Monday, March 27, 2006

Trust God for the Impossible (i.e. Ridiculous)

God's great desire for us, His “Grand Scheme” is to make us more like Jesus (Romans 8:28-39). One incredible way He does this is by putting us in impossible situations so He can teach us to trust Him and He can show off His greatness.

If you're not in one now, you have or will be in impossible situation that only God can handle. A pinch in which God Himself has clearly put you: family crises, financial stresses, marriage difficulties, health scares...

When God places you in faith-stretching spots, remember who He is: the LORD, the sovereign I Am. Recall what He's done in the past, has promised to do and what He is able to do since He is God. Seeing Him for who He is, helps us trust and obey (read Isaiah 40).

A great prompt towards this is an episode in the life of Prophet Jeremiah (read Jeremiah 32-33). God called him to do what seemed absurd, utter nonsense. As Jeremiah laid out his concern before Lord in prayer, we hear God ask: I'm the LORD, the God of all flesh, is anything too hard for Me?

The setting is rich and interesting. Jeremiah was a Prophet to southern kingdom – Judah. He faithfully proclaimed God's word: Judgment is coming because of the gross sin of the people & leaders. Give up your resistance, God will cause the enemy to win.

The King – for some odd reason - did not like this message, so he put the messenger, Jeremiah, under guard. While there, Jeremiah is told by the LORD that his cousin was coming to offer to sale him some land - family property he had first legal right to buy.

Small snag: it was not the best time to buy land. The nation is about to be overthrown and the people scattered to winds. Buying land before a successful invasion of an enemy is... trying to be nice here... unwise.

This was an overthrow Jeremiah had prophesied for years. Investing in real estate seems odd, at best. Yet, God called him to do just that.

Despite his own reasoning and doubts, Jeremiah faithfully obeys God. He purchases the land in a very public way and gives a copy of the deed to his scribe / helper Baruch, instructing him to seal it up for that day in future when God would bring His people back to land.

After making this odd deal, Jeremiah prays. It is a great prayer - full of faith, rich in remembering what God has done (Jeremiah 32:16-25).

Finishing his marvelous prayer, Jeremiah brings up the odd thing God's asked him to do. Lord, I know you're great, powerful, merciful and awesome. Lord, I know you have done great signs & wonders. But, the signs seem to be pointing backwards and I'm wondering what You're up to. About this land deal...

Sound familiar? Ever wondered or dared to ask God what He was up to? Lord, I know you want me to spend more time with family, but these bills, responsibilities... You want me to keep myself pure, but the temptation's too great. Besides, You put these feelings and desires in me.

I know you don't want me to marry an unbeliever, but You can't want me to stay single. I know you hate divorce, but you can't want me to stay married to this insensitive jerk. I know you want me to give, serve, forgive, love, help, but... You are expecting the impossible.

The Lord responds to us the same way He did to Jeremiah. The LORD quoted Jeremiah back to him, saying: Behold, I'm the Lord, the God of all people, is anything to hard for Me?

Yes, Jeremiah, I am asking you to do the seemingly absurd, but remember who I am, what I can do, and what I have promised. Yes, I'm going to discipline My people by sending them into captivity but, I'll re-gather them, return and replant My people in the land. They will again serve Me and I will be their God.

History tells us some 70 years later, God did restore His people to Land (see Haggai, 2 Chronicles 36 and Ezra 1, 2).

Here's the Point: if God is leading you to do what seems absurd, the most absurd thing is to forget who God is. He's the LORD, the great I AM, the God of all flesh - not a local deity, a regional god, a created idol.

He is the God who has revealed Himself to us. The God who loves and saves His people, makes and keeps His Covenants and overthrows those who oppose Him.

Yes, He is the God who sometimes calls us to invest in the impossible, trust for the ridiculous and wait for the miraculous. He says to you too: Yes, My child, I am calling you to do that which I've shown you. It seems impossible, but remember who I am - the LORD.

Take Heart! If God's calling us to do impossible, He must be in it. If our plans are do-able - who needs God? Yet, God is calling for us to call out to Him to show us the impossible (Jer. 33:3). Obeying God in seeming nonsensical acts is not dumb, but a sign of humble obedience – and its smart too!

Okay, I admit it, in the abstract, objective realm, we agree without hesitation that nothing is too hard for God. Yet, on a personal, subjective level, when it has to do with our daily lives - well, we're not always sure He can pull if off. Or that He will for us. Others maybe, but us?

A warning here: beware of a sneaky, backward pride here. We think we will be the first exception in all of history. God will think US so special – or vile - that He'll break His promises to disappoint us. Let’s not flatter ourselves! God's not going to blow His perfect record just for you.

When in impossible situations that God has orchestrated, the best place to look is not at the situation, but God. Focus is everything. God gets our attention so that we'll look at Him.

When God calls on you to do the ridiculous, realize He wants you to remember Who He is, what He's done and to trust. He is the God who does more than we think or ask (Ephesians 2:20). This is what it means to be a person of faith.

God is looking for chances to show off; to the world and us. So, He occasionally backs us into Red Seas, let’s us step out of the boat on the water. When He puts you in such binds, He can and will get you out. Why? Because He is the LORD, the God of everyone and everything, nothing is too hard for Him.

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Four Foolish Factions – One for Everyone

Handing Over & Leading Away Our King – Mark 15:1-20

Who killed Jesus? This volatile question has a harsh history behind it. Yet, when one sees what God was up to in Jesus’ death and the kind of people immediately involved, the answer is easy: I did, you did, God did.

In preaching through Mark, I recently came to 15:1-20 where we find the deals made to seal Christ’s fate - on the human level. In this section of sacred script - please stop and read it - one encounters four foolish factions that facilitate Christ’s crucifixion.

Brace yourself: an honest study and meditation of the people who plotted the killing of the King will yield at least one group that each of us would fit into nicely. The “they” becomes an ugly “we,” a damning “me.”

Let us be clear about this up front: while Jesus is handed over from group to group and lead away like a lamb to slaughter (vs. 1, 10, 15, 16, 20), He is still in control – of Himself and the situation. This is a cup poured for Him by the Father that He agrees to drink.

Before looking at each group, let us note – not appreciate - the serious, though sick teamwork in this passage. The Jewish Leaders use Pilate while he uses the people. The Crowds use Barabbas as a scapegoat, and the Roman Soldiers use and abuse Jesus. Yet over it all, God uses all of them to bring us salvation (Isaiah 53; Psalm 22).

The first group culpable in Christ’s death in which we might be at home is the jealous Jewish leaders. They jury-rig justice to get Jesus. Using the Roman State via Pilate, they file false accusations against Jesus and stir the crowd to create a lynch mob. Ugly means, but – in their minds- justifiable ends: protecting the people of God.

Paranoid of losing their places of power over God’s people, they gladly chase Christ to the cross, sacrificing Him for control. Tragically, jealous power brokers are still very prominent among God’s people; those who use the By-Laws, false charges, half-truths, slander and mean mobs (congregations) to get their way. This happens from pulpits and pews.

Power truly can – does not have to – corrupt. Threaten some people’s control and it is war. While the Jewish Leaders rendered up Christ, we split up His Body – the church – over lesser issues, in the name of God. To study jealousy’s power, read Proverbs 27:4; 6:34, 35 and Genesis 37.

Pilate, our next conspirator, is shown to be a politician who panders. Read Mark’s account and note how he only asks questions: Are you the king of the Jews? (vs. 2) Aren't you going to answer? (vs. 4) Do you want me to release to you the king of the Jews? (vs. 9) What shall I do, then, with the one you call the king of the Jews? (vs. 12) Why? What crime has he committed? (vs. 14).

When leaders placate or pander, someone always gets hurt. To accept leadership is to strap on a target. It is to invite criticism, second-guessing and bear the weight of tough decisions. To seek to avoid and evade such is to reject the responsibility of a leader.

Those seeking to keep peace at any price do ultimately pay one – often higher than they can imagine or control.

The final commentary on Pilate tells all: “Wanting to satisfy the crowd, Pilate released Barabbas to them” (vs. 15 - NIV). Though he pondered, Pilate pleased the people with a political punt. Those who “go along to get along” are in close fellowship with Pilate, picking peace over the Prince of Peace.

The next group in Mark 15 sweeps in many of us. Jesus is not the only lamb being lead. How else do you explain the crazed Crowds barbarically begging for Barabbas? The Jewish leaders whip up the masses to bear down on Pilate. Both comply. “Mob think” is an oxymoron.

A few years back, someone raised Christians’ hackles by calling them mindless and easily lead. In truth, to follow Jesus takes counter-cultural courage from one with an awakened, renewed mind. Yet, alas, many of His followers too easily fall behind some leaders with little thought or discernment. Jesus demands that we test the spirits, even if they quote verses.

The last lot we might find company with is the rough and tumble Roman Guards. These base bad boys beat and blaspheme Jesus. Servants of their earthly king, even in this evil, the King of heaven fares badly in their hands. Living in the moment, this gang gives mock allegiance, while battering and spitting on the King.

Giving no thought to Who He was, no consideration for the miracles He had done, they call in the rest of the boys to have a shot at the Savior. His reputation meaningless to them, these sadistic party animals pummel Jesus with glee in game-like fashion.

Heedless hedonists, the savage Soldiers remind us of our own mindless, foolish, reckless living. Doing our own thing, heaven be damned.

Ironically, Jesus taught us to go an extra mile in helping others, even carrying a Soldier’s pack for him that second mile when pressed into service to bear it one. To be fair, these same soldiers pressed Simon into service to carry Jesus’ crossbeam when He no longer could.

Jesus would more than go a second mile in carrying their sins, our sins on His cross. “Father,” He would cry out, “forgive them, they do not know what they are doing.” How often is such grievous ignorance true of us?

How we thank God for His sovereign Substitute for such serious sinners (2 Corinthians 5:21). Praise God the King – Jesus - was handed over, lead away and killed in the place of sinners like us: jealous, power hungry, people-pleasers who mindlessly follow others into folly and in our ignorance, abuse others.

Monday, March 06, 2006

Final Answers + Fool Factor X 4 = The Verdict

I am preaching thru Mark. Here are Sunday's Sermon notes / outline of Mark 15:1-20. This is what I hand out to the folks at church. It may or may not make sense on it own. Some one tell me you see the three TV show allusions. . .

Final Answers + Fool Factor X 4 = The Verdict
Handing Over & Leading Away Their King – Mark 15:1-20

There is some sick teamwork in this passage, much use & abuse in this text: the Jewish Leaders use Pilate, Pilate uses the People, the People use Barabbas, and the Roman Soldiers use and abuse Jesus. YET, GOD USES ALL of it to bring us salvation (Isaiah 53; Psalm 22). Four foolish factions facilitate God’s eternal plan. While Jesus is handed over from group to group and lead away like a lamb to slaughter, He is still in control – of Himself & the situation.

I. The Jealous Jewish Leaders Jury Rig Justice
Jealousy: see Prov. 27:4; Prov. 6:34, 35; Gen.37; Acts 19
· They Use Pilate / the State
· More False Accusations against Jesus
· They Stir the Crowd & Create a lynch mob

II. Pilate Ponders Yet Placates the People with a Political Punt
2 "Are you the king of the Jews?" asked Pilate.
4 So again Pilate asked him, "Aren't you going to answer?
See how many things they are accusing you of."
5 But Jesus still made no reply, and Pilate was amazed.
9 "Do you want me to release to you the king of the Jews?" asked Pilate..
12 "What shall I do, then, with the one you call the king of the Jews?"
Pilate asked them. 13 "Crucify him!" they shouted.
14 "Why? What crime has he committed?" asked Pilate.
15 Wanting to satisfy the crowd, Pilate released Barabbas to them.

III. The Crazed Crowds Barbarically Beg for Barabbas
“Mob think” is an oxymoron. They were lead like lambs too.

IV. Roman Soldiers Abuse & Mock The King (16-20)

Not-to-be-Missed Mentions by Mark:

Repeated Phrases:
“Handed Him over” vs. 1, 10, 15
“Lead Him away” vs. 1, 16, 20

The Clear Confession of Kingship by Christ: vs. 2 (& Mk 14:61, 62)
"Are you the king of the Jews?"…
"Yes, it is as you say," Jesus replied.” NIV

The Sovereign Substitution for a Serious Sinner: vs. 6-15; 2 Corin. 5:21

Praise God the King – JESUS - was handed over,
lead away & killed in the place of sinners like us.

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Warnings Wrapped up in the Warped Betrayer

from Mark 14:43-52

If there is a story in Scripture that should infuriate us and turn our stomach, if there is a person that should appall us, this is it, this is him: Judas.

The mention of his name should stir us more than Hitler would a Jew, worse than Muslims are angered over cartoons of Mohammed. Forget distaste, this is raw disgust, disdain & damnation. One whom, Jesus said, it would be better if he had never been born (Mark 14:21).

Judas was one of "The Twelve," an ultimate Insider. He saw miracles, heard Jesus teach and walked with Him daily for two plus years. He rubbed elbows with those who had been raised from the dead, ate with those delivered from demons and had served and feasted on fish and bread Jesus miraculously provided.

Though one of the few that had ridden in boats Jesus rescued from raging storms, on waters Jesus calmed, he gave over, betrayed the Lord of Glory, the Son of God for a few bucks. When the Disciples were to watch & pray in the Garden, Judas had watched to prey (Mark 14:1, 2, 10,11, 43-52).

As a teacher of God’s Word, I normally enjoy showing the connection between the text and our lives, making the "They" of Scripture into an "Us." Yet, this is a story and sinner I would prefer NOT to see any personal connection or application. Let’s just see it as data, historical truth and move on, ignoring any similarities with Judas and the others in this passage.

Alas, there are lessons to learn from everyone and everywhere. Some people, if nothing else, serve as bad examples to not follow, Judas being the head of the class. He is a warning to each of us, as are the cowardly conspirators & deserting disciples (see 1 Corinthians 9:27-10:14; Romans 15:4 and 2:1, 2).

What did it take to make a Judas? While Scripture never says outright why he defected, it does teach us about his life. We find various factors that contributed and combined to make Judas the son of the Devil that he was.

Warning! Pride Alert! Judas’ struggles may not sound too different than your own. For starters, Judas had unmet expectations and wrong assumptions about Jesus. Jesus let him down. He wanted the Kingdom on his terms and in his timetable. God was not fitting into his plans to his liking.

Talk about not catching on! After all the miracles Judas had seen, he and the cowardly conspirators – the Jewish leaders, Temple Guard and Roman Military - thought they could use troops and the cover of night to stop Jesus (Mark 14:1, 2, 43-49). They seemed to forget or not grasp He is the Almighty Son of God.

Greed and theft was also part of Judas’ makeup. Not trusting God to meet his needs, Judas dipped into the moneybag, which he had been entrusted as Treasurer (John 12:6).

Here is a ponder point for you: Greed is idolatry (see Colossians 3:5). The greedy have a second god, an idol. They have swapped out Jesus for their own 30 pieces of silver. God is jealous and will not share His top spot in your life. Be it a job, trinket, a relationship, a hobby or…

When Jesus allowed the extravagant nard to be poured on Him – a year’s worth of wages - that seems to be the last straw for Judas (Mk. 14:3-10). Want to test a man: touch his wallet, mess with his money. When Jesus asks much, many walk away, sell him out.

Of few is it said: "Satan entered him" (Luke 22:3, 4; John 6:70; 17:12). Yet, Judas has a Satanic involvement and partnership. Selling your soul to the Devil is no joking matter. A reminder: Unresolved anger gives Satan a spare room in your heart (Ephesians 4:26, 27). When we harbor hate, we host hell.

The damning blow to Judas must have been pride. What else would it take to walk up to Jesus in the Garden that night, call Him "Rabbi," feigning allegiance and submission, and use a Kiss as the signal?

What arrogance! What hubris! Jesus may have preferred a slap or spit, not a symbol of intimacy, respect, affection and devotion. This was the ultimate unholy kiss.

How many of us in worship services or in daily life act as if Jesus is our Rabbi, Teacher, Lord, blow kisses to Him in reverence, yet want nothing to do with His rule in our life? Amazingly, Jesus called this fiend friend (Matthew 26:50).

Mark’s account of this tragic tale ends with the Disciple’s desertion and of the young man who flees naked – maybe Mark. That scared Streaker is not comic relief, but a powerful symbol of us when we run from Jesus. Doing so, as the disciples did, leaves us barren, exposed, cold & naked (Mark 14:51, 52). May it never be said of us: "All the disciples cut and ran" (vs. 50 – The Message).

May it most especially be untrue of us that it would be better if we had not been born. Yet, it is better to never have drawn breath than go to hell. There is no good that we can experience here that can offset the eternal, conscious suffering of hell. The wise will receive these warnings wrapped up in the warped, damned Judas.