Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Looking At The Likeness

But He detected their trickery and said to them, "Show Me a denarius. Whose likeness and inscription does it have?" They said, "Caesar's" And He said to them, "Then render to Caesar the things that are Caesar's, and to God the things that are God's." And they were unable to catch Him in a saying in the presence of the people; and being amazed at His answer, they became silent. (Luke 20:23-26)

Once I heard a story about a military unit in a time of warfare that was consistently frustrated by insurgent forces. The insurgents had a successful strategy of infiltrating the perimeter security. The security forces would set up defensive measures to combat these assaults. One of these measures was to set in place a number of booby traps called Claymore mines. The Claymores were horrific weapons of war. These devices could be safely detonated by people inside the perimeter when they detected infiltration. The explosive charges inside each of the mines would send out a deadly spray of hundreds of bullet-sized projectiles that were designed to decimate an invading force. But the invaders were stealth warriors who were skilled at approaching the mines and turning them around. And when the security forces, who believed themselves to be in a safe position detonated the mines, they often never knew what hit them. The devastation was intense. Their safe place had been destroyed. Their traps had been turned around.
Jesus was an expert at turning the traps around. Those who perceived themselves to be in a safe position often tried to box Him in. Many times they were suddenly boxed in themselves. What was the point of His question-answering question? I believe it's simply this. Rome owned and occupied the Jewish nation. So if people knew they should surrender a portion of their hard earned wages to Caesar, then why were they not concerned with surrendering all of their hardened hearts to God? Humanity, especially those chosen as God's people, has the image of God imprinted upon them and the word of God inscribed within them. Therefore, the message is give yourselves to God. He owns us! We belong to Him. Don't get trapped by the trappings of the world and its systems. The enemy, and he does use religious systems and religious people for his purposes, is consistently setting out traps for God's people. He may think his forces are in a secure position. But remember Who it is that has declared this spiritual war. Jesus came to destroy the works of the devil. Jesus is the Warrior King, assaulting the enemy's positions. And with God's word inscribed upon our hearts, we can turn the enemy's traps around. Temptations to sin are the enemy's traps. But God has set the believer free from sin because it's power is broken at the cross of Christ. Surrender your soul to God. Get in the battle. The Lord Jesus is the Incarnate Insurgent invading enemy ground. And He calls us to engage the strongholds, the fortresses of evil. The devil has occupied this ground far too long. Christ in you can turn the traps around. This morning, when you look at yourself in the mirror, take a good look at who you really are. You bear the image of belong to Him.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Court Calendar

When I select an appointed time, it is I who judge with equity. (Psalm 75:2)

In our time and in our culture, knowing the clerk in a courtroom can be advantageous to the litigating attorney. If the lawyer knows the character of the judge and learns to manipulate the court calendar, favor might be found if they try their case on a certain day before a judge that they deem favorable to them. Knowing the day their favorite judge will sit on the bench can affect the outcome of the trial. At least that's the strategy. But the psalmist says it is God who appoints the time to render judgment...He needs no clerk in His court. And when it is the right time to render judgment, God's judgment will be equitable. In our human court system, seldom are there any real winners, even if one side wins the case. The toll is great and often both parties don't think everything is totally fair. But in God's court, justice is equitable. God wins. And He is just. Sin has been judged according to God's standard of justice in light of His interpretation. And it's the only opinion that matters. The psalmist says that the wicked will be judged by the LORD and they must drink the cup of His judgment completely. And the cup is in the hand of the LORD. He is attentive to it and administers it...all in His timing. God controls the calendar of His court. And there will be no postponements or delays when it is time to render justice.

Monday, August 29, 2011

A Bad News Day

He will not fear evil tidings; His heart is steadfast, trusting in the LORD (Psalm 112:7)

Fearing bad news is worse than hearing bad news. Death, Disease, and Divorce are three of the biggest bad news items. The weeping announcement of a loved one's death. The day the doctor gives a dreadful diagnosis of a cancer affliction. The courier delivers a package containing legal documents that expresses a spouse's desire for a divorce. All of these are proclamations of living out our lives on this sinful planet. This is the reality. Bad news tells us where we are. Sin brings bad news. We will get sick. We will die. Divorce happens when hearts are hardened. Many of us have heard these announcements. Many of us have a fear that we will hear them. Few are spared evil tidings. But this is why the gospel is such good news. It is like a breath of fresh air blowing through the stagnant atmosphere of life that lives no more. The cable news networks could not survive without bad news feeding the fears of people. Fear is a miserable condition and a miserable place to inhabit. Especially the fear of bad news. We begin to believe that we will actually not survive hearing these things. And we will go to any length to live in denial or refusal to hear and face the truth. Even pretending that all is well in this world. But the power of the gospel is enough to empower us to hear bad news. A person whose heart is established by the righteousness of Christ has a God-strong heart...steadfast...and braced for the bad news. This kind of person does not fear evil tidings when it comes. Why? Because this person fears God. And knows that for bad news to reach the ears it must have been first of all heard by the LORD...and a God fearing person trusts the LORD with evil tidings. Fearing God changes fearful hearts into faithful hearts. We can trust God to handle the truth.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Preparing For Revival

And all the country of Judea was going out to him, and all the people of Jerusalem; and they were being baptized by him in the Jordan River, confessing their sins. (Mark 1:5)

The results of revival seems to get our attention. Can you really prepare for these results? Some think you can. Some think you can't. So what does the text tell us? This was the beginning of Mark's Gospel...but it wasn't the beginning of the gospel story. Throughout the history of God's people there were times when they were confronted with the impossibility of God forgiving the sin of His people until the people came into a condition of repentance. Without repentance there can be no forgiveness of sin. Without the awareness of the need of forgiveness, repentance is a non-issue. Why would anyone repent, or turn from their sin, if they have no awareness that their sin separates them from the holiness of God? When we are made aware of our need for forgiveness it will be because we have recognized our sin...transgression beyond the boundaries that God has set in place. And we have missed the mark of rising to the standard of expectation that God has established...that His people be holy. When we realize our sin, we must agree with God about it. This is called confession. To call it what God calls it...not mistakes...not errors in judgment...but sin, rebellion against God and His order. So the beginning of the gospel must include a sense of our sin, realize our need for forgiveness, confession of sin, and practicing repentance. Then the way of revival is prepared. Then and only then, we are ready for the Lord to come. Revival implies that something once has lived. Revival for God's people is possible if we become prepared. Revival, a fresh breath of life, is that which results from preparation to receive the presence of God. Prepare to meet your God.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

A Legal And Moral Question

And He said to them, "Is it lawful to do good or to do harm on the Sabbath, to save a life or to kill?" But they kept silent. (Mark 3:4)

A non-answer to God is provocative. Sometimes it's far better to be wrong in our response to Him than not to respond at all. When God asks a question, He expects an answer or at least an acknowledgement. Anything less is treating Him as though He is irrelevant to our life and whatever He says doesn't matter because He doesn't matter.
So they kept silent. But a disrespectful and dishonorable response is not all that is in view here. Their non-response, provocative to God and dangerous to them, was also a defensive response. They could not answer the question without destroying their position on Sabbath worship. And their position was not as much about worship on the Sabbath as worship of the Sabbath. Jesus taught that the purpose of the Sabbath was to benefit man as it glorified God. So their silence was grounded in their willing miscarriage of justice. Jesus wanted to know what mattered most to them...that a life was changed because of doing something good...or that a life withered away because of the hardness of the hearts of so-called holy men. The law, at least in their traditional interpretation, mattered more than the misery of the man. Simply because the man with the withered hand did not matter. But he mattered to God. And morally, God occupies the high ground. Do you ever get so focused on meaningless religious activity that the morality of helping someone who is suffering gets clouded out? Even to the point that we shut our mouths and refuse to answer the Lord's leading questions...that's why He asks those kinds of questions...He is leading us somewhere...out of bondage...into blessing.
Don't miss the Lord's lesson: Not everything deemed legal is truly moral.

Friday, August 26, 2011

God's Test In The Middle of Our Mess

And He called for a famine upon the land; He broke the whole staff of bread. He sent a man before them, Joseph, who was sold as a slave. They afflicted his feet with fetters, he himself was laid in irons; until the time that his word came to pass, the word of the LORD tested him. (Psalm 105:16-19)

A sovereign God sends misery, miracles, and messengers to draw men to His mercy. In the midst of God's story about Himself and His people this seems to be a recurring theme. His word tests us. All too often the people of God finds themselves in a mess of someone's making. The purpose of God's promise is to shape us into people who simply believe God. We cannot be tested or refined unless we are faced with the option of doubting what God has said...the ancient test that began in the garden. Adversity has a way of bringing us into a place of decision. The decision to trust God in the midst of our trouble is based on certain stimuli...such as enduring misery when we are faced with something that doesn't resemble the blessing of God.
Joseph, sold into slavery by his brothers, imprisoned on account of false and slanderous allegations in Egypt, is given to us by the psalmist as a man in the middle of a mess. God was with Joseph. In fact, we are told that God's word tested him. Hard times in our human experience can lead us to Someone. Misery is often God's environment for miraculous deliverance. God will send men as messengers in the midst of that misery to proclaim His glory, power, and miraculous ways. Recounting the plagues of Egypt a few centuries later, we can know that the same God who judged Pharaoh still strikes down all false gods and delivers His people. But in the deliverance He will certainly test those He uses as His instruments. His word has tested us all. Joseph and Moses and me have been and are being tested to believe that all the LORD has said is true. The LORD, He is God. Receive it. Believe it. Be grateful for it.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Faith Is Something That God Can See

And Jesus, seeing their faith said to the paralytic, "My son, your sins are forgiven." (Mark 2:5)

God is looking for something when He looks at us. He's not looking for perfection. He's not looking for performance. He's not looking for a target. He's looking for faith. And faith looks good to God. God is looking for those looking to Him. God is looking for those who are hoping in Him. God is looking for those who know unless God does something, their situation is helpless. God sees our condition.
Did the paralytic ask to be brought to Jesus or was he taken there against his will? We aren't told for sure but it seems to me that he was included in the statement that Jesus saw their faith. I don't think he was an unwilling participant but I believe the result was that he was more incapacitated than he knew. And who knew the depth of of his miserable condition more than the paralytic himself? Who knew the greater of his affliction? Jesus saw their to be healed.
But Jesus also saw his heart...bound in sin and more crippling than his useless legs. And He sees our condition too. Today respond to the Lord in a way that gets His Him with your condition. Let Him see your faith. Forgiveness sets a paralytic walk with God. Faith is given by God and it's what He looks for when He looks at His children.

When The Soul Stops Its Bleeding

Soon afterwards He went to a city called Nain; and His disciples were going along with Him, accompanied by a large crowd. Now as He approached the gate of the city, a dead man was being carried out, the only son of his mother, and she was a widow; and a sizeable crowd from the city was with her. When the Lord saw her, He felt compassion for her, and said to her, "Do not weep." And He came up and touched the coffin; and the bearers came to a halt. And He said, "Young man, I say to you, arise!" The dead man sat up and began to speak. And Jesus gave him back to his mother. Fear gripped them all, and they began glorifying God, saying, "A great prophet has arisen among us!" and, "God has visited His people!" This report concerning Him went out all over Judea and in all the surrounding district.
(Luke 7:11-17)

"Do not weep." Are you kidding me? This widow was grieving the death of her only son and Jesus told her to stop crying. Doubly damaged by death's piercing blow, if anyone had a need to cry it would seem that this widowed mother surely did. So why do humans have a need to cry? Perhaps tears have their origin shortly after mankind fell into a sinful state and discovered they had suffered a great loss by rebelling against their Maker. They lost the intimate comfort of God's compassionate presence. He withdrew His nearness from the man and the woman. The price they would pay for sin was the introduction of death into the realm of life. It seems to me that tears began to fall as a result of the Fall, symbolic of wounded souls that are slowly bleeding to death. This widow must have surely thought she would die herself in her grief. And I believe if we were to receive the full force of our grief of any loss we suffer, we may indeed die. At least I have seen some who wish they could. Living has become too hard for them. This is the heartcry of the broken human condition. But then there comes One who says, "Stop weeping." Suddenly He demonstrates how what seems to be an impossibility becomes a new reality. The funeral march stopped in its tracks. One day the services of a funeral director will no longer be required in the land where God's people abide. All funeral processions will come to a screeching halt...just as the one in Nain. Funeral interrupted!!! No more weeping!!! The power of Christ puts a stop to the graveyard commute. And the reason for the cessation of all cemetary activity that day? When the Lord saw her, He felt compassion for her... Our God cares about His people. Life has put death to death...its just a matter of time. We agree with the news flash that went out all over Judea and beyond: God has visited His people.
Stop weeping. Our King is coming. And if you're a may be the time to get retrained. You'll need to know how to serve the Creator in more creative ways. The soul will hemorrhage no longer. Hearses will roll no more. As someone once sang...No more crying there...we are going to see the King...or more accurately the King will see us first!