Thursday, June 15, 2017

The Curse of the Fruitless Faith


MATTHEW 21:12-22
Often there are aspects of the nature of Jesus Christ that we would readily like to ignore or deny. Those of us within the greater body of Christ tend to adopt a comfortable view of Jesus that is a persona meek and mild.

But here in these two coupled stories we see a very different Jesus than generally exist in the mind’s eye of the average church goer today. We see Jesus acting in ways that are apt to make us uncomfortable and tend to hurry us on to nicer accounts and more pleasing views.

Beginning in verse 12…having just entered the city of Jerusalem for the last time, Jesus moves on the church in this manner for the second time in his earthly ministry.  Apparently He was decisively ending His earthly ministry in much the same way that He began it. For it seems that our Lord was determined to “clean house,” if only symbolically. For we know that the dust of this upheaval had barely settled to the ground before the corruption began to seep back into the church. But He hadn’t changed His mind on these things, nor had He softened his stance as the years went by!

It was near the end of His earthly ministry now. I wonder what His reflections would have been. A lot of water had flowed under that bridge. A lot of folks that had walked with Him at some point were no longer there. It certainly seems that the church in that day had lost its way. It had forgotten it’s Godly intended purpose and had lost its MO in the process.

This was the time of the Passover in Israel. It was at this time each year that the people would travel often great distances to come to Jerusalem. Each family would bring the prescribed animal to be offered up for the sacrifice to cover their sin for yet another year. However It seemed to matter little what went on ‘back home’ in between these visits. Under the old covenant…the old method, it was all about what you did. Not so much correct behavior, as correct adherence to ‘duty.’ Thus it was so very important for the average joe to ‘know the rules.’ I mean, we wouldn’t want to make God mad now would we? Once the “commandments” were listed, one would then be attentive to the minimum adherence so that I remain ‘in the club.’  The ‘sacred/secular’ divide no doubt was in play even then as it is now.

Jesus…in rare form, unleashes some wrath on these boys and drives them…and their corruption, out of the house. Jesus understood that the Father wanted something other than a “passing C” from us. He wanted, and wants, a deep and loving relationship with Him that can only happen, corporately anyway, from inside a pure and holy church. The people were coming with their sacrifices, but what about their hearts? Surely some presented both, but it is no stretch of the imagination to believe most just were focused on doing what they were supposed to do. Again, they thought it was about doing, not being. Jesus was bringing a new covenant to the people…one that clarified what God wanted ultimately, and that was for us to bring ourselves to the cross, where the perfect sacrifice has already been made. The ultimate perfect sacrifice had already been offered, so that you and I can now boldly approach the throne of God and focus on relationship rather than keeping score on our works.

 Ok…we like the sound of that. But still…this seems like kind of an extreme action, don’t you think? I guess Jesus understood that while love, compassion, patience, and grace are imminently critical aspects of a Christian manifested life, that even therein sometimes a guy has to “turn over some tables” to get the point a crossed. But don’t expect the average church folks to pat you on the back for doing so. In fact, they will likely hate you for it, possibly persecute you for it. And just maybe, they’ll cry out on facebook “crucify Him...crucify Him!”

 The self-righteous temple folks remained indignant. “How dare you…” Oh yes, how they are indignant still! He proceeded to heal the blind and lame…to do ‘wonderful things’, and the worship of Him “Hosanna, Hosanna…”, and they were unimpressed and unfazed. Can you imagine this scene? These folks spent a lot of time at church, and they did a lot of religious stuff, but they were never part of the family of Christ…never a child of God.

Today, we see the same indignation from so many who…just like these folks, are spending a lot of time in church. We have done our best to make Jesus now according to our own design. He is a customized weapon geared to protect ourselves. To "hold up" the world at large, and get what we want. He is ‘specialized’ according to our desires and wants in this world. He is “my personal Jesus.” We all in truth, want to invent our own personal Messiah.

Immediately following this account, Jesus went on to execute a little more wrath. Is Jesus just having a bad day? Or is there a point to all of this? It has been rightly pointed out that this is the only miracle in which Jesus condemned rather than blessed. The only time He destroyed rather than gave life. Certainly that alone should call upon us to sit up and pay attention!

It's all so strange though, don’t you think? Jesus had just rode into Jerusalem as the long awaited King and Messiah. The people praised Him and hailed Him King. We too have done the same. But then what? What is supposed to happen after that day of acknowledgment and recognition? Because things made a wicked right  turn here. Within days many of those same people who called out "Hosanna, Hosanna" would cry out "crucify Him, crucify Him." Up to that ‘Triumphant Entrance’, all had been going fine, but it was what happened after that all hit the fan.

Let’s look a little closer: This type of fig tree has an early fruit that grows upon it as well as a “latter fruit.” Unless the early fruit comes, then it is assured that there would be no latter fruit. Jesus failed to see the early fruit that would and should naturally exist in a people that had just experienced the presence of the Messiah, Jesus Christ.

This type of fig tree also would generally not have leaves apart from the fruit, at least if the tree was in a healthy state. But just like today there are many of us who are pretending. Pretending that we are indeed spiritually healthy and producing fruit, but in reality there is nothing but leaves. Just busy-ness. Just following the rules. There was there that day the appearance of a healthy tree, but it was just an outward appearance. Once Jesus looked closely…and for that matter anyone else who is willing to take the time to look closely, it was quickly and readily obvious that that tree was not producing anything.  For Jesus it was a country in hypocrisy. For us today, it is churches and individuals. A "kingdom" in religious hypocrisy.

So the essence of this event was that Jesus presented a picture, an example, of God's dealing with not fig trees, but with individuals and the union of those in what we call the church.  Those who in essence had been given all and produced nothing.

The apostles, having witnessed this event, were naturally amazed. Fulfillment of this judgment and its execution was so swift and so absolute. There was no delayed sentence. Notice too that it came not in the afterlife, but it came in this life! The tree did not cease to be a fig tree, it simple was thereafter a cursed one. One which would never see any fruit! How should we take that fact? Oh the countless times I have seen this play out in lives in this life and in this world.

Why did Jesus destroy the tree?

Why did Jesus use this opportunity to give a lesson on faith? Perhaps because even after all this time the apostles still didn’t get it! Jesus didn't scold them for the lack of theological expertise, or the absence of religious ritual, or even any shortcoming concerning obedience and sin! No, the issue here was a real grasp of the person of Jesus Christ and the subsequent faith that would naturally follow such an understanding. Such a faith, if it is real, will always result in fruit manifesting from our lives.

But we must CLEARLY understand what this fruit is…what it looks like…and how it is produced. This is not an issue of works, this is not even obedience. Fruit is the natural reproduction of the plant and the natural reflection of a healthy plant. It comes from plenty of water (a biblical picture of the Holy Spirit)…good soil and healthy fertilization. It's about where I live, and what I consume. (if such is toxic, weed or rock infested, I will suffer the consequences.) Fruit in scripture is described as “fruit of the Spirit”, which is saying that it is the manifest of the Spirit’s presence.

Galatians 5:22-25: Paul’s list in Galatians is “love, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.” 2 Peter 1 :5-9: Peters list elaborates on Paul’s. But factually many of us are producing something else. Things like boredom, distraction, lust for the world, stealing of God’s time and money, complaining, whining, bad-temperament, compromise, and pride. Even the wicked pride of solo religious operation which is contrary to scripture.

So while the absence of fruit was the overt reason behind His judgment, unless we know and understand what fruit He is looking for, we will still fail to get the message! Fruit grows naturally…without effort and without coaxing. These ‘products’ are naturally a part of a life so connected to the Spirit of God, and so very absent when we are not.

Essentially, we could be asked the same question that was asked of Peter: "Peter...do you love me?"

In the answer to this question lies the power to move mountains; the power to produce healthy and abundant fruit for kingdom and glory and worship. The essence of great things for God does not lay in scriptural knowledge, effort, or outward "leaves" that make us look healthy and busy to the people around us. That power comes from our passion, our love for Jesus Christ!
I know…I know…You do love Him you say! But the produce of your life says very different things to those around you. You are looking elsewhere for your joy now. Your next vacation…(missions trips are not on the horizon)…your next experience, your next venture, your next acquisition, your next relationship, your next purchase.

Peter…do you love me…?

READ Luke 13:6-9
For so many, Jesus has been looking for fruit for a very long time.

God was being and had been so very patient with those He loved. But He was also acknowledging that there was indeed an end to His patience, and an end to His waiting. He had a right to expect fruit from His fields. He has a right to expect fruit from us.

Why did this story in Luke play out different? Why did He this time wait?

It seems there really is just one notable difference in these two accounts…catch this: the second fig tree was in the vinedressers vineyard, and the other was not. It was ‘along the wayside.’
Where are you this evening?

God and this church will be happy to continue to nurture and invest in you…even if you are yet to produce that fruit. That, I would like to believe, is the same patient loving grace Christ longs to invest in our lives. But there seems to be a critical issue in play here, and how things go down will depend on the same criteria.
Are you in the vineyard or not?
Jesus didn’t ask the tree, He simply identified its location. Are we therefore to do the same or are we to play dumb and blind? Saddling up close to the fence doesn’t count. In the vineyard you are under his nurturing care, producing with the rest of the vineyard…part of the greater whole.

I am called by God and scripture to make “righteous judgment.” (John 7:24) I am required to “test all things” to be sure they are good. I am called to keep those who pass such a test. More and more this church is going to move on from those of you who are …by choice…a ‘fig tree on the wayside.’ We are going to busy ourselves with feeding and watering those “in the vineyard.” This is the example that Jesus gave us.
This is Bible.


Sunday, May 21, 2017

YOUTH CAMP!


Our annual Camp concert went great! The youth were very engaged and participatory. All the campers seemed more involved in the heart of the camp this year than ever before and all those who did the organizations did a great job of putting it all together!

Friday, May 12, 2017

Contingency plan.

Sometimes certain team members fail to step up as they were trained to do...

Monday, April 24, 2017

...Choosing a Side.



Luke 11:14 -28 And He was casting out a demon, and it was mute. So it was, when the demon had gone out, that the mute spoke; and the multitudes marveled. 15  But some of them said, "He casts out demons by Beelzebub, the ruler of the demons." 16  Others, testing Him, sought from Him a sign from heaven. 17  But He, knowing their thoughts, said to them: "Every kingdom divided against itself is brought to desolation, and a house divided against a house falls. 18  "If Satan also is divided against himself, how will his kingdom stand? Because you say I cast out demons by Beelzebub.19  "And if I cast out demons by Beelzebub, by whom do your sons cast them out? Therefore they will be your judges. 20  "But if I cast out demons with the finger of God, surely the kingdom of God has come upon you. 21  "When a strong man, fully armed, guards his own palace, his goods are in peace. 22  "But when a stronger than he comes upon him and overcomes him, he takes from him all his armor in which he trusted, and divides his spoils. 23  "He who is not with Me is against Me, and he who does not gather with Me scatters. 24  "When an unclean spirit goes out of a man, he goes through dry places, seeking rest; and finding none, he says, ‘I will return to my house from which I came.’ 25  "And when he comes, he finds it swept and put in order. 26  "Then he goes and takes with him seven other spirits more wicked than himself, and they enter and dwell there; and the last state of that man is worse than the first." 27  And it happened, as He spoke these things, that a certain woman from the crowd raised her voice and said to Him, "Blessed is the womb that bore You, and the breasts which nursed You!" 28  But He said, "More than that, blessed are those who hear the word of God and keep it!"


During the years of World War 2, there were several nations they attempted to do what eventually proved impossible: they tried to remain neutral. Such was vividly portrayed in the daylight bombing of Schaffhausen, Switzerland on the first of April 1944. In that particular case, it was the US Air force that apparently erred in their logistics. But the fact remains that throughout that war…as well as seemingly so many others, those who attempted to straddle the fray and remain ‘in the middle’ just became pawns of both sides and were doomed to ultimately be a looser. This truth was because someone was going to win, and it sure wasn’t going to be them, because they weren’t on a side thus they couldn’t win.


What thinking is behind such an attempt no doubt varies. But perhaps such occurs when there are those who fail to grasp the reality of the war, the facts behind it, or maybe they simply refuse to acknowledge that there is a right and a wrong on stage together. When the bombs dropped on neutral Schaffhausen, the destruction was just as real and just as painful as it was for those who had chosen a side, but for Schaffhausen it was ultimately even more painful because they had no ‘dog in the race’ and thus nothing to win. There’s was however a certain loss. And with 40 fatalities, numerous injuries, and great property damage, they felt the pain and how empty it was! The losses were void of meaning and purpose. The deaths were empty. No brave stories or heroic sacrifices. No reason at all.


Jesus however was totally invested in the war that He was involved in, and He had everything riding on the outcome. If there was indeed a ‘cape fluttering in the wind’ it would have been His, for no marvel comic book hero could hold a candle to this superhero! Jesus was fully engaged in the battle, and yet it seeming took place also in a ‘neutral country’…a population that for the most part were ambivalent…unwilling to surrender their lives to this ‘king Jesus’ and unwilling to throw their hat into the ring with either Rome the occupying nation, or the true enemy Satan. They wanted to live their nice peaceful religious lives even as the war raged all around them and they …like Switzerland in WW2, were essentially under siege and therefore, practically speaking, under ‘house arrest.’ Prisoners in their own homes!


Jesus, Paul the apostle, and essentially all the scriptures speak in length concerning the war that rages around us and uses language that is clearly that of vested involvement in the lives of every believer throughout history. Certainly our generation is no exception. One has to wonder if the enemy truly advances more on the coattails of his loyal troops or just passively on those how believe themselves to be neutral. How can we forget the legendary quote of Edmund Burke “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.” It works the same no matter who does nothing, for evil still triumphs!


Perhaps it all stems from one crucial point of doctrine involving default position. The world you see so often sees Christians trying to get them to get into the game…to join the fray, to ‘join their side.’ And the average joe doesn’t want to join any side! They believe that a person can join the Christians or join the ‘evil force’ or just stay out of the whole mess. But God tells us that by default we are on the opposing team. No choice in this case IS a choice, because in Christianity, there is no Switzerland. To error here will cost the game. It’s a ‘no show’ and by default you then lose. All the entirety of theology doesn’t matter if you are unwilling to acknowledge what is an obvious reality: you’re a sinner.


Though they denied it, it seems that the people in the day of Jesus’s ministry seemed to inherently know something was amiss. But oh the cost of acknowledging such! To admit the obvious and declare it would be the crossroads of their lives as well as their eternity. On that day of confession, there would be no going back. What they saw could never again be ‘un-seen.’ Thus that was an acknowledgment that man fears to make.


And yet they also by nature wanted nothing to do with the affirmation of evil. They weren’t willing to throw their hat into the ring for Satan either. They generally liked the idea of ‘good’ and ‘moral’ as long as such served their desires at the moment, for social protocol, and if not, the situation therefore called for varying degrees of fudging the line. I want to be good, but not too good!


Now Jesus…never one to be nebulous or vague, does what He did so often and so well, and that was to clarify. The problem with scripture for most folks truthfully isn’t that it is hard to understand or conflicting or vague, or any other of the accusatory aspects that are so commonly attributed to such. The problem is in fact that it simply is too starkly black and white! It’s too emphatic! Too extreme in its position. 


How many folks spend their lifetime looking for the loophole? They become like Indiana Jones and comb the world looking for illusive answers! In this case, a way out. We try to tunnel under, climb over, and slip through the audacious claims of scripture. We claim interpretive issues, cultural and historical differences, social mores and situational loopholes. We say we don’t believe in what is being said, but we also can’t seem to let them go.  And then Jesus comes along and draws a deep and distinct line in the sand for which there is seemingly no way out: “If you’re not with me, you are against me….if you are not gathering with me, you are scattering.” So I ask you: are you gathering for Christ?


What was occurring in this scene was just so typical that it could have happened yesterday. Like children on the playground, when your back is against the wall or your hand is caught in the cookie jar, the thing to do is blame shift. They didn’t deny that Jesus had done these incredible things, they just denied the power that was behind it. Just like the work that was done on us. It’s hard to deny what has happened here. The lives that have been transformed and restored. The journey from a hotel conference room in 1990, to a small storefront, to this church as it is today. Its multi-ministries, its overseas ministries, local missional outreaches, media and campus ministries. Such cannot be denied. It’s real. It’s here. But they can claim alternate empowerment.


Today such manifests itself in social media and ‘back-pew-smack-talk’ where they use essentially the same language that the Pharisees used. Terms like ‘cult’ and ‘radical’, and attribute advancements in ministry to the powers of Satan. Jesus, once reflecting on such, called for eyes to open to the facts — the blind see, the lame walk, the lepers are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised to life, and the Good News is being preached to the poor. In this case before us, demons were cast out of a man and now He was set free. The ultimate question of course, is that wouldn’t such be counter-productive if Jesus was working for the dark side? Why would Satan cast out Satan?


And today, if God is not seriously working, then why are people saved and being baptized? Why are marriages healed and lives restored? Why would glory be given to Jehovah God if Satan was running the show? Ironic that so often nothing has changed in 2000 years! And most often the “pointed finger” comes not from the opposing team, but rather those who are trying to ‘stand in the middle.’ Those who perceive themselves to be the ‘nice people’…the Sunday church crowd. The publically moral. The flag waving socially conscious.


They will write you a check for the 3rd world needy. They will wave hello to their neighbor, and pay their taxes without cheating. But can we please get rid of this messy issue of the cross and the blood? Why must we get so involved with “those” people? No need to be so radical! No reason to be so blunt! Let’s stop using words like sin and repentance, and being so literal on scripture: after all it was written 2000 years ago! Times have changed after all! Why must we wear our faith on our shirt-sleeve? Such can be so offensive to others, you know. Let’s just respect other religions and avoid controversy. And such is happening to God’s churches around the world…


I recall some years ago, I attempted to reach out to another church in town…a church of some substantial size, and invited them to attend an event here where some speakers from Outpost Ministries in Minneapolis…a ministry operated by and for people coming out of homosexuality, were slated to speak. The pastor however wanted nothing to do with such…claiming they ‘avoid such controversial issues.’ Really? You mean issues like sin, death, hell, and Jesus dying and being resurrected? You mean stuff like that? Because where I’m sitting Jesus was the quintessential extremist. That’s what love and passion does to a person I guess.  And in kind, what the true absence of such does.


Jesus reminded them that if they weren’t “with Him they were against Him…if they weren’t gathering, they were scattering.” Thus our standing is not merely measured by position but even by activity. If we are ‘with Him.’ ARE you ‘with Him?’ If you answer yes, I ask you then “where effectively IS He today?” And finally “are you THERE?” Where is He? He is on the front lines of the battle. Loving, engaging, risking, sacrificing, speaking truth and fighting the enemy. He ‘had no place to lay His head’ for He was fully immersed in His mission…in His identity. Is that where you are?  


Some have noted the apparent conflict with Luke 9:50, in which Christ seems to contradict this passage. But in Luke 9, Jesus was speaking concerning those who were serving the kingdom in groups other than the one to which the disciples belonged. But this passage speaks of those who are not watching, laboring, or serving the kingdom at all, believing that such a position is acceptable to their Redeemer.


Jesus herein then shared a poignant story…one that should strike fear into the hearts of all those who dance in this realm of religion. He tells the story of a person who affectively find’s his way to this world of faith and ‘cleans up.’ It’s not a hard thing to do and certainly not an unusual one. They want a different life than the one they have, so they “sweep the house clean” and “put things in order”, but they fail to realize a very very important factor in all of it: mankind is inherently a natural vacuum.  We were never designed to be an “empty house.”


So unless the Holy Spirit comes and lives in that house, it is only a matter of time before the vacuum begins to suck in the world around it, and all that stuff and more comes rushing back in and bringing with it 7 times more junk than we endured before. In the end, we are worse than we were before…lost, blind, and seemingly incapable of finding our way back out again. It would seem so hard to believe if I hadn’t seen it with my own eyes innumerable times over my time as a pastor! Hebrews 6:4-6 warns us “For it is impossible, in the case of those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, and have shared in the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the age to come, and then have fallen away, to restore them again to repentance, since they are crucifying once again the Son of God to their own harm and holding him up to contempt.”


You see, faith and Christianity is never about cleaning up and getting rid of all the bad stuff in our lives. There is indeed that aspect, but such never comes first. For “unless a man be born again” he will never see the kingdom of God. Not in the eternal and not in this present life. A born again life with Christ is being filled with a new presence…a new spirit. God comes to live in us and we become, inexplicably, His new temple! Being all spit-shined and moral means nothing unless Jesus is in the house. If He lives there, HE will clean up and set things in order. And He will do so according to His plan for you. He will change you. HE will set things right! With His presence, we cannot help but be transformed! This critical truth is failing to find its way into the hearts and lives of so many today. Untold numbers of half–hearted religious seekers each Sunday “sweep up” a little and still go home empty.


Like the woman from the crowd that day, the religious world wants to praise the accepted public persona of Christ…the religious mantra…the cultural “yea Jesus! What a great guy!” But His personal take was much different. He answered back to this woman and furthermore effectively to every similar position that would follow: “blessed are those who hear the word of God and keep it!” Because Jesus didn’t come to this world to instruct us on a new moral stature nor to affect the civility of the culture in a positive way. He came to die for a desperate humanity…to save that was lost, to make new men and women out of old. To bring life where there was only death. And that would be and yet IS, a war!


There is no middle ground today. There is no neutral ground. There is only born again spirit filled Christians, and the lost. There is no ‘kind of’ saved, or ‘somewhat Christian.’ There is the radical passionate and sold out, and those who are not. You may be ‘swept clean’ and your life may be all “put in place.” But you are still lost if the Spirit of the living God has not come home to roost. If we are “with” Jesus then He is “with” us. He is “IN” us. And remember who He was when He walked this earth. He was not Switzerland. He was fully and absolutely invested and engaged. So if He is truly in you, so are you.


Religion and morality will count for nothing in judgement. Church attendance and religious activity is meaningless. These are not my words or the radical position of this church. It is the radical position of Jesus Christ. Your tithing and service won’t matter. Taking communion and reading your bible sometimes won’t matter. Because if the house is empty, so is your life and so is your eternal future.


Choose a side. Do it, or Satan will do it for you. Because failure to truly ‘jump into the pool’ is a choice in itself. And it is a position fraught with peril.

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

“The Door”


The Door” – John 10:1-21 by Pastor Tim Dodson
at JF Believers Church in Menomonie Wisconsin on Sunday, March 5th, 2017

John 10:1-21  "Most assuredly, I say to you, he who does not enter the sheepfold by the door, but climbs up some other way, the same is a thief and a robber. 2  "But he who enters by the door is the shepherd of the sheep. 3  "To him the doorkeeper opens, and the sheep hear his voice; and he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. 4  "And when he brings out his own sheep, he goes before them; and the sheep follow him, for they know his voice. 5  "Yet they will by no means follow a stranger, but will flee from him, for they do not know the voice of strangers." 6  Jesus used this illustration, but they did not understand the things which He spoke to them. 7  Then Jesus said to them again, "Most assuredly, I say to you, I am the door of the sheep. 8  "All who ever came before Me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep did not hear them. 9  "I am the door. If anyone enters by Me, he will be saved, and will go in and out and find pasture. 10  "The thief does not come except to steal, and to kill, and to destroy. I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly. 11  "I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd gives His life for the sheep. 12  "But a hireling, he who is not the shepherd, one who does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and flees; and the wolf catches the sheep and scatters them. 13  "The hireling flees because he is a hireling and does not care about the sheep. 14  "I am the good shepherd; and I know My sheep, and am known by My own. 15  "As the Father knows Me, even so I know the Father; and I lay down My life for the sheep. 16  "And other sheep I have which are not of this fold; them also I must bring, and they will hear My voice; and there will be one flock and one shepherd. 17  "Therefore My Father loves Me, because I lay down My life that I may take it again. 18  "No one takes it from Me, but I lay it down of Myself. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it again. This command I have received from My Father." 19  Therefore there was a division again among the Jews because of these sayings. 20  And many of them said, "He has a demon and is mad. Why do you listen to Him?" 21  Others said, "These are not the words of one who has a demon. Can a demon open the eyes of the blind?"

 Again, as we begin this section of scripture, let us remember that the chapter breaks were added by man…not by divine inspiration. There was no ‘commercial break’ between chapters 8 and 9, nor between 9 and 10. Jesus is continuing with the conversation that had begun at the end of chapter 9 while still in the presence of the man who had been healed of a lifetime of blindness, perhaps even a continuance of the dialogue that was happening back in Chapter 8. But for sure, these Pharisees were being “schooled” by Christ and as usual, His correction wasn’t received well! Apparently, what Jesus was to say was not contingent upon ‘how the message was received.’ I take notice of that fact.

 These guys had sat through years of church services and had done a lot of stuff for God, so naturally…in their flesh, they felt they were in good standing with God. No one would argue that these boys had religion ‘down pat.’ They looked good! They wore their piety and orthodoxy on their shirt sleeve, and walked amongst the ‘mere mortals’ as if they were cut from a different bolt of cloth. So I am sure it was hard for these men to hear this stuff. It was hard for them to entertain that perhaps they were blindly on the wrong road: that God was not pleased with them. After all, they had exerted a great deal of labor and effort on behalf of their status! They were committed to their cause and would rabidly defend their beliefs: just as many folks today who are equally lost and uniformly blind. Jesus told them such and He did so bluntly without reservation at the end of chapter 9.

I would suspect that few if any of these men ever responded to what He was saying. I don’t know that for sure, but I make that conjecture based upon my own personal experience with talking to Pharisees. Seldom is such an individual ‘waved off’ from that overt and imminent danger. It seems that to entertain the incredulous idea that they are not right with God…well, that is just too much to wrap their minds around. Too much time had passed, too much water under the bridge. They were ‘old wineskins’ (Luke 5). They were gone: lost in the fantasy of religious elitism and special holy standing. Scriptures records very few of these folks who ever pulled up…Nicodemus and Saul (who became the apostle Paul) are a couple.

These fella’s had made up their minds about God: how He works and what it took to be part of the club. And that worked pretty good until Jesus came along. And now, to make matter worse, there was this guy who was blind and at the hands of Jesus could now see. This man wasn’t ‘in the club!’ He didn’t have the breeding or social status to be noticed by God! This man was throwing a wrench into everything they believed in! They had to act or their house of cards would crumble and fall. There is something about a so-changed individual…living and breathing and seeing right in front of you that takes the wind out of your sails!

Jesus spoke to these men in simplistic terms. It seemed He went out of His way to be clear and not to speak ‘over the heads’ of those who were listening. The picture that He drew for them was unambiguous. His point was that many folks had come onto the scene over the years who claimed to be sent by God, but the fruit of their lives and ministries said otherwise. Their actions were designed to ultimately gain prominence, position and power over people, and they sought labels and titles that exerted that authority, one that was never simply “servant.”  Philippians 2:7 tells us that Jesus “emptied Himself, by taking the form of a servant…”

The ‘sheepfold’ in the story is that special place of care in the life of the believer. The realm of safety and blessing that a true believer…a true lamb of God, lives out his or her life in Christ. Throughout the ages there have been innumerable attempts to find one’s way into that “sweet spot” in some other way than actually being a sheep. It is the created nature of man to desire that realm and that circumstance, but our flesh battles the surrender that is required. So man has busied themselves trying to find another way in…another way to gain that fortune without the personal cost expenditure. They all have been the inventions of men…claiming all the benefits and qualities of the real thing, but are still just cheap imports…knock-offs of the name brand. They can include church attendance, a plethora of good works, or a religious morality. They can go so far as to offer other ‘doors’…exalted religious leaders, bodily exercises or diet, special clothing and vaulted acts. Read this book, or bow this many times, or attend this seminar or that class: all ultimately designed to gain entrance into that special sheepfold of divine favor. And yet still we find that “narrow is the gate and difficult is the way which leads to life, and there are few that find it.” (Matthew 7:14)

Jesus said that His sheep follow Him because they know His voice. They know His voice, because they are His sheep. Those that offer another door as well as those who follow them in an attempt to gain access to the sheep fold are, according to Christ, thieves and robbers. Certainly over the years there are been many of these who have come here amongst us with the desire to glean the fortuity and benefits of being in this community but held back their love and commitment…no willingness to actually surrender their life to Christ or to others and thus be an actual sheep. They of course never last.

They are soon enamored by some other ‘shiny object’ and drift away, or they attempt to grab all they can and then move on to the next place once they cannot go any further or gain any other position or possession. But the end is always the same…they leave us “proving they were never part of us.” (1 Jn 2:19) Not because WE shut the door, but because the gatekeeper does. Men can be fooled, but God the gatekeeper never is. Titus 3:5 says that “he saved us, not because of the righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He washed away our sins, giving us a new birth and new life through the Holy Spirit.”

Jesus, you see, has a unique attribute and practice that defines Him as the ‘great shepherd’, and that is that He doesn’t push, He leads.  He sacrificed first, He surrendered His life first. He humbled Himself, gave of Himself, and loved God firstly in all things. And the sheep…the real sheep, follow Him in all matters. We hear His voice and we follow. The fact is that many folks can sit week after week in church and just don’t get it. They struggle to keep up with the sheep and blend into the fold, but they are always disoriented and half lost because they aren’t following the shepherd, they are following the other sheep! They can’t actually follow the Shepherd because they don’t hear His voice because they don’t know it. They don’t recognize His voice over the plethora of other voices in this world calling and even shouting directions: a bedlam of worldly noise and chaos.

 In that day, there were often several flocks in the same area, at the same time. But the sheep knew the voice of their shepherd and naturally moved out of the masses and followed the one shepherd who was theirs. Jesus is saying that, both then and today, His sheep do the same. Do you grasp this picture? For this is one of those defining scenarios for all of us that believe ourselves to be His. Do you hear His voice? Do you follow Him?

 Jesus goes on in the story to define Himself not only as a prophet and teacher…not just the embodiment of the shepherd-leader, but as divine, as the actual door into that sheepfold. Again, the analogy plays out for us. Because many are attempting to follow, but are quite unwilling to go through the door to get there. For it is not merely a matter of doing and following but the passing through the one and only door. It is not a matter of looking the part and mingling with the other sheep. Adhering to the ‘herd’ instinct will not get you into that sheepfold. Because even if you think you are a sheep, verse 14 says that HE knows His sheep. And they come through that “narrow door” one at a time.

 Others will stand in their doors and call. But Matthew 23:4-7 says those shepherds “…crush people with impossible religious demands and never lift a finger to ease the burden. Everything they do is for show. On their arms they wear extra wide prayer boxes with Scripture verses inside, and they wear robes with extra long tassels. And they love to sit at the head table at banquets and in the seats of honor in the synagogues. They love to receive respectful greetings as they walk in the marketplaces, and to be called ’Rabbi.’” Our shepherd loves the sheep and gives His life for them. He is not a hireling. He’s in for duration. Verse 9 says that we must enter through Him. Not by His words alone, or by religious ‘group-think.’ This seemingly small and often overlooked element in our faith, can cost us eternity. The scriptures are clear: You must be born again.

 That language may seem normal to us, but to a very large segment of the greater “church” (and I use that term loosely and broadly) it can cause brisling and knee jerks. Using that term…the term that Jesus Himself used, can garner you a label of ‘cult’ and ‘extreme.’ Language like “you aren’t one of those born again Christians, are you?” Why? Is there any other kind? Certainly Satan hates that term. He doesn’t mind it too much if you hang out with sheep and do sheep stuff, but to use that one singular door…well, that is where he attempts to ‘draw the line.’

 Again herein, we read of both the absolute aspect of entrance by and through Jesus, while still pointing out the area of human responsibility. I have to enter through that door. Jesus will not make me, but He will lead me to that place. But I have to move from the realm of the lost arena and enter though Him into the sheepfold. We have to enter via Christ alone and then follow Him. THAT is the definition of a Christ sheep. Acts 4:12 says “There is salvation in no one else! God has given no other name (and no other door) under heaven by which we must be saved.’’

False shepherds will use whatever is necessary to get you to follow them. They will lie, cheat, steal, spread gossip and rumor, and lull you into apathy. They will chip away slowly over long periods to draw you into places and positions that will over time steal your heart and passions. They will attempt to get you to compromise and pridefully ‘run with scissors.’ They will get you to just listen to them “a little bit” and put you places and in situations that are not only dangerous to you…even if you don’t readily see it, but situations that tell others by our actions that such practices are perfectly fine and safe.

 And those voices will never stop calling you for your entire lifetime. You will never be safe away from the close protection of the true shepherd. Because the fact is, “they ARE out to get you!”  They will never wear a sign that says “false shepherd.” They are often smooth and inviting and offer great ‘fields of green lush grass’ to entice you to just move away from the shepherd a little bit. Many are not overtly nefarious, but misguided and wrongly motivated. Often it is motivated by having lots of people in the pews and a big church building! And with that, we have made full circle back to the Pharisees! They are in it all for self-gratification and because they are therefore just ‘hirelings,’ they will move on when they fail to get what they want.

 The ‘good shepherd’ is one because He “lays down His life for His sheep.” It’s not about HIM but about the “Doorkeeper.” It’s about the Father. And that same scenario plays into the description of any “under-shepherd,” and it would greatly behoove me to remember that fact! Such is a daunting call.

 Jesus said that He would “lay down His life” for HIS sheep. They would not take it, He would give it. We can often lose track of that fact in the language of “they crucified Jesus.” Oh yes…they did the actual work, but Jesus died on purpose so His sheep might live. Jesus could have “slipped away” once again from the garden that night if He had wanted to. He did so many times before when His earthly work and message was not yet complete. In Matthew 26 Jesus spoke at His arrest in the garden saying to Peter “…do you think that I cannot appeal to the Father, and He will at once send me more than 12 legions of angels? But how then should the Scriptures be fulfilled, that it must be so?”

So let’s get this straight: Jesus…the door through which we all must pass in order to ever know salvation, to ever know the peace, safety, and blessing of His sheepfold, died for us His sheep. Passing through ‘that door’ therefore calls us to embrace the same. Not to hear it, or to believe it in our heads. But to actually pass through that door…allowing Him to be the “way” into that place of redemption and care. Romans 6:3-4 says “…have you forgotten that when we were joined with Christ Jesus in baptism, we joined him in his death? For we died and were buried with Christ by baptism. And just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glorious power of the Father, now we also may live new lives.”

Mark 8:35For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel's will save it.” Colossians 3:3  For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God.”

This is the door that we all must pass in order to be called one of His sheep and to find life in the His sheepfold.

Verse 9 : “If anyone enters by Me, he will be saved,
 and will go in and out and find pasture.”

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

YOU ARE THAT MAN!


 


David was King. It was his job, you know? Scripture evens records such in chapter 8 of this book, verse 15... "So David reigned over all Israel; and David administered judgment and justice to all his people." David was a leader of men...a teacher of teachers, a guide to the blind... a light to those who are in darkness. (Rom 2:19) But while David felt he could see just fine in order to direct others, what He couldn't see was himself! No doubt over the years of judging Israel...just as this story expressed, David passionately executed judgment upon the people around him...condemning sin...and correcting wrongs...and directing lives.

I have no doubt that being a "man after the heart of God" that David did a fair amount of scripture quoting over the years. He would have been...as he was in this chapter, quick to tell people what was wrong in their lives, and what God wanted from them, and what eternal error it was to ignore God's correction and negate God's sovereign power over them. In the story that Nathan presented, David responded by pointing out the lack of pity, the wicked heart behind such a sin, and the penalty that this 'man' deserved for such an act. We too are quick to point out such to others. Whether it be in our family devotions, in a home study somewhere, in the jail correctional ministry, or even at our workplaces...we are quick to teach righteousness when the light of introspection is not on us! We want to believe we 'are the man,' without realizing that "we are that man!”
It seems that all of us are or have been self-deceivers at some point in our lives. We are prone to it, capable of it, and never more likely to be in its grip than in those moments when we are sure we are not. Self-deception occurs when people who are committed to certain values act against those values while convincing themselves that what they are doing does not in fact violate those values. The disciple Peter, for example, told himself (and others) that he was strong and would never desert his master. He desired to be a person faithful unto death. Yet he was not that person. He valued something else more: his own skin. Until his moment of truth, until he faced the fact that not only could he not live up to his ideal of faithfulness but that he did not want to, he was self-deceived. Self-deception is thus like a narrative that finally fails to do justice to the facts. (Lloyd H. Steffen, associate professor of philosophy and religion and chaplain at Northland college in Ashland, Wisconsin)

How does all this occur? How can we be so blind? No doubt it stems from the stance that we believe we don't have to answer to the same spiritual and moral mandates that others do...that we are somehow 'special' or have 'special reasons' for our actions. Or we don't think we are fudging on such and that we aren't actually failing in that which we have so historically and quickly pronounced in the past as "upright and godly." Sometimes it is a highbred of both excuses. But ironically, everyone else sees us clearly, even when we don't...and therein lies the greatest problem in all of this.

The most disturbing aspects of the past 2 decades of ministry for me have not been the evil and narcissism of the world at large. Because it is clear that they are lost and they are blind. No surprises there! In fact, no falsehoods either. For those folks are so often openly and bravely lost sinners! No, the most troubling aspect is how we have developed as the greater church...as the body of Christ on earth. How we can bring such overt shame and recourse against the church, by being hypocrites and liars, and even can go beyond such by sanctioning ourselves and justifying our sin?
The fact is, many of us are so quick to teach others, and then go out and do the very thing we condemn them for! Paul saw such behavior even in his day. He spoke in Romans 2 about those who 'knew God's will'...and approved of "the things that are excellent," because they were knowledgeable. They had been well instructed in the things of God. Because of such a background both then and now, they were and are those who were "confident that they themselves were guides to the blind, and lights to those who are in darkness." That they are "instructors of the foolish,...teachers of babes."

But Paul recognized that there was something else here...something so damnable and damaging to the souls of men and to the street cred of the kingdom of God.  He asked these men..."you who teach others, do you not teach yourself?" "You who preach that a man should not steal, do you steal?" "You who say, "Do not commit adultery, do you commit adultery?" "You who abhor idols, do you rob temples?" "You who make your boast in the law, do you dishonor God through breaking the law?" And he went on to point out why he was asking all of this, saying because of their hypocrisy "the name of God is blasphemed ...because of you."
Surely the damage done by someone who stood for a certain lifestyle and preached a certain living, that went out and decided that he or she was 'special' or had a special dispensation to sin, will echo for years in the permissions the unsaved will give themselves, and the ridicule they will heap on a false church and a lying church, and yes, even the church that did not participate in such. Sadly, we will all be lumped together! Why would they want such a ruse as a faith that looks like that? They don't, and the 'blood is on our hands' …those who practice such and yet refuse to see that "we are that man."

The phrase "it is a sad thing to see" hardly does justice on this account. It pains me to such a degree because I am beyond embarrassed and I factually find myself ashamed. How can I apologize for this to those I seek to minister too? How do I explain the bible studies these folks taught and therein called for submission to authority, hearing the council of others, humility in the service of God, honesty amongst our brothers, not to mention the importance of thankfulness, loving each other, loyalty and commitment to their word, only to have that teacher publically break them all out of his idolatry and lust? I'm not suggesting that we that lead will ever find ourselves in the realm of sinless-ness! No...sadly we are often the best examples of how to screw things up. But we are God's examples... men "after the heart of God", only when we can admit our sin and repent of such. When we justify and dig in, we are the examples of the most sinful of men. We are therefore not Apostle Peters, but rather we are in fact Judas'.
1Samuel 15:23 says clearly that "...rebellion is as the sin of witchcraft, And stubbornness is as iniquity and idolatry. Because you have rejected the word of the LORD, He also has rejected you from being king."

When we follow Saul's footsteps, God will reject us also from being what He called us to be! We will not be the exception. No, you do not have a 'really good reason', and no, God is not calling you to do this. If He had, He would be a liar and a deceiver. And when we portray Him as thus, we stand in the gravest of places...we like David have ‘...despised the commandment of the LORD, to do evil in His sight...." (12:9)
Are you "that man?"

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Acts 29 East to West Conference Hightlights!


Here is some highlights of some of the staff's attendance at a Leadership/Pastors Conference in Prague last month! It was great and we have brought home so much info that we will be applying to OUR fellowship here at JFB!