Sunday, March 27, 2016

Them? Count me in!

One of my life themes is captured in the simple word GRACE.

Every good and unmerited gift from our Father in Heaven is rooted in the grace bestowed on us when Jesus said "Father forgive them, they know not what they do."

Who was Jesus talking about when he said "Father, forgive them..."  Who are the 'them'?  Obviously, it is all of us. But... that is way too easy.  When all of us are guilty for the death of Jesus, then none of us are.  Is the jail really big enough to hold all of mankind... centuries and centuries of mankind?

This could be a topic for another blog.

Instead of hiding behind the sophistry of group guilt, we need to personalize the role we played in Jesus' execution.  Of the multitude in and about Jerusalem as Jesus labored on the cross, we need to see who we were among those standing and looking on.

Let's survey the throng Jesus addressed when he said, "Father, forgive them."

Soldiers beating and mocking Jesus
Religious officers like Caiaphas
Political leaders like Pilate and Herod
An angry belligerent mob calling to 'Crucify Him'
Criminals about to die alongside of the King of the Jews
Judas who betrayed Him
Peter who denied his teacher and friend
Nine of his closest disciples that fled
One more group I'll talk about later.

This is an un-ordered list.  I have made no attempt to order the various groups based on culpability, the need for forgiveness, or the willingness to be forgiven.  This is simply a list (as complete as I can make it).

Look over the list.  Which person or group do you think you most closely fit?  Let's elaborate on the members of each group, again in no particular order.

Peter: He denied knowing his friend and master three times. He personally knew Jesus better than most anyone and had insights about Jesus that were remarkable.  Peter was commended by his Lord for recognizing Jesus is the son of the Most High.  Peter needed the grace of forgiveness.  Are you like Peter, intimately familiar with Jesus, but denying him when the pressure is on?

Roman soldiers: Jesus certainly could have been focused on showing grace to the soldiers who beat and mocked Him.  Jesus had famously said, "Turn the other cheek".  Perhaps when He asked his Father to pardon 'them', He had these soldiers in mind.  The soldiers were enjoying their work too much, but after all, they were only following orders.  Is that where you stand?  You recognize your guilt, but after all, you are only following modern society's orders.  In the 21st century, slamming the Godly is part of our our evolved understanding that goes beyond ancient dogma.

Political leaders: Pilate and Herod both had the opportunity and authority to release Jesus. Neither did. They chose what was politically expedient to advance their own careers. While this is not unusual for politicians, how many of us have chosen political correctness over truth?  How many of us have the opinion that Jesus is an innocent man, but wouldn't fight for it?

The two men hanging on the left and right of Jesus: One of these men ultimately received the gift of forgiveness, but initially, they both railed against Jesus as the crowd and soldiers did. Interestingly, these men represent people in dire circumstances of their own making. One of them recognized his own guilt and the contrast of Jesus' goodness.  The other one wallowed in his own misery biting at Jesus rather than seeking the grace that could have been his. Have you dug a pit for yourself?  Are you asking the Lord to throw down the rope to paradise, or cursing Him that you fell into your own pit.

Caiaphas, the Pharisees, the Saducees, and other self-righteous people: In some ways, these people seem the most culpable.  Jesus frequently criticized members of this group because they were righteous in their own eyes. He called them white-washed tombs.  They arrested Jesus on false charges (after spending months and months attempting to catch Jesus in verbal traps). And yet, he offered forgiveness to them as well. Are you in the category of those who are satisfied with their religious existence and place in the religious pecking order?  Do you look down on those who don't have the pristine Christianity you have? Are you sure you have received the gift of forgiveness?

Judas: He betrayed Jesus.  Metaphorically, Judas didn't swing the hammer, but he showed the soldiers where to place the nails. Did Jesus really say 'Father forgive Judas, he doesn't know what he's doing'? Yes, Jesus did. How many of us have betrayed Jesus and done something unthinkable-- unforgivable in human terms.  Yet, the gift is still there.  Judas chose not to receive the gift.  Instead of repenting, he opted to end his life to spend eternity in Hell.  What will you choose?

The angry mob: The mob mentality is as alive today as it was in the first century. We are sheep that have gone astray.  Left to our own devices, we will fall over the cliff with the entire crowd. Father forgive us, we clearly do not know what we are doing.  A week earlier, this crowd had cheered Jesus, "Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord"! Now they yell violently, crucify him.  Let his blood be on us and our children's children. How good is God!  In about two months from Jesus' crucifixion, many in this crowd will be among the thousands of new believers who will hear Peter's sermon at Pentecost.  If you need forgiveness because you have simply followed the crowd, grace can be yours.

Nine other disciples: Peter denied Jesus, Judas betrayed him, and nine disciples ran away. Are you scared to be with Jesus?  Do you need to be forgiven for fleeing Jesus rather than standing up for him. You know Jesus is the greatest, but you are afraid.  When Jesus greeted his disciples after his resurrection, he said 'Do not be afraid'.  Father, forgive us for our fear-- make us bold for you.

If you are only modestly good at math, you realized that only 11 of the 12 disciples were mentioned so far.  There is one more group of people that made up the throng, and the disciple John the beloved is among that group.

So far, we have considered the openly belligerent, like the soldiers, Caiaphas, and Judas, all in need of forgiveness and grace. We have also considered the indifferent, like Pilate and Herod.  The crowd and criminals were among those who joined in with herd-like mentality.  And then, there were those who loved Jesus but were too scared to stand up for Him.  How many of these groups do you fit in?

Like I hinted, there is another group.  I feel like I fall in this group.  You may as well.

The final group that Jesus may have been focused on when he said 'Father forgive them' includes one of Jesus' closest friends, the disciple John.  It also includes his mother Mary, Mary Magdalene, and other women close to His ministry. Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea who had prestige and privilege could also be counted in this group.

This group of people loved Jesus!  They stood with Jesus rather than hiding on his final day.  They cried tears rather than hurling curses.  Yet, they too failed Jesus and needed forgiveness. You may say-- obvious-- they were human and guilty of sin!  There was something else... a failing I see in myself. They stood and watched instead of rising to fight!

Admittedly, it was God's timing for Jesus to die on the cross.  Jesus did not advocate his disciples take up arms to battle the Chief Priest and Roman government. That said, I accuse them and myself of resigning ourselves to stand and watch rather than rising up.  Instead of standing by stunned and disillusioned, could John and the women have worked through the crowd reminding people of all that Jesus had done?  Could they have boldly expressed faith that God was still in control and Jesus the instrument for salvation?  As respected members of the community, couldn't Nicodemus and Joseph have done more on behalf of Jesus?

When the world opposes Jesus, do we stand with Jesus, but in silence and inactivity?  Are we, like John and Mary, just waiting for Jesus to die?

All of our hands are stained with innocent blood.  All of us were included when Jesus prayed, 'Father forgive THEM'!  Whatever group or groups you fall in, each of us is offered the gift of grace.  The gift is forgiveness and salvation.  In every circumstance grace always wins.  Whether you have been openly belligerent, indifferent, prone to bad behavior, scared, or unwilling to fight, grace always wins.  Father, thank you for your forgiveness. Grace wins every time.

Grace Wins by Matthew West.

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Hold The Door!

A fork with no prongs... a bucket without a bottom...a saw without a saw-blade...a second story door leading outside where the first step is a doozy.

When my daughter started working for a retail store across town, she was qualified to drive to work in every way except having an official Arizona license.  For better and worse, we got some good Father-Daughter time as I co-piloted her 30 minute drive from our home to her workplace.

Along the drive, we passed a store that specializes in gently used second-hand clothing.  Business must be pretty good since this store was expanding.  Now, this store is located in a strip mall.  Generally, for a business to expand in a strip mall, it either moves into a bigger unit, or takes over an existing unit.  In this case, the store was expanding with new construction.  There was no room to go left, right, or forward.  The store expanded by adding on a second floor.

So far, there's nothing peculiar about a store expanding.  Here is the strange part.  The second story of the store front had not one, but two front doors.  So you say, that's not odd!

It is odd to have doors on the second story when there is no landing to stand on.  There are no stairs leading up to or down from those doors. The only thing in front of those doors is the overhang used to provide shade to the sidewalk!

These second story doors appear about as sensible as a bucket that can't hold water or a saw that can't cut.

I am certain that the shop owner and the architect have a good plan for how those doors will be used.  I would say they have an expectation of opening those doors and letting someone in-- probably a lot of new customers! In fact, the shop owner is acting on faith in anticipation that something amazing will happen in the future.

It's unlikely, but perhaps the shop owner put in these doors for his flying customers?

King David spoke of doors in Psalm 24.  His words were filled with anticipation of something glorious that would be happening in the future.  He urged that the doors be made ready!

Lift up your heads, O gates!
    And be lifted up, O ancient doors,
    that the King of glory may come in.  
Who is this King of glory?
    The Lord, strong and mighty,
    the Lord, mighty in battle!
 Lift up your heads, O gates!
    And lift them up, O ancient doors,
    that the King of glory may come in.
Psalm 24:7-9 (ESV) 

David had a joyful expectation that the King of glory, the LORD, strong and mighty, would soon be coming.  He wanted the gates and doors to be ready to receive their King.  Not an earthly king like David that could be righteous and evil, wise and foolish, but rather a glorious and victorious king, the anointed one.

Make the doors ready.  Let us open our second story doors to the one that will be flying down. 

Then I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse! The one sitting on it is called Faithful and True, and in righteousness he judges and makes war. Revelation 19:11 (ESV)

Don't just hold the door. Open it wide. When He arrives it will be too late to prepare the door! Our King is coming!

Newsboys - The King Is Coming

Friday, February 19, 2016

Simple Obedience

"This is the word that came to Jeremiah from the Lord" (Jeremiah 35:1 NIV).  It took 26 hundred years, but it finally came to me as well.  I've read Jeremiah 35 many times, but it never struck me as it did a couple days ago.  In fact, I had totally forgotten about the family of Rekab, I had also forgotten about the strange command Jehonadab, the son of Rekab, gave to his children and all their children to come.

Before reminding you of Jehonadab's odd behest to his children, let me start at the word that came to Jeremiah.  God told Jeremiah, a prophet during a harsh period in Israel's history, to invite the family of Rekabites to the house of the Lord for wine.  That too, was an odd behest.

The ten tribes of Israel had already been vanquished to live in exile.  The tribes of Judah were living in fear and desperation at the mercy of Babylon and their king, Nebuchadnezzar.  Jeremiah was preaching repentance to people who weren't listening though they were suffering through horrible sieges. And yet, this was God's command to Jeremiah at this time.

"This is the word that came to Jeremiah from the Lord during the reign of Jehoiakim son of Josiah king of Judah:  “Go to the Rekabite family and invite them to come to one of the side rooms of the house of the Lord and give them wine to drink.” (Jeremiah 35:1-2 NIV)

The Rekabites showed up and sat down at the table; Jeremiah put bowls of wine and cups in front of them, and Jeremiah said, drink up!  Though I personally do not drink alcohol, if a prophet of the Lord made the offer because God commanded him to do so, I would probably drink up.

The head of the Rekabite household, Jaazaniah, had a different conviction. He and his entire family told Jeremiah flat out, "We do not drink wine."  He went on to say that their forefather Jehonadab (from generations back) had commanded that none of his children, children's children, and their children on should ever drink wine.  Those that married into the family couldn't either.  Now, that's conviction!

Like I said, I don't drink alcohol.  I also don't want my children to drink.  So, up to this point, I'm completely on board. But, that wasn't all that Jehonadab commanded of his descendants.

The hard part is in verse 7, "you must never build houses, sow seed or plant vineyards; you must never have any of these things, but must always live in tents." So, what's that all about?

If you don't build a house, do you have a place to call home?  If you aren't planting gardens and vineyards, are you staying in one place long enough to enjoy the fruits of your labors?

Personally, I like laying down roots. Going home to the same place every day after work is important to me.  I also appreciate having things to stick in that place I go to in the evenings.  If you've ever been camping, you know that tents were made to be picked up and moved, not to stay in one place for a long time and not to fill with stuff.  The forefather of the Rekabites didn't mince words, his descendants would live as nomads... in tents.

I admire the conviction of the Rekabites.  They seem like some of the minimalists (oddballs?) that you occasionally hear about in 21st century America.  Minimalists are people that get by with less, focusing on essentials rather than luxuries.  Some of these people have extended that minimalist philosophy to their homes, building fully functional 150 square feet houses on trailers.

tumbleweedhouses - this is an example sold by the Tumbleweed Tiny House Company
(not an endorsement)

Maybe the Rekabites  have employed this strategy if they are living in America today.

Yes... I do believe the Rekabite family is alive and well today.  Let's consider that in a minute.

In the refusal of the Rekabites to drink wine, they asserted strongly that they had obeyed EVERYTHING their forefather had commanded them.  They weren't lying, either.  

Another word came from the Lord to Jeremiah.  The prophet was to rebuke the Israelites using the Rekabites family as an illustration.  The Rekabites had obeyed everything a man commanded them to do.  Most likely with hardship, living as nomads.  The Israelites, conversely, failed to obey the words of GOD!  Time after time God's prophets were sent to them to urge them to heed God's words and turn away from wickedly following other gods; no doubt their comforts and luxuries were among those false gods.

Simply by turning to God, He would bless his people to live in the land he gave them.  If they didn't turn from wickedness, that land and their homes would be taken from them.

In contrast, the Rekabites received a blessing for their faithfulness to obey their forefather.  As a result of their simple obedience, "Therefore this is what the Lord Almighty, the God of Israel, says: ‘Jehonadab son of Rekab will never fail to have a descendant to serve me.’”

God didn't promise them a fancy house, not even one on wheels.  His promise was that the family would ALWAYS have a descendant to serve HIM. (No doubt a Rekabite is out there serving the Lord in the 21st century.)

Long before the birth of Christ and the writings of Paul, the Rekabites recognized that the earthly tent we live in (2 Corinthians 5) is a temporary dwelling.  We are foreigners and nomads in this land, but a mansion is being built for us in Heaven.  Better to be a servant in the house of the Lord, then live as a king where thieves break in and steal, and moths and rust destroy.

So what is the word of the Lord for me?  Though many righteous men have enjoyed fame and fortune, don't pursue it.  Be obedient to the word of the Lord... and serve him forever along with your children's children.