Thanks be to God!!

thanks-be-to-god

The opening of Paul’s joyous letter to the Phillipians.   Made all the more powerful, of course, because Paul wrote this while “suffering” in a Roman prison.  I put “suffering” in quotations because while we would certainly consider being in that prison to be suffering, Paul does not see it that way.  It seems that Paul was thankful simply for the fact that Christ had broken into the world for the salvation of all who would accept, and for he fact that Christ will be coming again to being the work into completion.  Being a part of that in any way, even through languishing in a prison hole, was cause for enough joy that no human punishment could darken Paul’s light.

thank-god

I thank my God in all my remembrance of you, always in every prayer of mine for you all making my prayer with joy, because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now.  Did you know that in Paul’s time, it was customary to include a thanksgiving section in a letter?    In every letter Paul wrote, you will find some kind of prayer and thankfulness to start.  In some it was much shorter, but it’s always there.  Just as we have our “forms” in writing letters, this was a form used by all during Paul’s day.  1600+ years before the first Thanksgiving, they still were better at expressing thankfulness than we are today.  With all we have to be thankful for, we would rather gripe and complain about the brake light that is out than give thanks that we can travel twenty miles in twenty minutes.

Paul here gives thanks that the Phillipian church is such a great partner with him, sending supplies and prayers, and joint him in sharing the Good News of Jesus Christ our Lord.

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And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.   One of our favorite verses in the bible, I think.  It is a great promise of the bible that no matter what we do, what struggles we go through, how far we wander, how much we doubt, the day of the Lord will come.  I don’t think we will truly know the significance of this verse until the second coming of Christ comes, until we see the fulfillment of Revelation 21 – “Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.”” Revelation‬ ‭21:1-4‬ ‭ESV‬‬.   We may not fully understand until the New Jerusalem is completed, but we can know that on that day, He will fully complete the work He began in us.   All thank and praise to our Lord Jesus Christ!!

grace

It is right for me to feel this way about you all, because I hold you in my heart, for you are all partakers with me of grace, both in my imprisonment and in the defense and confirmation of the gospel. For God is my witness, how I yearn for you all with the affection of Christ Jesus.   By helping and encouraging Paul through his imprisonment, the Phillipian church was fully participating in that with him, just as we fully participate in the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ when we are baptized into faith in Him.  We all take in of the Grace given by Jesus, we all feel the suffering of Christ.  When we support and pray for those suffering in Christ today, we all taste the grace, and we taste that bitter sponge offered to Jesus on the cross.  When we continue in our witness of the power of Christ in the face of Christian suffering, when we defend and confirm the Gospel on behalf of those suffering for the Gospel, we lift up those who are actually suffering.   This is what the church in Phillipi did for Paul, and this is part of the thanksgiving prayer he makes.   (I’m going to be truthful here – I hope what I am saying on this is led by the spirit and makes any sense.  I’m not so certain I understand fully).

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And it is my prayer that your love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment, so that you may approve what is excellent, and so be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God.    What a powerful prayer!!  May we all pray for one another that love abound more and more.  Because we know that God is Love, and the more we truly walk in love, the more we walk in the footsteps of Jesus Himself.  May we all walk with the knowledge and discernment that can only come from the light which came into the darkness.  May we not love the dark more than the light.  May we walk in love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, and faithfulness.  And through it all, whether we be suffering or rejoicing, prospering or whithering, succeeding or perceived failing, may we do all with thanksgiving and praise for the love shown to us by Jesus on the cross.  Thanks and praise to the Lord, Amen!!


“I thank my God in all my remembrance of you, always in every prayer of mine for you all making my prayer with joy, because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now. And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ. It is right for me to feel this way about you all, because I hold you in my heart, for you are all partakers with me of grace, both in my imprisonment and in the defense and confirmation of the gospel. For God is my witness, how I yearn for you all with the affection of Christ Jesus. And it is my prayer that your love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment, so that you may approve what is excellent, and so be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God.”

Philippians 1:3-11 ESV

http://bible.com/59/php.1.3-11.esv

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Seventy times Seven!

jesus-and-peter

Short and sweet today. Another example of Peter presuming to know something only to be rebuked by Jesus. And a message for all if us as we come to Thanksgiving, a time when all of our powers of forgiveness just might be tested.
Then Peter came to him and asked, “Lord, how often should I forgive someone who sins against me? Seven times?”

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There had been some disputes among the disciples, some arguments, if you remember or know, about who would be the greatest among them. Maybe Peter was feeling resentful toward his fellow followers of Jesus, and maybe Peter was tired of forgiving them their trespasses against them. Peter wants to know, just how many times do I have to forgive these jokers?? Forgiving is hard. And besides, they just keep on offending him!! But Peter is feeling magnanimous, and offers up the divine number of seven. Seven being the divine number, forgiving someone seven times must be a divine act, forgiveness to the limit.

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No, not seven times,” Jesus replied, “but seventy times seven! Huh?? The divine seven is not enough?? Seventy times seven?? Four hundred ninety times I have to forgive someone??
No, Jesus is not even saying four hundred ninety times. Our forgiveness of others, by the call and demand of Christ, must be unlimited. We are to never stop forgiving someone their sins against us. In the words of Brian Zahnd in his book “Unconditional? The call of Jesus to radical forgiveness” – “Conventional forgiveness, easy forgiveness, reasonable forgiveness is what most rationally minded people are willing to engage in. Christ’s followers are called to radical forgiveness, unreasonable forgiveness, reckless forgiveness, endless forgiveness, seemingly impossible forgiveness. The expectations regarding forgiveness that Jesus places upon his disciples are among the most demanding aspects of Christian discipleship, but these demands must not be ignored.”
Peter thinks his offer of forgiving an offender seven times is out there, over and above the expected. Nobody can expect more than that, and most would not go that far. And he’s right.
Except Jesus does expect more. Jesus demands more. He’s not calling for any forgiveness that comes from simple human decency. He calls for extreme forgiveness. The kind of forgiveness that comes on a crucifix and cries out “…Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”… Luke‬ ‭23:34‬ ‭ESV

jesus-is-lord

‬‬
Jesus is Lord.

“Then Peter came to him and asked, “Lord, how often should I forgive someone who sins against me? Seven times?” “No, not seven times,” Jesus replied, “but seventy times seven!”

‭‭Matthew‬ ‭18:21-22‬ ‭NLT‬‬

http://bible.com/116/mat.18.21-22.nlt

John Lewis

Trusting the Father

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In the Gospel of Mark today, that “immediate” gospel that just keeps moving forward. Mark is telling the story here of Jesus following the will of the Father, trusting in the Father. Jesus and his disciples here are on the road to Jerusalem. It’s the time of Passover, but that’s not all they are going for. Jerusalem is where Kings get crowned. Jesus’ disciples believe that they are going to Jerusalem and Jesus will be crowned king. They believe He is Messiah. They are right of course, but they have no idea what it’s going to take, or what it’s going to mean, for Jesus of Nazareth to take the crown.

road-from-damascus-to-jerusalem
And they were on the road, going up to Jerusalem, and Jesus was walking ahead of them. And they were amazed, and those who followed were afraid. In chapters 8 and 9 of Mark, we see the Pharisees demanding a sign from Jesus(some people really were starting to fear Him), followed by Peter declaring his belief in Jesus to be the Messiah. Then Jesus told the disciples He would NOT be accepted by the scribes and Pharisees, and in fact be put to death. Peter takes Jesus aside to rebuke Him, prompting Jesus to lash out – “But turning and seeing his disciples, he rebuked Peter and said, “Get behind me, Satan! For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.”” Mark‬ ‭8:33‬ ‭ESV‬‬ Then, the transfiguration on the mountain with Moses and Elijah witnessed by Peter James and John, they come down, Jesus again tells them He is going to be killed, prompting His guys to argue among themselves who would be the greatest among them. (Just a side note, Jesus’ disciples simply could not get what He was talking about when He talked of being killed and raised on the third day. They believed He was Messiah, and Messiah in their minds was a great conqueror. They believed His talk of being raised had to do with the general resurrection of the righteous which most Jews generally believed in, when all the righteous would be raised together).

jesus-disciples-walking
So, a whole lot going on here, the point being that Jesus’ disciples knew they were heading to Jerusalem for a confrontation, and they believed it was in Jerusalem that He would take His crown. So picture the scene, Jesus leading His disciples to Jerusalem, the center of power, the place Kings get crowned. Jesus walking in front, And they were amazed, and those who followed were afraid. They were amazed at what? They were AFRAID of what? They were amazed because they believed they were in the procession the king who would be crowned. They were afraid, because they knew some of them might have to die in the confrontation. The only one who could not die, they believed, was Jesus. After all, He was messiah, and He HAD to take the crown.

delivered-to-the-chief-priests
And taking the twelve again, he began to tell them what was to happen to him, saying, “See, we are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be delivered over to the chief priests and the scribes, and they will condemn him to death and deliver him over to the Gentiles. And they will mock him and spit on him, and flog him and kill him. But Jesus knew otherwise. Jesus knew that He was going to Jerusalem to be crowned king, and that he was going to FAIL. Because that’s what was going to happen. He was going to be delivered to the chief priests and the scribes, they would sentence Him to death, and they would give him to the Romans. And the Romans would do what Romans do. They would crucify Him, because that’s what the Romans did to anyone who claimed to be king without their authority.

jesus-on-tree
This is the most stunning thing about Jesus, the most beautiful part of the Gospel – that he knew He was destined to be a FAILED Messiah, cursed by God (somewhere in the Old Testament it does say “Cursed is the man who hangs from a tree“). He knew this was coming, had the opportunity, the temptation to avoid it, yet trusted that the father would make all things right if He surrendered to His will.

the_flagellation_lord_jesus_christ
And they will mock him and spit on him, and flog him and kill him. And after three days he will rise. Do you understand the faith it took for Jesus to stay true to the will of the Father? The trust? Because to be a crucified Messiah was to be a FAILED Messiah. Crucifixion was a gruesome, tortuous, humiliating way to die.
But Jesus had to follow through in this way. He had to prove that Cain was wrong. Many people don’t believe that Cain was wrong. Many people reading this don’t believe Cain was wrong. They believe, that’s just how the world works. It’s the way it has to be. We have to watch out for ourselves, or someone else will.

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Jesus knew He was on a failed mission. He could have gone different route. He had legions of Jews waiting for some sign to join the battle. He could have mounted his army, taken Herods throne by force, crucified Pilate, kicked our Caiaphas. And He would have been a great success. We would still talk about Him today. Jesus the Conqueror, Jesus the Great. He would have been the great Jewish warrior king.
But…Jesus knew he had to lose in order to win.

He had to fail in order to succeed.

He had to DIE (really die) to bring eternal life.

He had to be crucified to crowned king.

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Jesus had to TRUST THE FATHER to reverse the failure with the resurrection. “Then Jesus, calling out with a loud voice, said, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit!” And having said this he breathed his last.” ‭‭Luke‬ ‭23:46‬ ‭ESV‬‬. Yes, Jesus was announcing His trust in the Father to make all things right.

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Without Jesus’ failure, there is no resurrection. No Christmas. Without Good Friday, there is no Easter Sunday. No Prince of peace. No lamb of God. No salvation of the world. No Gospel story.

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The story of the Gospel of Jesus is the story of the only life the Father could vindicate with resurrection. Jesus was right, Cain was wrong. God the father could not resurrect Alexander the Great to save the world. Not William the Conqueror. Not Richard the Lionheart. They are what the world needs saving from!! The world needs to be SAVED FROM the great conquerors in history!!
The life of Jesus was the will of the father lived out in a human life, all the way through to his own death. Jesus could have avoided the cross. He even knew who would betray Him! He could have just said to Judas – “Hey, you need to get out of here!” He could have looked out for Himself. But He didn’t. He trusted the Father, that He would raise him from the dead and make all things right.

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He is Jesus the conqueror, of course. He CONQUERED sin and death!! But He had to go ALL THE WAY into death to overcome it. And remember this – Jesus did not raise Himself. He had to trust the father to act. He had to trust the Father to vindicate His life, His choices along the way. That is why He cried out at the point of death, announcing His trust in the Father.
And the Father did vindicate Him. By raising Jesus, God the Father is letting us know that yes, that is what I am looking for! That is what we are to be as human beings! We are to love our neighbors, pray for our enemies, and trust the Father.
WHAT IF – Jesus had become Jesus the Great?? How would history be different??
He trusted the father all the way through His own death. Just how far are you willing to trust Him?

“And they were on the road, going up to Jerusalem, and Jesus was walking ahead of them. And they were amazed, and those who followed were afraid. And taking the twelve again, he began to tell them what was to happen to him, saying, “See, we are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be delivered over to the chief priests and the scribes, and they will condemn him to death and deliver him over to the Gentiles. And they will mock him and spit on him, and flog him and kill him. And after three days he will rise.””

‭‭Mark‬ ‭10:32-34‬ ‭ESV‬‬

http://bible.com/59/mrk.10.32-34.esv

John Lewis

Male and Female

male-and-female

Sometimes I read things and it just makes me stop and think. About a month ago my pastor recommended for the church to read a book by Dr. James Garlow titled “Well versed – biblical answers to today’s tough issues.” He had copies available to take, so I took one. I’m still reading the book, but something I read a couple of weeks ago jumped out at me.

in-the-beginning
It goes all the way back to the creation story, and highlights something that I think probably affects us and our bible reading more than we know – the weakness inherent in reading from a translation. We simply can not always squeeze the full meaning out when we translate a text. There is always something “lost in translation”.
So we are looking at the creation story, specifically the creation of man and woman. The first point Dr. Garlow makes is that God is neither male nor female. The Old Testament is loaded with gender specific metaphors and descriptions in an attempt to describe the indescribable.

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Sometimes these descriptions are masculine, using words like “Father” or “He”. Sometimes feminine phrases and descriptions are used, like a breast feeding mother, giving birth, being in labor, or a mother hen.
In Genesis 17:1 – “When Abram was ninety-nine years old the Lord appeared to Abram and said to him, “I am God Almighty; walk before me, and be blameless, that I may make my covenant between me and you, and may multiply you greatly.”” In the Hebrew here, Gods name is El Shaddai. We believe that El means “mighty like a mountain“, all the strength of masculinity. Shaddai comes from the Hebrew word for breast, as in feeding a newborn baby, a very nurturing female trait. This one name for God is both masculine and feminine.
We are all made in the image of God, but neither a male or a female possesses the full spectrum of characteristics of Yahweh in the bible. A man can not represent all the nurturing tenderness shown, a woman does not possess the masculine strength. The point here is that while we were created individually, we only express the full image of God when our two halves, male and female, come together as one.
So now back to the real reason I wanted to write about this today, the creation story. God creates man – “then the Lord God formed the man of dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living creature.” Genesis‬ ‭2:7‬ ‭ESV‬‬. Here we have “adam” with a little “a”. Little a adam, pronounced “awh-dahm”, means “humankind” or “personhood”. Later we have Adam the man, but first we have little “a” adam – humankind.
Then the Lord God said, “It is not good that the man should be alone; According to Dr Garlow, a more correct translation would be “It is not good for humankind to be at one.” In other words, it is not good for there to be just one, in solitude.

atom
So you’ve heard we can split the atom. Here the author says we have the “splitting of the adam”. Adam, humankind, gets split in two. So the Lord God caused a deep sleep to fall upon the man, and while he slept took one of his ribs and closed up its place with flesh. And the rib that the Lord God had taken from the man he made into a woman and brought her to the man. Then the man said, “This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man.” Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh. And the man and his wife were both naked and were not ashamed.
So here is where it gets interesting for me. In the ancient Hebrew text the word we have translated “rib” is the Hebrew word “tsela”. “Tsela” can be translated “half” or “side”. So instead of saying God created man then took his rib and created woman, the original Hebrew text says God created humankind, saw that it was not good for humankind to be as one or alone, then took a side or a half (some would say the better half) and created a female (Eve). What was left was the male (Adam). The whole humanity, created in the full image of God with all the strength of masculinity and tenderness and nurturing of femininity, was split in the two halves of humanity, male and female.

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So one of the reasons for the strong attraction between males and females is the desire for the two halves of humanity to come back together, undoing the “splitting of the adam”, reuniting our male and female halves as whole humanity, reflecting the full image of God.

“Then the Lord God said, “It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him.” Now out of the ground the Lord God had formed every beast of the field and every bird of the heavens and brought them to the man to see what he would call them. And whatever the man called every living creature, that was its name. The man gave names to all livestock and to the birds of the heavens and to every beast of the field. But for Adam there was not found a helper fit for him. So the Lord God caused a deep sleep to fall upon the man, and while he slept took one of his ribs and closed up its place with flesh. And the rib that the Lord God had taken from the man he made into a woman and brought her to the man. Then the man said, “This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man.” Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh. And the man and his wife were both naked and were not ashamed.”

‭‭Genesis‬ ‭2:18-25‬ ‭ESV‬‬

http://bible.com/59/gen.2.18-25.esv

John Lewis

In the Temple of the Lord

temple-of-the-lord

A powerful word from God delivered by Jeremiah at the temple gate in Jerusalem. Powerful enough, in fact, that this is what Jesus was reenacting at the “cleansing of the temple”, which was not so much an emotional cleansing as a pre-meditated protest of the temple by Jesus.
If we read this with an open mind, and understand what Jesus was doing with his reenactment four days before the crucifixion, then it is plain that this prophetic criticism of the worshippers in Jerusalem still has a message for us today.
The word that came to Jeremiah from the Lord: “Stand in the gate of the Lord ‘s house, and proclaim there this word, and say, Hear the word of the Lord, all you men of Judah who enter these gates to worship the Lord. Jeremiah would have been standing at the front of the temple gates; all who were coming to the temple, or just wanted to be near what was happening at the temple, would have been able to hear him.

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Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel: Amend your ways and your deeds, and I will let you dwell in this place. Do not trust in these deceptive words: ‘This is the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord.’ The covenant between Yahweh and Israel was conditional. They would posses the land God had given them only as long as they kept the covenant law. Obviously, they were not keeping the law, but gives them plenty of chances to repent of their sins and return to the Lord. Do not trust in these deceptive words: ‘This is the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord.‘ The people told themselves “we are good. We got this!! Yeah, we might do a little idol worship. We might not love God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength, but we have the temple. We are here every Sabbath day. We offer up our sacrifices like good Jews, Yahweh will forgive us.” But Jeremiah tells them those words are deceptive.

bull-sacrifice
“For if you truly amend your ways and your deeds, if you truly execute justice one with another, if you do not oppress the sojourner, the fatherless, or the widow, or shed innocent blood in this place, and if you do not go after other gods to your own harm, then I will let you dwell in this place, in the land that I gave of old to your fathers forever. I am reminded of another prophet Jesus borrowed from here – “For I desire steadfast love and not sacrifice, the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings.” Hosea‬ ‭6:6‬ ‭ESV‬‬. Our God is a God of justice, a God who cares about the most vulnerable. The people at the temple thought that as long as they came and made their sacrifices, then all was good for them. They could burn incense to other Gods, walk past and do nothing to help the sojourner (immigrant), the orphan, the widow. They could live by the scapegoating spirit of Satan, always blaming, shaming and accusing others, just as long as they had their temple and made their sacrifices.

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“Behold, you trust in deceptive words to no avail. Will you steal, murder, commit adultery, swear falsely, make offerings to Baal, and go after other gods that you have not known, and then come and stand before me in this house, which is called by my name, and say, ‘We are delivered!’—only to go on doing all these abominations? Steal, commit adultery, commit murder, swear falsely, make offering to other gods – all things specifically prohibited in the Ten Commandments. To think we can live our lives any way we want to, treating people any way we want, then show up to confession on Saturday (if you are Catholic) and church on Sunday and all is well with us, is to believe a lie. To live as Gods people is not about temple sacrifice. It’s not about going in to service and singing the songs or going through the sacraments. We do those things, yes, and they are good. But that’s not what being the people of God is all about. Living as the people of God is about being the light in the darkness, being the leaven in the yeast, the salt for seasoning. We make it all about Sunday, but really it’s much more about Monday through Saturday. How are we living between church services? How do you live Monday through Saturday? Do you gossip? Make promises you don’t keep? Do you walk briskly by every homeless person, avoiding eye contact and hoping they don’t speak to you (like I usually do). Are you looking at every member of the opposite sex that walks by and thinking about what you would like to do with that?  Are we quick to forgive, or do we hold grudges?   Do we pray for our enemies?  Or do we pray something happens to our enemies?   Do we live like atheists Monday through Saturday, then think our temple offerings and sacrifices make us right with God?
Has this house, which is called by my name, become a den of robbers in your eyes? I’ve heard that before, haven’t I?

den-of-robbers
Behold, I myself have seen it, declares the Lord. Go now to my place that was in Shiloh, where I made my name dwell at first, and see what I did to it because of the evil of my people Israel. And now, because you have done all these things, declares the Lord, and when I spoke to you persistently you did not listen, and when I called you, you did not answer, therefore I will do to the house that is called by my name, and in which you trust, and to the place that I gave to you and to your fathers, as I did to Shiloh. And I will cast you out of my sight, as I cast out all your kinsmen, all the offspring of Ephraim.” Yup…it’s a den of robbers alright. God saw it with his own two eyes. The Jews in Jerusalem at the beginning of the reign of Jehoiakim thought that as long as they made their sacrifices at the temple, that made everything else they did ok. But just as with Shiloh, which had the tabernacle and the ark of the covenant, this temple would eventually be destroyed. Truth be told, God never asked for a temple to be built, He actually told David He did not want a temple. Just because we are in the house of the Lord does not mean we get immunity in the rest of our lives. If we do not live as the people of God, if we are not representing His live to the world through our Monday through Saturday lives, then we are outside of His will regardless of how sincere we think our Sunday worship is.

sunday-worship

“The word that came to Jeremiah from the Lord: “Stand in the gate of the Lord ‘s house, and proclaim there this word, and say, Hear the word of the Lord, all you men of Judah who enter these gates to worship the Lord. Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel: Amend your ways and your deeds, and I will let you dwell in this place. Do not trust in these deceptive words: ‘This is the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord.’ “For if you truly amend your ways and your deeds, if you truly execute justice one with another, if you do not oppress the sojourner, the fatherless, or the widow, or shed innocent blood in this place, and if you do not go after other gods to your own harm, then I will let you dwell in this place, in the land that I gave of old to your fathers forever. “Behold, you trust in deceptive words to no avail. Will you steal, murder, commit adultery, swear falsely, make offerings to Baal, and go after other gods that you have not known, and then come and stand before me in this house, which is called by my name, and say, ‘We are delivered!’—only to go on doing all these abominations? Has this house, which is called by my name, become a den of robbers in your eyes? Behold, I myself have seen it, declares the Lord. Go now to my place that was in Shiloh, where I made my name dwell at first, and see what I did to it because of the evil of my people Israel. And now, because you have done all these things, declares the Lord, and when I spoke to you persistently you did not listen, and when I called you, you did not answer, therefore I will do to the house that is called by my name, and in which you trust, and to the place that I gave to you and to your fathers, as I did to Shiloh. And I will cast you out of my sight, as I cast out all your kinsmen, all the offspring of Ephraim.”

‭‭Jeremiah‬ ‭7:1-15‬ ‭ESV‬‬

http://bible.com/59/jer.7.1-15.esv

John Lewis

Signs and Privileges

signs

We know from His temptations that Jesus was tempted to use the sensational to accomplish His purpose and mission, and in this short passage we can see why.

godhands_jpg
Then some of the scribes and Pharisees answered him, saying, “Teacher, we wish to see a sign from you.” About the year AD 45, a man named Theudas rose up and was claiming that he was the Jewish Messiah. He convinced people to follow him out to the Jordan River with a promise to part the waters of the river and and give a path to the other side. He failed. His movement, as well as his life, were dealt with by the Romans. But this is the kind of thing the people wanted from Jesus – spectacular feats to wow the crowds and prove his claims. They just could not see that the greatest sign God could send was Jesus himself.
But he answered them, “An evil and adulterous generation seeks for a sign, but no sign will be given to it except the sign of the prophet Jonah. For just as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the great fish, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.

jonah
Jeremiah 3:14 says – ““Return, faithless people,” declares the Lord, “for I am your husband….which leads to Jeremiah 3:20 – “But like a woman unfaithful to her husband, so you, Israel, have been unfaithful to me,” declares the Lord.” Jeremiah‬ ‭3:20‬ ‭NIV‬‬. The people of God have been wandering from their husband, the bride of Christ always seeking after signs and other Gods. But just as Jonah had been Gods sign to Ninevah, so is Jesus Gods sign to them – and they fail to see. But there will be a great sign to come – Jesus will be swallowed up by the grave for three days, but will be reversed on the third day, followed by a great mission to the Gentiles and the world.
The men of Nineveh will rise up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it, for they repented at the preaching of Jonah, and behold, something greater than Jonah is here.  The people of Nineveh repented and were saved from Gods impending wrath due to the preaching of Jonah – “When God saw what they did, how they turned from their evil way, God relented of the disaster that he had said he would do to them, and he did not do it.” Jonah‬ ‭3:10‬ ‭ESV‬‬. How many of those in the presence of Christ would do the same?

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The queen of the South will rise up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it, for she came from the ends of the earth to hear the wisdom of Solomon, and behold, something greater than Solomon is here. The Queen of Sheba recognized the wisdom of Solomon and travelled a far distance to hear it. God himself came to these people and they would refuse to hear. In the day of judgement the people of Nineveh and the Queen of Sheba would rise and condemn these Jews because they repented and came to God at the teaching of mere mortals. They had an opportunity and privilege far greater than those before ever had and refused to accept it. Their condemnation would be much more complete because their privilege was so great.
Think of the privileges we have. First – we have our bible. There was a time when the penalty for teaching the English Bible was death. In those days people would sit up all night for the privilege of hearing the word of God in English. They would pay a high price (talking money now) for a copy, or even just a few chapters. William Tyndale produced the first printed bible in England. In his own words, for this he suffered “poverty, exile, bitter absence from friends, hunger and thirst and cold, great dangers and innumerable other hard and sharp fightings.” In 1536, he met his death at the hands of the church. He was covered head to toe in gunpowder and blown to smithereens.

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Our bible came at a great cost. We have a great privilege in possessing the bible, and with that privilege comes a responsibility for which we will have to answer.
Second – we have the privilege to worship however we might like. This is also a privilege which has come at the loss of life of many. Yet so many use our freedom in order to not worship at all. This privilege is also a responsibility for which we will have to answer.

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We have many privileges in America. If we possess Christ, and His book, and His church, we are heirs of all the privileges of God. If we neglect or refuse those privileges, like the Jews during the time of Christ, we will have to answer for it.

“Then some of the scribes and Pharisees answered him, saying, “Teacher, we wish to see a sign from you.” But he answered them, “An evil and adulterous generation seeks for a sign, but no sign will be given to it except the sign of the prophet Jonah. For just as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the great fish, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth. The men of Nineveh will rise up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it, for they repented at the preaching of Jonah, and behold, something greater than Jonah is here. The queen of the South will rise up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it, for she came from the ends of the earth to hear the wisdom of Solomon, and behold, something greater than Solomon is here.”

‭‭Matthew‬ ‭12:38-42‬ ‭ESV‬‬

http://bible.com/59/mat.12.38-42.esv

John Lewis

Worship of Empire

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When we last saw King Nebuchadnezzar, he had just fallen down to worship Daniel and his friends after Daniel had both described and interpreted his dream. “Then King Nebuchadnezzar threw himself down before Daniel and worshiped him, and he commanded his people to offer sacrifices and burn sweet incense before him. The king said to Daniel, “Truly, your God is the greatest of gods, the Lord over kings, a revealer of mysteries, for you have been able to reveal this secret.” Then the king appointed Daniel to a high position and gave him many valuable gifts. He made Daniel ruler over the whole province of Babylon, as well as chief over all his wise men. At Daniel’s request, the king appointed Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego to be in charge of all the affairs of the province of Babylon, while Daniel remained in the king’s court.” Daniel‬ ‭2:46-49‬ ‭NLT‬‬. So the king seems to have learned something from his experience – Truly, your God is the greatest of gods. He promotes Daniel to be ruler of all Babylon, and chief of his wise men. He appoints Daniel’s friends Shadarch, Meshach, and Abednego to be in charge of “the affairs of Babylon”, whatever that means. Basically, Daniel and his friends seem to be in charge after the king gets scared silly by the dream (nightmarish to him) that Gods Kingdom will come and rule long after all human empires have disappeared.
However, Nebuchadnezzar’s humility towards the one true God is very short lived.

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King Nebuchadnezzar made a gold statue ninety feet tall and nine feet wide and set it up on the plain of Dura in the province of Babylon. That’s a whole lotta gold statue!! Nebuchadnezzar here is rejecting the interpretation of the dream he received from Daniel. In the dream, remember, the statue had a golden head, silver shoulders and arms, bronze waist, iron legs and clay feet (or something like that). The clay feet would be hit with a stone pulled by divine hands, breaking the feet, causing the rest of the statue to crumble and fade to dust. The king rejects the interpretation that his empire would fall, to be followed by lesser empires, ultimately all to be replaced by the kingdom of God.
Instead, old Nebuchadnezzar builds this giant gold statue, declaring that his kingdom is all gold and will never end, not for any lesser empire or the kingdom of God.

 

Isn’t this really the way we look at ourselves? Aren’t we all golden, all good, all blessed by God, the empire that will never end? I actually had this conversation a few months ago with a co worker, an intelligent coworker, and he seemed kind of puzzled by my statement that America will at some point become just another history lesson. He responded with something about technology being so different and the financial world being so entrenched. He truly believes, as do many of you reading this, that America will last forever. Maybe, to us, America is a synonym for The kingdom of God. But…back to our story.
He sends for all the officials of the kingdom to come for his dedication of the statue. So all these officials came and stood before the statue King Nebuchadnezzar had set up. Then a herald shouted out, “People of all races and nations and languages, listen to the king’s command! All races, nations, and languages, listen up!! Aren’t all the nations and races to bow down to Jesus? This is the way of all empires, always. Empire demands the right to tell the rest of the world how things are going to be done. They claim the power of God to rule the nations. When you hear the sound of the horn, flute, zither, lyre, harp, pipes, and other musical instruments, bow to the ground to worship King Nebuchadnezzar’s gold statue. When you hear our anthem playing, bow down and worship the empire!! Oh, how we react to someone who does not stand for our own anthem. (Please understand, sometimes I write these more to myself than anyone else…)

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That decree also states that those who refuse to obey must be thrown into a blazing furnace. But there are some Jews—Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego—whom you have put in charge of the province of Babylon. They pay no attention to you, Your Majesty. They refuse to serve your gods and do not worship the gold statue you have set up.” So not just an order of the king to bow down, but very specific consequences if we don’t. For those who refuse to bow down before the golden statue of the empire a blazing furnace awaits. And by the way, King, those Jews you put in charge – Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego – they just don’t get it. They don’t respect you. They refuse to bow down and worship your golden statue of empire.    
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Then Nebuchadnezzar flew into a rage and ordered that Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego be brought before him. When they were brought in, Nebuchadnezzar said to them, “Is it true, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, that you refuse to serve my gods or to worship the gold statue I have set up? I will give you one more chance to bow down and worship the statue I have made when you hear the sound of the musical instruments. But if you refuse, you will be thrown immediately into the blazing furnace. And then what god will be able to rescue you from my power?” It can’t be true, can it?? You guys are my main men!!! I KNOW you don’t have a problem with bowing down before my statue!! In fact, Nebuchadnezzar says he’ll give them another chance, if they’ll just reconsider and bow down, this whole little controversy can just go away. But if not, what God can save you boys??!!
Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego replied, “O Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to defend ourselves before you. If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God whom we serve is able to save us. He will rescue us from your power, Your Majesty. But even if he doesn’t, we want to make it clear to you, Your Majesty, that we will never serve your gods or worship the gold statue you have set up.” O King…there’s been no mistake. We understand. But we believe OUR God can save us. But even if he doesn’t, we will never serve your Gods. We are willing to work for your good and the good of those around you, but we will NEVER worship your golden statue!!

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Nebuchadnezzar was so furious with Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego that his face became distorted with rage. He commanded that the furnace be heated seven times hotter than usual. Then he ordered some of the strongest men of his army to bind Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego and throw them into the blazing furnace. So they tied them up and threw them into the furnace, fully dressed in their pants, turbans, robes, and other garments. And because the king, in his anger, had demanded such a hot fire in the furnace, the flames killed the soldiers as they threw the three men in. Ok!! You won’t bow down to my golden statue, then we’ll turn up the furnace SEVEN TIMES HOTTER!! We don’t even know how hot that is!! He’s got the strongest men in Babylon to tie up these three, but they get killed by the flames just trying to throw Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego in!! And poor Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, they are tied up and thrown into that inferno…they have no chance!!!
But suddenly, Nebuchadnezzar jumped up in amazement and exclaimed to his advisers, “Didn’t we tie up three men and throw them into the furnace?” “Yes, Your Majesty, we certainly did,” they replied. “Look!” Nebuchadnezzar shouted. “I see four men, unbound, walking around in the fire unharmed! And the fourth looks like a god!” They have no chance. Except they do. When the king jumps up and asks “Didn’t we tie up three men and throw them into the furnace?”, I just love this translation of the response of his advisors. “Yes, Your Majesty, we certainly did,” they replied. But there were now 4 men inside that furnace, not 3. And that 4th one, he kind freaked old Nebuchadnezzar out, he looks like a god!   
Then Nebuchadnezzar came as close as he could to the door of the flaming furnace and shouted: “Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, servants of the Most High God, come out! Come here!” So Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego stepped out of the fire. Then the high officers, officials, governors, and advisers crowded around them and saw that the fire had not touched them. Not a hair on their heads was singed, and their clothing was not scorched. They didn’t even smell of smoke!  

king-of-kings
We know who that fourth man was, don’t we?? We call Him Messiah, wonder worker, the son of God, the son of man, Prince of peace, the alpha and omega, the beginning and and the end. Love. Prince of peace and Lord of Lords. Kind of like that nightmare, He freaks the empire out, but we long for His presence.

If we (you) stay true to Jesus, there is no promise you will not suffer in the furnace. Jesus’ apostles suffered. Martin Luther King Jr suffered. Dietrich Bonhoeffer suffered. Stephen suffered. But if you oppose empire in the name of Christ, He will always be with you. He may deliver you from the furnace, or He may not. But he will never forsake you.

We can,and do, seek the good of our nation, but we can not bow before the Golden statue that says God is on our side no matter what. God can not and will not serve our selfish interests. He can only rule in his love and justice. Asking God to bless our nation at the expense of other nations is an attempt to make all the other nations bow down to our golden statue.

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Jesus taught us how nations are judged under his rule, which has ALREADY STARTED. Jesus is Lord. He is lord right now. Not Lord-elect. He has been raised from the dead and promoted to the right hand of the father, and the father has given him all authority over the heavens and the earth. He is judging nations right now, but not according to the size of our economy or strength of our military. He judges nations by how we treat the poor, the sick, the immigrant and the imprisoned. Remember this – “”When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne. Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. And he will place the sheep on his right, but the goats on the left. Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’” Matthew‬ ‭25:31-40‬ ‭ESV‬‬. Before him will be gathered all the nations…
We say God Bless America, and well we should and well we could. God has certainly blessed America, in so many ways we have been that shining city on a hill. But we, even inside the church, have forgotten that Jesus set conditions for blessing.

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“”Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted. “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth. “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied. “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy. “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God. “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God. “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. “Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” Matthew‬ ‭5:3-12‬ ‭ESV

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If we line up with the sermon on the mount, the blessings will be there. We want to blessed, but we want the blessings to come our way. We want to “make our own luck.” We don’t want to be humble. We don’t want to be meek. We want to be powerful, strong and mighty. We want all the nations to dance to our tune. We want to bow down to a golden statue.

 

John Lewis