Monthly Archives: October 2015

Help – it costs, but pays more

Jesus told of a Samaritan—a GOOD Samaritan to us, GOOD being an oxymoron to ancient Jews—who proved himself a neighbor in the most unexpected way Luke 10:30-37.  Remember that the Parable answered the silly, quarrelsome, self-justifying question of a Pharisee, “And who is my neighbor?”

Two Jews of the ruling class—religious men yet—didn’t help the stricken traveler.  Each saw him but passed by on opposite sides.  They had their reasons, but Jesus ignored them.  For when human need arises, others not sharing the misfortune should put responsibilities in abeyance while offering succor.  A few winters ago, a lady waded into the surf at a San Diego beach.  There she sat while others watched and wondered, but did nothing.  Finally, some who couldn’t contain their curiosity and concern walked out to her, only to find she had frozen to death.  Whether it’s duty, or previous appointments, or plain disinterest, or not wanting to interfere, we can always find reasons not to help when need arises.

However, Jesus noted that a Samaritan—understand how Jews hated the term—got involved.  The Pharisees once labeled Jesus a Samaritan, thinking the term equated with demon-possession John 8:48.  The “apostate” also had business appointments and responsibilities.  He also knew the traveler was a member of the hated Jewish race.  Yet, he took his time, spent his money, and offered follow-up care to the unfortunate.

Involvement costs:  money, time, sacrifice of leisure and recreation.  But what of the cost of non-involvement?  Do we want more of the same self-centeredness we see so often today?  Do we want more of self-obsession, where we don’t want to carry any more burdens, share any more sorrows or misfortune?

It cost Jesus to get involved with us.  But he thought nothing of the price to express God’s compassion.  Maybe thinking of what he paid to love us, we could more selflessly love others.

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(Love is Like That; 52 Communion & 52 Offering Meditations)

 

Prayer – value of the Lord’s

As most Christians know, what we call the Lord’s Prayer is really the Model Prayer.  The Lord’s Prayer is found in John 17.  Only Jesus could have prayed it.  It reveals him as God’s Only Son.  It exists in perfect juxtaposition with every other facet of Christ’s life.  Had he been deceptive in any way during his ministry, he would have confessed that in John 17.  For if a person is ever going to be honest with himself, it’s when he prays.  When he’s alone with God.  When he can see himself as he is, not what he might pretend to be with others.  When he can freely admit his mistakes and confess his sins.  Every syllable of John 17 harmonizes with every other syllable in Christ’s life.  That prayer authenticates every teaching, claim and miracle of Christ’s 3 ½ year ministry.

Now, it’s true, as Jesus taught in Matthew 6:5-6, that Pharisees in his day never got honest with themselves even in prayer.  They saw that most sacred spiritual experience as a means of self-aggrandizement.  Being a man of perfect consistency, however, Jesus wouldn’t condemn in others a behavior he practiced.

He also corrected the misconception that endlessly repeating one’s prayers brought answers that simple requests wouldn’t.  As if Heaven’s door is slammed shut and bolted and must be blasted down.  For John said, “After this I looked, and there before me was a door standing open in heaven” Revelation 4:1a.

As only Jesus could have prayed John 17, only he could have taught Matthew 6:9-15.  The imprimatur of his all-inclusive simplicity fills the seven verses.  It begins with God, the Essential Person.  We must prioritize God in prayer, including his holiness and our need to revere him and his name.  Those who do neither are under God’s condemnation.

It admits our role as servants embodying his kingdom and will.  We determine whether the peace God brings is revealed in us; whether the good God can do for all is first done in us.

It continues with his awareness of everyday life—a truth we can forget as our personal prayers aren’t answered and it seems we’re forgotten.  Since Jesus made God’s involvement with daily bread important, it’s sacred enough to pray for.

It gets very disturbing to our ego when God says he forgives our sins against him only as we overlook offenses of others against us.  He reinforced that truth in Matthew 18:21-35.  And that warning helps us to have positive relationships.

Jesus finalized the Model Prayer by seeking God’s protection against Satan’s powerful temptations.  God will test us.  That’s plain teaching.  He wants us to pray that we’ll be protected during the testing, lest Satan use it as a temptation to fail God.  We need constant awareness of God’s Presence, whatever we experience.  That he is God always and ever, and our FATHER always and ever.  Only that will insure that tests merely increase our faith and never become temptations before which we fall.

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Jesus – if not, who?

In Joshua 24:14-15 the great captain challenged the Hebrews with an uncomfortable reality:  they had to serve some deity.  If not God Almighty, which of the many gods and goddesses in the ancient world?  In Isaiah 8:19 the great prophet castigated his generation for turning from Almighty God to mediums and spiritists.

Both men posed a disturbing question:  if you don’t seek God Almighty, which of the multitude of icons and deities will you seek?  Humanity puts its trust in something or someone.  That’s the nature of finite beings in a strange, violent, uncertain world.

It’s a direct challenge to Americans.  Since the majority of our people no longer seek God in Christ, which of the multiplied icons on altars will they worship?  The god of Mammon, though money is only as secure as the economy?  The god of Intellect, though mortals spend only 70 to 80 years on earth, and can’t possibly be trusted to KNOW enough to guide us through life safely into the next?  The god of Medicine, though it can at best prolong life for a few months, and, in many cases, only prolongs existence?  The god of Experience, though all human experience warns us to never trust ourselves?  Or the god of so-called World Religions, though in every test between them and the God of the Old and New Testament, God in Christ glows, and they dim; God in Christ remains, and they vanish?

If we will not trust the Only God in Christ, how can we ever develop a consensus on a deity worthy of humanity’s adoration?  Indeed, by rejecting God in Christ, we simply make a deity of ourselves, each one his own spiritual expert, mouthing comforting phrases, positing verities we can accept, declaring promises we want to exist now and in the next world.

Fools!  As Joshua said, simplifying the religious question, “But as for me and my household, we will serve the LORD.”  That’s where Judy and I stand.  Won’t you join us?

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Jesus – better to accept him late than never

While in captivity after his abortive hundred day-return from exile, Napoleon began learning English.  Not unexpectedly, the language of the people he considered mere “shopkeepers” proved as difficult to write as her armies had been impossible to defeat.  A homework exercise by the deposed emperor included his personal seal and sold in 2012 for $405,000.  He began studying English in 1816, not knowing he would die in 1821.  But, then, better late than never.  North County Times, 6/11/12

Which applies to sinners and Jesus Christ.  Many bad things have been said about him by people ignorant of him, or informed about him but jaded by their sinful nature, dismissing him as irrelevant.  Remember:  before it’s too late, learn of him.  Become acquainted with him by studying his word.  Forget the mistakes that previous unfamiliarity will make in your new experience.  Struggle through Bible passages that seem too difficult.  God in Christ forgives all our sins, all our mistakes, all our misjudgments, all our wrong evaluations once we repent and are baptized for the forgiveness of sin.

Napoleon was 47 when he began the study of English—one of the most difficult languages to learn, certainly to write.  We don’t know how much he mastered in the five years remaining to him.  But since we don’t know when God will call our name, and we vanish from earth and stand before Jesus at Judgment, why not begin to get acquainted with him today?

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Christ – the sole center of attention in the New Testament, Part IV

The point of integrity in all the preceding perspectives is obvious.  If the disciples had been as wise as the Jesus Seminar says, they would have been under as much suspicion as Jesus.  They would have been arrested as his lieutenants. They would have been prosecuted as his essential followers. Indeed, had they been so masterful, they could have claimed for themselves the power they attributed to Jesus.  Had they possessed such massive capability, human egotism would have demanded publicity of their giftedness.  For the ego can’t be both expressed and silent; both dominant and recessive; both conscious of itself and dead to itself.  And since they to a man, with Paul as an example, Galatians 3:20, said they died to themselves to serve Christ, THAT settles the issue.

And…if critics say the disciples, when apostles, created Jesus, WHERE did they get their sudden spiritual maturity?  During Christ’s ministry they remained men of their age and religion.  Without an outside Influence enlightening and instructing them, they would have remained the same kind of men.  The last opinion to change is religious conviction, and not without reason!

And if brilliant forgers in the second century contributed to the deceit, where in the second century do we find a parallel to the Four Gospels and other New Testament writings?

The difference must perforce be admitted, since people don’t become someone different from their usual state without good, specific evidence.  Instead of insisting on fabrication of the Gospels, why don’t critics instead attribute the change in the disciples to the Baptism of the Holy Spirit?  That’s exactly what Jesus promised his men John 14:15-18, 26.  That source for the Gospels makes sense.  – Fini –

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Christ – the sole center of attention in the New Testament, Part III

While Jesus chose Twelve men as the apostolic corps, and had thousand of followers during his ministry, he alone received all the attention.  Consider three further perspectives in support of this thesis.

Satan’s Perspective:  The spiritual conflict in Christ’s ministry always existed between the devil and Jesus; not the devil and the Twelve.  Demons were subject to Jesus alone, and to the disciples only when they went as his emissaries Matthew 10:8.  After exorcising demons, he demanded silence about himself, never about the disciples.  It was always and only from Jesus that the demons sought mercy.

The Leadership’s Perspective:  Jesus always, and the disciples never, received criticism, questions about authority and charges of blasphemy.  After the first temple cleansing, they marked Jesus, not his disciples, as the man dangerous to them.  Judas promised to turn Jesus, not the disciples, over to the Sanhedrin.  (Point of fact:  he would have known if any of the disciples posed a threat to the leaders, and would have had them arrested with Jesus.)  With Jesus arrested, the leaders thought so little of the Eleven that they let them flee.  They considered no disciple, not even Judas, useful as a witness against Jesus.  And when Caiaphas questioned Jesus, it was about his teaching, not about his disciples.

God’s Perspective:  God’s first public statement about Jesus was to Mary:  her child would be called the Son of the Most High.  His second was to the shepherds:  a Savior is given, who is Christ the Lord.  After the baptism, God called Jesus “Son, in whom I am well pleased” Mark 1:9-11.  At the transfiguration God first sent Moses and Elijah to talk to Jesus, then removed them and left Christ ALONE, SUPREME.  And at the command of Jesus all the dead will rise and appear before him for judgment.  And so much more!

Before his Ascension, Jesus promised the Holy Spirit would come and empower the apostles as HIS witnesses.  And once Pentecost came, and ever after, every apostolic testimony was about Jesus Christ and no one else!  – End Part III –    Next:  the conclusion of the matter.

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Christ – the sole center of attention in the New Testament – Part II

This Part II blog encourages Christians to know why their hope in Christ is real, substantial and true, as I Peter 3:15 teaches.  The previous blog emphasized Christ as the cynosure of attention.  Consider now the different perspectives undergirding that fact.

His Family’s Perspective:  On at least four occasions they tried to intrude on his ministry; on each occasion they beat a hasty retreat when he adamantly refused the intrusion.  When they found the 12 year old in the temple Luke 2:48.  When Mary tried to force a premature declaration of his identity John 2:3.  When the whole family feared for his sanity Mark 3:21.  When his brothers tried to bait him into a premature disclosure John 7:2-5.  None of the family considered the disciples worthy of note.

His Disciples’ Perspective:  (a partial list)  They believed him to be God’s Son from the first and never changed their minds.  It began when he revealed his glory in Cana John 2:11.  Over two years later they confessed his Sonship privately Matthew 16:15-16.  A leading Pharisee developed nascent faith in him from the first, John 3:1-2, expressed growing faith, John 7:50-51, and robust faith in publicly taking charge of his corpse John 19:38-42.  All the WHILE…every disciple suffered from a flawed understanding of “Son of God”.

John the Baptist’s Perspective:  In five ways he focused on Jesus.  First, knowing he was only Messiah’s forerunner John 1:26-28.  Second, by asking Jesus to baptize him, not be baptized by him Matthew 3:14-15.  Third, by publicly testifying to Christ as the “Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world” John 1:29, 35.  Fourth, by accepting his secondary place to Jesus when his own disciples wanted John to prioritize his role John 3:22-35.  Fifth, by asking submissively if Jesus were the ONE John promised and professed.  Note:  John never gave any hint he could be the Christ; nor would he ever let his own disciples embrace that opinion.

Are you beginning to get a distinct drift in these perspectives?  More to follow.  – End Part II –

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Christ – the sole center of attention in the New Testament, Part I

Jesus had Twelve men as his ever-present inner circle.  At any time, he also had hundreds to thousands of followers in his entourage.  Yet, using the demoniac in Mark 5:1-20 as an example, wherever we look in on Christ’s ministry, he alone was the cynosure of attention.

While standing single file behind Jesus as the demoniac approached, no disciple feared himself as Satan’s target.  From the first sounds they distinguished as Legion neared, they understood that the contest was between Jesus and him, not they and him.

This truth harmonizes with every other event in the Gospels and Epistles.  In reality, to whom else would Legion have come?  Not to the townspeople; they had evicted him.  Not to the synagogue leadership; they despised his condition.  Not to the disciples; they were terrified by him.

Only Jesus could confront and conquer the demons, who felt irresistibly drawn to him as their Spiritual Superior.  Only he could comfort and restore the man whom Satan had so wickedly brutalized.

Besides, throughout his ministry, who but Jesus had been sought, followed, heard, desired, criticized and hated?  The historicity of this account is most emphatically seen in the many different perspectives regarding Christ in the Gospels, where he, not the disciples, is the focus of attention.  – End Part I –

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Discipleship – duty is but the beginning in

When the disciples asked Jesus to increase their faith—hearing him demand repeated forgiveness of offenders—he offered a parable involving mustard-seed faith Luke 17:5-10.  It related to servants knowing that doing their duty brought no thanks from their master.

In the same way, whatever he required of his disciples is the least we can do.  Only if we go beyond the required do we develop the mustard-seed faith that expands exponentially.

Jesus lived his teaching.  In Mark 14:35, in an aside, the evangelist said that Jesus entered Gethsemane with the three disciples, then went “a little farther.”  He always went “farther,” in every act of life.  Peter wanted to forgive an offender seven times, but Jesus forgave repeatedly.  People willingly loved their neighbors, but Jesus told us to specifically love our enemies.

Isn’t Jesus right?  Don’t we depend on people who always “do more” and “go beyond” what’s expected?  Churches and other voluntary organizations rely on people who “do their part”, then go “a little farther.”  Who think that willingness to do more is reward enough.  The operative word in John 3:16 is God loved SO much:  the little word that expresses limitless, unrestrained affection.  Do we follow in God’s train?  Or are we always looking for a short-cut, or to doing as little as possible to qualify as Christ’s followers?

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Christian – needs a spotless reputation

In 1878, Bob Womack found apiece of “float”—a rock containing precious metal—in Cripple Creek, Colorado.  It was 9 inches long, 3 inches wide and light for its size.  Sent to Denver for assay, it returned as $200 a ton gold.

Womack set out to find the vein originating the float.  He wandered over the mountain landscape, digging holes.  Many people began calling him “Crazy Bob.”  Being an alcoholic made the label easier to bestow.  In 1890 he found the source, ironically not far from his first sighting.

When he told of his find, people laughed.  Not only had the 10,000 foot valley been examined by informed, even expert, opinion, and dismissed as useless, but Womack hardly held the credentials needed to inspire people to chase dreams of gold strikes.  Even when his shaft, called, the El Paso, surfaced ore samples worth $250 a ton, his reputation dogged him.  He could interest no investors in his promises.

Only when other miners sank shafts in the extinct volcano mouth did the area zoom into fame.  By 1893, 10,000 miners lived there, increasing by 500 a month.  In 1900 Cripple Creek town had 25,000 people, and its mines produced $18 million in gold.  Womack’s El Paso produced $3 million.  But on a drinking binge he sold it for $300.  In 1909, he lived in Colorado Springs.  There he lived broke.  There he died broke, alcohol his nemesis to the end.  The Miners, Time-Life, 32

The story flings a spiritual gauntlet to believers.  If we’re going to be a witness for Jesus, we better check our life.  To develop the sober living, truthful dealings and personal attractiveness that reinforce our appeal.  With grace that appeals to, not repels believers.  With an evidence-based witness, strongly rational, not featuring emotional surges and withdrawals.  We certainly don’t want cultists and false world religions to inspire their devotees to an example that makes their appeals more impressive.

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