Comfort

John 6, Psalms 108

As I look back on my life and the choices I’ve made, I find a startling reality.  Most of the time, I seek comfort.  What does that mean exactly?  Comfort is the absence of pain, stress and exertion.  Easy is another way to define it.  Today’s reading of John 6, has me asking questions about Jesus and comfort.   Specifically, am I choosing Jesus so that my life will be easier and, therefore, comfortable?

The answer to that question can be found in our prayers and private thoughts.  For example, when we pray, or wish, for a better paying job, a new car or another sale, aren’t we really asking to be more comfortable?  Don’t get me wrong, those prayers are ok and I do think that God honors them, but we have to be careful.  You see, when God provides for our needs, we may reduce him to a sort of Santa Clause, loving him for all the ways he make us comfortable.  Thankfully, Jesus knew that this is our weakness.  In fact, shortly after feeding the 5,000, the crowd followed him to Capernaum.  Their arrival prompts him to give this admonition,

Truly, truly, I say to you, you are seeking me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves. Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give to you. For on him God the Father has set his seal.”

He wanted them to understand why they were seeking him.  And, if it is to be fed, there is a problem.  His goal is not to feed us so that our bellies are full.  In other words, he is not about our comfort.  No, He is about who we become internally and eternally.  He is talking about our soul.  Thinking back to our own prayers, is see that this is why God doesn’t answer our prayers.  According to James 4:3, 

“You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions.” 

What would it look like if we focused our prayers and private thoughts on the condition of our souls and His deity rather than our comfort?  This is the bread of life that Jesus is talking about.  It is “soul food.”  We will do well to remember this as we wish and pray.  I am reminded of a comment in the book Soul Keeping.  John Ortberg recounts Dallas Willard’s words, who says, “Your soul is not just something that lives on after your body dies. It’s the most important thing about you.  It is your life.”  That is a scary comment to me.  In fact, it makes me very un-comfortable Why?  Because souls are unknown places.  I don’t understand what lives there and I don’t  know what to do about it.  But, Jesus does.  He is dying for us to ask Him about it.  Pray and wish that with me this week.

Think Ahead

Matthew 27, Psalm 100

when Judas, his betrayer, saw that Jesus was condemned, he changed his mind ~Matthew 27:3

Today, in Matthew 27, we read about Judas’ victory. Or, at least, what Judas thought was going to be his victory.  He finally achieved what he set out to do.  There are two reasons, I surmise, for Judas’ choices.  One is money and the other is acceptance.

Consider first that Judas was the keeper of the purse for the apostles.  Not because he was specially gifted with finances, however.  No, Judas was concerned with the amount of money in the purse.  Not for the benefit of Jesus, or humanity, but for his own gain.  This is evident in John 12:1-8.  Judas was, in fact, greedy for monetary gain.  HIs relationship with Jesus was nothing more than a vehicle to gain wealth. Perhaps, that is why he was willing give up Jesus’ location for 30 pieces of silver.  Unfortunately, 30 pieces of silver is only about $600 in todays dollars.  There must be a secondary motivation for his choices.

Perhaps Judas was also looking for the respect of men.  Looking back to Matthew 26:14-16, Judas was hanging out with men opposed to Jesus.  Given his position, I imagine that they did not fully trust him.  Maybe they made fun of him for being with Jesus.  Maybe Judas wanted to be liked by them.  We all do stupid things when we are seeking the approval of men.  I imagine Judas puffing himself up with stories about Jesus and the Apostles.  Eventually, to build creditability, he chooses to make a grand gesture.  In this case, it was about selling Jesus’ location. 

Then one of the twelve, whose name was Judas Iscariot, went to the chief priests 15 and said, “What will you give me if I deliver him over to you?” And they paid him thirty pieces of silver. 16 And from that moment he sought an opportunity to betray him.

Once Jesus was condemned, however, Judas rethought his choices.  In fact, he realized that he was on the wrong side.  I can only guess why.  Honestly, its like most things of this world.  We all choose things that will serve our wants and build our own credibility and not the kingdom’s.  Seriously, think about a time when you were tempted to compromise your values for something that you would gain.  Maybe its an oversight on your taxes or taking credit for work so that your boss will see you in a better light.  Maybe, like Judas, we are ok with your choices.  Until, you get caught and are able to see the bigger picture.  Perhaps we have all experienced what Judas felt in Matthew 27, realizing that our gain is actually a huge loss.  When that happens, don’t we do exactly what Judas did in verse 3?  We change our minds!  Sadly, for Judas, it was too late.  He could not see past his betrayal.  The only restitution he could think of was death.

We do have an option.  Today, and everyday, we can choose life.  Simply put all of my faith in Him and His goodness.  Nothing else.  Before, it’s too late.

Cornerstone

Matthew 21, Psalm 94

By definition, a cornerstone is “a stone that forms the base of a corner of a building, joining two walls.”  Historically, the cornerstone was the first stone set in a new building.  It was carefully selected and placed, becoming the reference point for the rest of the building.  The Bible often references the cornerstone of our lives.  This stone is special and set apart, selected and laid by God himself (Job 38:4-7).  It has been tested and it is precious. These ensure a firm foundation (Isaiah 28:16).  This cornerstone is an anchor point for an entire building; his temple.  It consists now of apostles, prophets (Ephesians 2:19-21), saints, the chosen as his royal priesthood  (1 Corinthians 1:2, 1 Peter 2:9).  Each of us, placed securely and carefully around the cornerstone.

We get to choose a cornerstone upon which to build our own lives.  Just like the Jews in Matthew 21, we have a choice.  We either choose Jesus for that stone, or we reject him as that stone.  Trouble comes in the rejection.  You see, failure to place Jesus as the cornerstone, doesn’t mean that we have built an inferior house.  No, it means that we have built a house without God.  A house without life (Genesis 2:7, Acts 17:25).  In fact, Matthew 21:44 gets right to the point, reminding us that our rejection results in death. 

As we consider that truth, it is right to consider our current state.  Maybe our lives already have Jesus as the cornerstone.  In that case, the fruit will be obvious.  Our lives are exuding love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness and self-control (Galatians 5:22-23).  If these are missing, however, what are we to do?  That, my friends, is the wonderful thing about the Gospel. 

The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. (Lamentations 3:22)

In order to receive his mercy and place him as our cornerstone, there is only one thing required.  Believe.

If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. 10 For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved. (Romans 10:9-10)

Good or Righteous

Matthew 13, Psalm 86

Matthew 13:47-50 (ESV) Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a net that was thrown into the sea and gathered fish of every kind. 48 When it was full, men drew it ashore and sat down and sorted the good into containers but threw away the bad. 49 So it will be at the end of the age. The angels will come out and separate the evil from the righteous 50 and throw them into the fiery furnace. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.

Reading the parable presented in Matthew 13:47-50,  I find myself contemplating good vs. righteous.  Did you notice that the fisherman saves all the good fish?  Compare the fisherman to the angels in verse 49.  Alternatively, the angels don’t save good men, they save righteous men.  Why do these words change?  What is the difference? 

To start, consider what is good?  Who is good?  These questions remind me of Jesus’ conversation with the rich young man in Mark 18.  Jesus challenges the rich man’s definition of good.  Why?  Because it wasn’t enough.  In order to receive the full grace of God, being good didn’t earn him salvation.  The rich man needed something more.  Isn’t the same true today?  Everyone thinks that they are ‘good.’  In fact, just like the rich young man, we have followed the rules.  We have never murdered anyone, we don’t commit adultery, we don’t steal or bear false witness.  No, we do not defraud, in fact we are very honest and, yes, we honor our father and mother.  In fact, we see them every weekend and love them very much.  So clearly, we too, are good.  Unfortunately,  good is enough to save the fish, but apparently, not enough to save men. The salvation of men requires righteousness.

Verse 49, shifts the conversation from good to righteous.  Why?  Consider Jesus’ reminder in Mark 13:18.  Despite all our efforts, He insists that “no one is good except God alone.”  Paul backs him up in Romans 3:12, saying ‘no one does good,  not even one.”  As I consider these exhortations, everything in me wants to defend the good that I have done.  Maybe its about how much money I’ve given or how many hours I’ve spent serving and volunteering.  To be true, I have to ask, how am I, how are we, different from the rich young ruler?  Answering honestly, I must admit that we are not different.  We are just like him.  In fact, our failure to accept it strips all power from Jesus Christ, rendering his sacrifice on the cross impotent.  If, on the other hand, we embrace their admonitions, we are finally able to receive the deep desire of our hearts, righteousness.

When I think about good vs righteous in this way, I get a hint at their difference.  Good is about my life.  Good carries elements of carnality and the desires of the flesh.  Righteousness, on the other hand, is all about God.  It disregards my-self.  It prefers the kingdom of God over everything else.  There is only one way that this heart condition is rendered.  We see it in Romans 4:20-22.  Abraham “grew strong in his faith as he gave glory to God, fully convinced that God was able to do what he had promised. That is why his faith was “counted to him as righteousness.”  How then, do we gain righteousness over goodness?  Give glory to God and rely on him to do what he has promised.

What Do You Want?

Luke 18Psalm 66

As Jesus approached Jericho, a blind beggar was sitting beside the road. When he heard the noise of a crowd going past, he asked what was happening. They told him that Jesus the Nazarene was going by. So he began shouting, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!”  “Be quiet!” the people in front yelled at him.  But he only shouted louder, “Son of David, have mercy on me!”  When Jesus heard him, he stopped and ordered that the man be brought to him. As the man came near, Jesus asked him, “What do you want me to do for you?” (Luke 18:35-41)

Did you pay attention to Jesus’ question in this story?.  How would you respond to him?  Think about it.  If you captured Jesus’ attention and, point-blank, he asks you, “what do you want me to do for you?”  How do you respond?  My own answer to that question sends panic through my heart.  Why?  Because, my answer reveals the condition of my heart.

There are a thousand things that I want from him.  I want a new car, a new house and another sale.  I want my company to grow faster and have more influence.  I want him to heal my friend with cancer and to provide more money for the needy.  All of those things are what I want.  Do those Lord.  Should we be surprised that God doesn’t jump in and honor all of my requests?  We shouldn’t.   James 4:3 reminds us that, “You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions.”  Yes, that answer stings a bit.  There is, however, a better way.  Consider the response of young King Solomon.

Similar to the blind man, the Lord appeared to Solomon.  He asked him, “What do you want? Ask, and I will give it to you!” (1 Kings 3:5).  Solomon replied, “Give your servant an understanding mind to govern your people, that I may discern between good and evil, for who is able to govern this your great people?”  (1 Kings 3:9).  Solomon’s response pleased the Lord.  So did the blind man’s.  He answered, “Lord, I want to see!” (Luke 18:45).  Jesus immediately responded to this request.  Why?  Because like Solomon, his request required faith in God for the sake of God.

Do you know what you want?  Do you know that the Holy Spirit is here, waiting for you to ask?  What do you want him to do for you?

Go Into The Wild

Luke 4, Psalm 81

Where do you most often look for God?  Maybe its in your living room, or in your bed before you go to sleep?  It’s not important where you go, as long as you go.  There are times, however, when longer, more focused times are needed.   This practice called solitude.  Jesus did it too.  He can be seen retreating into lonely places, sometimes called the wilderness.  Today, in Luke 4, we get to witness this experience as Jesus is called into the wilderness by the Holy Spirit.

Why would the Holy Spirit call Jesus to a lonely place?  To the wilderness?  Doesn’t the wilderness seem like a bad place to be?  In the wilderness, we lose our sense of direction, fear is elevated, and attack by a predator is likely.  The answer is that he simply followed the Holy Spirit (Luke 4:4).  I can tell you that the picture in my head is wrong.  I see Jesus as an innocent child being lured into danger by the Holy Spirit.  That is totally wrong.  Instead, Jesus has one hundred percent trust in the Holy Spirit and the Holy Spirit is leading him with one hundred percent love.  The purpose, as Richard Foster so wonderfully puts it is, “so that he could all the more fully enter the divine feast.”  Do you hear that?  The Holy Spirit is leading Jesus toward a Spiritual Feast.  It will not include physical food.  No, it will be God only – spiritual food – for the next 40 days.

What would your life look like if you spent 40 days alone, no cell phone, no TV, no internet?  40 days with God.  If you don’t know, then we are even.  I cannot imagine it either.  What I do know is that Jesus comes away full.  Not just full, but complete and perfectly equipped to be our Savior.  Here is the proof.  Think of the physical toll 40 days without food would take.  Your body is weak and lethargic.  Your mind is starved.  Your thinking  is slow and dull.  The combination of these jeopardizes every action, every decision.  The same was true for Jesus.  However, instead of giving in to the Devil’s schemes, he drew on his deep well of God’s power to hold fast.  Why?  Not because Jesus was unable to be deceived.  It was because Jesus spent enough time with God to know that nothing, absolutely nothing compared.  The Devil was not able to offer him anything better than he already had possession of.  Even better, this opportunity sets up Jesus’ ministry.  By denying the Devils worldly schemes, ”He intended to demonstrate a new kind of power, a new way of ruling. Serving, suffering, dying — these were Jesus’ messianic forms of power.” (Richard Foster)

As I read the account of Jesus’ 40 days in the wilderness and his subsequent temptation, its easiest for me to believe that he was different than me.  That i am a mere human and he was God.  That belief confronts me with two problems.  First it denies Jesus identity as being fully human.  Second, it effectively eliminates any responsibility for me to follow the Holy Spirit into the wilderness.  That is where I too can “fully enter the divine feast.”  Will you go too?

Foster, Richard J.. Streams of Living Water: Celebrating the Great Traditions of Christ. HarperCollins. Kindle Edition.

Introduction to 1 John

Psalm 38

How do you view accountability?  As a child, accountability often looked like a yard stick.  Maybe that’s why I get nervous when I think about it.  I may not have liked it, but I always needed it.  Even now, as an adult.  It was true in Bible times too.  Today, as we ready to read 1 John, the apostle John is exercising his responsibility to hold Christians accountable.  When you examine it you will see three distinct components.  A reminder of who Jesus is, how we react to that understanding and finally, why it matters.

I John starts with a reminder of who Jesus is.  If you haven’t noticed, its easy to get mixed up about Jesus.  That is as true today as it was 2,000 years ago when John wrote this book.  People everywhere were questioning Jesus’ divinity.  After all, how is it possible to be human and God?  Our faith is easily sidetracked with such questions.  Many of us already have. For example, it is far easier to believe that Jesus was just a “good guy” than it is to believe he is God.  In 1 John, John rebutts these falsehoods with a strong message of truth.  He reminds us that Jesus was, in fact, “from the beginning,” meaning that he was with God before all of creation.  He also points to evidence of his humanity, recalling that they saw him personally and were able to touch him physically (John 20:27).  These reminders of truth hole us accountable to the core truth’s of Jesus.  

As we recall his perfect nature, John begins to encourage us to act accordingly.  The behavioral change John is talking about starts with our heart which is justified through Jesus’ sacrifice. We need to remember our need for forgiveness and salvation, often.  This remembrance causes behavioral changes.  He fills our renewed hearts with His love and goodness.  Out of this river, flows righteousness and good deeds.

In conclusion, John encourages us to be confident.  Not just for eternal life, but for true life.  Right here on earth.  God cares about our struggles.  He wants to intercede.  He will intercede.  Sometimes, we just need a reminded.

Heads or Tails?

James 2, Psalm 24

Do you say that faith is the only requirement for salvation?  That if you confess with your mouth and believe with your heart you are done?  Maybe you prefer to think that your “goodness” will pave the way for you.  That salvation is about how you treat others and what you do to care for the world.  Today, in James 2, we get a full dose of reality.  Apparently, both are true and neither is true.  How can that be?  For me, it’s easier to think about faith and works as two sides of the same coin.  To help illustrate that, I am recalling a movie series from the late ‘70s called Oh God.  Those movies captured my imagination and probably, in some twisted way, shaped part of my theology. I’m thinking specifically of an exchange where God, played by George Burns,  was talking with a young girl, Tracy.  He was attempting to explain the paradox of good and bad.  It went like this:

God: I know this sounds like a cop-out Tracy, but there’s nothing I can do about pain and suffering.  Its built into the system.

Tracy: Which you invented

God: My problem was I could never figure out how to build anything with just one side to it

Tracy: One Side?

God: You ever see a front without a back

Tracy: No

God: A top without a bottom?

Tracy: No

God: An up without a down?

Tracy: No

God: OK.  Then there can’t be good without bad, life without death, pleasure without pain.  That’s the way it is.  If I take sad away, happy has to go with it.

It is this conversation, along side James 2 that shows me how faith and work are two sides of the same coin.  You can’t have faith without works.

We must have faith.  We must believe that Jesus died, for our sins.  We must acknowledge that this sacrifice removes allows us to live free and abundantly.  Through Jesus, we have no guilt, no shame and no punishment.  We are justified and sanctified.  Righteous even.  Sounds great, doesn’t it?  Some would have us believe that nothing more is needed.

The other side of the coin, however, is works.  Many in this world believe that their “goodness” is all that is needed.  They care for others and the world giving freely of their time and money.  They say, “I will show you my faith by my works” (James 2:18). 

What faith alone fails to acknowledge is that Jesus’ resurrection gives us power.  What works alone fails to acknowledge is our need to be justified and sanctified.  They attempt to be fronts without backs, or backs without fronts.  Nonetheless, faith and work are two sides of the same coin.  When they work together, God’s plan is realized.

Consider Jesus’ challenge to his disciples.  He said, 

Truly, I say to you, if you have faith like a grain of mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move, and nothing will be impossible for you” (Matthew 17:20).

God wanted the disciples to have great faith.  Not just so that they would be saved from eternal damnation.  He also wanted them to do great works.  Likewise, he wants us to do great works.  It is through faith that we are empowered to do anything.  Even move mountains!  Of course, we have to get on with moving the mountain.  Otherwise, all that power is useless.  It’s like an electrical generator running at full power with nothing plugged into it.  What a waste!

I could never write about faith and works without adding in a little Rich Mullins. One of my favs!

 

Credible

Hebrews 2, Psalm 10

I spent two days last week at the Global Leadership Summit, hosted this at Eastview Christian Church.  They presented a fantastic array of world-class that provided their wisdom, insight and instruction to become better leaders.  These talks are nothing new to me.  In fact, I consume an unbelievable amount of similar information every week.  I read blogs and books, listen to podcasts, even receive daily tips in my email.  Why?  Because I want to become everything that God created me to be.  Filling my heart and mind this way helps to assure my success. I must be careful, however, with who I listen to.

Each of last week’s speakers and authors has credibility.  For example, in her talk about forgiveness, Immaculee Ilibagaiza described, in detail, the horror and terror she experienced during the Rwanda genocide in 1994.  Her personal experience and resulting triumph offer me encouragement and hope in any circumstance. Clearly, she is a trustworthy source.  

As I reflect on last week’s speakers and consider Paul’s conversation with us today in Hebrews 2, I noticed an interesting correlation.  God, did the same thing.  He experienced life, just as we do, right here on earth.  He did it for two reasons.  First, so that he can understand exactly what it is like to be human. The only possible way to do so, was to send his son, in flesh and blood to live life, just like us.  

Because God’s children are human beings—made of flesh and blood—the Son also became flesh and blood. Hebrews 2:4 (NLT) 

The second consideration in God’s becoming human is credibility.  Why should we listen to Jesus Christ?  What makes him an authority?  Simple, his performance during and after hardship and suffering prove his character.

Since he himself has gone through suffering and testing, he is able to help us when we are being tested. Hebrews 2:18 (NLT)

Thankfully, Jesus can help us better than any speaker or leadership guru. He conquered death.

For only as a human being could he die, and only by dying could he break the power of the devil, who had the power of death. Hebrews 2:14 (NLT)

Because of his living sacrifice, we are no longer bound, but are free.  Nothing can prevail against us (Matthew 16:18).  Nothing.

 

Fight The Good Fight

Today’s Reading: 1 Timothy 6

Not too long ago, I scheduled Friday evening walk-thru to discuss some problems a customer was having with his house.  It was the only time he had available.  Not surprising, this busy executive was running late.  When finally he walked into the house, I greeted him with a handshake and a big smile, expecting him to unload on me about the busy and tumultuous week that he has had.  Cautiously, I asked, “did you have a good day?”  His response was one that I will never forget.  He said, simply and authentically, “I fought the good fight.”  What an interesting comment!  Since that conversation, I’ve stopped thinking about my days as good, or bad.  Instead, at the end of my day, or week, I remind myself that I am fighting the good fight.  Paul gives us some interesting feedback today about the good fight.  He uses four words to outline how we do it.

Flee – (v11) to escape, shun, run away from

From what in your day, or week did you flee?  Or, maybe you did not flee when you should have.  Perhaps, there s something in your life this very moment that you need to flee. 

Pursue – (v11) to run swiftly in order to catch something, to seek after eagerly, earnestly attempt to acquire

What are you pursuing in your life?  Are you full throttle in your career?  For what purpose?   Maybe its money, or is it power?  In this passage, Paul is encouraging us to pursue faith and only faith.  That means running after God, earnestly and swiftly.  The goal is to catch him!

Fight – (v12) struggle, strive, to contend with an adversary

No, it will not be easy.  Things won’t go our way.  It will often feel as if someone is fighting against you.  The good news is that we have been given amazing tools for this battle.  Ephesians 6:10-18 describes how God protects us.  He gives us “full armor” so that we can stand firm.  Additionally, He wants us to fight hard against our adversary with his sword of truth.

Take Hold – (v12) take possession, attain, seize

God does not want us to wait until the battle is over.  He wants us to claim the prize, now!  Don’t forget, he already won the war.  He sent his only son to die on the cross (1 John 2:12-14).  Its time to stake our claim.

Father, thank you for simple ways to better understand your Truth.  Give us wisdom today to see clearly what we are pursuing.  Provide us with the courage we need to flee from temptations.  Resolve in our hearts a desire for you that enables us to fight.  We trust in your armor to help us stand firm.  Today, Lord, victory is yours.  Not even death can overcome it.