Jesus.”

After a decades of separation, old friends may chance upon a surprise encounter at an unlikely place or time. One is startled to hear his name... “Frank? Is that you? It’s me... Harriet. Don’t you recognize me?” Recognition is sudden when the memory is jarred and a connection made: This person is not like all others.

Peter and John were recognized “as having been with Jesus.” Am I so recognized? Do I cause others “take note” (NIV); that is, stop and make even a casual observation... “Oh, another one of those Jesus followers!”? Am I only a professed follower of Christ, or one who actually spends time with Jesus? Do others recognize me as a real believer? If I look at myself through the eyes of others, will I detect evidence of Jesus’ influence? Am I recognizable “as having been with Jesus?”
_____________

I found this beautiful painting of Jesus holding a child at Branches of Christ Fellowship of Martin, Georgia (http://branchesofchristfellowship.weebly.com/). I am using it here by permission of Pastors Charlie and Betty Rausch.

Tuesday, May 08, 2018

"LOOK at us!"

Acts 3.2a, 3b-4 NASU

“And a man who had been lame from his mother’s womb… began asking to receive alms. But Peter, along with John, fixed his gaze on him and said, ‘Look at us!’ 


Where did Peter place the emphasis in his charge to the crippled beggar? “Look at USor LOOK at us”? Which was it?

“Look at US implies ‘Stop looking at your way of doing things and try ours.’ It’s the methodology of all effective salespeople... ‘You’ve tried everything else. Now try US.’ It has the ring of a late night infomercial... ‘We’re happy and successful. We can walk. So can you.’ It invites a response.

LOOK at us” is different than that. It demands a response. It’s an order, not a suggestion; a direct command, not a presumptive close; an imperative, not an sales technique. LOOK at us” halts time and creates space for a moment of truth. The “man crippled from birth” had a choice. He may obey or not. He could decide to walk if he no longer wished to be “carried to the temple.” Getting there on his own power became an attractive alternative. 

LOOK at us” sounds brash and appears condescending. But it cuts through senseless dependence upon others and leads to godly autonomy. The strength of these words rattled the paralytic out of his ‘alms-seeking’ mindset. It forced the question of faith in the One who alone would enable him to walk confidently into the temple of God and fulfill his personal destiny.

“In the name of Jesus Christ the Nazarene - walk!”
Acts 3.6b NASU
_________________

The amazing photo above is entitled "Autumn eyes" by :-)hristof whose photostream you can view at http://www.flickr.com/photos/34586698@N00/.

Monday, May 07, 2018

"Confidence"

Acts 2.1a, 14a, 29a, 32a NIV

“When the day of Pentecost came… Peter... addressed the crowd: 

‘Fellow Israelites, I can tell you confidently... God raised this Jesus to life...’”

Confidence is a tricky thing. We can act confident, but even a good act is still an act. You cannot ‘fake it until you make it.’ If you pump yourself up with positive thinking and self-talk, you are only a negative pin prick away from deflation. When it comes to confidence, you either have it, or you don’t.

Many people carry insecurity and a persistent inner voice reminding them: “I suspect I am a phony. On my best days I can almost fool myself. I don’t really believe in myself and if others really knew me, neither would they. I’m truly a loser.”

In her wonderful little book For Women only ~ What You Need to Know About the Inner Lives of Men,[1] author Shaunti Feldhahn refers to the “impostor complex” which drives a man to “put up a good front so others will think he’s highly competent.” In a survey conducted by Feldhahn, she discovered that “no matter how secure the men looked on the outside, two-thirds admitted being insecure about others’ opinion of them.”

Was Peter the exception? Could he really “tell you confidently” about Christ on the day of Pentecost? Peter proved his insecurity when a rooster crowed on the night of Christ’s crucifixion (Matthew 18.27). His promise and bravado wasn’t much good then. What happened fifty days later on the day of Pentecost? The apostle was no longer afraid. Peter would “tell you confidently” that “God raised Jesus to life.” I want what Peter got.
_______________

[1] For Women only ~ What You Need to Know About the Inner Lives of Men, Shaunti Feldhahn, Multnomah Publishers, Inc., 2004. Shaunti Feldhahn has appeared on such diverse media outlets as PBS, TNT, Soap Talk, The Alan Colmes Show, Focus on the Family, Family Life Today, and The 700 Club. Her weekly opinion columns are printed in fifty newspapers around the country, including the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, the Chicago Tribune, the Detroit Free Press, and The Seattle Times. Check out her site at http://www.4-womenonly.com.

Friday, May 04, 2018

"An Empty Sky"

Acts 1.11 The Message

“Why do you just stand there looking up at an empty sky?”

It’s a fair question. Am I guilty of spiritual loitering... observing “an empty sky,” directing my energy and focus toward activities of little significance? Do I have an upward gaze, that is the appearance of spirituality without passion in my heart and fire in my soul? Have I become a comfortable bystander, an impotent pew warmer?

So opens the book of the Acts of the Apostles. Physician and historian Luke forces the issue, asking the tough, penetrating, hard-hitting question: “Why do you just stand there looking up at an empty sky?” Eugene Peterson elaborates with his Introduction to Acts in “The Message” Bible:

“…we could easily become enthusiastic spectators, and then let it go at that - become admirers of Jesus, generous with our oh’s and ah’s, and in our better moments inspired to imitate him.” 
“It is Luke’s task to prevent that, to prevent us from becoming mere spectators to Jesus, fans of the Message.”

Jesus Christ gave me everything I need to perform the will of God and be productive in the world. I have no time for star-gazing. I cannot “just stand there looking up at an empty sky.”

I must not become a mere “admirer” or even an enthusiastic “fan” of Jesus. That is not who I was created or called to be. I am more than that. My ‘who-I-am-ness’ is defined by the Word of God...
  • I am a member of the body of Christ (1 Corinthians 12.27)
  • I have the mind of Christ (1 Corinthians 1.16)
  • I carry in myself the word of Christ (Colossians 3.16)
  • The Spirit of Christ lives in me (Romans 8.9-10)
  • I am called to reach the world (Matthew 28.18-20)
  • I will inherit the Kingdom of Christ (Ephesians 5.5)
There is no good answer to Luke's question: “Why do you just stand there looking up at an empty sky?”

Thursday, May 03, 2018

"What's That to You?"

John 21.18b-22 The Message

“‘…when you get old you’ll have to stretch out your hands while someone else dresses you and takes you where you don’t want to go.’ He [Jesus] said this to hint at the kind of death by which Peter would glorify God. And then he commanded, ‘Follow me.’

“Turning his head, Peter noticed the disciple Jesus loved [John] following right behind. When Peter noticed him, he asked Jesus, ‘Master, what’s going to happen to him?’

“Jesus said, ‘If I want him to live until I come again, what’s that to you? You — follow me.’”

I sometimes wonder why people who don’t deserve the good life, get one. It’s an interesting question, but here’s a better one: Why do I care?

John was fond of referring to himself as “the disciple Jesus loved,” implying a special and exclusive relationship. The term of endearment appears to have irritated Peter. Clearly, Peter was bothered that John might not suffer the martyr’s fate Jesus predicted for Peter. His inquiry about John, “Master, what’s going to happen to him?” revealed a spirit of jealousy lurking inside Peter. It was hardly innocent curiosity that prompted Peter’s question.

Christ did not explain Himself to Peter or justify His plans for John. “If I want him [John] to live until I come again, what’s that to you [Peter]?”

Jesus has yet to “come again” and John has long since deceased. To paraphrase the Lord’s message to Peter: ‘Peter, My plans for John are none or your business. What’s it to you anyway? Get your eyes off John and follow Me.’

Christ’s plans for other people are none of my business. He has a particular plan for me. It’s my divine obligation, my joyful duty to find out what it is and then, do it. When I am tempted to compare my plight with those whom (I deem) are less deserving or begrudge those whose life (I assume) is easier and softer than mine, it’s time to apply the words of Jesus:

“What’s that to you [Dave]? 
You — follow Me.”
_______________

The snowmen cartoon above is called "Jealousy" and used by permission of artist Kieu. It was originally posted on her site www.4girlgamers.com, which is now closed. 

The paper bags image is entitled "Jealousy______Love" and used by permission of Monica Grzes' at http://www.flickr.com/photos/drawingmonika/.

Wednesday, May 02, 2018

"You Didn't Have to Be There"

John 20.30-31 NKJV

“And truly Jesus did many other signs in the presence of His disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in His name.”

“Guess you had to be there.” Is that true? Or, is it a joke-teller’s excuse for an unfunny story or a funny one fallen flat? In reality, you didn’t have to “be there.” If the story is told well, you’ll get the point and respond with appropriate emotion. In fact, sometimes the story is better than ‘being there’ because it is seasoned with time for reflection. The passing of days, decades, and centuries allow perspective to develop and fuller truth to emerge.

So it is with the story of Jesus and His storyteller, John the son of Zebedee, “the last surviving member of the apostolic band.”[1] According to most conservative scholars, John authored his gospel “toward the close of the first century, when the church had achieved a measure of maturity, and when there was need for an advance in the teaching concerning the nature of faith.”[2] The fourth gospel contains significant material not found in the earlier three Synoptic writers (Matthew, Mark, and Luke). Much of John’s written record is theological interpretation giving later generations a deeper understanding of the person and work of Christ. John offers an eyewitness, historical perspective several decades after the events described resulting in a more complex understanding of Jesus Christ and the nature of faith. When compared to the Synoptics, a seasoned and even deeper truth emerges from the Gospel of John.   

You didn’t have to be there. You couldn’t have been. God sent His Son to this world at a divinely chosen point in history. None living before or after that generation would be privileged to behold Him “in the flesh” (1st Timothy 3.16; 1st John 4.2). Even if you had lived during the first century A.D., you would have had to occupy a tiny plot of geography to have even the remotest chance of crossing paths with the person Jesus. Though a few thousand residents from Judea, Samaria, and Galilee actually saw the Lord (if you count the multitudes he fed with a few loaves and fishes), most first century Palestine dwellers did not. Compare a liberal estimate 10,000 people who may have seen Jesus, mostly from a distance, to the approximately 108 billion human births since the dawn of time, and your random chances of being in the right place at the right time to meet the historical Christ is at least one in ten million.[3] It’s a good thing you didn’t have to be there. Think about it this way:

“For God so loved [all 108 billion people of] the world that He gave His only begotten Son, 
that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.”
John 3.16 NKJV

John had his reasons for writing the expanded edition of the chronicle of Christ. Even so, the apostle admitted in conclusion that his gospel represented only a fraction of all that could have been said:

“There are so many other things Jesus did. If they were all
written down, each of them, one by one, I can't imagine a world big
enough to hold such a library of books.”
John 21.25 The Message

So why did John write the last gospel when three perfectly good ones were already in circulation? The author anticipated and answered the question before we thought to inquire:

“…these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ,
the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in His name.”

Read the gospel of John. It will inspire faith, and I think you will agree... you didn’t have to be there.
___________________

[1] New Testament Survey Revised, Merrill C. Tenny, Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing / Inter-Varsity Press, 1985, p. 192.

[2] Ibid., p. 188.

[3] “How many people have ever lived? Keyfitz's calculation updated”, June 18, 1999, http://www.math.hawaii.edu/~ramsey/People.html. See also “How Many People Have Ever Lived on Earth?”, Carl Haub, 1995, Population Reference Bureau, reprinted in “Population Today,” November / December 2002 at http://www.prb.org/Articles/2002/HowManyPeopleHaveEverLivedonEarth.aspx.

Note: The New Testament manuscript fragments pictured in the above blog entry are the p66 or "Bodmer Papyrus" (lower right) dated around 200 A.D. The text is John 1:1-13, plus the first word of verse 14. The second (lower left) is p52, the oldest surviving manuscript fragment of the New Testament. It has been dated to around 125 A.D. The text is from John 18.31-33. See Mark Robert's material at http://www.markdroberts.com/htmfiles/resources/gospelsreliable.htm.

Tuesday, May 01, 2018

"Good Enough"

John 19.12 NAS

“As a result of this Pilate made efforts to release Him, but the Jews cried out, saying, ‘If you release this Man, you are no friend of Caesar; everyone who makes himself out to be a king opposes Caesar.’ ”

When I was a boy, my father comforted me with words like “Son, if you do your best, that’s good enough.” I grew up believing my best efforts were noble and adequate. I have always appreciated dad’s wisdom. He wanted me to know:

  • I could not take pride in work that resulted in less than my best efforts. 

  • No matter what the outcome, if I did my best I could walk away from every task with my self-esteem intact.
I still believe what my dad told me... mostly. Today I accept a qualified version of his wisdom. My “best efforts” idealism has been tempered. I’ve failed enough times to know that my best is not always adequate to get the job done. Personality conflicts, lack of information, honest differences of opinion, procedural changes, group politics, unforeseen events, pressures to conform, etc., etc. make it impossible to guarantee success every time I try. Sometimes my best is simply not good enough.

It’s easy to criticize a man like Pontius Pilate who “handed [Christ] over to them to be crucified” (John 19.16), and I have. (See this link: “Cheap Awareness”.) Today I’m rethinking that opinion contemplating these words: “Pilate made efforts to release Him.” Pontius Pilate fully grasped the fact that Jesus was innocent. He found “nothing deserving death” (Luke 2.15) in the charges against Christ. The governor “knew that because of envy they had handed [Jesus] over” to him (Matthew 27.18). Yes, Pilate made his final decision to condemn Jesus to death “wishing to satisfy the crowd” (Mark 15.15), but that was his job. He was required to keep order in his part of the Roman Empire. Governor Pilate became aware that his best effort to release Jesus “was accomplishing nothing, but rather a riot was starting” so he ceremonially “washed his hands” of the entire episode (Matthew 27.24). He condemned Christ with great reluctance, and only as a last resort.

Pontius Pilate tried and failed to rescue the Lord. He “made efforts to release Him” but his “efforts” weren’t good enough. Pilate left a piece of his soul at the feet of an innocent man he put to death. The governor never fully recovered from his encounter with Jesus. A memory like that would haunt anyone. He probably walked away from the incident a humbled and broken man.

I like dad’s advice and I still try to do my best. But when my best is not enough, I find strength for my battered soul from the advise of my Father in heaven:

“Trust in the Lord with all your heart, And do not lean on your own understanding.”
Proverbs 3.5-6 NASB
_____________________

The amazing artwork above was created by popular illustrator Will Terry. All three pictures remind me of my dad. He was far from perfect and we had our major conflicts growing up. But I know Dad offered me his best advice and the best of himself until the day he died. You can view and purchase Mr. Terry's work at http://www.willterry.com/.

Monday, April 30, 2018

"Satan’s Mentally Challenged Younger Brother"

John 18.33-34 NLT

“Then Pilate went back into his headquarters and called for Jesus to be brought to him. ‘Are you the king of the Jews?’ he asked him.

“Jesus replied, ‘Is this your own question, or did others tell you about me?’

If you’re looking for an entertaining read, pick up An Inconvenient Book by Glenn Beck[1]. He’ll make you think and maybe laugh. Jon Stewart of The Daily Show says... “Finally! A guy who says what people who aren’t thinking, are thinking.” Horror fiction writer, Stephen King, called Beck “Satan’s mentally challenged younger brother.” You can’t buy that kind of press. Beck humorously presents more common sense, exposes more hypocrisy, and asks more honest questions than many other current books I’ve read. Take his “Online Dating Glossary” for example, which compares the digital and real worlds of the dating industry.[2]

DIGITAL WORLD.................................... REAL WORLD

Mature.........................................................Bald

Up for anything...........................................Bisexual

Outdoorsy...................................................Homeless

Rubenesque................................................ Fat-esque

Enjoy long walks on the beach................... Fugitive

Occasional drinker..................................... Cirrhosis of the liver

Ready to love...............................................Married

More to life than work................................ Bankrupt

I wonder how many concepts I assume to be true because “others” (so-called authority figures) told me they were true? Did I personally investigate Al Gore’s sensationalized global warming claims in the film An Inconvenient Truth? Do I buy America’s politics of correctness? Have I subscribed to the media’s version of the perfect body type? Am I reluctant to discipline my child because someone told me it would hurt his self-esteem? Do I believe the commonly held notion that the First Amendment of the Constitution teaches “the separation of church and state” and for that reason the church should not be involved in politics?[3] Have I adopted the popular philosophy of tolerance equals love? Do I applaud rampant spirit of entitlement fostered by government and society? Have I been influenced by culture think “live and let live” is equal to “love my neighbor”?

Implied in Pilate’s question was a bit of foreknowledge. Did he recognize on his own initiative that Jesus was quite possibly “the king of the Jews”? Was it an honest question from personal evaluation? Was Pilate a for-real seeker of truth? Or, did someone else tip him off? Jesus wanted to know.

“Is this your question, or did others tell you about me?”

Don’t believe what others tell you. Find out for yourself. Ask questions. Seek truth. Knock on the door of knowledge. Like Jesus said,

“Ask, and it shall be given to you; seek, and you shall find;
knock, and it shall be opened to you.”
Matthew 7.7 NASB
__________________

[1] An Inconvenient Book ~ Real Solutions to the World’s Biggest Problems, Glenn Beck and Kevin Balfe, Threshold Editions, 2007.

[2] Ibid., p. 74.

[3] This is the actual text of the First Amendment of the Constitution of the United States: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.” The phrase “separation of church and state” does is not appear in the Constitution. The First Amendment was established to protect U.S. citizens from the controlling influence of a state religion, not to restrict the church from impacting government.

Friday, April 27, 2018

"Conspicuous"

John 17.11b, 21, 22b-23 NASU

“Holy Father, keep them in Your name, the name which You have given Me, that they may be one even as We are.” “...that they may all be one; even as You, Father, are in Me and I in You, that they also may be in Us, so that the world may believe that You sent Me.” “...that they may be one, just as We are one; I in them and You in Me, that they may be perfected in unity, so that the world may know that You sent Me, and loved them, even as You have loved Me.”

I felt self-conscious. Out of place. It was hard for me to enter a crowd of twenty-something’s as the only senior citizen in sight. “Why is he here?,” I thought they must be thinking. I had been invited by Phil Comer, the pastor of A Jesus Church, then called Solid Rock, to attend their weekly gathering of college aged kids called “The Way.” I had heard over a thousand kids attended each Friday night for worship, teaching, and fellowship. That sounded more like a move of God than a church service. I could hardly believe that many young people would forsake their traditional party night, travel from all over two states, and converge in remodeled warehouse to meet God.

Phil told me to meet him behind the sound booth. That’s apparently where occasional visiting ‘silverbacks’ are allowed to congregate. I felt painfully conspicuous. It was difficult to stay put while I waited for Phil. But stay I must to see what God was doing in this holy place. I acted way out of character… quiet, motionless, looking straight ahead, trying to make the smallest ‘carbon footprint’ possible. I closed my eyes and wished for invisibility.

It’s hard to express the relief I felt when Phil joined me behind the sound booth. My experience exceeded expectations. The place was packed and the energy palpable. The Holy Spirit was present. The music was excellent. The pastor’s son, John Mark, was hard-hitting and right-down-the-line Bible. He spoke for nearly an hour reading almost two full chapters from the book of Acts. John Mark preached with power and personal conviction. I whispered to Phil, “Speaking as one father to another, you must be very proud of your son.” Pastor Phil nodded only slightly, and smiled.

As I drove home Friday night, I called my son, Stanford, who had been an active member of Solid Rock, a regular at “The Way,” and now a freshman at St. Olaf College in Minnesota. We laughed about my self-consciousness. Stan has always considered me virtually ‘un-embarrass-able.’ He was delighted to hear I am not at ease in every situation and he wished he was present to watch me squirm. He reminded me of my tasteless “dad humor,” like when I tried to hold Stan’s hand at Washington Square Mall. Or, the times I hiked my pants up to my chest and asked his high school buddies silly questions. Apparently, I thought it was a God-given right to embarrass my kids. Stan was glad to see the shoe on the other foot for once.

More importantly, we talked about the joy of knowing Jesus and the mighty things God was doing at my son’s church. I’m quite certain my “The Way” debriefing with Stan pleased Jesus. Possibly, we were fulfilling Christ’s 2,000 year old intercessory prayer: “...that they [Stan and his dad] may be one.”

In some miraculous and mysterious way, in spite of the obvious generational gap, I huddled as “one” with over a thousand kids like Stan under the umbrella of Christ’s love. For a brief moment on a Friday night in April, 2008, I was transported to heaven and “perfected in unity” together with saints of (and from) every age who proclaim with conviction…

“I worship the God of our fathers as a follower of the Way”.
Acts 24.14 NIV

_____________

The beautiful blue-lighted picture of youth in worship at Calvary Chapel in Prescott, Arizona, was taken by professional photographer Angela Ashcraft and used by permission. 

Thursday, April 26, 2018

"I'm Seeing Red"

John 16.12, 18, 25 NAS

“I have many more things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now.”

“We do not know what He is talking about.”

"These things I have spoken to you in figurative language…”



I use a red letter edition of the Bible. That means the words of Jesus are printed in red ink. My current reading in the New Testament is almost exclusively red. Christ’s farewell teachings are found in John’s gospel and nowhere else. Following the Last Supper, Jesus delivered a 2,600 word (about twenty minute) speech intended as final instructions to His eleven remaining disciples after Judas left his band of brothers (John, chapters 14-17). The Master covered subjects of persecution, the Holy Spirit, love, and unity among believers. He offered comfort and concluded with a beautiful intercessory prayer on behalf of His followers.

Throughout the Lord’s presentation, His disciples interrupted with questions expressing frustration. They did not comprehend the meaning of Christ’s words and honestly admitted to one another, “We do not know what He is talking about.” How could they? The Bible states that Jesus was speaking to them in “figurative language.” He knew they weren’t able to “bear” the “many more things” He could have said.

How “many more things” has Jesus kept from me because I “cannot bear them now?” I wonder how truly ignorant I am. Probably more than I think I am. There is so very much I do not (and may never) know. When it comes to “the unfathomable riches of Christ”, (Ephesians 3.8), I can’t even begin to know what I don’t know. But one thing I do know…

“I know Jesus, the One in whom I have believed.”
2nd Timothy 1.12 NCV

In the end it only matters who you know, not what you know.
____________

Check out Assaf Shtilman's art and photostream at http://www.flickr.com/photos/assafs/. His photo (above top) called "Red Letters" is used by permission. The symbols spell "Letters" in Hebrew (read from right to left).

The stamped red letter image is called "Red Letter Day" and used by permission from photographer Gene Han at http://www.flickr.com/photos/larimdame/291827527/.