Monthly Archives: March 2013

Lost and Found

LOST AND FOUND

“Their grumbling triggered this story, ‘Suppose one of you had a hundred sheep and lost one. Wouldn’t you leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness and go after the lost one until you found it? When found, you can be sure you would put it across your shoulders, rejoicing, and when you got home call in all your friends and neighbours saying, ‘Celebrate with me! I’ve found my lost sheep!’ Count on it – there’s more joy in heaven over one sinner’s rescued life than of ninety-nine good people in no need of rescue.'” Luke 15:4-7 (The Message).

Jesus’ stories always had a target audience. Sometimes they were used to teach and other times to expose wrong thinking or bad attitudes – especially of His religious opponents. In Hebrew thought, parables were intended, not for information but for identification. Who am I in the story?

This story was one of three, called chain parables. There was a theme running through them, except that the third story had the punch-line. In the first two, Jesus spoke of lost property, a sheep, a coin, of value to the owner. In both stories, the search yielded success – the valuable property was found and the owner called on the neighbours to celebrate. We assume that the neighbours obliged by rejoicing with him or her because there was legitimate cause for rejoicing.

In the third story, something changes; not a sheep wandering away, or an inanimate object like a coin being misplaced, but a wayward son choosing to renounce his father, his family and his heritage and to celebrate his ‘freedom’ by squandering his inheritance with equally worthless hooligans. Of what value was he? In that state, a disgrace to his father and family.

And yet, when he shamefacedly made his way home, his father did not reject him as one would expect, but welcomed him home with open arms, and ordered a huge celebration for the ‘lost’ son who had been ‘found’. But unlike the neighbours in the previous two parables, the elder brother did not value him as a returning lost brother but rejected him as a worthless good-for-nothing. He focussed on his behaviour, not on his intrinsic worth as a son.

And here is the point of the story. It was glaringly obvious who the elder brother represented. The Pharisees had just been criticising Jesus for eating with rejects. They saw no worth in the people who did not ‘behave’ as they did, forgetting that their attitude of superiority was a stench in the nostrils of Jesus, far more offensive than the sins of the ‘sinners’ they despised.

Particularly offensive to Jesus was the contemptuous attitude of those who refused to rejoice over the return of lost sinners. From His perspective it was nothing short of idolatry because they were elevating themselves above people and even above God. They were honouring themselves as the epitome of virtue and writing everyone else off as worthless.

There were two categories of people that Jesus warned about the fires of hell – the greedy and the hypocrite. Of no other groups did He tell stories to highlight God’s attitude to them. Unless they repented, they would be consigned to the garbage dump where worthless rubbish is burned.

The Pharisees thought sinners were worthless but they could not see that their own attitude stifled their potential and made their lives fruitless for God. The returning sinner was welcomed home and came back on track to fulfil his purpose in life. The interlude of his wandering away did not disqualify him from being a son. It only interrupted his fellowship with his father and his growth in becoming a mature son. It was not only an interruption but, in the long run, also a learning experience.

But for the hypocrite there was nothing of value in his attitude, only alienation from the father and the family. This series of stories should have alerted these religious prigs to the very thing in themselves that they judged in others. No wonder they could not rejoice over the return of lost sinners because they had no idea of just how ‘lost’ they were!

Delight in the Lord

Dear Family

David brings to us the following words of wisdom found in Psalm 1:1–2 “Blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked or stand in the way of sinners or sit in the seat of mockers. But his delight is in the law of the LORD, and on his law he meditates day and night.”

I got thinking recently about the phrase “But his delight is in the law of the LORD….” I was just marveling about just how incredible God’s Word actually is and just how easy it is to take delight in it. “Delight” as defined in dictionaries means “to please greatly, to take great pleasure”.

There is something there for every situation, every question, every doubt, every anxiety, every sticky situation. It’s simply incredible! Furthermore, it just never gets boring, or stale, or ‘heard it all before’ or ‘who cares?’ It somehow remains vibrant and personal and challenging and true to life. The writer to the Hebrews defines the Word as “living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.” Wow!

And then of course, it never ceases to surprise us and literally delight us! Have you ever noticed that you can read the same verse a hundred times and suddenly, out pops a meaning you hadn’t thought of before? Like a windscreen wiper will bring vision to a driver, so the Word can bring clarity to a situation in a instant. Eish!

So David draws this comparison – Don’t waste your time doing what everyone else is doing, or follow the ways of the world, rather, get cosy in extreme joy with God’s Word all the time. When we do that we automatically become the recipients of a further promise (not that we need one after all this good stuff), but God promises we are then “Blessed”.

So what are you waiting for? Delight and blessing just by getting stuck into His Word. It’s a win-win!

Paul

Kiss Your Plans Goodbye

KISS YOUR PLANS GOODBYE

“Or can you imagine a king going into battle against another king without first deciding whether it is possible with his ten thousand troops to face the twenty thousand troops of the other? And if he decides he can’t, won’t he send an emissary and work out a truce? Simply put, if you’re not willing to take what is dearest to you, whether plans or people, and kiss it good bye, you can’t be my disciple.” Luke 14:31-33 (The Message).

That’s how radical the loyalty is that Jesus demands of His disciples. There is no other spiritual leader on earth that requires a commitment as close as that. Why is discipleship of Jesus so all-or-nothing? Why can’t it be simple adherence to a belief system like Buddhism, or sticking to rules and rituals like Islam?

It’s the difference between following a religion and being personally united to a person. Jesus does not call people to believe what He taught (and He did that), as much as He invites us to believe who He is. That makes all the difference in the world. If He is not who He is, then everything He taught is empty, hollow and meaningless babble.

Counting the cost of radical discipleship is a necessary prerequisite. The image of warfare is appropriate because Jesus came to earth to take back what rightfully belongs to Him – the right to rule over His own creation. Satan is the usurper who won the allegiance of God’s son, Adam, and the entire human race, by deception. Jesus unmasked and evicted the squatter and his hoards of demons by defeating him through the cross. His call to discipleship is a call to all-out war. There is no place for slackers or deserters because anything less than a total sell-out to Him would mean disaster.

This sounds like a no-win situation for those who take Jesus seriously, but the opposite is true. It’s our plans and our self-will that ruin our lives and take us off course and away from what God intended for us in the beginning. When we heed His call to become fused to Him, submitting ourselves to His plans and His will and obeying His words, we enter a realm of living that is secure and restful and has a guaranteed destination because we are on the way to eternal life in the presence of the Father.

What does that mean? It means that we no longer have to take responsibility for ourselves. He has set the course and He promises all the resources we need to follow Him and to get where He is taking us. The most comforting of all is that He accompanies us, or rather, leads us every step of the way. It is not for nothing that He is called Immanuel – God with us. He promised, “Never will I leave you, never will I forsake you,” Hebrews 13:5 (NIV), and “And surely I am with you always, even to the end of the age,” Matthew 28:20b (NIV).

What more can we desire? Yes, kiss goodbye to your plans, but it is no loss because our plans are selfish, open-ended and are not guaranteed to succeed. God’s plans are perfect, sure, energised by His power and part of a much bigger picture which He put in place before the foundation of the world. ‘For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.'” Jeremiah 29:11 (NIV).

When we entrust ourselves and our lives into the hands of Jesus, we place ourselves and our destiny into the safest hands in the universe. Not only are His plans good and sure but they are directed by one who loves us perfectly, passionately, and unconditionally and we can relax and follow Him with perfect confidence. It takes all the sweat and uncertainty out of living since we have now given Him driver’s seat of our lives and we can enjoy the ride!

It’s All About Perspective

IT’S ALL ABOUT PERSPECTIVE

‘What society sees and calls monumental, God sees through and calls monstrous.
God’s Law and the Prophets climaxed in John; now it’s all kingdom of God – the glad news and compelling invitation to every man and woman.'” Luke 16:16 (The Message).

What an important truth Jesus highlighted in this one statement, something that many of us believers do not seem to have grasped!

Firstly, the Old Testament, with its dealings with Israel, is the indispensable foundation for understanding the entire message of the Bible. Many Christians believe that they can do away with it and read only the New Testament, but that’s foolish. It’s like reading a mystery story from the middle of the book.

Secondly, the Old Testament, important as it is, is not the whole story. God had a certain way of dealing with His people because they were His chosen vehicle through whom Messiah would come. His Law was the expression of His perfect nature. It was never intended to refashion His people into His image. It was intended to show them what He required and how impossible it was to live up to His standard by purely human effort.

Thirdly, God was developing a culture which would lay the foundation for understanding His entire recovery plan. All the rituals surrounding the sacrificial system, for example, were to prepare them to understand the once-for-all atoning sacrifice of His Son. The laws regarding clean and unclean would teach them the seriousness of sin, its contagious nature and the need for cleansing through a blood sacrifice.

The cultural practices surrounding courtship and marriage taught them how God was wooing them as His bride and preparing them for an eternal ‘marriage’ relationship with them of intimacy and oneness. These and many more laws and practices laid the foundation for receiving and understanding the person and work of Jesus when He came.

Imagine for a moment if God had sent Jesus, unprepared for and unannounced, into a country like India with its myriad gods, or into a Muslim country with its rigid system of Sharia law. How would the people have received Him?

What Jesus was emphasizing was that His coming changed everything. All of the types and shadows of the Old Testament system were fulfilled in Him. He is the substance of which these things were the picture. John the Baptist was the cut-off point, the last and greatest of the Old Testament prophets, because he was not gazing at Messiah from a distance but actually introducing Him to the world. Short as his ministry was, it brought into sharp focus everything the preceding prophets had foretold.

This is where many of God’s people have gone wrong. There is a blurring of the difference between the Old and New Covenants and hence, unbiblical ideas and practices are perpetuated through misunderstanding. Let me highlight just two.

Firstly, in our understanding of prayer. A movement has grown up around the world which functions mainly on Old Testament ideas. People are taught to do ‘prayer walks’ and ‘Jericho marches’, to ‘take authority’ over principalities and powers, to identify and pull down ‘altars’ and to ‘bind’ the devil and his demons wherever the ‘spirit of’ this or that is identified. The favourite one, of course, is the ‘Jezebel’ spirit.

A thorough search of the Book of Acts does not reveal any of these practices. Instead, there is a confidence in the power of the cross through which Jesus defeated the devil, publicly exposed and disgraced him, stripped him of his weapons and set people free from his deception. The simple proclamation of Jesus as the Christ and as Lord, and the invitation to repent and receive Him as the truth, set people free to begin a new life under a new Master in the kingdom of God.

Paul’s ministry in Ephesus is a case in point. Ephesus was the centre of the powerful idolatrous cult of Diana-worship. Paul’s preaching lost the silversmiths business, caused a riot and eventually transformed the city. The new believers brought their witchcraft paraphernalia and made a bonfire of it in the middle of the city. No prayer walking, no pulling down of altars, no taking authority over demons – just the simple proclamation of the Word transformed lives and destroyed the power of Diana.

Secondly, the way we understand ‘deliverance’. Satan works through deception. His stance is that he has the power to control people, which is a lie. Neither God nor Satan has the power to control the will of man. We give power through whatever we believe. If we believe Satan’s lies, we open ourselves to his influence.

Satan’s source of power was exposed at the cross. Jesus showed the world that He did not have to respond to the worst that human beings could do to an innocent man by reacting in a sinful way. “When they hurled their insults at Him, He did not retaliate; when He suffered, He made no threats. Instead, He entrusted Himself to Him who judges justly. He Himself bore our sins in His body on the tree, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness…” 1 Peter 2:23, 24 (NIV).

The way of ‘deliverance’ is the way of truth – expose Satan’s lies and replace them with truth. The need for deliverance implies that we are victims, needing to be rescued rather than people who need to take responsibility for what we think and believe. Confronting the devil is far less effective than helping the victim to accept responsibility for what they think, and to receive and believe the truth which renders the devil’s lies powerless and sends his demons packing. “Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy, the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. Resist him, standing firm in the faith…” 1 Peter 5:8,9a (NIV).

So what was Jesus saying? The Old Testament era closed with the ministry of John. Jesus ushered in the new era of the kingdom of God. Everything changed when Messiah came. The power of the kingdom of God lies in the truth, embodied by Jesus and empowered by His Word. Now repent – change your mind and believe the good news that Jesus is in charge, no longer the devil!

Just Like the Time of Noah

JUST LIKE THE TIME OF NOAH

“‘The time of the Son of Man will be just like the time of Noah — everyone carrying on as usual, having a good time right up to the day Noah boarded the ship. They suspected nothing until the flood hit and swept everything away.

“It was the same in the time of Lot — the people carrying on, having a good time, business as usual right up to the day Lot walked out of Sodom and a firestorm swept down and burned everything to a crisp. That’s how it will be — sudden, total — when the Son of Man is revealed.'” Luke 17:26-30 (The Message).

People have a morbid fascination with the end of the world. Nostradamus predicted it would happen on 21/12/2012. Movies and TV programmes present the event as exciting forms of entertainment. Prophecy teachers go to great lengths, with charts and PowerPoint presentations, to explain its sequence and to paint vivid word pictures of antichrists, Armageddon battles and the gloom and terror of seven years of tribulation under a terrible world dictator. Writers make a fortune from the royalties garnered from their “Left Behind” books.

These may all be good for box office takings and royalties but are they true to the words of Jesus and the drift of Scripture?

First of all, in spite of the general fascination with the idea, somehow there is a strong resistance to the sober warning of Jesus. There is no doubt that it will happen and He does not leave us in the dark about what to do about it. And yet the majority of people still ignore what He has to say and create their own version.

Books and movies tell is it will happen but they don’t tell us what to do. Run for cover? Won’t work! Stockpile provisions and live underground? Won’t work either! Evacuate the planet? Good idea but highly impractical! Create a new version that has nothing to do with how we respond to our Creator? Won’t change the truth!

There is only one sensible thing to do — take what Jesus said seriously, and why not? After all, everything else He predicted was accurate; for instance, His death and resurrection, the coming of the Holy Spirit, the destruction of Jerusalem, so why not trust what He said about His return?

Secondly, just what did He say? He said it would happen so suddenly and so quickly that there would be no time to react. People would be unsuspecting, getting on with their lives and taking no notice of His warnings and the warning signs He predicted. Like a flash of lightning He would come; no time to bargain, no time to make good on empty promises made in a moment of crisis.

Jesus’ counsel was to be ready long before that moment. How? By embracing the life He offers through faith in His sacrifice to forgive sin, and entrusting ourselves to Him as our God for the rest of our days. That’s the beginning but it will issue in changes that give evidence of a changed heart — selfishness gives way to generosity of attitude and action, a new purpose and a new destiny, living a life of fruitfulness instead of futility.

When Jesus returns, He will destroy everything that stands in opposition to Him and His purposes. Every worthless thing will be consumed, including everything that is not in perfect harmony with who He is — all sin, evil, pain, sickness, sorrow and death — and all those who refuse to submit to His authority. He cannot do otherwise to be true to Himself. He must give to every person what they chose when they had the opportunity, and the consequences of their choices.

This is not revenge– this is justice. On earth humans can manipulate justice but not in God’s economy because He cannot deny Himself.

If we think that following Jesus will make us losers, we need to re-evaluate. Yes, we are losers, but what do we lose? We lose all our sin with its guilt, shame and fear and gain the peace of God; we lose our insecurities and our fear of death and gain the assurance of eternal life; we lose our helplessness and hopelessness, our meaningless and purposeless existence and gain the guiding hand of a loving Father; we lose our orphan status — we are now sons and daughters of the living God; we lose our slavery to the devil and gain a new Master who loves us passionately; we lose our destiny on the trash heap of worthlessness and gain eternal life with God.

Isn’t it worth it to make sure now?