All-Inclusive

All-Inclusive

Did some reading aver my vacation, including Philip Yancey’s book What’s so Amazing About Grace?    In a world full of ungrace, grace is the one thing Christians have to offer that is found nowhere else.   As George MacDonald once said, “You need not be a Christian to build houses, feed the hungry, or heal the sick.  There is only one thing the world cannot do.  It cannot offer grace.”

At one point in the book, Yancey takes an interesting look at Peter’s encounter with God in Acts Chapter 10.  It is in Acts chapter 10 that the diet of the new church was greatly expanded.  As far as we are concerned, that is the point and the end of the story.  Before, Jews were not allowed to eat many foods, many things were just not “kosher” for them.  Know that “kosher” may best be translated into English, if we would, as “fit”.   So we would say that if something were not “kosher”, that means it is “unfit” for us to eat.   Or that dreaded term in the Old Testament, “unclean”.

So we see in Acts 10 Peter’s vision on a rooftop.   Peter has gone up onto the roof to pray in privacy, but he begins to get hungry.   His mind begins to wander, and he fell into a trance and saw the heavens opened and something like a great sheet descending, being let down by its four corners upon the earth. In it were all kinds of animals and reptiles and birds of the air. And there came a voice to him: “Rise, Peter; kill and eat.”    This is not very specific about what the animals on the sheet were, but if we read Leviticus 11 we can get an idea.  Pigs, camels, rabbits, vultures, ravens, horned owls, screech owls, storks, bats, ants, beetles, bears, lizards, skinks, weasels, rats, snakes, all would have been on the do not eat list.   Being raised a Jew is Palestine, Peter would have been raised from his earliest memories that these foods were not just off the diet – they were an abomination to be detested.

If during the course of the day Peter had so much as touched the carcass of a dead insect, he would wash himself and his clothes and be unclean until evening, not allowed in the temple until he was clean of such errors.   If a lizard or a spider had fallen into one of the clay cooking pots, whatever was in the pot would have been thrown out, and the pot smashed along with it.

So now, all these unclean animals, birds, reptiles, and insects are all crawling around on a sheet falling from heaven with the instruction  “Rise, Peter; kill and eat”.   To which Peter reminded God of his own rules – “By no means, Lord; for I have never eaten anything that is common or unclean.”  To which Peter is told “What God has made clean, do not call common.”   This is repeated a total of three times, followed by Peter immediately descending from the rooftop back downstairs to be confronted with a group of “unclean” Gentiles who wanted to follow Jesus.

While this incident may have greatly expanded our diets (hurray for shrimp and bacon!!), why were all these foods banned in the first place?   What did God have against shrimp, lobster, bacon, sausage?   This is how God himself explains the ban – “For I am the Lord your God. Consecrate yourselves therefore, and be holy, for I am holy…” Leviticus 11:44 ESV.  Lots of room for interpretation here, and it’s been interpreted lots of different ways.

First, there were certain health benefits that could be cited as a reason.  The ban on pork would have protected the Israelites from trichinosis, the ban on shellfish kept them safe from viruses sometimes found in oysters and mussels.

Some of the banned animals were scavengers who would have fed on carrion.   Other portions would have insulated God’s people from participating in the customs of their pagan neighbors.   Specifically, the seemingly strange ban against boiling a young goat in its mother’s milk would have kept the Israelites from imitating a magic spell ritual of the Canaanites.

So, if we think about it many of these animals we can understand why it makes sense to declare them “unclean”.   But others just don’t.  What’s wrong with lobsters or shrimp?   Or rabbits, which have no health risk and eat grass, not carrion?   Or camels and donkeys?

Remember, maybe the best English translation for “kosher” would be “fit”.  The Levitical law judges some animals to be “fit”, or proper for the Jews to eat, others to be unfit.   If we look a little bit closer though, we can see that all of the animals on the “unfit” have done anomaly, maybe they are just aren’t all the way “normal”.   Fish are supposed to have fins and scales, shellfish are just a little bit weird.   Birds are supposed to fly, ostriches and emus don’t fit in.  Animals on the land are supposed to walk on four legs, not crawl on the ground.   The domesticated animals like cattle, sheep and goats all eat grass (chew the cud) and have cloven hooves, shouldn’t therefore all edible animals be like that?   As Rabbi Jacob Neusner says, “If I had to say in a few words what makes something unclean, it is something that, for one reason or another, is abnormal.”

And as the author Phillip Yancey sums up in his book, you might say there is one phrase, one principle, that can sum up all the Old Testament laws on uncleanness – No Oddballs Allowed.  No oddball animals on the menu, and the same could be said about “clean” animals used in worship or for sacrifice in the temple.  No worshipper could bring a defective, injured or otherwise imperfect lamb into the temple, because God only wanted the unblemished lamb from the flock.  From the time of Cain forward, people followed precise instructions or risked having their offering rejected.  God demanded perfection, God deserved only the best, no oddballs allowed.

And so this applies to people as well.  In the very temple of God, there were rules that applied as to whom, exactly, was “fit” to go into the ever constrictive circles.  There were the outer courts, where even the Gentiles were allowed.  A little farther in, and Jewish women were no longer allowed.   Beyond that, only the priests were fit to enter, all the way to the inner most holy-of-holies, where only the high priest was allowed once a year.  And when he went in, he had a rope tied to his ankle just in case he screwed it up somehow and got struck down by God, they could pull him out without having to enter.  Because, after all, they were unfit to enter the most holy meeting place of the most high God.

And now to what really is the whole point of writing this.   It’s one thing to label certain animals unfit to eat, unclean.  But the Old Testament does not stop there.   How can we forget the long list of people who were rendered “unclean”, unworthy, less than, unfit?  “”Speak to Aaron, saying, None of your offspring throughout their generations who has a blemish may approach to offer the bread of his God. For no one who has a blemish shall draw near, a man blind or lame, or one who has a mutilated face or a limb too long, or a man who has an injured foot or an injured hand, or a hunchback or a dwarf or a man with a defect in his sight or an itching disease or scabs or crushed testicles.”  Leviticus 21:17-20 ESV.   If you had a damaged body, or damaged family lines (bastard child), you don’t qualify, you’re not worthy.  Menstruating women, men who had just had a nocturnal emission, women who had recently given birth, people with any skin disease or open sores (lepers), anyone who had touched a corpse, all these people were unclean, unfit to be touched or associated with.   No wonder the religious leaders in Jesus’ story of the Good Samaritan ran to the other side of the street!!   They would be made unclean just by the potential  contact with that poor sap on the road.

To us, we don’t understand this blatant ranking of people based on gender, race, and bodily health, but this the exact system that defined Judaism.  Jewish men would begin each day with a prayer thanking God, “who has not made me a Gentile…has not made me a slave…and has not made me a woman…”

Acts 10 shows us the result of this attitude.  Peter, introducing himself upon visiting the house of a Roman centurion, says it well – “And he said to them, “You yourselves know how unlawful it is for a Jew to associate with or to visit anyone of another nation, but God has shown me that I should not call any person common or unclean. So when I was sent for, I came without objection. I ask then why you sent for me.””  Acts 10:28-29 ESV.  God called Peter to go to the Gentiles.  Peter argued.  God won the argument.   The revolution of grace was underway, whether Peter understood or not.

The customs and traditions of Judaism ran deep in Peters blood.  Yet Peter had been there all along with Jesus as Jesus would systematically break down those barriers which separated Jews and Gentiles, clean and unclean.  It seems in fact, if you read the Gospels, that Jesus always was much closer to the sinners than the saints, doesn’t it?   (Of course, our true saints never lost sight of the fact that they, too, were really just sinners who needed a savior). Jesus never avoided all those branded “unclean” or unfit by the law.   Yet, somehow, Jesus was never made “unclean” by his unsavory contacts.  Somehow, by meeting and coming into contact with Jesus, all those who were once unclean became  clean, the unfit became fit once and for all for the kingdom of God.

Today, we have a new holy-of-holies.  We have a meeting place with God where all are invited, no one is considered unclean.  In fact, the only way we can make ourselves unfit for this meeting place is by putting up barriers or otherwise making it hard for someone else to come to the meeting place of God.   Isn’t this what Paul is telling us in 1 Corinthians 11 (message translation being used.  I hear a lot of people don’t like this translation.  I think a lot of people also don’t much care for the Bible once they actually understand what it says!).    “And then I find that you bring your divisions to worship—you come together, and instead of eating the Lord’s Supper, you bring in a lot of food from the outside and make pigs of yourselves. Some are left out, and go home hungry. Others have to be carried out, too drunk to walk. I can’t believe it! Don’t you have your own homes to eat and drink in? Why would you stoop to desecrating God’s church? Why would you actually shame God’s poor? I never would have believed you would stoop to this. And I’m not going to stand by and say nothing.

Let me go over with you again exactly what goes on in the Lord’s Supper and why it is so centrally important. I received my instructions from the Master himself and passed them on to you. The Master, Jesus, on the night of his betrayal, took bread. Having given thanks, he broke it and said, This is my body, broken for you. Do this to remember me. After supper, he did the same thing with the cup: This cup is my blood, my new covenant with you. Each time you drink this cup, remember me. What you must solemnly realize is that every time you eat this bread and every time you drink this cup, you reenact in your words and actions the death of the Master. You will be drawn back to this meal again and again until the Master returns. You must never let familiarity breed contempt.

Anyone who eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Master irreverently is like part of the crowd that jeered and spit on him at his death. Is that the kind of “remembrance” you want to be part of? Examine your motives, test your heart, come to this meal in holy awe.”   1 Corinthians 11:20-28 MSG.

So we come to the holy-of-holies.  No one is excluded.  All are invited.  Many of you like a good “altar call”, a call for all those who don’t know Jesus to come to the altar and meet him.  Isn’t every time we take communion the best and truest “altar call” there is??!!   Come to the table, meet Jesus Christ in his glory, all the glory of his shed blood and broken body!!  As he himself told us, Take, eat, do this in remembrance of me.   And just like those Emmaus Road disciples, we can know him best in the breaking of the bread.

Misfits and Oddballs are always welcome at the table of grace…

  “The next day, as they were on their journey and approaching the city, Peter went up on the housetop about the sixth hour to pray. And he became hungry and wanted something to eat, but while they were preparing it, he fell into a trance and saw the heavens opened and something like a great sheet descending, being let down by its four corners upon the earth. In it were all kinds of animals and reptiles and birds of the air. And there came a voice to him: “Rise, Peter; kill and eat.” But Peter said, “By no means, Lord; for I have never eaten anything that is common or unclean.” And the voice came to him again a second time, “What God has made clean, do not call common.” This happened three times, and the thing was taken up at once to heaven.”   Acts 10:9-16 ESV.     

“Nevertheless, among those that chew the cud or part the hoof, you shall not eat these: The camel, because it chews the cud but does not part the hoof, is unclean to you. And the rock badger, because it chews the cud but does not part the hoof, is unclean to you. And the hare, because it chews the cud but does not part the hoof, is unclean to you. And the pig, because it parts the hoof and is cloven-footed but does not chew the cud, is unclean to you. You shall not eat any of their flesh, and you shall not touch their carcasses; they are unclean to you.

But anything in the seas or the rivers that does not have fins and scales, of the swarming creatures in the waters and of the living creatures that are in the waters, is detestable to you. You shall regard them as detestable; you shall not eat any of their flesh, and you shall detest their carcasses. Everything in the waters that does not have fins and scales is detestable to you. “And these you shall detest among the birds; they shall not be eaten; they are detestable: the eagle, the bearded vulture, the black vulture, the kite, the falcon of any kind, every raven of any kind, the ostrich, the nighthawk, the sea gull, the hawk of any kind, the little owl, the cormorant, the short-eared owl, the barn owl, the tawny owl, the carrion vulture, the stork, the heron of any kind, the hoopoe, and the bat.”

Leviticus 11:4-8, 10-19 ESV

http://bible.com/59/lev.11.4-8,10-19.esv

John Lewis

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Sometimes We Cry

Sometimes We Cry

My first message in about a week and a half, went on family vacation, and I unplugged and recharged.  Actually started this last Friday, I’m finally ready to share it with you…

“Woe is me because of my hurt! My wound is grievous. But I said, “Truly this is an affliction, and I must bear it.””

Jeremiah 10:19 ESV

http://bible.com/59/jer.10.19.esv

Pain in the great equalizer in life.  Pain comes to us all, unwanted and uninvited.  It puts us on an even playing field.   It comes to us all.  It comes to the rich and the poor.  Black and white.  Educated and uneducated.  Powerful and weak.  Religious and irreligious.  In a broken world, pain is inevitable.

Jeremiah’s pain, Woe is me because of my hurt!was the pain of watching his country be invaded and fall to the Babylonians.  Jeremiah was a prophet in the southern kingdom called Judah.  At the time they were being ransacked by the Babylonians.  His pain was the pain of watching his countrymen captured and carried off to Babylon.  The pain of watching his city, the holy city of Jerusalem, being burned and ransacked, with the holy temple of Jewish worship being destroyed by a pagan army.

Jeremiah was able to put to words the pain we have all felt.  We’ve all felt pain, but sometimes in those painful moments we just can’t find the words to express the hurt you feel.  Maybe the wound is more than you can bear.

Jeremiah’s pain was the pain of a nation falling.  Maybe your pain is the physical pain from some disease or malady.  Maybe you feel the emotional pain of someone you have loved who has hurt you.  Maybe it’s the hidden pain of abuse.  Maybe it’s the stinging pain of loss through death.  Maybe you know the shameful pain of personal failure.

For many of us, it’s the pain and regret and sorrow of lifelong struggles with with addictions that cause us to hurt other people.  How many examples have we seen of the saying hurt people hurt people.  We who have been wounded and have been hurt, end up hurting others.  How many deep wounds have we seen and felt that we have tried to self medicate with sex, alcohol, gambling, drugs, but we just can’t.  We end up, out of our hurt and wounded-ness, hurting the people we love.  We tell our stories, we tell of our lies, we tell of stealing from those we love, we abandon them, we break our relationships apart.   Truly this is an affliction, and I must bear it.   

Jeremiah, living in a time when the southern kingdom and Jerusalem itself were being laid bare, had in mind the words of Isaiah.  Jeremiah became the weeping prophet, carrying the wound of the fallen Jerusalem.    But one hundred years before Jeremiah, God had sent to Israel the prophet Isaiah both with a warning and a message of hope.   Isaiah opens the second half his book of prophecy with these words –  “Comfort, comfort my people, says your God. Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and cry to her that her warfare is ended, that her iniquity is pardoned, that she has received from the Lord ‘s hand double for all her sins.”  Isaiah 40:1-2 ESV.  One hundred years before Jeremiah and his wounds and his hurt, Isaiah prophesied that a day of new creation was coming to Israel.  There would come a day when Israel would flourish, where they would build houses and plant vineyards, and have babies and lots of babies and grand-babies and have big kosher BBQs and the family would all be together.  One hundred years before Jeremiah’s pain there was this great prophecy that there would be a time of flourishing and this time of new creation when God would come and dwell with his people again.

Then there was this promise that Isaiah gave – “The wolf and the lamb shall graze together; the lion shall eat straw like the ox, and dust shall be the serpent’s food. They shall not hurt or destroy in all my holy mountain,” says the Lord.” Isaiah 65:25 ESV.  The hurt Jeremiah felt compelled to hold onto (ever been there?), he would not have to hold onto any longer.  There was coming a time of new creation where in God’s rule and reign they would not hurt or destroy anymore.  Isaiah prophecies this yet one hundred years later there was the fall of Jerusalem and the people watched as the wolves and lions from Babylon came devouring…

Yet a promise remained from Isaiah.  Even at this point in Israel’s history, God had not forsaken them, he had not given up.  There was coming one called the anointed one, the Christ, the Messiah.  There was one coming who would come to bring God’s kingdom, God’s rule and reign, to the earth.   Remember, when we speak of the kingdom of God, we are not talking about a place but a power.   The church is not the kingdom of God, but rather the witness to the kingdom of God.  We are the servants of the kingdom of God.   But the Kingdom of God is God’s rule and reign on the earth.  So there was this prophecy that even through the destruction of the temple there would be a day of new creation and that Messiah would come.

Isaiah tells us that when Messiah would come he would be a suffering King, that he would take all the hurt, pain and sorrow of Israel away.   In Isaiah 53 it tells us “Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted.”  Isaiah 53:4 ESV. Jeremiah is carrying this wound, this hurt, this pain, yet he has the promise that Messiah would come and be a suffering king.

Five hundred years (God does move slowly, doesn’t he?) after Isaiah’s prophecy a virgin girl gives birth to her first born son, and they would call his name Jesus, for he would save God’s people from their sins.  Jesus came to bring God’s kingdom, his rule and reign, to bring God’s holy mountain to the earth.   Jesus came to bring the Kingdom of God and show us what God is like.

So what do we see in the gospels that Jesus was doing?   He was proclaiming and preaching that God’s kingdom is a peaceable kingdom.  There’s not going to be eye for an eye, tooth for tooth anymore (even though sometimes we argue with him over this!).   No more hating, destroying and killing of your enemies, that’s done away with.  We see Jesus proclaiming a kingdom of peace and we see Jesus healing the sick.  And as he was healing the sick, he was demonstrating what God is like, what life lived in the kingdom of God is like.

What do we see about God through the preaching and ministry of Jesus?  We see that God is good, full of compassion and mercy, that he’s a God who wants to mend what is broken and heal what is diseased.  We see in the ministry of Jesus the promise of Isaiah coming to pass, that there will be a time when people will come under the rule and reign of God.  In that place, They shall not hurt or destroy.

So Jesus has come.  He has proclaimed the kingdom.   And you know how the story ends.   At the end of his life, Jesus dies.  He goes to the cross, gets executed, and dies.  One of his closest followers, Peter, says this about Jesus in his death.    “He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed.”  1 Peter 2:24 ESV.  Amen.

Jesus came not just to demonstrate what life looks like in the kingdom of God, but Jesus came and he collected, he carried our griefs and sorrows, he carried all sorts of human pain into himself, took it into death, and overcame it in his resurrection that he might offer healing to all.  (Amen!)  So in his suffering, Jesus was suffering for us, but also with us.  Jesus experienced all sorts of human pain.  He experienced your pain.   He experienced it for you so that he can take it in himself, overcome it, then rise again to offer healing for your wounds.  He took your pain and your brokenness so that you don’t have to carry it anymore.  So that if you choose to live under the rule and reign of god, then you shall not hurt or destroy anymore.

Have you experienced the pain of rejection?   Jesus was abandoned and rejected by all of his disciples at his arrest and execution.  Experienced the pain of injustice?  Jesus was unjustly tried and sentenced to death.  Experienced the pain of bondage and addiction?  Jesus was bound and held against his will at his arrest.  Experienced the pain of physical abuse?   Jesus was slapped, spat upon and beaten before his death.  Experienced the emotional pain of harsh words spoken to you in anger?  Jesus was mocked, ridiculed, laughed at and scolded as he died.  Experienced the shame of sexual abuse?   Jesus at the cross was stripped naked, exposed for all to see.  Experienced physical pain from disease or malady or sickness?   Jesus experienced real human physical pain at his crucifixion.  Experienced profound disappointment with God?  Jesus at the cross cried out…“And at the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice, “Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?” which means, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”” Mark 15:34 ESV. Experienced the stinging pain of the death of a loved one?  Jesus experienced real human death.  Jesus cried out at the end from the cross “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.  He breathed his last and went into death.

Jesus took into death with him all amounts human suffering and pain, and he overcame it in his resurrection to offer healing and solace.  So when people ask, and they will, why suffering??   Or for those who make it really personal, and when they are hurting or in that moment of pain, ask where is God, why am I hurting??   God thunders back from heaven, saying I entered into that kind of pain, I took it for you, I overcame, so that you may be healed.  Jesus Christ became a co-sufferer with humanity.

Where does all this come from?  God does not give us the answer, scripture does not give us the answer of why suffering?   But God does give us the remedy.  He becomes human, suffers with us, and takes all of our suffering within himself so that our wounds may be healed.

Healing for you can begin today.  Offer your brokenness to the one who was broken for you.  Exchange your empire of dirt for life in the kingdom of God.  Enter into the kingdom of God, that place where Isaiah promises that we will not hurt or destroy anymore.  Let healing begin…

Right in our Own Eyes

In reading the Old Testament book of Judges, there is a phrase that appears, Everyone did what was right in his own eyes.  This is during the period when Israel had no government as we currently understand it.   In fact, in both these verses from Judges 17:6 and 21:25, it says precisely the same thing – In those days there was no king in Israel. Everyone did what was right in his own eyes.   There was no king in Israel.

We think in America that we are the first to institute such a limited government, but we have nothing on Israel in the days of the judges.  In Exodus 18, Moses’ father-in-law Jethro gave him a system for local, direct governance, which Moses put into place in Deuteronomy chapter 1.  The system of Judges.  Moses had been trying to do too much, as can be the case sometimes in any form of government.  He was trying to guide, counsel, and help people in all matters where they had need.  But, then as in now, there is a limit to what one person can do for the entire social order and individuals need, no matter how close to God that person may be.

So Moses’ father-in-law Jethro advised him to look for able men from all the people, men who fear God, who are trustworthy and hate a bribe and place such men over the people as chiefs of thousands, of hundreds, of fifties, and of tens.  These able, God-fearing and trustworthy men were to “judge” the people in all matters as needed, bringing only the most challenging cases to Moses.

Here is Moses’ own description for what he told them to do – And I charged your judges at that time, ‘Hear the cases between your brothers, and judge righteously between a man and his brother or the alien who is with him. You shall not be partial in judgment. You shall hear the small and the great alike. You shall not be intimidated by anyone, for the judgment is God’s. And the case that is too hard for you, you shall bring to me, and I will hear it.’ And I commanded you at that time all the things that you should do.” Deuteronomy 1:16-18 ESV.  So, this system of Judges was in force as the “government” of Israel, most visibly in the form of the “elders” who sat regularly in public places to take care of any matter that required such attention.  And in times of need or emergency, a “judge” would become a “natural” national leader, as seen in the book of Judges.

Which brings me to my point.   We read in the book of Judges and find it said In those days there was no king in Israel. Everyone did what was right in his own eyes.   And we think in our own 21st century secular minds all the terrible things that must have been going on as Everyone did what was right in his own eyes.   Probably because we think of the things that might be right in our own eyes.   And yes, the people of this time went wrong in many ways.  But isn’t doing as one pleases really the ideal condition of humanity?   Isn’t that what we would call “freedom”?    Why do we think this implies wrongdoing?   In fact, it implies no wrongdoing at all.   In Judges, doing what was right in ones own eyes was not opposed to doing what was right in God’s eyes, but it was opposed to doing as some government official saw as right.  It was always God’s intention, all the way back to the garden, that we walk with him on a personal basis, be pleased by and come to love all the right things, and then do what is right in our own eyes.   This is why we were made and what makes up our individuality.

So what did God say when the time of the Judges, this time when Everyone did what was right in his own eyescame to an end ?   What did He say when his people Israel demanded to have a king and a traditional, power and force based government to replace their condition of freedom under God?   Was He pleased by this.   Did He say his people were moving onto some better way of being by giving up their natural born position of walking with God and doing what was right in their own eyes?   This is what he told Samuel, the last of the judges in the original, full sense – And the Lord said to Samuel, “Obey the voice of the people in all that they say to you, for they have not rejected you, but they have rejected me from being king over them.” 1 Samuel 8:7 ESV.   We have rejected God as our true king and demanded a king to rule over us.  Instead of doing what is right in our own eyes, we now must bow down to whatever government official might claim jurisdiction over a certain place or action.  Is this a better way of being than walking directly with god as our one true king?   As Samuel told the people when he presented Saul as King, But today you have rejected your God, who saves you from all your calamities and your distresses, and you have said to him, ‘Set a king over us.’…” 1 Samuel 10:19 ESV.

As the people had earlier refused to speak directly with God and had Moses do it for them (Deut 5:24-27), to this day we refuse to let God (or his Son Jesus Christ) directly govern us by his law and empowering individuals for tasks as occasions might demand.  We prefer to have an ever more powerful and omnipresent standing government running on its own power, and running our lives.  And we assume that a time when God most directly his people and Everyone did what was right in his own eyes must have been a time filled with sin and evil, more so than even our world today.   Really??

But as Jesus told us in his great announcement, Repent of your sins and turn to God, for the Kingdom of Heaven is near. ” Matthew 4:17 NLT.  All of humanity is invited into a family, we are all called to recline at the table in the kingdom of heaven.   When this Gospel, this good news, has been adequately presented in the lives of Christ’s people, it will mark the end of human history as we know it.   “And this gospel of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.” Matthew 24:14 ESV.  Humanity will once again fall under the leadership of those who stand upon the earth as judges. As Paul tells us “Or do you not know that the saints will judge the world? And if the world is to be judged by you, are you incompetent to try trivial cases? Do you not know that we are to judge angels? How much more, then, matters pertaining to this life!” 1 Corinthians 6:2-3 ESV

Then maybe, just maybe, we will be able to walk once again directly in the government of God, and everyone will once again do what is right in his own eyes

“In those days there was no king in Israel. Everyone did what was right in his own eyes.”

Judges 17:6 ESV

http://bible.com/59/jdg.17.6.esv

“In those days there was no king in Israel. Everyone did what was right in his own eyes.”

Judges 21:25 ESV

http://bible.com/59/jdg.21.25.esv

“Moreover, look for able men from all the people, men who fear God, who are trustworthy and hate a bribe, and place such men over the people as chiefs of thousands, of hundreds, of fifties, and of tens.”

Exodus 18:21 ESV

http://bible.com/59/exo.18.21.esv

John Lewis

At the Door

At the Door

“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.   Our great eschatological (end times) hope.   The great Christian hope.   As I’ve said many times before, it’s not that we are going, but that He is coming, coming down out of heaven from God.   God will, finally, come and dwell with us, walk with us, and forever be with His people.  And we with Him.   And there will be no more tears, no more death, no more mourning, no more pain.  A wondrous and beautiful end to the story, not so much an end but a final beginning, with all things made new, right and beautiful.  More beautiful than our minds can even imagine…

This is the end we wait for, the end we hope for, the end, in fact, that we actually believe all things are headed for.   For all the pain, violence, anger, hatred, ugliness of the world in which we live, we live with the hope of an ultimate beauty in our hearts.  The hope that for all the ugliness with which we live, the beauty for which we strive will ultimately be our dwelling place.  As Fyodor Dostoyevsky once said, ‘tis beauty that will save the world.

Oh, we do catch glimpses now.   We do can find beauty in the ugliness around us.   We find the beauty in God’s good creation.  Maybe that’s why our Millennials are all about the experiences of life, all about the destination, the next destination they can snap or tweet their presence to the world from.   The next beautiful place they can take their selfie and prove to the world that such beauty exists, and I was there.

This is ultimately what we hope for.  But how?  How do we get there from here.   By what means will the world come to such a beautiful ends?   How will this peace on earth, with God reigning, finally, as our one true king, with every knee bowed and every mouth declaring that Jesus Christ is Lord come about?

We know that it will be God’s presence and power that ultimately brings this about, but does that mean we have no part??   Are we mere spectators to what God is doing?   The answer is, no we are not.  There is a human instrumentality involved.   This is why God waits for the fullness of time determined by our abilities and capacities to receive what he would give.   We are called to be part of his efforts.  We have a participation in the making of all things right and new.  God works with humankind, and we with him, to extend his Kingdom into all our affairs, and the works around us.

Look at Revelation 3:20 – “Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me.” Revelation 3:20 ESV.  This is part of Christ’s message to the church in Laodicea, which wraps up his direct message to the seven churches in Revelation.  Christ stands and knocks on the door, that is for sure.  But it is not the door of the individual human heart, as we are so often told and so quickly assume.   Rather, Christ is knocking on the door of the church.   It will help us greatly to understand the gospel, the church, and indeed our own lives today if we can understand from this that Christ is outside the church as know and identify it.

Yes, we know that “For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them.””  Matthew 18:20 ESV.  And yes, Christ is with us always.  But he is also on the outside,  calling in to us.  Remember Him, he’s out there, in that big bad world, chasing down that lost sheep.   He left the ninety nine to chase me down, he still leaves the ninety nine to chase that one.  He still eats with the sinners.  The prodigals.  The lepers.  The outcast.  Those who don’t go to church, ain’t going to church, and don’t wanna hear about no d**n church…

Yes, Christ is with us always, but he calls us further up and further in to a. deeper fellowship than we’ve  ever known.   He’s out there, in the world, where we don’t have the courage to follow him fully.  Our little church, no matter how big your church may be, will always be too small, too cramped for Him.   Inside is just not big enough, only outside is great enough for the creator of the universe.  He’s out there, building his kingdom.  One sinner at a time.

Meanwhile, the church cries out.  We struggle with hating the sin but loving the sinner.   Jesus doesn’t worry about all that.  He just loves.  The loves the sinners and the saints.   All the same.   We still struggle to accept and understand this.  We hold onto our stones, ready to throw them at any time.

Yet he knocks on our door.  He invites us to invite Him in.  We are, after all, the ones most prepared to fully receive Him, and fully cooperate and participate in what he is doing.  We are the ones waiting and praying for his return.   We are the ones most longing for all things to be made new.

He stands at the door, knocking.  Will we ever let Him in??   Or, would we crucify him all over again?

John Lewis

Something Good is Coming

There’s something good coming.  We all go through hard times.  We all have struggles.  But we don’t give up hope.  Even in the midst of our trouble and hard times, we hang onto our hope.  We hope that something good is coming, for you and for me. There has to be something good coming.

Because we believe life to be good.   I know I believe life is good.  I mean, life, in its essence, is good.    Despite the fact that trouble comes and is present and is real, no matter how frequent and no matter how at times it may be horrible, we still believe this because trouble, no matter how frequent or horrible, is an anomaly.  Because life is created to be good.

Think about looking upon the face of a newborn child.  We might say “welcome to God’s good world”.   There will be trouble, there will be hard times, but it’s good…

Why do we believe this?   Why do we believe life is good?   We believe this because it’s what is told us in scripture about this God whom we worship and build our life around.   That in the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.   He’s working the first day, he said it’s good.  The second day it’s good.  The third day he said it’s good twice.   Then the fourth day, fifth day, sixth day, he says it’s good.  Then at the very end he says ahhh….it’s very good.

So the even though we have trouble and hard times, we believe that somehow that is an anomaly, and that is not how life is ultimately meant to be.  And what we really believe is that God is going to be true to his declaration and God is going to intervene and break into our lives, and where it’s wrong he’s going to make it right, so we can say the something good is coming.

When God does this, when God breaks through and intervenes in the world to set what is wrong right, we call that the kingdom of God.  It’s the reign and rule of God, the government and policy of God, it’s the intervention of God.   It’s God coming among us to make things good again because that’s what he intends.

God accomplishes this chiefly and primarily through Christ.   The firstborn of all creation, the center of the cosmos creation and salvation.  “…. Jesus went into Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God. “The time has come,” he said. “The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!”” Mark 1:14-15 NIV.  When the human heart is aching for something better, when we have that hope, Jesus responds and says yes, that’s right!

So I want to say to everyone reading this today…something good is coming.   I want to say to myself, something good is coming.   It’s an announcement.  If you think it’s for you, it is.  If you don’t think that’s for you, it’s not.  But if you don’t think it’s for you, I want to say something to you – something good is coming!   Repent, rethink your life, and believe this good news that something good is coming.

For you.

John Lewis

Coming to the Table

If you pay attention, you may have noticed the frequency of these messages becoming less…frequent.   Sometimes we all go through certain struggles and challenges in doing things we think are important,  and i am going through some of those struggles in my spiritual life right now.  You might say I’m in a “dry spell”, a rut.   Not much is getting my attention these days.  It doesn’t mean it’s not still a priority to me, I am still spending my same time devoted to prayer and study every day.  It just means I need to get through it somehow, get to the other side, have an epiphany of sorts, maybe a Eureka! moment.   Whatever it is, I’m convinced the way through does not involve foregoing my prayer and meditation time.

That being said, I did have a moment in my church a week ago.  Our pastor shared in his message something regarding Mephibosheth, son of Jonathan, son of King Saul and friend of King David, so now I’m going to share this with you.

Just a quick backstory, David and Jonathan were kind of like best fiends, as much of best friends as you can be when Jonathan’s father wanted nothing more than to see David dead.   In fact, the Bible tells us that you could say Jonathan loved David as he loved himself – “Then Jonathan made a covenant with David, because he loved him as his own soul.” 1 Samuel 18:3 ESV.  Ultimately, King Saul and Jonathan both perish in the same battle (read about that in 1 Samual 31), and David is then anointed King of Judah (2 Samuel 2), then all of Israel (2 Samuel 5).

Fast forward again, David has won many battles and is having great success as King.   But he never forgets his friend Jonathan.   And David said, “Is there still anyone left of the house of Saul, that I may show him kindness for Jonathan’s sake?    Ultimately this question is answered by Ziba, a former servant of King Saul.   Ziba said to the king, “There is still a son of Jonathan; he is crippled in his feet.”   So David sends for Mephibosheth, son of Jonathan.   And you might imagine what’s going through the mind of Mephibosheth as the kings servants come calling.  In these days, it was normal for an incoming king to eliminate all potential threats to his crown.  As an heir in the line of King Saul, Mephibosheth may have been seen as such a threat.  So he probably thought it was curtains for him when King David sent for him.   Why else would the king be calling?

And Mephibosheth the son of Jonathan, son of Saul, came to David and fell on his face and paid homage. And David said, “Mephibosheth!” And he answered, “Behold, I am your servant.” And David said to him, “Do not fear, for I will show you kindness for the sake of your father Jonathan, and I will restore to you all the land of Saul your father, and you shall eat at my table always.” 

Do not fear David tells Mephibosheth.   Sounds like the angel of the Lord, or Jesus himself, all those time we are told Don’t be afraid.   So Do not fear.  Not only am I not going to kill you,  but I’m going to restore all the land that belonged to your grandfather.  I’m going to give all that you once had and thought you would have.  All that was lost when you lost your father and grandfather that day.   All that you could not acquire for yourself because of the accident that left you crippled.   Just because i loved your father Jonathan, I will show kindness to you, and you shall eat at my table always.

And he paid homage and said, “What is your servant, that you should show regard for a dead dog such as I?   I am hearing echoes of the psalms of David where it says to us “what is man that you are mindful of him, and the son of man that you care for him?” Psalms 8:4 ESV.  Who is Mephibosheth, but a crippled man hiding from the king out of fear.   What is man but a crippled spirit, hiding from the King out of fear of not being good enough, trying to convince ourselves that we are equal with Him?   Who is Mephibosheth that the King would seek him out for such extravagant treatment, that he might have all he would have had.  Who are we that God would seek us out while we are lost, while we are rebellious, and so extravagantly give of Himself that we might be restored to Himself?   That we might have all and be all that we were meant to?

And here’s the point my pastor made with this story – that we are all Mephibosheth.  We all are called by the king, yet when we come before him we come in fear and trembling, because we know what we deserve, yet we are told Don’t be afraid.   We limp before the king, crippled, battered and bruised by life.  We come before him and know that we are poor in spirit.   We limp before the king, expecting an angry God who wants to strike us down in the lightning cloud, and instead he invites to his table.

So Mephibosheth lived in Jerusalem, for he ate always at the king’s table. Now he was lame in both his feet.   And we sit at the table.   We sit at the King’s table, and we share a meal with him.  We bring our pain, our shame, our limp, our hurts, our habits, our hang ups.

We are called to the Kings table, but we can barely walk to get to it, can barely bring ourselves to approach.   We’ve heard the judgement, we’ve been told we don’t belong, we thought there was a gate around the table, and no way were we getting a key.   But the King calls, and we just focus on that.

We don’t know what to expect when we get there.   But not only does the King invite us go the table, always, to share a meal, but we get there and find that our King has become the meal.   “And he took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” And likewise the cup after they had eaten, saying, “This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood.”  Luke 22:19-20 ESV.

So the invitation stands, the meal is always available.  We thought he would strike us down for all that was in our hearts, but instead of taking our lives, as we so expected and continue to expect, he gave up his own.  He gave up his own flesh and his own blood, gave us a new covenant.   And just as King David remembered his covenant with Jonathan and looked for anyone from the house of Saul to show kindness to,  so we remember God’s covenant with Abraham, and Jesus’ blood of the covenant, and we can know that he will always remember to show us kindness to his children.   We are always welcome at our King’s table.

And so I will remember.  Even though it’s been a struggle, I, like Mephibosheth, will always eat at the Kings table.   Doesn’t matter how I feel at the moment, doesn’t matter what someone says about me, doesn’t matter what you think about me.   It only matter what King Jesus says, and he says come to his table, and do this in remembrance of me.   I may be crippled, I might barely be able to get myself to the table, but my seat is saved.   I have my seat, and I will eat at the king’s table forever.  And i will keep coming to the table, spending time with the King in his word.   And maybe if I listen closely I will hear him say don’t be afraidyou shall eat at my table always.

And David said, “Is there still anyone left of the house of Saul, that I may show him kindness for Jonathan’s sake?” Now there was a servant of the house of Saul whose name was Ziba, and they called him to David. And the king said to him, “Are you Ziba?” And he said, “I am your servant.” And the king said, “Is there not still someone of the house of Saul, that I may show the kindness of God to him?” Ziba said to the king, “There is still a son of Jonathan; he is crippled in his feet.” The king said to him, “Where is he?” And Ziba said to the king, “He is in the house of Machir the son of Ammiel, at Lo-debar.” Then King David sent and brought him from the house of Machir the son of Ammiel, at Lo-debar. And Mephibosheth the son of Jonathan, son of Saul, came to David and fell on his face and paid homage. And David said, “Mephibosheth!” And he answered, “Behold, I am your servant.” And David said to him, “Do not fear, for I will show you kindness for the sake of your father Jonathan, and I will restore to you all the land of Saul your father, and you shall eat at my table always.” And he paid homage and said, “What is your servant, that you should show regard for a dead dog such as I?” Then the king called Ziba, Saul’s servant, and said to him, “All that belonged to Saul and to all his house I have given to your master’s grandson. And you and your sons and your servants shall till the land for him and shall bring in the produce, that your master’s grandson may have bread to eat. But Mephibosheth your master’s grandson shall always eat at my table.” Now Ziba had fifteen sons and twenty servants. Then Ziba said to the king, “According to all that my lord the king commands his servant, so will your servant do.” So Mephibosheth ate at David’s table, like one of the king’s sons. And Mephibosheth had a young son, whose name was Mica. And all who lived in Ziba’s house became Mephibosheth’s servants. So Mephibosheth lived in Jerusalem, for he ate always at the king’s table. Now he was lame in both his feet.”

2 Samuel 9:1-13 ESV

http://bible.com/59/2sa.9.1-13.esv

“Jonathan, the son of Saul, had a son who was crippled in his feet. He was five years old when the news about Saul and Jonathan came from Jezreel, and his nurse took him up and fled, and as she fled in her haste, he fell and became lame. And his name was Mephibosheth.”

2 Samuel 4:4 ESV

http://bible.com/59/2sa.4.4.esv

“Then Jonathan made a covenant with David, because he loved him as his own soul.”

1 Samuel 18:3 ESV

http://bible.com/59/1sa.18.3.esv

John Lewis

Hope. Or no Hope?

1 Thessalonians.  The first Christian scripture.  Paul’s letters were written before the Gospels, and the first of Paul’s letters wasn’t  Romans, it was 1 Thessalonians.  Paul had been preaching the good news in the Greek city of Thessalonica.    These Gentiles, non-Jews, were coming to believe in the Jewish Messiah.  That was the announcement, that God was reframing or reforming his own people.  There was going to be a New Jerusalem, a new Israel, a new kingdom, a new redeemed people.  It was no longer going to be defined by Jewish ethnicity, or Jewish circumcision, or Jewish Torah.   But rather, it was being expanded, and was now being defined by faith, baptism, and obedience to Messiah.   Anyone, Jew or Gentile, who believed that Jesus is the Messiah, whom God has raised from the dead and made to be Lord, they would be incorporated.  It doesn’t matter whether they are Jew or Gentiles, male or female, slave or bond, Scythian or free.  They are going to be incorporated into this new body of Messiah, the new israel, the new society of the redeemed.   “Here there is not Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave, free; but Christ is all, and in all.”  Colossians 3:11 ESV

Paul has been preaching this in Thessalonica and some of these Greeks have believed have been baptized.  They’ve become members of this new community, and are waiting for Jesus to come.  They are waiting for the king to come.  As Paul says to the Philippians, “But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself.”   Philippians 3:20-21 ESV.  Our citizenship is in heaven…our citizenship is in heaven, but we are colonizing earth.  From heaven, We are waiting for the king to come, and when he comes he will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself.   We are waiting for the king to come.   When he comes, he will transform our bodies to be like his glorious, risen body.   Paul is preaching this to the Thessalonians, to which they say “Sounds great. Can’t wait!”   And they are anticipating the imminent return of Christ.  Whether that week, that month, but certainly that year.

But now a couple of years have gone by, and Jesus has not appeared.  Worse yet, during this time, some in their community have died.  Some of the church people have died.  So some of the Thessalonians are having a crisis.  They want to know what’s going on, what’s going to happen to those who have passed?  What’s going to happen to them?  They thought Jesus was coming and was going to transform them.  But now their friends and loved ones have died, what’s going to happen to them?

So Paul writes to the Thessalonians to comfort them, to instruct them, and teach them more accurately the way of the Christian faith.  “But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about those who are asleep, that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope. For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep. For this we declare to you by a word from the Lord, that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will not precede those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord. Therefore encourage one another with these words.” 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18 ESV.  But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about those who are asleep...notice Paul’s word for those who have died in the Lord is “asleep”.   This is how Paul describes those Christians who have died and are dead.  But he does not want us to be uninformed about those who are asleep, that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope.   

And this is very interesting.   The pagan world had plenty of theories about what happens when someone dies.   They did not believe the dead ceased to exist.   They fully believed they went to a better place, they went somewhere else, on and on.  But they had no hope of resurrection, no hope of coming alive in this body again.  Paul, quite simply, calls that no hope, and says that’s why we grieve so severely.

For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep. For this we declare to you by a word from the Lord, that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will not precede those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord. Therefore encourage one another with these words.”  Amen.

Paul says that when the Lord comes, those that have already fallen asleep, that have died and been buried, will not be left out, in fact they will be raised first.  Then all of us will go forth to welcome the coming of the Lord, will meet him in the air, and henceforth will always be with the Lord.

But keep in mind, don’t get our thinking wrong, Jesus is not coming to take us away to a better place.  This place is just fine.  He’s coming to reign and to rule and to raise the dead.   He’s coming to finally fully establish his kingdom.

We will go forth to meet him, because that’s the proper thing to do when the king comes.  You don’t just sit in our house watching television when the king comes, you go forth and meet him.  We’ll go forth and meet our king as he comes from the heavens, but he’s not taking us off anywhere.  He’s going to be with us, because he’s coming here.  He’s not coming to whisk us off somewhere else, he’s coming to to reign and to rule and to raise the dead, and that is the hope that we have.   Paul says Therefore encourage one another with these words.

This is our hope.  Paul later will call it the blessed hope.  The Christian hope, the Easter hope, the hope of resurrection.  The hope is that unknown brothers, unknown sisters, mothers, fathers, relatives we have met, relatives we have never met.  Friends and relatives we’ve known well and have buried, that we will meet them again someday.  Hallelujah

Then there’s this mystery.  The mystery that in one sense the whole body of Christ, the whole company of the redeemed, is to each of us unknown brothers and sisters.  We need to get to know one another.  Might take a while, but we have time.

What has happened is death.   The problem is not time, the problem is death.  Death has separated us from one another.  Maybe you’d like to meet the apostle Paul, maybe you’d like to meet Peter, how about meeting Mary, the mother of Jesus?   I mention them because they are famous.   But there are others out there who lived who knows when and who knows where.  But they are my unknown brother, my unknown sister.  But it’s death that has separated us. But Christ has conquered death…

As Paul says in 1 Corinthians 15 “But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.” 1 Corinthians 15:57-58 ESV.   But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.  It’s the victory over the grave.  Therefore, because death is defeated and we’re going to have an ongoing life in the resurrection,  Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.   Because it will find continuation in the age to come.  Have that hope.

John Lewis