Saturday, June 29, 2013

Man, Did He Tick Some People Off!

He read something written centuries earlier.  After reading it, He closed the book and sat down.  With all eyes fixed on Him, Jesus declared that this prophetic word declared by the prophet Isaiah was speaking of Him.  I imagine there was a moment of silence immediately following where you could have heard a pin drop as everyone tried to make sense of what just happened.  They couldn't bring themselves to believe it.  Although something about Him seemed to confirm this truth, they struggled to accept it.  Jesus goes on to speak some other truths and before you know it He has ticked them all off.  So much so they want to kill Him right then and there.

Jesus, the Prince of Peace, stirs up conflict here. This is not just a little disagreement. They want to KILL HIM! This is not an isolated event in the life of Jesus. Time after time He speaks and it results in men so angry to the point they want to kill Him. Reading these accounts in the Gospels makes one realize that Jesus didn't come to pacify people and walk on egg shells.  He came to speak the truth. He wasn't ugly about it, but He wasn't a passive pansy either.  He presented the truth and allowed man the freedom to accept it or reject it.  In doing so, this truth caused major conflict.

How could it not?  We are talking about the collision of two opposing kingdoms.  Of course, there is going to be conflict. By why can't we all just get along? Yeah, right! This assumption that we can maintain the peace is completely absurd. The kingdom of this world is set against the kingdom of God. It is in complete contradiction to the kingdom of God.  It is impossible for them to coexist without major conflict.  God's Word is truth.  It's absolute truth and that truth always faces opposition.  When the truth is presented it requires that one get off the fence and take sides.  Truth requires a decision to accept it or reject it.  There is no middle road when it comes to the truth.  While the world wants desperately to create some gray areas, there are none. It is a black and white world and those two sides are at constant war with one another.        

There's the belief in Christianity that all Jesus did was walk around hugging everybody and wiping away their tears.  He's often pictured as this really nice guy who encouraged everyone just to get along with everybody else.  While those ideas somewhat represent His character, they are anything but complete. Sure, Jesus had mercy and compassion on the woman caught in adultery, but then He spoke directly to her sin and told her to quite doing it. How about the time Jesus healed a man who had been sick for 38 years by the pool of Bethesda?  Naturally, he loved the man enough to heal him, but then He tells him to sin no more (John 5:12).  He doesn't sweep the major issue under the rug.  While it was important for this man to be healed, the bigger issue was his spiritual well being. Jesus did not come to deal with surface issues, He came to crush the root.  Jesus, Himself, makes the statement that He didn't come to bring peace, but He came to bring a sword (Matthew 10:34).  Scripture tells us that He came to destroy the works of the devil.  Jesus didn't come to be a nice guy, He came to wage war.  He came to bring light into a dark world.  A dark world that wanted no part of the light.  He came to destroy the kingdom of darkness.  While the Jews were expecting their Messiah to overthrow the Roman government, He actually came to make war with a kingdom much more powerful.  He came to speak the truth and to open the eyes of humanity.  Eyes that had been blinded by deception.  But, when He spoke that truth, many didn't want to hear it.  They didn't want their eyes opened.  They fought Him at every turn. They mocked Him. They rejected Him.  Some said He was crazy.  Others said He had a demon. There were times He was literally run out of town (Mark 5:17, Luke 4:29).  There were times He had to escape in order to prevent from being killed (John 10:39). I think many have this concept that it was only the religious leaders of the day that rejected Him, but that's not true.  Many rejected Him.  Sure, there were many that followed Him, but multitudes rejected Him and everything He had to say.

There was a spiritual climate in the day of Jesus that just wanted Him to back down.  It wanted Him to stop rocking the boat and stop stirring up conflict.  It was ok, if He wanted to be nice to people but they wanted no part of Him if He was going to get up all in their business. How dare He shine light on the darkness they had embraced!  How dare He speak to the corruption in their heart or reveal the corruption in their culture! They wanted Him to just sit down and shut up.

Today, truth faces that same kind of opposition.  Just like in the days of Jesus, there is a spiritual dynamic within our culture that wants us as followers of Christ to just keep to ourselves.  It permeates throughout our culture at every possible turn.  If we aren't careful, we'll bow to that demonic ideology thinking its actually of God.  After all we need to love our neighbor right?  While its true that we need to love our neighbor, I think its vitally important to reevaluate what loving our neighbor really means.  What does that look like?  Jesus loved humanity enough to tell them the truth.  We aren't loving anybody when we dance around the truth for fear of ticking them off.  No, we don't need to be jerks, but speaking the truth is a part of loving people.  It's risky though.  It takes boldness and it could lead to us being completely rejected.  Let's face it, it's much easier to keep quite and determine not to stir up conflict.  But, that isn't love.  Loving people demands that we speak the truth even when its unpopular, uncomfortable, and counter-cultural.

Jesus, Paul, Peter, John, and all the rest of the apostles had a long history of ticking people off.  Their motive wasn't to stand on a soap box or make people mad, but they cared enough for humanity to speak the truth.  That truth wasn't condemning but it did present mankind with the choice of life or death.  As followers of Christ we are living in a dream world if we think for one minute that everyone is going to love and accept us or the message we bring.  If we aren't ticking some people off, then we are probably doing something horribly wrong.

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Is The Church A Mirror Image Of Him?

I remember when my two boys were born.  I would hold them in my arms and try to find a mini me in there somewhere.  As they've grown, it has become very easy to see myself in them.  Some of those things make me want to stick my chest out in pride.  Other things make me want to blame someone else in their family ancestry. The simple fact is the fruit has not fallen far from the tree.    

On the day of Pentecost, some 2000 years ago, Jesus gave birth to the church. As I read the stories of the early church, it is not difficult to see a resemblance of Jesus in what they said and did.  They looked like Him. They reflected His character and nature to a world that needed to see it.  They carried the light into a darkened world.  They shared the truth with a world shrouded in deception. They shared the love of the heavenly Father.  They did exactly what the church is suppose to do.  They were His hands and feet.  They served as a visual image to the world of who God is and what He's like.   

The church is the "body of Christ" and as such is to reflect Him to the world.  In its search and pursuit of God, the world should be able to find Him easily within the context of the church.  But is that the case today?  Is the church today a mirror image of Him? Well, because the church is made up of people the truth is sometimes we get this right and sometimes we are an extremely distorted image of who He truly is.  Sometimes we look like Christ and sometimes we look more like the Pharisees and Saducees of Jesus' day.

There are several reasons why the church gets this wrong so often.  At the top of that list is the simple fact that many within the body of Christ have a distorted view of who God is.  When that is the case, its impossible to offer the world a healthy image of Him.  For instance if I see God as someone who is tolerant of sin, then I don't really know Him.  Tolerant?  Are you kidding me?  Check out what your sin did to Jesus and then ask yourself, "is God tolerant when it comes to sin?"  Yet, if that's how you view God, then you'll treat sin as something that is not that big of a deal.   In doing so, you've just showed the world an image that looks nothing like Him.  God declares that He hates sin.  He hates it!  That's some pretty strong language.  Perhaps we should start hating sin the way He does.  I'm thinking the first sin we should start hating though is the sin in our life.  If we'll set out to do that, then we won't have the time to worry about the sin of others.  On the other hand, if you believe that God is just waiting for us the mess up so He can unleash His fury on us, you don't really know Him either.  His fury, that we deserved, was released on His Son.  However, if you hold this view of God, then you'll look more like the disciples who asked permission to call down fire from heaven to consume the Samaritans.  Jesus' response to them was, "You have no idea what spirit you're of!" I can just picture Jesus looking at these men after they uttered those words with a look of disbelief.  "Are you kidding me?"  "Consume them with fire?" "I'm walking out life with you guys, and you have no clue who I am" "No, I'm not going to consume them with fire, but I just might consume you!"  Ok, so perhaps I'm taking a bit too much liberty with that passage, but I hope you see the point.  Jesus was saying to these disciples that they were not acting like Him at all.

Another huge reason we present the world with a perverted image of God is we as believers are lousy at loving one another within the church.  Let's face it the church is a great place to get wounded.  Of course it is.  Have you ever thought that just maybe that's God's grand design. It's only in the context of community and family that we truly learn to love.  It's much easier to love those who are distant.  It's a completely different ballgame to love someone in a more intimate setting.  Those that are close enough you can smell their bad breath and body odor.  Those that are close enough that you see all their faults.  Those that are close enough to get on your last nerve.  It's here in this setting where offenses take place and we are given the difficult challenge of dealing with those offenses.  Unfortunately, many within the body of Christ opt not to deal with them.  They either sweep them under the rug and pretend they don't exist or they cut and run.  That only leads to unforgiveness, bitterness, anger, and hurt. Yeah, that's a great reflection of Him.  Hurt people hurt people and because we have an epidemic of hurt people in the body of Christ, we have become great at perpetrating that hurt.

Loving people though demands we address wounds and offenses.  Truly loving others can be difficult.  What am I saying? "IT IS" difficult at times.  That's why we often fail miserably at it.  I'm thinking divorcing churches has to be about the same divorce rate we see in marriages today.  We would rather just leave than deal with it according to Scripture.  God forbid we do that.  In many churches there are leaders who struggle with this so they facilitate this behavior among those they lead.  Let's face it, the reason why we find it difficult to share the love of Jesus with the world is we refuse to truly love one another within the body of Christ. Notice I used the word "refuse."  We have a choice here.

There's a lot going on in the world right now.  Much of what's going on, leaves me scratching my head.  And no, I don't need Head and Shoulders.  I'm just thinking that perhaps our best approach as the church is to determine to love Him first.  In loving Him, I'm talking about getting to know Him.  Become acquainted with His nature and His character. In doing show, we'll be better equipped to truly love those within our church community.  We will also be much better at showing the world an image of Him that is much more accurate.

Friday, June 21, 2013

Political Correctness...No Thanks!

He raised a man from the dead!  A man who had been dead for four days.  It wasn't some type of illusion or trick. While Lazarus might be able to hold his breath for a couple of minutes, 4 days was a bit of a stretch.  Jesus didn't pull up in an ambulance ready to perform CPR as Lazarus was way past that point.  He had died, been prepared for burial, and placed in his tomb.  There were those standing around who saw this miracle and immediately believed in Him.  Others, however, feared the momentum that was gathering around this man, Jesus.  The Pharisees who heard of this event couldn't deny it happened. There were way too many eye witnesses.  They saw a man who was dead with rigor mortis taking over.  There was no doubt this man was dead because the stench of death was in the air.  There was no denying what happened that day.  A dead man was raised from the dead!

It is well documented that the Pharisees struggled with this Jesus.  He was stirring things up.  He was making things uncomfortable. He was doing things and saying things that were, well.....controversial. He was either unaware of the cultural/political climate or He just didn't care.  He didn't send out pollsters or get a consensus prior to speaking or acting out.  He was as unconcerned about what the religious leaders thought as He was about what the Roman government thought.  He seemed to fear none of them nor what they might do to Him.  He spoke the truth.  He lived the truth.  He was not  concerned about being culturally relevant, politically correct, popular, or gathering a crowd.  At the same time He didn't come to stand on a soap box.  He didn't strive to prove He was right.  He didn't condemn humanity because they opposed Him or His message.  He spoke the truth and allowed man to make a decision to believe that truth or not.  He granted mankind freedom.  Freedom to accept that truth and in doing so he chose life.  That same freedom afforded man the liberty to reject that truth and in doing so he condemned himself.  Wow, imagine that....personal responsibility!

Those who opposed Jesus that were standing around the tomb of Lazarus that day, saw the same miracle that many others saw that day.  And while many believed in Jesus after that miracle, these men responded completely different.  How could that be?  They witnessed a miracle that they could not deny, yet still were not on board with this man or His message.  What was the matter with these men?  What was holding them back?  What were they afraid of?

46 But some of them went away to the Pharisees and told them the things Jesus did. 47 Then the chief priests and the Pharisees gathered a council and said, “What shall we do? For this Man works many signs. 48 If we let Him alone like this, everyone will believe in Him, and the Romans will come and take away both our place and nation.” - John 11:46-48 (NKJV)

Wow, they were afraid of an oppressive government!  The truth is they had become puppets.  They worked hard not to rock the boat and in doing so, they maintained their power.  Along comes this Jesus and He starts rocking that boat.  They are convinced that if they don't step in and do something, the waves Jesus is making is going to sink the ship.  So, regardless of the incredible works He is doing, they reckon that the price is too high to pay to jump on board.  They could lose everything.  Their positions, power, and status are all at risk.  Persecution was certain and they wanted no part of that.  God forbid their faith cost them something. They wanted to simply sit back and do life as normal and they were willing to make whatever compromises they needed in order to maintain the status quo.  They had sold their souls in order to be comfortable.  

Jesus wasn't controversial for the sake of being controversial.  He didn't stir up things simply because He wanted to.  Jesus didn't set out to just tick people off. The clash between the truth and deceit, light and darkness is inevitable.  It cannot be avoided.  When the kingdom of God shows up, the kingdom of this world is shaken.  When greed, pride, selfishness, and deceit is confronted with generosity, humility, sacrificial love, and truth there is a collision that is certain and completely unavoidable.  To think that those two competing kingdoms can coexist without producing some major friction and fallout is extremely naive. 

Like Jesus, the church does not have to purpose to cause waves.  We do not have to jump on a soap box in order to get the world to notice us.  We should never say or do anything for the simple reason of trying to stir up something.  At the same time, we should never cower or compromise in order to pacify any person or entity.  Jesus was simply who He was.  When the church determines to be who they are suppose to be, darkness will sit up and take notice. Forces will collide. Boats will be rocked. Offenses will come.  Speaking and living the truth isn't comfortable.  It comes with great risk.  Attempting to keep the peace is not the goal of the church.  Being the light of the world is what we are here for.  Determining to be that light in a world shrouded in darkness will always produce conflict.  Being that light requires the courage and strength to stand for what's right when it is extremely unpopular. It requires one to speak the truth even when its rejected by most.  It requires one to love when its easier to hate.  

The Pharisees during the days of Jesus failed miserably.  They were more concerned about keeping the Roman government happy then doing what was right.  They determined to be politically correct in order to keep the peace, yet in the end, the Roman government did exactly what they feared the most.  There is a spirit of tolerance that permeates throughout every fiber of our culture. Much like the Pharisees, we are faced with the temptation of compromising, cowering, and shutting up.  The day we give in to that temptation is the day we turn off the light.  I don't know about you, but turning off the light is not something I am ok with.  Political correctness....No thanks!

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Who's Your Daddy?

I was looking at a picture taken at a recent family gathering.  In the background of the picture there stood a guy who looked a lot like my dad.  At first I thought perhaps it was an older picture taken when my dad was still alive.  As I studied the picture a little more I realized that it was a current photo.  And either the person who looked like my dad had stolen my clothes or it was me. The truth is that as I look in the mirror each day the man I see staring back at me looks more and more like my dad.  There are even times when I say or do something and immediately I realize I'm more like him than I care to admit.  

I'm not the only one either.  I look at my two brothers and I can see him in them too.  Even my two sisters carry in them things that remind me of daddy.  There's no hiding it, Troy Stone's image is seen in all five of his children.  Even his grandchildren can't escape the reality of resembling him in one way or another.  Whether its appearance, character, attitude, personality, etc. we all carry a piece of him in us.  You may have never met my dad.  And since he's gone on to be with Jesus, you'll have to wait to meet him in eternity.  But if you want to catch a glimpse of what he's like, just spend some time with one of his kids.  Trust me, you'll get to know him a little bit.   

The same holds true of Jesus concerning His Father. God's Son, looks just like Him.  He acts just like Him.  He talks just like Him.  Whereas my siblings and I carry with us a part of my dad, Jesus carries with Him the fullness of His Father.  He is exactly like Him in every possible way.  The DNA of His Father runs through Him and They are so much alike that it is impossible to distinguish One from the Other. Jesus told the disciples that once you've seen Him, you've seen the Father.  He told them that He and the Father were One. Jesus declared that He was in the Father and that the Father was in Him. Jesus is a perfect image of His Father.  No Photoshop is needed to correct anything.  They look identical, act identical, and talk identical.  In Christ there is found no deviation from God's character, nature, personality, or likeness.  God made Himself visible in the person of Jesus.  Want to understand who God is and what He's like?  Take a good hard look at His Son.

Scripture tells us that Jesus is the firstborn of all creation.  It declares that those who believe in Him, He has given them the power to become His sons/daughters.  As such, we are given the task of making this invisible God visible.  Following in the footsteps of Jesus, we are to be acting like Him, talking like Him, and looking like Him.  It should be extremely easy for unbelievers to see in us a pretty good resemblance of who God is.

Do we look like Him?  Do we talk like Him?  Do we love like Him? Are we introducing people to Him or are we repelling them?  I can think of no greater way to honor our heavenly Father than to determine to be like Him. The world should have no problem determining, "who's your daddy?"

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Wanna Know God?

They were convinced they knew Him.  They had studied and memorized what He had said.  They knew well the stories about Him and how He had interacted with mankind in the past.  Then He showed up.  This God they thought they knew showed up and they did not recognize Him at all.  As a matter of fact, they were so clueless as to who He was that they were convinced that this Jesus was a messenger of Satan.

Isn't that tragic?  Imagine spending your entire life in pursuit of knowing Him only to find out that all that time and effort was nothing more than an empty pursuit.  Though these religious leaders knew the Law and all that the ancient prophets had spoken, they did not truly know God.  If we are not careful, we too can spend our lifetime thinking we know Him when in reality we have no clue as to who He is.

We can jump through all the hoops that religion requires of us and when its all said and done we've done nothing but become great hoop jumpers.  Religious demands commonly do little more than offer us a false sense of connecting with God.  It's much like a Facebook approach to knowing God.  Like a Facebook friend, we scroll through His profile, pics, and posts, but in the end we do not truly know Him.  We are not at all acquainted with His heart, His nature, or His passions.  We are left to make judgments about Him that don't correctly represent Him at all.  Often, this leads to a description of God that looks a lot like us because it makes us feel much better about ourselves.  After all who wants to think that the motives of their heart are not at all like His? Does anyone really want to believe that they are acting more like a son of hell than a son of God?

Much like the religious leaders of Jesus' day, when we don't truly know Him, we often make the same mistakes they made.  We blame things on God that He didn't do.  We characterize the acts of God as satanically generated and vice versa.  In doing so, we perpetrate a great deception convincing many that we know God and this is what He's like.  I wonder if God ever wishes that if we aren't gonna take the time to really get to know Him if we would just "hold our peace" (that's King James for shut up) in regards to declaring who He is?

Not only did the religious leaders not know God, they had no desire to really know Him.  When confronted with the truth of who He was, they rejected that truth because He didn't fit in the box they had built for Him. They had this idea of what they wanted God to be like and when He wasn't like that they wanted nothing to do with Him.  They had an image of God that was not at all consistent with who He was.  Scripture tells us that Jesus is the image of the invisible God (Colossians 1:15).  God wanted, and still wants, mankind to know Him.  He sent Jesus to give us a visual image of who He is. In Christ was and is the fullness of God (Colossians 2:9).  Jesus isn't just like God, He is God.  Truly knowing God is dependent on knowing Jesus.  When our pursuit of God detours around the person of Jesus, just like those 1st century religious leaders, our knowledge of God will be completely skewed.  An accurate assessment of who God is can only be obtained through knowing Jesus.  Nobody comes to the Father except through Jesus (John 14:6).  It is this Jesus who introduces us to God.  Wanna know God?  It starts and ends with knowing Jesus!