Tuesday, October 8, 2019

Every False Way

"Therefore I consider all your precepts to be right; I hate every false way." -- Psalm 119:128

Do I though? Do I really hate EVERY false way? Or are there some "false ways" that I really like? Are there "false ways" that I benefit from or enjoy the fruits of so I keep quiet about them and go on taking advantage of them for my personal gain?

These days it seems everyone has their favorite cause. We adopt them like pets from a shelter, put them on a fancy leash with a shiny collar and walk them around town so everyone can see what authentic, deeply caring, socially conscious people we are. We desktop activists hit the "like" button for our favorite issues -- women's rights, gay rights, animal rights, pro-life, pro-choice, save the rain forest, protect the environment, boycott companies with reckless disregard for the size of their carbon footprint, global warming, racial injustices, immigration reform and refugees seeking asylum, MAGA...

One thing is clear: We all know something has gone horribly wrong with this world. And most of us would agree that it largely has to do with humans. But where we miss it, IMHO, is that we have become really good at pointing the finger at everyone else and blaming them for the mess we are in (echoes of Eden... "It's the woman... no, it was YOU who gave her to me... No, it was the snake!"), seldom considering the hundreds of ways we are every bit as stupid and selfish. For every pet cause we like to feel righteously indignant about, we have a pet hypocrisy we sneak scraps to under the table. We all have them -- blind spots we just can't recognize (or won't) because it feeds our desire for pleasure, comfort, safety and security, meaning and purpose. 

David issues a challenge here to our carefully constructed fortress of righteous solitude: IF you truly consider ALL God's precepts to be right, THEN you must hate EVERY false way. No exceptions. You may not hold back any for yourself, or keep a couple in your pocket for special occasions. Everything false must go. Everything that the filter of God's revealed Truth doesn't allow through.

  • Things that we rely n to make us feel safe other than the Truth that He is our only safe place, our only rock, refuge, shield, shelter, hiding place.
  • Things that we delight in other than His beauty and glory. All that we consider beautiful or desirable is only an echo of the Beautiful One who created it, so why would we allow our worship to terminate on the creation rather than the Creator?
  • Things we look to for our identity, affirmation, and worth other than the love God has for us, the delight He takes in us, the precious blood of His only begotten Son, as that of a spotless Lamb, which He poured out completely -- not a drop withheld from us! 
Hating every false way means letting go of some things we would rather hold on to; it means admitting you have been wrong about something you could have sworn you were right about, and now all your friends will think you're crazy.

Look, there's nothing wrong with standing up, speaking out, and acting on behalf of a worthwhile cause. Scripture teaches that those who truly know God will delight in what delights Him -- justice for the voiceless and vulnerable, the poor and powerless, the overlooked and outcast. Those who love God will hate the abuse of power by the dominant over the marginalized minority. They will abhor the corruption of justice, bought and sold at the expense of the widow, the orphan, the stranger, the sick and disabled. He expects those who bear His name to act on their behalf IN HIS NAME precisely because it is His name we bear and its authority we are called to wield wisely.

So... real talk...for me personally: Do I really care about the systemic, institutionalized racialization of America, of the nearly invisible and almost imperceptible cancer of white supremacy that disadvantages blacks and other minorities with patriotic zeal?


Do I just want to appear "woke" to my ministry peers? I can read the books and learn the lingo, but if I truly "consider all Your precepts to be right," what will I actually DO abut it? Do I really hate EVERY false way enough to put my reputation and relationships at risk in order to stand up, speak out, and act on behalf of black and minority Americans, many of whom hate me just because I'm white?
Will I "hate the false way" of demonizing those whose sexual desires are different than mine, labeling them as a group to be hated or a problem to be solved rather than seeing them as human beings in need of compassion? I don't have to compromise my belief in what the Bible teaches about gender, sexuality, or marriage to just simply see another person as a human with a soul and treat them with dignity and respect. Will I even bother to get to know him or her before I stick them in a cage in my brain, lock the door, label the cage and walk away?

Will I "hate every false way" when it comes to justice for the immigrant, the refugee, the oppressed asylum seekers trying to make a better life for their families, even though almost every other white evangelical sees them as a liberal political issue to be debated dispassionately, as if they weren't humans with souls?

Will I "hate the false way" of hypocrisy when it comes to the militant right-wing conservative party line on abortion rights? Yes, abortion is murder, no question. Yes, it must be stopped, I agree. But are we false to the truth by mobilizing in the millions for the rights of UN-born children while, at the same time, turning a blind eye to the ALREADY-born children flooding our foster care system in America? Why is there a foster care crisis in this country with more churches than Starbucks? Why do Christians in America not step up and eliminate this crisis overnight by taking in these children who, remember, were once unborn and to be protected at all costs?

Father, "I am Your servant; give me understanding, that I may know Your testimonies." It's a crazy world and I need wisdom to sift through the lies and the spin, to know what's true and hate what's false. Begin with me, right here, in my own heart. In Jesus' Name, Amen!

Monday, October 16, 2017

No Shortcuts

 "And He began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and the chief priests and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again. And He was stating the matter plainly. And Peter took Him aside and began to rebuke Him. But turning around and seeing His disciples, He rebuked Peter and said, "Get behind Me, Satan; for you are not setting your mind on God's interests, but man's."
And He summoned the crowd with His disciples, and said to them, "If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross and follow Me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake and the gospel's will save it. For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world, and forfeit his soul? For what will a man give in exchange for his soul? For whoever is ashamed of Me and My words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man will also be ashamed of him when He comes in the glory of His Father with the holy angels." (Mark 8:31-38)

     Suffering. Rejection. Death.
     This is what awaited Jesus. Beyond that was the promise of the resurrection, but the only way you get a resurrection is to undergo the death that must precede it. Peter was looking for the shortcut to glory. Surely the Christ of God would not suffer those things!
Jesus called this attitude Satanic. It was a posture of the heart that elevated man's self-preservation instincts above the purposes of God. He then told His disciples (and the crowds that followed Him around, hoping for another free miracle-meal) that if you wanted to follow Him, grab a cross and start marching towards your own suffering, rejection, and death.

     If we think we can follow Him and avoid the tragedy that our own rebellious and self-focused lifestyles have brought on this planet, if we think we can enjoy the resurrection without the cross, we are fooling ourselves. And declaring publicly that we are ashamed of Jesus. We are disassociating ourselves from Him when we look for the easy way or get angry when God doesn't do things the way we think He should. We think we know how this story should go. We want to correct the Author for what surely must be a mistake. But we only see a very small part of the plot. We are but a sentence in a paragraph on a single page in one chapter of an epic Story. Trust the Author. The ending is worth it. "For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed to us. For the anxious longing of the creation waits eagerly for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of Him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself also will be set free from its slavery to corruption into the freedom of the glory of the children of God." Romans 8:18-21 https://www.bible.com/bible/100/ROM.8.18-21"For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed to us. For the anxious longing of the creation waits eagerly for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of Him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself also will be set free from its slavery to corruption into the freedom of the glory of the children of God." Romans 8:18-21 https://www.bible.com/bible/100/ROM.8.18-21(Romans 8:18-21)
     Father, forgive me when I set my mind on my own way and not Yours. When the evil and suffering of this world tempt me to think You are not good and You're not in control, help me to remember what it cost You to make things right when Jesus returns at "the renewal of all things." Though we bear the cross now in this evil age, there is a resurrection coming. Grant me the grace to endure and not lose heart. Even so, come quickly, Lord Jesus!

Friday, August 18, 2017

Blessing, Breaking, and Finding Rest in Christ

Mark 6:30-44
The apostles returned to Jesus and told him all that they had done and taught. And he said to them, "Come away by yourselves to a desolate place and rest a while." For many were coming and going, and they had no leisure even to eat. And they went away in the boat to a desolate place by themselves. Now many saw them going and recognized them, and they ran there on foot from all the towns and got there ahead of them. When he went ashore he saw a great crowd, and he had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd. And he began to teach them many things. And when it grew late, his disciples came to him and said, "This is a desolate place, and the hour is now late. Send them away to go into the surrounding countryside and villages and buy themselves something to eat." But he answered them, "You give them something to eat." And they said to him, "Shall we go and buy two hundred denarii worth of bread and give it to them to eat?" And he said to them, "How many loaves do you have? Go and see." And when they had found out, they said, "Five, and two fish." Then he commanded them all to sit down in groups on the green grass. So they sat down in groups, by hundreds and by fifties. And taking the five loaves and the two fish, he looked up to heaven and said a blessing and broke the loaves and gave them to the disciples to set before the people. And he divided the two fish among them all. And they all ate and were satisfied. And they took up twelve baskets full of broken pieces and of the fish. And those who ate the loaves were five thousand men.
(see also Matthew 14-13-21 & Luke 9:10-17)

    The disciples had just returned from their mission. Jesus had sent them out two-by-two into some pretty intense spiritual warfare with nothing but His authority, their faith, and each other. They saw amazing things happen but now it was time to rest and recharge. Jesus saw the need for them to pull away from the crowds, from the demands of life, from the distractions of the culture and just be with Him. Also, it was around this time that John the Baptist, their beloved former mentor, was executed by Herod. That had to come as a grievous blow to an already exhausted bunch of disciples.

     But the crowds got wind of it and literally outran their boat. They were waiting for them on the other side when Jesus and His disciples arrived for their retreat. Scripture says that Jesus “had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd.” Matthew records a similar reaction of Jesus to the crowds: “When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.” (Matt. 9:36) He then followed it up by telling His disciples that the harvest of harassed and helpless souls in need of Him was far greater than the number of laborers available and willing to bring them the hope of the gospel. “There’s more shepherdless sheep than there are shepherds, boys! Too much wheat to harvest for the few laborers we have.” And it moved Him to “compassion.”

     The original Greek word translated “compassion” is a very visceral word. It literally means His bowels churned at the intense emotion He experienced at their plight. It effected Jesus deeply with gut-wrenching pity and an overwhelming desire to rescue and redeem these wandering, helpless, shepherdless sheep.

     Scripture says Jesus began to teach them, and to heal the sick among them. Luke specifically says He “spoke to them of the Kingdom of God,” where there is no more sickness, pain, or death, and all things are made new in Him. Apparently, this lasted late into the afternoon. And as it began to be late, the disciples saw the problem and came to Jesus with their suggestion for a solution: “Send them away so they can get something to eat.” Jesus responded with a suggestion of His own: “You give them something to eat.”

     Jesus was training His disciples in what would one day be their calling: You are my answer to their great need. The church was to be the primary vehicle for bringing the hope of the coming Kingdom to the harassed and helpless sheep of the world, wandering in the wilderness without a shepherd to guide, feed, or protect them. I can’t remember where I first heard it, but someone once told me, “Never pray a prayer that you are not willing to be the answer to.”

     Note the almost sarcastic response of the disciples: “You expect us to buy enough food to feed all these people? That would cost thousands of dollars, which we do not have. And even if we could afford it, where would we be able to buy that much food?” In other words, the disciples were saying, “Jesus, you are crazy! What you are asking of us is impossible!” I can imagine Him smiling at them, as if to say, “That’s the idea, fellas.”

     According to the synoptic gospel accounts, Jesus then gave them a set of instructions:
  • “Go and see.” (Mark 6:38) Stop fretting about what you don’t have and take inventory of what you do have. What resources are available to you right now?
  • “Bring them to me.” (Matthew 14:18) Take what you do have and offer it to Jesus. Let Him take it from your hands -- out of your control, beyond your limited power – and make of it what He will. Don’t limit God’s activity to what you think is possible, rather trust Him to do what only He can do.
  • “Have them sit down in groups…” (Luke 9:14) Jesus gave the commands (authority) and enabled them to be carried out (power), but He entrusted the actual ministry to the disciples. (Both Matthew and Mark say that Jesus commanded the people to sit down, but Luke says He told the disciples to have the people sit down in groups. Most likely, He issued the command and the disciples carries it out. “Jesus says to sit down in groups…”) Jesus gave the Word, but the disciples delivered it to the people. They didn’t brainstorm or form a committee or call a meeting of a focus group to decide what was the best way to handle the situation. They walked with Jesus daily, trusted Him implicitly, listened to Him intently, and obeyed His instructions fully.

     What did Jesus do in response to their obedience? (Mark 6:41)
  • He blessed it. “…he looked up to heaven and said a blessing…” Jesus took what the disciples brought to Him and consecrated it to heaven for the glory of the Father. In blessing the bread, He set it apart as holy. It was no longer “just bread.” 
  • He broke it. “…and broke the loaves…” Jesus began to tear the loaves apart. While they remained whole, they could not be used to feed the crowds. Bread must be broken to fulfill the purpose for which it was made. I can’t help but wonder if Jesus thought of His own body to be broken on the cross to rescue and redeem the harassed and helpless sheep of the world.
  • He gave it to the disciples to distribute. “… and gave them to the disciples to set before the people.” Even though it was His power that made it possible, He entrusted the administration of the bread to His followers. In this way, He enabled the to fulfill the seemingly impossible command He had given them earlier.

     Go back to Mark 6:13. What was Jesus’ original command to His disciples? "You give them something to eat."

     What was their initial response? “We can’t. It’s impossible!” And they were absolutely correct! But Jesus never told them to meet the need from their own resources or abilities. They had to first acknowledge their utter powerlessness to do what Christ had commanded them.

What was the end result?  “And they all ate and were satisfied. And they took up twelve baskets full of broken pieces and of the fish. And those who ate the loaves were five thousand men.” (Mark 6:42-44) The disciples did exactly what Christ has commanded of them: They gave the people something to eat! Not only did all eat and not only were all satisfied, but each disciple had a basket full for himself. Jesus not only provided for the crowd though the, but provided more than enough for them as they carried out His commands!

Don’t miss this! Remember, they had originally come to this desolate place because they needed rest from a season of intense ministry and spiritual warfare. They were quite possibly grieving the loss of their former mentor, John the Baptist, who had been killed around that same time. Christ gave them the rest they needed in the faithful obedient ministry of compassion. Their rest was not found in self-contemplative meditation (though there is a place for that); they found their rest in joining Jesus in the ministry of His compassion in His power and provision!

What’s the take away for us?
  • Christ calls us to follow Him into impossible situations and commands us to do things we could never do in our own strength.
  • Everything we need to obey Him is already there. It may seem like nothing. It may seem insufficient to the need. But in Christ’s hands it is more than enough! 
  • Instead of taking inventory of what we don’t have, take what we do have and bring it to Jesus. Surrender what we have to God in faith. Trust Him with it. Let go of it. For our little to become more than enough, it has to pass from our hands, out of our control, and into His hands. As long as we insist on holding on to it, it will remain insufficient. 
  • Let us yield our own best thinking, your human wisdom. Let us not set limits on what God can do based on our ability to figure things out. Instead, let’s acknowledge our desperate dependence on Him and trust that He will enable us to do what He called us to do.
  • We need both Christ’s blessing and His breaking. Brokenness is what makes ministry possible. If we insist on remaining unbroken, we are useless to the Kingdom. The blessing is Christ’s favor: He chooses us for His purposes, sets us apart for His ministry, He makes us His own. He consecrates us to heaven as vessels of the Father’s glory. Then He breaks us – breaks us of selfish pride, selfish motives, selfish ambitions and agendas. We must die; nothing of the self can remain. We must allow the breaking process to make us fit laborers for the harvest.
  • Christ supplies the power but He entrusts the actual ministry to us. We are the hands and feet of Jesus in ministering the Bread of Life to the harassed and helpless sheep without a shepherd. We are the response of Christ’s gut-wrenching compassion for the world!
  • If we yield in obedience, we will see the impossible command that Christ gives us become a fulfilled reality through us to the glory of God. We get the privilege of participating in God’s redemptive mission in the world.
  • The fruit of our faithful obedience is total transformation (not enough becoming more than enough), total satisfaction in Christ, and Jesus glorified.
  • Jesus supplies more than enough to sustain us as we supply His bread in ministry. He will meet our every need as His obedient followers in the process of service to Him.