No Room at the Inn

No Room at the Inn

no-room-at-the-inn

The Birth of Jesus Christ, as we say, the reason for the season. Seven verses to change the world.

In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered. This was the first registration when Quirinius was governor of Syria. And all went to be registered, each to his own town. Interesting that is says “all the world should be registered.” Certainly all the world that mattered to anyone involved in the story, for sure. All the world that Caesar Augustus wanted to tax and use for military service for sure. Because Jews were exempt from military service, for Mary and Joseph this would have been all about being registered to pay the tax man. Interestingly enough, under Roman custom they would have simply been counted where they live currently…much as we do today. It was the Jewish ancestral traditions that drove them to make the 80 mile journey from Nazareth to Bethlehem.

mary-and-joseph
And Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the town of Nazareth, to Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David, to be registered with Mary, his betrothed, who was with child. The Jewish ancestral traditions, all those lineages we find in the Bible. Without these traditions, Mary stays in Nazareth, as well she should have, to deliver her baby boy. Without these lineages, without the importance placed on ancestry, on where are you from, in Jewish life, this prophecy is not fulfilled. “But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah, are only a small village among all the people of Judah. Yet a ruler of Israel, whose origins are in the distant past, will come from you on my behalf.” Micah‬ ‭5:2‬ ‭NLT

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Up to that point, Mary was living in the wrong place. But, because of her betrothal to be married to Joseph, she too was now an heiress in the line of King David, so she had to make this 80 mile journey not because she wanted to, but under the rule and force of Roman law. But God…

swaddling
And while they were there, the time came for her to give birth. And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn. So the prophecy from Micah, along with so many other prophecies, could also be fulfilled. “This is the Lord ‘s doing; it is marvelous in our eyes.” Psalms‬ ‭118:23‬ ‭ESV‬‬. The tiny village of Bethlehem was apparently overrun with travelers coming to be registered just as Joseph and Mary came. We have the most famous words here “No room at the inn”, but Jesus wasn’t born as we are problem picturing it. Jesus wasn’t born in a barn or some kind of side building to an inn. Bethlehem is riddled with caves, and it is almost certainly in one of these caves that Christ came into the world. We think we even know the cave in which He was born. There are several churches built on the site, and yes, if you make the trip into Bethlehem you can visit the cave in which (we believe) the savior of the world was born.

bethlehem-cave1
Born in a cave because there was no room at the inn. These days, for a very affordable price for sure, we would certainly make room at the inn. We just have no room in our hearts. We have no room in our lives. We would just have something better to do on a Friday night (or whatever night of the week it happened to be. I have no idea what night Jesus was born on). We would be too busy. We certainly wouldn’t be watching the stars to then make a thousand mile journey on foot to bring gifts and worship just another baby born out of wedlock to common teen age parents.

bethlehem-cave
No room at the inn. The only place there was space for Jesus when He came was on a Roman crucifix. No room in Rome for a king with a heavenly kingdom. No room in synagogue for a rabbi who overturned the Torah. No room for a Messiah who’s weapons were love and forgiveness, not revenge and a sword.

christ-crucified
No room in our inn either. No room for a Christ who calls us to love our enemies. After all…He never met our enemies. No room for a Jesus who sleeps with the homeless. No room for a Christ who loves prisoners (or inmates, as we would call them). No room for a Jesus who eats with the hungry. No room for a savior who demands we see each one as we see Him.

people-on-cell-phone

No room for His word.  Despite the fact that the average American adult gets ELEVEN (count ’em!) hours per day on electronic devices (per Nielson reports, March 2015), most of those same adults, including self described Christians, claim to have no time to read God’s word shared with us in His Holy Bible.

the-word-of-god
No room for forgiveness in our angry hearts. No room for mercy in our need for security. No trust in God when we have our 401(k). No time to love others when we have so many (important!!) things to do.

jesuschrist
He came looking for room in the overcrowded hearts of men. His search, and His rejection, continue to this day.

 

“In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered. This was the first registration when Quirinius was governor of Syria. And all went to be registered, each to his own town. And Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the town of Nazareth, to Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David, to be registered with Mary, his betrothed, who was with child. And while they were there, the time came for her to give birth. And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.”

‭‭Luke‬ ‭2:1-7‬ ‭ESV‬‬

http://bible.com/59/luk.2.1-7.esv

John Lewis

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A Lot to Think About

A Lot to Think About

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We don’t see much about Joseph, the human father figure of Jesus, in our bible. This may be the single largest view we have of him. I believe it may very well be most of what we know of him. But we can see here, God the Father did not make a poor choice in a father figure for his only begotten Son.
Now the birth of Jesus Christ took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. Betrothal at this time represented a permanent relationship nearly equivalent to marriage. Breaking it off legally required a divorce.

joseph-contemplating
Matthew here tells us the child was from the Holy Spirit. But to say Mary was found with child from the Holy Spirit…to say the child was from the Holy Spirit is simply Matthews explanation with the gift of hindsight. When it says Mary was found with child….it simply means that she was with child. To anyone looking at her, including Joseph, she was knocked up. She was probably in her second trimester, because to be found to be with child, this would mean she was beginning to show. Matthew is very explicit here that Joseph had not gotten together with his betrothed wife. That would have to wait for the ceremony. This was a very scandalous pregnancy.
And her husband Joseph, being a just man and unwilling to put her to shame, resolved to divorce her quietly. At this point, It seems as though Joseph’s betrothed is, quite simply, an adulteress. He has never had relations with her, yet she is pregnant. And do we forget the potential penalty for adultery under the law?? “The scribes and the Pharisees brought a woman who had been caught in adultery, and placing her in the midst they said to him, “Teacher, this woman has been caught in the act of adultery. Now in the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women. So what do you say?”” ‭John‬ ‭8:3-5‬ ‭ESV‬‬. It was not standard practice to stone adulterers at thus time, but it was not unheard of either. But rather, Joseph here had made up his mind to divorce Mary quietly, probably simply with the certificate of divorce required by law before two or three witnesses rather than dragging her in front of a magistrate.
Mary had been gone three months visiting her relative Elizabeth, it is highly unlikely Joseph had not spoken to her since her return about the pregnancy which was showing on her. Of course she had explained it to him as best she could, but who could believe? Even if Joseph DID believe Mary, wouldn’t it simply be easier for him to simply walk away in this circumstance?

dream-of-st-joseph
But as he considered these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.”
As he considered these things, as he thought about whatever explanation Mary had given him, an angel of the Lord came in a dream. The angel addresses Joseph very deliberately – Joseph, son of David – as a direct reminder of the promise coveted by all families in David’s line, the promise of a king to reign forever from the house of David. This was undoubtedly to prepare Joseph for what was next – that Mary was telling him the truth, her child was from the Holy Spirit, the child was the awaited king from the house of David. Joseph was to name Him Jesus, in the Hebrew “Yeshua” meaning “the Lord saves”. The fact that the angel instructs Joseph to name the child at all is a command to take responsibility for the child, it is the role of the father to name the child at the circumcision. And the child will save his people from their sins. So Jesus is not just the awaited king, not just a political Messiah, but a savior to save His people from their sins.

mary-with-gabriel
All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet: “Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel” (which means, God with us). The angel is finished, now we have Matthew’s interpretation as the fulfillment of prophecy (one of the themes of Matthew). So Matthew applies the birth of Jesus to the prophecy in Isaiah of the birth to a virgin, and calls Jesus “Immanuel”, God with us. And He is still with isn’t He?? “…And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”” ‭Matthew‬ ‭28:20‬ ‭ESV‬‬.

mary-with-jesus
When Joseph woke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him: he took his wife, but knew her not until she had given birth to a son. And he called his name Jesus.” So Joseph took his wife, but did not “have relations” until the boy was born. He named the child Yeshua, the Lord saves, just as the angel told him. So the Lord saves, salvation Himself, comes into the world born of the virgin, living as Immanuel, God with us.

emmanuel
“…And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

 

“Now the birth of Jesus Christ took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. And her husband Joseph, being a just man and unwilling to put her to shame, resolved to divorce her quietly. But as he considered these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet: “Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel” (which means, God with us). When Joseph woke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him: he took his wife, but knew her not until she had given birth to a son. And he called his name Jesus.”

‭‭Matthew‬ ‭1:18-25‬ ‭ESV‬‬

http://bible.com/59/mat.1.18-25.esv

John Lewis

O Little Town of Bethlehem

O Little Town of Bethlehem

little-town-of-bethlehem

Christmas and Bethlehem. They just go together, don’t they? As we are moving into the advent season, celebrating the coming of Jesus Christ the savior of the world, the tiny town of Bethlehem enters our lives again. We decorate our homes and our communities with scenes of the nativity, commemorating the birth of Jesus not at the inn, because there was no room at the inn. We have our Christmas scene, our beautiful snow globes, capturing the iconic beauty of the birth of Christ not at the inn, but in a cave lying in a manger.

nativity
Some of our greatest art depicts this very scene. I bet you own something yourself showing the birth of Jesus. There has been no event more earth shattering, more monumental than God becoming flesh and walking among us. We can think of no more beautiful scene to depict and treasure forever than that silent night.

nativity-scene1
But we need to understand that Jesus wasn’t born into a snow globe. He wasn’t born into an iconic nativity scene. He wasn’t born into a world of silent nights and peace on earth. Rather, Jesus was born at the intersection of beauty and pain. He was born right on the fault lines of our most intractable conflicts. When we’re faithful to the bible, there is nothing sentimental or naive about the Christmas story. Jesus was born into a war torn world with despotic, paranoid kings who would dispatch death squads to kill two year old boys. He was born in a place where, to this day, you can find tear gas canisters and rubber bullets in the street. What more intractable conflict in the world do we have than the Israeli-Palestinian conflict?? So while Bethlehem brings to mind our idealistic picture of the manger scenes, magi, and snow globes, if you visit there today you could just as likely leave with some of the tear gas canisters and rubber bullets littering the streets as with an an iconic depiction of Jesus’ birth.
But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah, are only a small village among all the people of Judah. Yet a ruler of Israel, whose origins are in the distant past, will come from you on my behalf. Bethlehem means literally “house of bread.” We can get behind that, we know that the bread of life was born there. But what about “Ephrathah”? Why is Micah using this word as well??

ash-heap
Ephrathah means “ash heap”, and THIS is how the little town of Bethlehem enters the bible. “Leaving Bethel, Jacob and his clan moved on toward Ephrath. But Rachel went into labor while they were still some distance away. Her labor pains were intense. After a very hard delivery, the midwife finally exclaimed, “Don’t be afraid—you have another son!” Rachel was about to die, but with her last breath she named the baby Ben-oni (which means “son of my sorrow”). The baby’s father, however, called him Benjamin (which means “son of my right hand”). So Rachel died and was buried on the way to Ephrath (that is, Bethlehem). Jacob set up a stone monument over Rachel’s grave, and it can be seen there to this day.” Genesis‬ ‭35:16-20‬ ‭NLT‬‬. Bethlehem is the town where Rachel, beloved wife of Jacob who became Israel, died during childbirth delivering Jacob’s son Benjamin. And as surprising as it may be, since this passage in Genesis was probably written 3500 years ago, Rachel’s tomb still stands to THIS very day!! It is just outside the wall separating Jerusalem and Bethlehem, and yes you could visit it if you wanted. Bethlehem was born into the bible as a place of sorrows, as an ash heap of mourning. It would later become the birthplace of David, then of course for the son of David who would reign forever, but it first appears as a place of sorrows and tragedy.

rachels-tomb
The text also lets us know that Bethlehem, though just a small place in the world, would be the birthplace of the Messiah. Jerusalem, the great city, is not the birthplace of Jesus. It is where He would go to die, but it is the little town of Bethlehem where Salvation is born. God likes to use small beginnings, you see??

Tear Gas In Mississippi
But Bethlehem was not peaceful, even on that silent night. We know the story of the wise men, who somehow saw in the stars that the awaited Jewish Messiah was born and travelled a great distance to bring him their gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. A beautiful story. But the other part of this that they inadvertently almost screwed the whole thing up when they alerted Herod, the reigning King of the Jews, that the long prophesied Messiah, the awaited King of the Jews had been born. Herod being who he was got a little paranoid about it, with tragic consequences. “Then Herod, when he saw that he had been tricked by the wise men, became furious, and he sent and killed all the male children in Bethlehem and in all that region who were two years old or under, according to the time that he had ascertained from the wise men. Then was fulfilled what was spoken by the prophet Jeremiah: “A voice was heard in Ramah, weeping and loud lamentation, Rachel weeping for her children; she refused to be comforted, because they are no more.”” Matthew‬ ‭2:16-18‬ ‭ESV‬‬. Rachel weeping for her children, as prophesied by Jeremiah. War torn Bethlehem Ephrathah, the house of bread, the ash heap. The slaughter of the innocents, the flight to Egypt. If not for the warning of an angel the story of Jesus would have ended right there. Tear gas and rubber bullets.

snow-globe-1
Christmas is not simply a hallmark card. That is really just too sentimental. It’s also not just tragedy and conflict, tear gas and rubber bullets. That’s too cynical. But both need to be taken together. Both are part of it all – hope and horror. Beauty and brutality.
We have the beauty of the conception by the Holy Spirit. Salvation began at the point of the conception. Salvation is not a plan but a person – the person of Jesus Christ. “For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” Isaiah‬ ‭9:6‬ ‭ESV‬‬. We have the adoration of the magi, away in a manger. Iconic beauty.
But we also have Herod’s death squads. Ugly darkness and paranoid rulers. Darkness verses light. Good versus evil.

silentnight
In the Christmas story, we have darkness and we have light. But know one thing for sure – the dark and the light are not evenly matched. The darkness and the fear come from sin and satan. Light and hope come from God. “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness can never extinguish it.” John‬ ‭1:5‬ ‭NLT‬‬. Jesus, King of Kings and Lord of Lords, has come to save the world.

jesus-visita
Let’s bring this down, from big picture to little picture. We know Jesus was sent to save the whole world, but what about you and me?? What is true in the big picture of God saving the world is also true in the little picture of God saving your soul. God saving you. Little picture…but not so little to you, is it?? Jesus is the king who saves the world, but he’s also the doctor who heals your soul. Yes, that’s a doctor, not a lawyer. Jesus never uses a metaphor describing Himself as a lawyer, but frequently as a doctor. In fact one of my favorite scriptures comes when Jesus is being criticized for hanging out with sinners. “When Jesus heard this, he said, “Healthy people don’t need a doctor—sick people do.” Then he added, “Now go and learn the meaning of this Scripture: ‘I want you to show mercy, not offer sacrifices.’ For I have come to call not those who think they are righteous, but those who know they are sinners.”” Matthew‬ ‭9:12-13‬ ‭NLT‬‬. So, Jesus sees himself as a doctor, not a lawyer. He is the great physician. Yet we get this switched around and tell ourselves that somehow what we need for salvation is mostly legal and what need is a lawyer to cut us a deal in kind of a quid pro quo arrangement. There is truth to this comparison, but the much better comparison is Jesus as great physician.

come-to-jesus
When we believe in Jesus, Jesus is born into our lives. When we believe in Jesus, you could say we become Bethlehem. But remember, Christ was not just born into the beautiful places in Bethlehem. He’s not just born into the beautiful places in your life. He’s not just born into the places of your life that looks like a Bethlehem snow globe. He’s also born into the war torn places in your soul. He’s born into the iconic beauty, but also into tear gas and rubber bullet Bethlehem.

snow-globe
We want it to be all about the silent night, the snow globe Bethlehem. We hope for the snow globe, but sometimes it feels like we’re getting a lot of tear gas. But Jesus also comes into those deep, dark places in your soul. Those places inside you where the tear gas of confusion is choking you. Those places where the rubber bullets are hurting you. The Great Physician comes into your life to heal the hurt, to heal those conflicts.

tear-gas-and-rubber-bullets
To come to Jesus, you don’t have to wait to get things right in your life. You don’t have to wait until you get things all cleaned up. You don’t have to wait until you deserve Jesus to ask Him into your life. You just have to say yes to Jesus, then make room.
Remember Jesus was not born at the inn – because there was no room at the inn. But rather, He was born in the cave, because there IS room there. Repent, make room for Jesus. Invite Him into the deepest darkest caves in your soul, those places you don’t bring guests. If you want the beauty of the nativity scene, the peace of the snow globe, you have to let him into those war torn, tear gas and rubber bullet places inside you. Those places nobody else knows about. Those places you tell everybody else don’t exist. Those places you tell yourself don’t exist. Jesus is born in those places. Let Jesus be born into those dark caves inside you where you don’t invite guests.

bethlehem-wall
Bethlehem came into the bible as an ash heap of sorrows. But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah, are only a small village among all the people of Judah. God takes the smallest beginnings and make them great. When you say yes to Jesus, you become Bethlehem. Bethlehem is born in the bible as a place of sorrow, grief, mourning and loss. You’re only one person, a small village. And you know all the hurts you have. You know the wars you’ve waged. You know the guns you’re shooting. Yet He’s going to come into the ash heap of your life and heal your soul.

jesus-abrasando
Yet a ruler of Israel, whose origins are in the distant past, will come from you on my behalf. From the distant past…the eternal past. Christ has been there from the beginning….the “in the beginning” beginning.
The people of Israel will be abandoned to their enemies until the woman in labor gives birth. Ever feel like you’ve been abandoned to your enemies and they’re just beating the crap out of you?? Ever feel like it’s just you against the world and the world is winning?
Then at last his fellow countrymen will return from exile to their own land. One of the great themes of the bible. Coming out of exile. Coming home. Finding your way home. Are you ready to come home? Christmas is a time of coming home, isn’t it?

good-shepherd
And he will stand to lead his flock with the LORD’s strength, in the majesty of the name of the LORD his God. Because He is the Good Shepherd. “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. He who is a hired hand and not a shepherd, who does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and flees, and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. He flees because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep. I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep.” John‬ ‭10:11-15‬ ‭ESV‬‬. He’s born into our war torn world, but He knows His sheep. He leads His flock with the Lord’s strength, and with the Lord’s strength He lays down His life for the sheep.
Then his people will live there undisturbed, for he will be highly honored around the world. Even in the land of tear gas canisters and rubber bullets, we will be undisturbed. And seriously – think about this – who does not honor Jesus? Other religions, atheists, all the nations. Some may do their best to try to ignore Him, but even then they end up honoring Him. Jesus Christ is honored around the world. In fact, Jesus is judging the world right now, and we don’t even know it. Because He the perfect human, and we actually all know it.
And he will be the source of peace. Even in your tear gas and rubber bullet Bethlehem, he will be your peace. We all want those tear gas and rubber bullets to be turned into the snow globe. That time will come, Christ has died, Christ has risen, and Christ will come again. But when the sirens are wailing and guns are going off in the background, you can still be singing “Silent Night”, because the peace is within you, the peace is within us. We carry it out into the world a little bit at a time.
He assumes our humanity so that He might heal our humanity. Just come with a little bit of faith. Make just a little bit of room inside, because God loves the smallest beginnings.

“But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah, are only a small village among all the people of Judah. Yet a ruler of Israel, whose origins are in the distant past, will come from you on my behalf. The people of Israel will be abandoned to their enemies until the woman in labor gives birth. Then at last his fellow countrymen will return from exile to their own land. And he will stand to lead his flock with the LORD’s strength, in the majesty of the name of the LORD his God. Then his people will live there undisturbed, for he will be highly honored around the world. And he will be the source of peace.”

‭‭Micah‬ ‭5:2-5‬ ‭NLT‬‬

http://bible.com/116/mic.5.2-5.nlt

John Lewis

A little leaven…

leavened-bread

Jesus’ entire purpose for ministry was to announce, bring and enact the kingdom of God. It’s all He ever talked about, all He ever did. Almost every sermon, every parable, every miracle, and every prayer was to teach, announce or bring about the Kingdom of God. It is all He ever talked about.
So it is here in Luke Chapter 13. Jesus is preaching and teaching about the kingdom of God. Verses 20 & 21 read – And again he said, “To what shall I compare the kingdom of God? It is like leaven that a woman took and hid in three measures of flour, until it was all leavened.”” ‭‭Luke‬ ‭13:20-21‬ ‭ESV‬‬. Short and sweet, but packed full of lessons from Jesus Christ.

mixing-the-leaven-for-tartine-country-loaf-700x466
Jesus would have taken this illustration from something He probably saw everyday growing up. In those days, of course, bread was baked at home. There were no 7-11s, no supermarkets. Leaven is a little piece of dough which had been kept from the previous loaves baking for extra fermentation. Leaven was commonly referenced in Jewish thought as a comparison for influence. Jesus had Himself seen Mary put a little leaven in the dough and the whole character of the dough changed because of it. According to Jesus, this is how His kingdom comes.

small-beginnings
So many points can be made from this illustration. The first is that the Kingdom of Heaven starts from the very smallest beginnings. You’ve seen how in your place of work, or in any committee or board, or on any team, one person can be the beginnings of trouble or the beginning of peace. The Kingdom of Heaven begins with the lives of individual men and women. Wherever we live or work, there may only be one person professing Christ. It is our job to stay strong in our faith where we are.
The Kingdom of God works unseen. Not that it’s hidden away, we know it’s there. Sometimes, we just can’t see the work being done right in front of us. The leaven is always working even though we can’t see it. Seneca, probably the greatest Roman thinker and philosopher, wrote in AD 60 “We strangle a mad dog; we slaughter a fierce ox; we plunge the knife into sickly cattle lest they taint the herd; children who are born weakly and deformed we drown.” In AD 60 that was normal. We wouldn’t dream of that today, we can’t even comprehend, because indeed the kingdom is on the way.

spit-shine
The Kingdom of God only works from the inside. The leaven can change nothing from the outside. Men and women are never changed from the outside. New surroundings, new homes, nicer cars, more material possessions only affect the outer surface. It’s only a spit shine, some nice new paint.

Christianity is about making new men and new women. Once men and women are made new, the world will follow. That is the importance of the church. It is the factory where new men and new women are produced. The staging point from which God is changing the world.

change-from-within
The power of the kingdom comes from outside. The dough has no power to change itself. Neither do we. We try and try, but to no avail. To change our lives we need a power outside and greater than ourselves. We need the master of life, the creator of the world. He is “…the way, and the truth, and the life...” ‭John‬ ‭14:6‬ ‭ESV‬‬. We need Jesus Christ to plant his leaven inside of us. He is always waiting to give us a life of victory. Seen or unseen, the Kingdom of God is at work.

“And again he said, “To what shall I compare the kingdom of God? It is like leaven that a woman took and hid in three measures of flour, until it was all leavened.””

‭‭Luke‬ ‭13:20-21‬ ‭ESV‬‬

http://bible.com/59/luk.13.20-21.esv

John Lewis

Without Forgiveness

Since Sunday I have been angry. I have been yelling. A lot. I’ve been steaming, fuming. I’ve gotten into better moods, only to flash back into anger. I sit steaming, wondering “what am I supposed to do here.” I know I’m supposed to be able to forgive. But I also have my honor. My pride. I’m also expected in this situation to be angry. To hold a grudge. If I told you what is happening here, you would tell me I should want some blood in return.


In fact, most of you might think less of me if I don’t extract that blood. Most people who read this have some foundation and belief in Jesus Christ, but even those who do believe in Christ, don’t usually actually believe in His ideas. We don’t actually believe we should love our enemies. We don’t believe we should turn the other cheek.


And we don’t believe in forgiving those who trespass against us. We love and believe wholeheartedly in the forgiveness of our own personal sins through Christ Jesus. Forgiving others who hurt us, not so much.
It’s funny how God works. There is nothing funny about the situation I’m in right now, but when I can get perspective and think, He is working in amazing ways. This struggle came up as I was in the middle of reading the book Unconditional? The call of Jesus to Radical Forgiveness by Brian Zahnd. So Wednesday night I take my son to batting practice and have a good talk with my sponsor, I’ve been getting to a better place mentally. Then I sit down during practice and read about the story of Joseph at the end of Genesis. It’s a loooong bible story, so in three sentences or less, let’s just say that he was hated by his brothers to the point they sold him into slavery and claimed he was dead. He lived as a slave for 13 years in Egypt. He rose, was wrongfully accused and imprisoned, stayed true to who he was, didn’t give in to the temptation to bitterness, and ultimately rose to second in command. Ultimately, he meets his family and brothers in a situation where he (Joseph) is in the position of having his brothers having to rely on him simply for food to survive. He had the power of their lives or death in his own hands. He chose life.


When his father dies….now his brothers are in full panic mode. They just know that now Joseph will get the vengeance he completely deserves and which no one would deny him. But instead, this is what Joseph said to his brothers – “But Joseph said to them, “Do not fear, for am I in the place of God? As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today. So do not fear; I will provide for you and your little ones.” Thus he comforted them and spoke kindly to them.” Genesis‬ ‭50:19-21‬ ‭ESV‬‬. They meant evil against Joseph for sure, and he calls it what it is. But God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today. That’s right, but God. God used it for good. At some point go read in Genesis the entire story of Joseph. “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.” ‭‭Romans‬ ‭8:28‬ ‭ESV‬‬. Joseph loved God, and God used the evil done to him to save hundreds of thousands for sure, maybe millions, during a time of great famine in Egypt. (Like i said – go read the story). But more that that, Joseph moved beyond the betrayal of his brothers. And it is at that point, where Joseph chose to break the chain of retaliation and revenge. He chose to forgive so that his family can have a future. As Archbishop Desmond Tutu said – “Without forgiveness, there is no future.” And ponder this for a moment. Joseph forgave his brothers so that his family may have a future. He said God had used their evil for good so that many many be kept alive. But how many were kept alive by Joseph’s choice to forgive? Without his forgiveness of his brothers….their is no bible!!! Without forgiveness, the bible never gets past Genesis!! It is because Joseph forgave that our bible, and God’s plan of redemption for mankind through Jesus Christ, had and has a future.
So my heart was softened right there at an indoor batting practice. My anger melted away. It’s no accident that this happened at this point in my walk, and at the point that God had me right in the middle of a book bearing prophetic witness to His own teachings on forgiveness. He taught us to forgive, and then he modeled right from the cross, which his enemies meant for evil. But the Father had a different plan for that cross, to use it for good. To use it as the throne of Jesus Christ.


But before we could have that future in Christ, we needed forgiveness. Jesus offers that forgiveness – “And Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” Luke‬ ‭23:34‬ ‭ESV‬‬. Instead of crying out for vengeance form the Father, Jesus cries out for forgiveness. Instead of calling down heavens armies, we receive God’s grace. The Father then vindicates Him on the third day, declaring for all time that “YES!!! This is the way to everlasting life!! This is how you live!!” Don’t ever forget what God cried out at Jesus baptism – “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.”” Matthew‬ ‭3:17‬ ‭ESV‬, and on the mountain of transfiguration – “…”This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him.”” ‭‭Matthew‬ ‭17:5‬ ‭ESV‬‬. And then the resurrection. It doesn’t record those same words directly but it says them loud and clear. He raised Jesus on Easter Morning and declares for all time, unmistakably, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him.”


So I choose to listen to Him. I am a Christian, after all. I am choosing forgiveness. I am not going to be defined by this thing.  I am a child of the King, after all.  Instead of giving into the enemies trap of revenge and retaliation, Jesus brought the Kingdom of God into the world, showing us radical forgiveness while being executed on a Roman Crucifix. This is what it means for us to take up our cross and follow Him. It means we exercise our option to forgive, stopping the enemies cycle bitterness and anger, revenge and retribution. We take the hurt, the anger, the rage upon ourselves, and we recycle it until it comes back out as forgiveness. We take the the evil and turn it into love.
Without forgiveness, there is no future.
Without forgiveness, there is no hope.
Without forgiveness, there is no SALVATION.
“And Jesus cried out and said, “Whoever believes in me, believes not in me but in him who sent me. And whoever sees me sees him who sent me. I have come into the world as light, so that whoever believes in me may not remain in darkness. If anyone hears my words and does not keep them, I do not judge him; for I did not come to judge the world but to save the world. The one who rejects me and does not receive my words has a judge; the word that I have spoken will judge him on the last day. For I have not spoken on my own authority, but the Father who sent me has himself given me a commandment—what to say and what to speak. And I know that his commandment is eternal life. What I say, therefore, I say as the Father has told me.””

‭‭John‬ ‭12:44-50‬ ‭ESV‬‬

http://bible.com/59/jhn.12.44-50.esv


“We know that we are from God, and the whole world lies in the power of the evil one.”

‭‭1 John‬ ‭5:19‬ ‭ESV‬‬

http://bible.com/59/1jn.5.19.esv

John Lewis

A Hard Walk


Have you ever just felt like you were under attack? Have you ever felt like it’s just you against the world, you’re under attack, and it’s time to fight back? Have you ever felt that way yet avoided the temptation to justify yourself, avoided the drive to fight fire with fire, as we say.


Jesus and his disciples had that temptation, never more so than at the point of betrayal when Jesus of Nazareth was taken into custody by the chief priests and elders.   

Then they came up and laid hands on Jesus and seized him. And behold, one of those who were with Jesus stretched out his hand and drew his sword and struck the servant of the high priest and cut off his ear. Then Jesus said to him, “Put your sword back into its place. For all who take the sword will perish by the sword. Do you think that I cannot appeal to my Father, and he will at once send me more than twelve legions of angels? But how then should the Scriptures be fulfilled, that it must be so?
We know from the Gospel of John that it was Peter (of course) who cut off the servants ear. Let me tell you something – Peter loved Jesus. He was with Him until the end. He had his back. And He was, even in the garden, willing to fight to the death for His friend. Peter was willing to fight for what was right. Peter was willing to fight to the death against the injustice that was happening right in front of Him. Then Jesus said to him, “Put your sword back into its place. For all who take the sword will perish by the sword.” We know this most famously as “those who live by the sword will die by the sword.” Humanity, since the beginning of civilization, has been living and dying by the sword. We read this, and I really hope you can empathize with Peter. Peter, here as in so many other places in the bible, is every one of us. We feel like we are being wronged, and we are going to fight back!! We are justified in our fighting back. It feels like the RIGHT thing to do. 
 Peter, I’m sure, felt he was doing the right thing. Peter loved Jesus. Peter believed in Jesus. He believed Jesus was in Jerusalem to be crowned king, and was simply unwilling to accept what seemed to him to be the failure of their mission. He can’t believe what is happening, and he is not going to stand by. He is a fighter. He’s going to STAND UP for what’s right, STAND UP for himself and for Jesus.  


Except that Jesus, the Messiah, the long awaited King of Israel who was in Jerusalem to take His rightful throne, stands up and says “NO!!!” In fact, he points out to Peter (and everyone else listening) – Do you think that I cannot appeal to my Father, and he will at once send me more than twelve legions of angels? Peter still does not understand. But Jesus tells him that if that was His way to the throne, He could call down all of heavens armies right then and there. He is fully capable of fighting for Himself. But remember this from the Sermon on the Mount – “”You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, Do not resist the one who is evil. But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also.” Matthew‬ ‭5:38-39‬ ‭ESV‬‬. Jesus lives out His own teaching against this worlds systems of retaliation and retribution.  


“”You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.” Matthew‬ ‭5:43-45‬ ‭ESV‬‬. Our ways are to fight back. Jesus says to resist the temptation to retaliate. We want to hate our enemies, we feel justified in holding onto our anger and bitterness against someone who has done wrong to us. But even in this garden, as He’s being taken away into what will be an excruciating (a word which only exists because of what was to come right here) day and night that would end in His final breaths on the cross, Jesus lives out those COMMANDS He gave us – “But Jesus said, “No more of this!” And he touched his ear and healed him.” Luke‬ ‭22:51‬ ‭ESV‬‬. He didn’t just NOT call down heavens armies against his would be captors, but he heals ON THE SPOT one of those coming against Him. I’m wondering here if maybe, just maybe, this disillusioned Peter so much that it had something to do with his denials a few hours later? He was expecting Jesus to be crowned king, and was willing to die for his master, but from Jesus it was just another rebuke, and then He’s healing one of those who needed to be defeated.   
Let me be honest here – sin is crouching at my door. I’ve been sober from alcohol (and more) since Memorial Day 2014. Yesterday is the closest I’ve come to losing that sobriety. I’m struggling right now. I made a delivery yesterday of a very unique, sought after beer, a beer that I used to really enjoy. And I wanted so much to open one up. I feel like I’m under attack. I’ve been wronged, I’ve been hurt, and I want to fight back. I want to pull out my sword and cut somebody’s fu#%*ing ear off. Since I’ve started my walk of faith, I have not really had a struggle come up that could knock me off. That struggle has come, and now I can better understand the meaning of these words to Peter – “”Simon, Simon, behold, Satan demanded to have you, that he might sift you like wheat, but I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned again, strengthen your brothers.”” ‭Luke‬ ‭22:31-32‬ ‭ESV‬‬. How do I respond? I can tell you, I’ve been angry, accusing and lashing out. I’ve been right in the eye for an eye trap. I want someone to hurt, to pay, for how I feel I’ve been wronged. I feel justified in maybe giving into one of my temptations. “If you do well, will you not be accepted? And if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door. Its desire is for you, but you must rule over it.”” Genesis‬ ‭4:7‬ ‭ESV‬‬. Like I said, sin is crouching. Like everyone else, I have a choice. This following Jesus just ain’t easy in times like this. Fighting back just feels so right. So now it’s time to, like Jesus, walk the walk, not just talk the talk. But man, it’s a hard walk.

“But Jesus said, “No more of this!” And he touched his ear and healed him.”

‭‭Luke‬ ‭22:51‬ ‭ESV‬‬

http://bible.com/59/luk.22.51.esv

“While he was still speaking, Judas came, one of the twelve, and with him a great crowd with swords and clubs, from the chief priests and the elders of the people. Now the betrayer had given them a sign, saying, “The one I will kiss is the man; seize him.” And he came up to Jesus at once and said, “Greetings, Rabbi!” And he kissed him. Jesus said to him, “Friend, do what you came to do.” Then they came up and laid hands on Jesus and seized him. And behold, one of those who were with Jesus stretched out his hand and drew his sword and struck the servant of the high priest and cut off his ear. Then Jesus said to him, “Put your sword back into its place. For all who take the sword will perish by the sword. Do you think that I cannot appeal to my Father, and he will at once send me more than twelve legions of angels? But how then should the Scriptures be fulfilled, that it must be so?””

‭‭Matthew‬ ‭26:47-54‬ ‭ESV‬‬

http://bible.com/59/mat.26.47-54.esv

John Lewis