Saturday, December 14, 2013

No Room

It wasn't a vacation.  It wasn't a business trip.  It wasn't a quick weekend getaway.  They had made the trip to Bethlehem to pay taxes.  The trip was somewhere around 80-100 miles and would have probably taken them over a week.  Mary was pregnant.  It was rather late in her pregnancy when a woman is ready to get this over with.  I imagine her feet hurt, her back hurt, and she was wishing this trip was one she did not have to take.  While, traditionally it is thought that they arrived in town at night just as she was ready to give birth, they could have actually  been in town for a bit before this happened.  There isn't really any details as to how long they were in town.  Scripture just tells us that while they were there, the time came for her to give birth.

Back in the day, there was no such thing as a Holiday Inn or a Hilton.  No to find the best deal in town.  Generally, one would stay with relatives.  Because both Mary and Joseph were descendants of King David, and Bethlehem was the known as the "City of David," I don't think its a stretch to assume that both probably had relatives in town.  Distant relatives who would love to put them up for a night or two.  The word "inn" referred to a guest house or guest room in a house.  While traditionally we get a picture of Joseph going to the local "Inn" for a room, it is probably more accurate to picture him knocking on the door to a great uncle's home or 2nd or 3rd cousin's home.  The town would have been full of people in town for the same reason Mary and Joseph had come to town. While on another occasion this family might have a spare room, on this day the house was full.  Its quite possible that they had people sleeping in places they normally didn't sleep just to try to accommodate people.  I don't think the "inn keeper" was rude or uncaring.  On the contrary, I think his house is full because he is caring and accommodating.  He has no room in his guest room, because he has already put some people up for the night. Perhaps he insisted on accommodating Joseph and Mary as well but the best he could do was his stable.  Though he had no room in his house, the least he could do was offer them a roof over their heads even if it meant sleeping with the livestock.

Maybe the picture in my head is completely off, but it just seems to me that if the "inn keeper" would have been an unsympathetic jerk, he would have never offered them the stable. I just picture him as a good guy.  A guy who sees a pregnant woman and doesn't want to send her away.  While he's unwilling to give up his bed, he figures he's got to do something.  He doesn't want to put any of his other guests out, but here's a pregnant woman standing in front of him who is about to give birth at any moment. The stable's not exactly the Hilton but hey at least its got a roof. 

I've judged this guy for years.  But, I'm not sure what I would do in his shoes.  I mean sure if I know this baby is the Son of God, I'm getting my sleeping bag and heading to the stable myself and I'm giving them my bed.  But he's not privy to that information. He has no clue that this baby is God in the flesh. As far as he is concerned this is Joseph, his 3rd cousin twice removed from his father's side of the family who he has only met once at a family reunion.  He's not going to shut the door in their face.  No, he's gonna make room for them somewhere.  It's not much, but it'll do.  It's probably not going to be a "silent night" and it's certainly going to need a little air freshener, but it's better than sleeping on the streets. 

Before we judge this man too harshly, let's step back a bit.  I mean, how different are we than this guy?  We're busy.  Our to-do lists are a mile long.  Our calendars are full.  We've got places to go and people to see.  And there stands Jesus knocking on the door to our heart.  We're good people.  We'll make some room for Him somewhere, right?  We'll give Him an hour here and an hour there. Maybe 5 minutes here and 5 minutes there. Sure, its not the best, but it'll do right?  If nothing else we'll give Him an hour on Sunday.  Unless something more important comes up.  He'll understand though.

Why we sit back and judge the inn keeper, we are doing the same exact thing.  We are relegating Jesus to the stable.  We are fitting Him in, giving Him the leftovers.  Then we sit around feeling good about ourselves because we made a place for Him.  What's sad is that unlike the inn keeper, we know who He is.  We are sending The Lord of all Creation to the stable with a sleeping bag and some air freshener, and we feel good about it.

Jesus doesn't want to fit into our lives.  He wants ownership.  He doesn't just want to be first, He wants to be the only pursuit of our heart.  The goal is not to fit Him into our busy schedules, its to put Him at the center of it all.  Rather than an hour here or an hour there, He wants to be Lord of every hour.  He wants to be Lord of every area of our lives.  Its not about reading your Bible, going to church, and praying ritualistic prayers.  It's about an ongoing relationship with the Creator of the Universe where we acknowledge Him in all that we do.  Jesus wants to inhabit every second of every day.  He wants to be Lord of our work and Lord of our play.  He wants to be Lord of the weekday and Lord of the weekend.  He wants to be Lord during football season and Lord during March Madness (sorry sports fans I couldn't resist).  He wants to be Lord of the TV and Lord of the dinner table.  He doesn't want a part of our lives so that we can sit back and feel good about ourselves.  He wants complete ownership.  The stable won't do.  It's not good enough and we all know it.  He deserves the best bed in the house.  He deserves the owner's bed.

He's at the door knocking. Can we make a decision to forget about the stable?  Can we determine that its not even an option?  Can we make a decision to rearrange whatever needs to be rearranged to truly accommodate Him.  Can we truly allow Him to be Lord of our lives instead of just saying it?  I'm sure the inn keeper felt good about himself that night as he made a place for Mary and Joseph.  I don't want to feel good about myself offering my King the stable of my life.   As He stands there knocking on the door, I refuse to declare, "there's no room!" I long to get to a place where I take the stable and give Him my bed.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

I Will Not Shut Up!!!

"Shut up!!" That's what they were told.  Well, maybe that's a bit of a paraphrase but they were severely warned to stop saying what they were saying. Was it hate speech? Not exactly.  They proclaimed the truth of Jesus Christ to a man who had been crippled for over 40 years and he was healed.  That's it.  Well, that was the beginning at least.  A miracle had been performed that was certain.  There was no denying it.  A man had been crippled for over 40 years and instantly he was healed.  Everyone knew beyond the shadow of a doubt this was a miracle.  Day after day, this man sat at the gate begging for money, but this day he encountered two men who would radically change his life forever. Unaware of who these men were and what they could do for him, this crippled man asked Peter and John for money.  Money wouldn't fix his problem.  Sure, it might help sustain him for a day or two, but money couldn't buy him a new set of legs that worked properly.  No amount of money could make this crippled man walk.  He counted on the chance that when others would see him, they would have mercy on him and throw some change in his cup. Peter and John don't reach for change though. Instead Peter makes this declaration, "Silver and gold have I none, but in the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, rise up and walk."

I'm sure Peter and his counterpart John didn't intend to rock the boat this day when they awakened.  They didn't set out to stand on a soapbox.  This day was probably not that much different than any other day.  But when they saw this man, rather than throw some loose change his way, they determined to deal with the root issue in his life.  They healed him in the name of Jesus and things just began to snowball.  People in the community knew this man who was healed.  They saw him day in and day out at the gate begging.  Naturally, when he was healed by the hand of these two men, it drew attention.  A crowd gathered and Peter used this as an opportunity to explain how this man was healed.  He used this as an opportunity to declare the truth about Jesus and how he was crucified and raised from the dead.  He simply declared the truth.

The religious leaders of the day were outraged and they had Peter and John arrested.  Like everyone else, they knew this man who had been healed.  They too, had seen him day in and day out begging at the gate.  They themselves could not deny the miracle that had taken place, but...... Herein, was the problem.  But, it was by the power of this man named Jesus.  On one hand we have a notable miracle that cannot be denied but on the other hand is this man named Jesus.  A man they had crucified.  A man they had declared was a false prophet.  A man they denied was the Messiah.  In order to be on board with Peter and John, they would have to admit they blew it.

So, naturally instead of jumping on board, they determined to continue doing what they had been doing since the first time they heard about this Jesus.  They determined to suppress the truth.  They warned Peter and John and demanded that they cease speaking of this Jesus.  They threatened them and basically commanded them to shut-up. Isn't this amazing?  These men know the truth, but determine to suppress it.  Even though this truth healed a man crippled for more than 40 years.  A man, they themselves could do nothing for except fill his cup up with some pocket change.  Even though this truth had the power to change peoples lives, they insisted on attempting to suppress it.

After being threatened, Peter and John refused to keep quiet.  They continued to speak the truth in a culture that fought them every step of the way.  They determined to speak the truth regardless of the risk involved. As a result, that truth set people free.  That truth healed people.  That truth saved multitudes. Yes, while that truth faced major opposition, it changed countless peoples lives.

Today we live in a culture that desperately wants to suppress the truth much like the culture Peter and John found themselves in.  While here in America we aren't being faced with arrest (we'll see how long that lasts), one would have to be blind not to see the increased opposition to the truth of the Gospel.  The spirit behind the ideologies of "political correctness" and "tolerance" is no different than the spirit that drove the religious leaders in Peter's day to conspire to squash the truth.  The results of a culture that insists on suppressing the truth are detailed in chapter 1 of Romans and they are devastating. I must admit all the consequences listed in that passage you can clearly see on the rise in our culture today. Check it out for yourself (Romans 1:18-32).  It's important for believers to understand what is going on. There is an agenda here but it is not political, its spiritual.  The enemy is dead set on suppressing the truth.  He's been on this campaign since the day he met Eve in the garden.  He understands that the truth has the power to set mankind free, so his strategy is to squash that truth.

The body of Christ need not be rattled by the enemy's strategy.  It only needs to recognize it and follow in the footsteps of those early church leaders.  When pressured to shut up, they refused to do so.  They spoke the truth and lived the truth.  Sure, it was risky, but as a result, the lives of multitudes were transformed. We live in a culture that desperately wants to suppress the truth.  We see it everywhere.  We can either allow this world to squeeze us into its mold or we can determine to speak the truth.  We can either sit down and shut up or determine to proclaim the truth that alone has the ability to set people free. You can do what you want, but as for me, I WILL NOT SHUT UP! It's not because I'm looking for a fight.  It's not because l need a soapbox.  It's not because I want to simply rock the boat. I refuse to shut up because I know that the truth sets people free. 

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Jesus Could Just Snap His Fingers And BLAM!

"Jesus could just snap his fingers and BLAM! It would be done!" I stood there listening to my 7 year old boasting of all that Jesus could do.  He's a bit animated so his eyes were wide open and arms were in full gesturing mode.  I felt as if I was watching a miniature version of  myself.  He went from scenario to scenario with each one becoming greater and  greater.  BLAM! BLAM! BLAM! He hammered each one with this exclamation for dramatic affect.  To each BLAM, I simply nodded in agreement.  

Later I got to thinking, "what's happened to us?"  I remember as a child, having that kind of faith.  I believed God could do anything.  No, let me rephrase that, I KNEW God could do anything.  No task was too big.  No problem was too big.  No issue too insignificant.  God could do anything!

Then I grew up. I grew up in a world that doesn't think about God like that.  I grew up in a world that wants desperately to minimize who God is and what He can do.  It's a world whose philosophy  elevates man and his abilities while diminishing God and His abilities.  It's a world that can't quite wrap their brain around this concept of an omnipresent, omnipotent, omniscient Being.  So they reject Him.  Maybe not everything about Him, but parts of Him.  They paint a picture of Him that's not completely accurate.  They downsize Him into a manageable ideal.  And as they do, the BLAMs disappear.  What they are left with is a "god" who has little resemblance to the One we read about in Scripture.   

This isn't just on the outside of the church.  It's an epidemic inside her walls.  Perhaps our "god" looks a little different than the worlds but does it really look like the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob?  Does He resemble the God of Elijah and Elisha? We pray prayers hoping for a "BLAM," but not really convinced we'll see it. We pray about things and then continue to worry about them.  We ask God to take the weight of things for us, then we pick them back up and load them on our shoulders again.  Why? Because we've grown up.  And as we've grown up, we've slowly put more trust in ourselves than in Him.  Our actions prove we are more confident in our ability to carry the weight of our world than His ability.  Just like the world, we've elevated ourselves and shrunk our concept of God. And we walk through life with a major "BLAM" deficiency.

As I listened to my son on that day, I was hanging on every word.  And as I did I thought to myself I want be like him.  I want to recapture that kind of faith.  A faith that knows.  A faith that's convinced.  A faith that doesn't waver.  A faith that isn't "grown up" but is as strong as a little child's.  A faith that knows that Jesus could just snap His fingers and BLAM!