Meekness NOT Weakness

In our pursuit of applying the Beatitudes to our daily lives we need to continually remind ourselves that we are not meant to fit in! Great! Just what I want to hear. It is difficult to maintain, embrace and accept that the teachings of Jesus infer that His followers (Christians) are to be altogether different from the world around them. We are supposed to ‘salt’ and ‘light’. We are not supposed to blend in. Down through the centuries we have often struggled to get this right, and have often got it wrong. I am not calling for anyone to join up with some Monks and become part of some Monastic movement, nor am I endorsing a legalistic worldview that established a list of things not to do and places not to go. Not at all. Growing up in church I often heard the phrase ‘don’t drink, smoke or chew, or go with girls who do’. Somehow, that logic did not yield positive results.

The difference that Christ calls for is not rooted in outward appearances or form. It is an inward difference in essentials. As a ‘new’ person (born again) and ‘new’ creation we now belong to an entirely different ‘new’ Kingdom (2 Cor. 5:17). Therefore, our very nature (essence, quality, character) is to be very different from the culture around us. In this week’s blog we will see how true this is when it comes to meekness.

“Blessed are the meek, because they will inherit the earth”.

Our current culture celebrates bold expressive individualism, aggressiveness, strength, power and ability. There is a ‘drive to succeed’ that is inherent within our civilization. Pushing to the top of the corporate ladder seems to be the name of the game, and those who do are viewed to ‘have it all’. In the face of this common cultural norm comes the words “Blessed are the meek: for they will inherit the earth”, and they alone. How so?

Meekness is difficult to maintain as we interact with people around us. To help us understand what this looks like consider the following OT examples. Moses was said to be the ‘meekest man on the face of the earth’. Not a bad self-description. In the face of steady criticism, complaints and crankiness (from God’s people) Moses never once pined for the palaces or privileges he once had in Egypt. Moses relied on God. Likewise, Abraham allowed the younger Lot to take first dibs on the best land; David did not strike back at Saul when provoked, chased and hunted; Jeremiah the prophet continued while being stabbed in the back by the people of God and his own family. All these people demonstrated the character of meekness.

In the NT we see Stephen standing in front of those who were about to kill him, and the Apostle Paul writing to help a church (Corinth) even though they spoke negatively about him. Meekness.

The best example is Jesus who did not use His Divinity for His own purposes, but lived in obedience to the Father. Meekness. What is it?

I can tell you that meekness is not being easy going, nice, laid back, smooth it over, or peace at all costs. That is not meekness. Neither is it being joyful or happy all the time. Not so.

First, meekness is great strength. Biblically it is compatible with great authority and power. The ability to stand and die for what you believe is not weak. In fact, to do so without being tied up with thoughts of personal defence or protection is great strength. A meek person has their utmost confidence, trust and dependency in something other than themselves. Furthermore, a meek person never pities themselves, feels sorry for themselves, or says that they are misunderstood and complains about the treatment they are receiving because of it. Putting it very plain, to be meek means that you have finished with yourself altogether and you have come to see you have no rights at all. See how this flies in the face of our modern culture. Like Christ, we are to be humble, lowly of heart, gentle, long suffering with the absence of retaliation (1 Peter 2:21-23).

Second, meekness is great teachability. Meekness always implies a teachable spirit. A meek person is always ready to listen and learn because they have such a ‘poor’ (in spirit) idea of themselves and their own capabilities that they are ready to be taught, or filled at any given moment. Remember that in order to be filled, you must first be emptied. The Eternal Logos became a man (Jesus), who was led by Spirit in obedience to the Father. A meek person is hungry to learn, grow, and be filled all the time.

Third, meekness is great abandonment. The meek person leaves everything (themselves, their cause, their future) in the hands of God, especially if they are suffering unjustly. Vengeance is not theirs, it’s The Lord’s. A meek person has a quietness in their spirit, mind and heart because of whose Hand’s they are in. This is why meek people inherit the earth.

The meek person is truly satisfied and contented because they have nothing and everything all at the same time. The meek person truly understands the greatness of God and the strength found in His Son. Strength to endure, and overcome comes to the meek person who truly knows the truth of God’s eternal Kingdom and their place with Him in it (joint-heirs with Jesus, Romans 8). We can be meek, because we know that we will reign eternally!

My prayer for us this week is this: Luke 14:11 “For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and the one who humbles himself will be exalted”

Meekness can only be achieved by the Holy Spirit . Monks tried to make themselves meek, but failed. It can’t be naturally done. God’s Holy Spirit is the only source who can make us poor in spirit, mourn our sin, and produce in us what is true. Holy Spirit is the One who show us the right view of our selves and then gives us the mind of Christ.

For us who have received God’s Spirit at conversion, we have no excuse for not being meek (you can say ouch or yikes). It is impossible for the unbeliever, but is to be a character of Christ’s followers produced by God’s Spirit. With His help we can have it. The earth is yours to inherit. Blessed are the meek.

Maranatha!

Kingdom Now: Mountainside Mourning

I have to admit that this verse and blog was challenging to write.  It meant that I needed to take a deep look at my reflection in the mirror and ask some questions.  It also meant that I gave permission for Jesus to do the same.  His eyes of fire are penetrating and purifying (Rev. 1:14).  My prayer for you this week is to experience the same.  Let us continue to journey the journey.

“Blessed are those who mourn, because they will be comforted” (Matthew 5:4)

As we continue to look at the Beatitudes, we need to constantly remember that these are spiritual qualities, character and conduct shaped within us by God’s Holy Spirit.  They are a ‘package deal’ for every believer.  The starting point is for us to ‘empty’ in order to be filled with God’s blessing.  Like ‘Milo’ (last blog), we need to be dependent upon God for life itself.  When we do, we can experience His Kingdom here and now. 

Ok, now let’s talking about mourning!  Let me say first and foremost that that Jesus is NOT talking about being grim, and cheerless in life.  Jesus is not advocating for or encouraging this type of attitude within His followers.  We do not need more sour grapes in The Kingdom.  To ‘mourn’ (pantheo) means to lament loudly for the dead or a painful loss. 

It is used in the OT to describe Abraham over Sarah’s death (Gen. 23:2); Jacob over the news that Joseph was lost (Gen. 37:34); Samuel over Saul’s disobedience (1 Samuel 15:35, 16:1); Ezra over the Israelite’s decisions to marry foreign women (Ezra 10:6); the Israelite’s over hearing the words of the law (Neh. 8:9); of ‘the land’ mourning over sin of Israel (God’s chosen) Jer. 23:10, Hos. 4:3, Joel 1:10, Zech 12:12. 

In the NT is it used of Paul to express grieving over the sins of others (1 Cor. 5:2, 2 Cor. 12:21).  I believe this is what Jesus had in mind. 

Remember that the context of this ‘sermon’ is the present tense.  Jesus is calling His followers to mourn presently about something.  What is that ‘something’.  I believe that Jesus calls His followers to mourn over one’s sins and the sins of the world.  Why?  It is because those sins have brought and continue to bring death into the world. 

One of the reasons our family does not participate in Halloween is because of this very issue.  To me, Halloween is a pagan festival that celebrate’s death.  Instead of following the culture our family gives away free Hot Chocolate to those walking along the sidewalks.  It’s one way to be salt and light for us as a family. 

Jesus was known as a ‘Man of Sorrows’.  There is no verse recorded to ever indicate that Jesus laughed.  He did ‘rejoice’ in the Holy Spirit (Luke 10:21), but no writer records Jesus laughing.  Now I do not think Jesus was a ‘downer’ or one of those people you avoid socially because they always something wrong with them.  Not all all.  What I am getting at is that Jesus modelled for us a continual state of ‘mourning’ over the sins of the world and those under its power.  He wept over the effects of sin and death as well as the power that death held on the minds and hearts of God’s people (John 11:33-44).  In fact, the reference to Jesus ‘rejoicing’ in The Holy Spirit above is linked to the reality of Satan’s fall and the powerful rise and reign God’s Messiah.  That’s the good news, and here comes more.  When we understand and begin to ‘mourn’ over our sinfulness and the sins of others we shall be comforted! 

In this beatitude Jesus literally says that God will come to our side.  The word ‘comforted’ is ‘parakaleo’.  It literally means ‘to call to one’s side’.  The form of this word is used elsewhere to describe the Holy Spirit Himself (paraklete).  This means that God’s ‘comfort’ comes to us personally through our relationship with Him.  God’s Holy Spirit is the Divine Agent and Comforter working in the world today.  God’s presence is promised to you, and will come to you after mourning.  When we mourn over our sinfulness, we will be comforted by Holy Spirit.  He is the only one who can relieve your spiritual distress.  Call to Him.  He will answer you and bring His comforting presence. 

In order to help us experience the blessing of The Kingdom Now, consider these three things:  1. See God as holy (Isaiah 6:5).  The result for Isaiah was ‘Woe is me, I am undone … I have unclean lips … and I live among people with unclean lips.’  If you spend any amount of time around people, you know this to be true.  However, Isaiah was speaking this about God’s people!  Ouch.  Isaiah personally mourned because he saw the holiness of God.  Such a moment resulted in personal mourning.  2. See the nature of sin Psalm 51:3-4.  Sin is an offense against God and His Holiness.  Our sin goes vertical first.  When we realize this, mourning is produced because we see the heavy toll of our sin.  Old time preacher Charles Spurgeon once said that ‘if you can look on sin without sorrow then you have never looked at Christ’.  Ouch x’s two.  3. Start repenting.  Repenting is more than an emotional moment or recognizing the mess we are in.  Repentance moves past the emotion moment to strategically take action and target the sin in your life.  It means we intentionally decide to walk the other way.  For instance, within your mind we can take thoughts captive before they bear fruition in action (2 Cor. 10:3-6).  Taking these thoughts captive to Christ is the best spiritual warfare strategy you can apply.  Put those ‘anti-Christ’ thoughts against the power of The Cross and the knowledge of God.  IF they do not line up with His Character, Spirit and Truth, rebuke them walk away from them in your mind.  When we do, we establish the mind of Christ within us and centre ourselves within His Truth (Eph. 6:10-18). 

Following Christ in the 21st Century has its challenges just as it did for the writers in the Ancient World.  Being salt and light is tough because it means that you stand out from the rest of the crowd and culture.  I encourage you to spend some time with Jesus today and allow His pure and penetrating eyes to search you.  Perhaps there are some things you need to make right with Him.  Do it.  Confess it.  Mourn over that which separated you from His love.  When you begin to do this expect to feel His Divine comfort tangibly.  Holy Spirit is real and desires to bring God’s righteousness, peace and joy into your life.  He is The Comforter.  He has been poured out into the world to lead, guide, convict and empower your life.  You can experience God’s presence in a personal, powerful way through His Holy Spirit.    

As we continue to be a people who ‘mourn’, the result will be a people who are ‘comforted’ by Holy Sprit.  God’s Holy Spirit brings this divine life in which we live, move and breathe (Acts 17:28).  It is this Divine life of God living inside of us that illuminates and affects those around us.  This is the good news of God’s Kingdom.  This is what Jesus preached and demonstrated.  You can experience His Kingdom now.  You can also bring it to others.  Joy to the world!  Let earth receiver her King! 

Maranatha!

The Milo Lesson

On October 14th, 2018 God taught me a lesson.  It was a beautiful Sunday Autumn afternoon.  My youngest son was with me in the church office while my wife and two girls were going for a walk along the local trail.  I sometimes spend Sunday afternoons getting ready for the evening service.  This was one of those times. 

To my surprise, when my lovely wife teenage girls returned to the church, they came bearing a gift.  My oldest daughter walked into my office carrying a beer box.  Heineken I believe.  As I begin to contemplate the reality of this situation and ‘what this looks like’, my second daughter comes strolling in with a kitten in her arms!  Next comes my wife with a look that essentially tells me … ‘Honey, you’re not going to believe what just happened!’

As the story unfolded through the accurate description of my very emotional teenage daughters, this poor little guy was essentially left in a box along the walking trail in desperate need of being rescued.  How could anyone walk by and not intervene?  The rescue of this kitten was obviously something that needed to happen to help right all the wrongs within fallen humanity itself!  OK, I am being a little dramatic, but remember we are talking about two teenage girls holding a very cute (yet malnourished) little kitten, in a church!  What options do I have!   

To make a long story short, we brought the little guy home.  The vet told us that “Milo” was only four weeks old when we got him.  He’s now going on 11 weeks and is doing well.  The vet says that ‘he’s hit the jackpot!’  True. 

But this is where my lesson begins.  It’s been said that if there was one essential characteristic of being a Christian, it is that we must be ‘poor in spirit’ (Matthew 5:3).  Why?  In order for something to be filled, it must first be emptied.  Milo helps me understand what Jesus is saying here. 

To be poor in spirit is not about being physically weak or natural shy.  This is not a personality trait nor the suppression of it.  Jesus is addressing matters of spirit.  It is found in the spirit of Gideon who viewed himself to be from the smallest clan of the weakest tribe when God asked him to lead.  It is in line with the spirit of Moses who felt deeply unworthy for the task God called Him to.  It is expressed in the words of David who said ‘who am I that You Lord would come to me’.  It is found in the heart of Isaiah who acknowledged before God that he was a man with unclean lips. 

Being poor in spirit is further illustrated by Peter who naturally was aggressive, self-assertive and self-confident, yet said to Jesus ‘depart from me Lord for I am sinful man’.  It is the same for Paul who considered all his fleshly achievements to be ‘dung’. 

To be poor in spirit  means that there is a complete absence of self-reliance, self-assurance and pride.  It means that we are tremendously aware of our ‘utter nothingness’ as we come face-to-face with Almighty God.  All of our money, wealth, education, degrees, gifts, abilities, birth status, and prestige are all … dung.    

It means we look to God in desperation for His mercy and grace to be applied to our lives each and every day.  It means that we are dependent upon God for life itself.  It means that we are like Milo.  We are finished without Him. 

Considering asking yourself if you are like that?  How do you really feel about yourself in terms of God and being in His Presence?  What are your thoughts about your life and how you live it? 

To help become people who are poor in spirit, consider these three things. 1. Look to God.  The more I look at Him, the more I realize about myself and my sinful condition.  All I can say is that I fall horribly short of His Glory and am in need of His Mercy and Grace daily.  2. Look at Him in His Word.  Read the Bible.  Look at who God is and what He expects from us.  Put yourself in the shoes of the ancient writers.  Contemplate standing before Him.  Look at God through Jesus in the Gospels.  You may find yourself asking for help and an increase to your faith.  The disciples did.   3. Keep Looking at Him.  The more we look at Him, the more helpless we ought to feel about ourselves and our abilities.  Keep looking at Him and we will become more poor in our spirit by trusting Him more. 

I often remind myself of the Apostle John on the Island of Patmos. John knew Jesus, yet fell dead at His feet when the Resurrected Christ drew near.  When we exhibit that spiritual condition, we can expect to have His hand upon our lives to revive us because:

For the High and Exalted One who lives forever, whose name is Holy says this:

“I live in a high and holy place, and with the oppressed and lowly of spirit,

to revive the spirit of the lowly and revive the heart of the oppressed.

Go to Him.  Pray to Him.  He is better than hitting any earthly jackpot.  He gives us the very Kingdom of Heaven.  Wow!  That reality can be yours today.  He gives it to those who are poor in spirit

Pray with me.  Father, I desire this.  I understand that this is a spirit thing, and so I ask You, Holy Spirit to come and transform me now in this moment.  Thank You for leading me to Jesus.  Jesus, I believe that You are God’s One and Only Son who died for me.  Thank You Jesus for Your forgiveness and Your grace.  I yield and give my life to You now.  Come and be my Lord and Saviour.  Come and forgive all my sin and take my shame.  Come and reign in my life as King.  I trust You and I need You.  Help me to walk with Your Holy Spirit.  Fill me with Your Presence and Power.  I love You Jesus.  Amen.

If you prayed that prayer, please send me a note or contact me.  I’d love the opportunity to connect and share more. 

We are journeying together to experience His Kingdom in our lives now!  It is happening.  The revolution has begun! 

 

Maranatha!

Kingdom Now

Following Jesus today

I am not much of a golfer. In fact I golf once a year in our annual ‘Church’ golf day where a bunch of hackers get together and play a best-ball tournament of sorts. Actually there are some pretty decent golfers in the crowd, but I am not one of them. Anyways, I know enough about golf to know that your ‘approach shot’ to the green is critical. Good golfers will be able to plunk their golf ball close to the pin when approaching the green. Great golfers do it consistently and even hole out on their approach! I have done this maybe three times in my entire life. Needless to say, in golf, ‘the approach’ is key. The same can be said regarding the topic in my next round of blogs.

Lately at Calvary Pentecostal Church, I have been preaching/teaching from the book of Matthew. More specifically, we have been looking meticulously at the teaching Jesus gave recorded in Matthew 5-7. It is known as The Sermon on the Mount, or The Beatitudes. It is probably the most widely known teachings of Jesus.

When approaching this important passage I believe we need to keep the following four things in mind. First, the sermon is to be seen as a detailed exposition for Jesus’ hearers of what repentance (which literally means a “change of direction” or “about face”) involves. Jesus expects that a life change will result from believing and following Him. Second, these character traits are for every believer (not just the special extra holy ones). Jesus believes every follower is to produce these essential qualities. Third, these characteristics are to be lived now. This was not just some futuristic thing or qualities pertaining to the Millennium or future coming Kingdom. Fourth, These are spiritual qualities, or qualities of the Holy Spirit which are not naturally obtained or naturally expressed. In other words, you cannot obtain these things on your own.

In this fantastic message, Jesus essentially gives His followers a detailed expression of what living for Him looks like. Why? Simply because these qualities are of the Kingdom of Heaven.

Jesus had just spent some successful time ministering to people in Galilee proclaiming and demonstrating the good news of The Kingdom (Matthew 4:23-25). Taking this opportunity with the crowds, Jesus lays out some fundamental aspects to what living for God looks like. Like any good parent, Jesus lays out the ground rules for the children of God. Here are three ‘new’ things Jesus is asking of those who proclaim to be His.

New Values: Jesus is establishing new values for His followers to live by. Jolting the original audiences ears, Jesus teaches a new system of values for His followers to live by. What is so shocking is that the foundations of His Kingdom essentially run contradictory to the values that lie at the core of many human civilizations. By doing so Jesus proclaims that in these new values, you and I will find fulfilment or happiness. “Blessed” simply means ‘happiness’. But this is not a superficial happiness that fades after a moment. Not at all. The word used by Matthew here describes a deep inner joy which produces lasting happiness and satisfaction in life. In other words, when we embrace these new values and live them, we will find deep, inner joy. By living this new life, and surrendering ourselves to Him, we become stamped by the very image of God that is found in Christ. His mark is very different from the mark of culture or religion. In fact, Jesus often said that His followers are not to be like the religious crowd (Pharisees), because the religious crowd had become positionally proud and were parading their supposed good deeds for all to see (Matthew 6:5).

New Behaviours: Jesus is expecting new behaviour from His followers. Have you ever noticed that our values are always expressed in our actions. What is truly important to us will always find an expression in our daily lives. A visitor I know who came to Canada from another culture believed that coffee was obviously one of Canada’s most treasured possessions because of the plethora of Timmies and other java joints that sell caffeine products. Well, Jesus doesn’t use coffee to illustrate this point, but He does use two other objects to show what living for His Kingdom ought to be like. The first object was salt. Salt in Palestine often forms like flakes around the rock shores of the Dead Sea at night. In the morning as the sun rises, under the heat of the day, these flakes of salt lose their saltiness. Once that happens, these flakes of ‘salt’ begin to blend in with the rest of the shoreline. They have lost any ‘salty’ distinctiveness and now just blend in. The second object Jesus used was light. Lamps in the Ancient world were designed to be put on a stand, in full view, and not to be hidden. Light was something which stood out as a beacon for all to see as a contrast to the darkness. Both of these word pictures help us realize something about the values and behaviours of those who follow Jesus: there ought to be a noticeable difference from the values and behaviours of others in the world. There should be a difference in lifestyle, priorities, actions, and attitudes from the citizen of The Kingdom from the rest of the world. The life of the believer should reflect the reality of God’s Kingdom breaking through. A new set of values should reflect a new set of behaviours, which shows up in …

New Priorities: Jesus desires for new priorities to emerge. Remember what I said about things we value showing up in our behaviours? Well, our new behaviours should reflect some new priorities. Here’s the thing; we are all ‘busy’. There is always something to do. The question we need to ask is this: Do my actions reflect my values? In other words, does my behaviour match my beliefs? Am I seeking His Kingdom first? In our household we have five family values. I agree that seven, ten or twelve would have been a much more biblical number. But five is more than three, and honestly I am not sure I can personally do more than five! Our five family values have been passed down to our children through different methods over the years. At times we have had each family value in a picture frame lining our main hallway at children eye level so that our kids could read them when they needed to be reminded of them. I remember many a time escorting one of our children in front of one of those picture frames and asking them to read it and then tell me how their behaviour did not line up with that value. Currently we have all five ‘Holtz Family Values’ in one main picture frame hanging in our house. The point is that our family has identified five biblical values that we want to hold embrace and exhibit as priorities because of our relationship with Christ. We want to be a household that practices our faith in tangible ways in order to bring glory to God. This is what I believe Jesus is getting after. Jesus teaches that the Kingdom of God is His Divine Action breaking into the realm of humanity. His followers are able to personally experience His Kingly power in their individual lives. Where The King is, there is His Kingdom. If Jesus is your King, then His Kingdom should be evident too.

Salt and Light were used to demonstrate the impact that Jesus’ followers would make on their world, and in their world. We know that salt creates thirst, heals, and preserves. Yes. However, in order for salt to be salt, it must maintain its basic character. If salt fails to be salty it has lost its purpose for existence and should be discarded. Yikes!

For the next number of weeks we will be tackling the teachings of Jesus found in Matthew 5-7. In the church where I pastor, we are addressing this very thing too. We do not want to be a ‘church’ that has lost its most basic character. We want to be a ‘church’ that exhibits the basic character of the One we worship.

Consider reading through Philippians 3:7-11 and reflect upon what Paul was saying about the basic character, essential qualities for followers of Christ. We are on a quest to do the same. We are on a mission to experience and establishing His Kingdom within us, through us and around us now!

Maranatha!

Destined to be different

It’s been said that individualism is no longer solely a Western world trait, but is in fact on the rise globally. These findings were first published in Psychological Science back in 2017. Drawing from 78 national census data, this growing global trend has been tracked and documented over the past 51 years.
Individualism has been defined as ‘the habit or principle of being independent and self-reliant’, and ‘a social theory favouring freedom of action for individuals over collective or state control.’ If you are anything like me, there may be a negative association with the term ‘individualism’. Most likely it is because of the many facts and issues that can arise from a culture that embraces individual liberty, rights and freedom as an essential value. In the Western world we have witnessed a significant shift away from the value of family ties and fitting into traditional accepted cultural norms. I indeed share many concerns over the growing individualistic trend, however, allow me to share a positive comment and ongoing challenge for our younger individuals and emerging adults.
One of the challenges (complaints) that I hear from emerging adults when it comes to the Church is that the style, culture, presentation, music, technology, methods and ministries need to change. In short, everything! What this means is that there can be expectations put on the local church to be state of the art, multi-staffed, have professional musicians, lots of parking, oodles of cash, and volunteers to carry out every ministry known to humanity. All of which needs to be in place and running smoothly so that any potential seeker will have all of their ‘perceived needs’ met. Now that my venting is over … I will get back to my positive comment.
Let me say that I am very thankful for this emerging culture we have in Canada and in the Church. They have been a voice and catalyst for change in areas where change needs to happen. One area being ‘how we worship God’.
A challenge that traditional Christians face is their very own tradition. We know that much of Christian living is based on our traditions (thank you Wesley). But oftentimes our traditions can be elevated and placed almost on equal ground as Scripture. Take the ‘sinners prayer’ for example. Many evangelicals would passionately believe there is indeed a ‘sinners prayer’ in the Bible that needs to be prayed for sinners to find acceptance with God. I have yet to find such a passage.
When it comes to ‘how we worship God’ and ‘what that looks like’, our emerging adults and younger generation have helped us to examine, re-clarify, ditch, and strengthen certain facets to church worship and Christian living. In a conversation I had with a group of Millennials who attended worship at the church I pastor, I was informed very honestly about some of the elements and essentials that they were looking for in a worshipping community. I appreciate their honesty and sincerity. It has helped me to look through their lens and critically think about Pentecostal praxis in varying ways. But that’s for another blog perhaps. This one is getting lengthy enough. Here’s the point: It is time for our young adults and emerging generation to break away from traditions that miss the heart of God, and blaze a trail when needed.
Jesus told a parable about a certain person who fell into the hands of bandits and robbers. This individual was beaten up and left half-dead on the side of the road. The first person to come along was a priest. The priest moved to the opposite side of the road to bypass the hurting individual. Next in the story was a Levite. Following after the priest, the Levite did what was done before and moved away from the needy individual. Next came a Samaritan.
Many of us know this parable. It’s perhaps the most recognized of Jesus’ stories, but often overlooked in meaning. Essentially Jesus is teaching us not just ‘who our neighbour is’, but how we are to love God and show it. Sometimes traditional people need a real shocker to wake them up, and Jesus gave the audience of the day a real wake up call. You see, most of the audience would have believed that a Jew would be the third person in this story. However, it was not a Jew who saved the day and fulfilled the heart of God. It was a Samaritan.
Within Jewish law, there is one law that stands above all others. Saving a life overrides any other prescript of law. What that means is regardless of good intentions, (to remain ceremonially clean and pure) the priest had a duty to save a life. The same could be said for the Levite who also moved on. Jesus makes the point very clear that both the priest and the Levite were without excuse for showing lovelessness to the hurting individual.
The shocker here is that the Samaritan did not follow the same loveless path of use the priest and Levite. The Samaritan (who followed the same law) actually displayed a heart of compassion and demonstrated what loving God looks like. In other words, the Samaritan was the one who demonstrated a proper ‘all in’ love for God (heart, mind, soul and strength).
The positive comment and challenge is this. The emerging culture beckons us to break away from loveless religious traditions that miss the heart of God.

Within the heart of individualism culture, there is a cry for something authentically real. There’s a plethora of research stating that individualistic cultures seek sincerity and authenticity. This is good news for the Church. If we desire to engage this culture, we need to keep the main thing the main thing: Love God and love others.
Secondly, the challenge goes out to those who are coming behind the Silent Generation, Boomers, Busters, and Gen’Xr’s. Stop waiting for a trail to emerge. Blaze a new one! In the woods, when new trails is ‘blazed’ there is often a mark notched into a tree on both sides indicating the path of the traveler. Emerging adults have a great opportunity to blaze a new trail forward for the Church; new trails demonstrating the love of God toward those who hurt physically, mentally and spiritually.
As a fourth-generation Classical Pentecostal, I admit that ‘we’ have not gotten it right all of the time. We have been pretty good at things, and not so good at others. Regardless, we need to move forward and embrace the ways in which this emerging culture can help us move forward towards the hurting.

To the ermerging culture: Help us embrace the worldview of Jesus who connected the sacred with the secular. Help us make the connection to those who hurt, have needs and are broken. Help us do ministry and Christian living different. You were born for such a time as this. Lead the way. The world is waiting.

Your story mark

I’m an empty page
I’m an open book
Write Your story on my heart
Come on and make Your mark

 These words are from Francesca Battistelli’s song “Write Your Story[1].  It is a powerful song that recognizes that there is One who is the ‘Author of my hope’ and ‘maker of the stars’.  However, it’s the thought ‘Come on and make Your mark’ that has grabbed my attention for this blog.

Recently I have been referencing Jonah’s story.  How is it that a prophet of God runs away from God?  How is it that God’s man for the job is upset at what God does?  How is it that Jonah was able to even fulfill what God asked him to do?  I do not pretend to have all the answers for these questions and others that arise from Jonah’s story.  However, if we allow God to ‘make Your mark’ within our hearts, perhaps we too can be an open page for Him to write His redemptive story in.

Not for one minute do I believe that Jonah knew all the details of God’s ultimate plan that involved him.  We know that Jonah struggled with God’s ‘relenting’ from sending disaster upon the wicked citizens of Nineveh (4:2).  But to use a great fish?  Really God?  Well, after-all this is a big first for Israel in that a prophet of Israel is being sent to those outside Israel.  Seeing as how this is a first big-time event, why not use a big fish too?  With all kidding aside, Jonah learned just who the Author of his story is.  He is ‘Yahweh, the God of the heavens, who made the sea and the dry land’ (1:9).  It is the same God who appointed a great fish that marked Jonah.

Most scholars agree that Jonah’s appearance would have been altered because of the digestive juices contained within the stomach of the fish.  Jonah’s skin, and hair would have been damaged, and potentially never the same again.  Jonah’s life would bear the ‘marks’ of his story.  Jonah’s life visibly demonstrated his disobedience and rebellion.  However, it also was evidence of God’s authorship, purpose, grace, power and message.  In fact, this time when Jonah is sent to Nineveh, he was not just communicating God’s message, Jonah himself was the message.

Having said that, I know that this world, evil people, and demonic powers leave cruel and malicious marks on humanity that grieve the heart of God.  I am not advocating God to be the author of such things.  In fact, a biblical worldview understands that evil powers can affect the physical lives of humanity.  The woman with the issue of blood whom Jesus cured was one such individual.  When referring to her story, Mark uses the Greek word mastix to describe her affliction (5:29,34).  The concept behind mastix is the picture of someone who is exhibiting a wound, marks, or affliction because of the whippings received at the hands of a slave driver, or Roman soldier.  It was as if this woman was bearing the physical marks of the devil’s affliction.  For twelve years she suffered and spent all that she had with no hope of relief.  However, the power of God combined with her faith, brought freedom and healing from her tormenting wounds.

Brett Ullman shares his story in a video documentary entitled ‘The Walking Wounded’.  Our church is bringing in Dr. Grant Mullen for a Transformation Weekend that will deal with emotional pain, mood swings and anxiety issues.  The point is this:  We all have marks. God desires to redeem them.

Knowing what we know about Jonah and the woman who suffered for twelve years; knowing that there is One who is the Author of Hope, I encourage you to bring all your marks before Almighty God and say:

I want my history to be Your legacy
Go ahead and show this world
What You’ve done in me
And when the music fades
I want my life to say, 
I let You write Your story

 

Maranatha!

 

 

 

[1] Songwriters: Francesca Battistelli / David Garcia / Benjamin Michael Glover, Write Your Story lyrics © Warner/Chappell Music, Inc, Universal Music Publishing Group, Capitol Christian Music Group

The God who saves

1 John 5:19 tells us that the ‘whole world is under the sway of the evil one’. Without getting into a lot of Biblical history and theology, I believe we can agree that this statement still applies today. Furthermore, John’s worldview and attitude about this was not an apathetic one. John encouraged believers to make a stand in their worship, walk and work for God. Such a stand would obviously separate the follower of Christ from those who follow other idols.

Our world and culture today is still very idolatrous. Humanity continues to not only struggle with idolatry, but is in fact bound by its power. Idols are empowered by worship, and humanity empowers many of them.

In the Ancient world, pantheism, and idol worship had become the established norm for the people of earth. Babylon (Mesopotamia) was a hotbed of such. The Tower of Babylon event (Genesis 11) indicates that fallen humanity had come together to accomplish some divine things. They sought to elevate themselves into the realm of the ‘gods’ to potentially become divine themselves, or to connect them with supernatural power. The hunger and thirst for spiritual encounters lead people to embrace a pantheon of divine beings. Into this spiritual soup God selected one man (Abraham) to start and embrace a new way of doing things for Yahweh.

I understand that I am oversimplifying much of what The Bible teaches and says, however, I use this brief explanation as a backdrop for this thought: The God of The Bible seeks to call humanity out of a fallen culture, to create a new one. This ‘new one’ is rooted in and established in a personal, covenantal relationship. This is how it was for Abraham; this is how it is for us today.

A question for the follower of God today is this: How are we communicating this personal, covenantal relationship (with Yahweh) to those who are ‘under the sway of the evil one’?

Within the story of Jonah there are some helpful insights and lessons that we can learn from. Jonah’s story is remarkable because for the first time in human history a prophet of Israel was sent to speak to people outside of Israel. God is communicating His care to those outside Israel. As Jonah continues to wrestle with God over this point and others, we begin to see some declining marks in the prophet’s lifestyle.

He first loses his God-conscious. When God brought the wickedness of Nineveh to Jonah’s attention, Jonah’s first reaction was to disobey the voice of God. God says to Jonah “Get up! Go to the great city of Nineveh and preach against it, because their wickedness has confronted Me.”. (1:2) Instead of ‘getting up’ and addressing the evil, Jonah ‘got up to flee’ from God’s presence. In fact, the prophet ‘went down’ to Joppa to avoid God. It seems odd that the prophet of God is the odd-one-out in this whole obedience thing. The wind, storm, fish, plant and worm all heed God’s instruction. The man of God, not so much. Instead of addressing the evil that had confronted his God, Jonah chooses to avoid and ignores God’s request to address the great city of Nineveh.

Secondly, Jonah lost his God-caring. Jonah fails to stand with others in their moments of anxiety, fear and chaos. The pagan captain calls for Jonah to ‘Get up! Call to your God’. (1:6) Jonah, who had ‘gone down’ to stretch out in the lowest part of the ship, missed an opportunity to interceded for others. For the second time, Jonah is reminded to ‘Get up!’.

Thirdly, Jonah had abandoned his God-commission. Is it just me, or does it seem like Jonah has a peculiar outlook? Like Elijah, Jonah appears to have a death wish (1:12, 4:8,9). Not only that, Jonah ceased to operate in his commission to be God’s prophetic voice in the world. Even though Jonah made a statement of faith: “I am a Hebrew. I worship Yahweh, the God of the heavens, who made the sea and the dry land.” (1:9), he failed to function prophetically on behalf of the One who desires to establish a holy nation (Ex. 19:6). Jonah knew the story of Moses and how God is merciful, gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and rich in faithful love (Ex. 34:6). Jonah quotes this reality himself (4:2). Jonah knows about God’s desires to establish a nation unto Himself who will serve as a kingdom of priests, a holy nation, and ultimately be a light to the world. Jonah’s prophetic role was to function and aid in this divine mission. However, instead of embracing God’s mission and converting the pagan sailors, Jonah insists on being thrown overboard! Once again, Jonah desires to ‘go down’ instead of rising.

The first chapter of Jonah’s story ends with Jonah ‘going down’ once again and spending three days inside the belly of a great fish. Thankfully, we also know that these pagan sailors take it upon themselves to call out to Yahweh and make sacrifices to Him (1:14-15). I would like to think that Jonah realized his error and would have done things completely different, but I am not convinced of his hindsight being a divine 20/20. But let’s cut him slack, after all he did write about it.

However, the story of Jonah ends with us not ever really knowing if Jonah ever came to realize that he missed the boat in terms of God’s compassion and mission for a lost world. The dialogue between Jonah and God in chapter four is sobering and concerning. Jonah seems to care more about his life and comfort than the eternal destination of lost nations and those bound by idolatrous worship. In other words, Jonah seems to care more about himself than fulfilling the Mission of God.

Next week I will share more about how you can serve the Sovereign God prophetically with your story and how you can be the one to offer humanity a new covenant relationship with Yahweh: The God who saves.