Consider It Joy To Be Tested!

-Are We Prepared For Persecution?

It seems it’s time to ask ourselves if we’ve prepared our children and our grandchildren for a time when it might be against the law to be a Christian in this country! It doesn’t seem like the church, in general, has done a very good job of that! We have “Americanized” what it means to be a follower of Jesus! Christianity was birthed in a world that crucified its Founder! Jesus said, “If they crucify Me, they will crucify you!” The 1st-century follower of Jesus was considered a revolutionary! Do you know what the Roman government did with revolutionaries? They killed them!

-We’ve Sanitized The Faith!

All but one of Jesus’ disciples were killed or martyred for their faith! American Christianity knows nothing about that kinds of tests and trials. We’ve sanitized the faith! Somehow, we’ve accepted the lie that all you have to do is ask Jesus to be your Savior and you’ll never have another problem! Many believers have learned to look down on an individual who struggles in life like they’re just not very spiritual! We’ve accepted the lie that we’re entitled to live in a Christian, God-fearing, Bible-honoring America! But, God never made that promise! Quite the opposite!

-Called To Be Jesus To The World!

God calls us to be revolutionaries; He calls us to be Jesus to the world that crucified Him! He calls us to love them as Jesus loved them; even if it means dying to see them saved! God’s revolutionary looks a whole lot different than the world. Our revolutionary warfare is fought by the Spirit; not like Peter attempted in the Garden. Jesus told him to put away his sword. This war is fought on our knees in prayer! Our sword is the Word of God! He intends we take the Gospel to everyone around us! That’s Christ’s commission! The book of James is a dynamic declaration of what real discipleship looks like; how it’s fleshed out even as we go through testing.

-Responding To Trials & Tests!

You need James’ message because all of us are either coming out of a testing, we’re in the middle of a trial or test right now, or we’re heading into one! No one leaves this world unscathed. So, let me point out how James, under the divine inspiration of the Holy Spirit, tells us to respond to the trials & the tests & the disappointments of life! “Consider it a great joy, my brothers, whenever you experience various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. But endurance must do its complete work, so that you may be mature and complete, lacking nothing” James 1:2-4. What? Consider it a joy to be tested by God? That’s what he said!

-Committed To Facing Trials!

We need God’s supernatural help if we’re going to be committed to facing our trials with a joyful heart as James says! We need God’s help because “joy” is a fruit of the Holy Spirit (Galatians 5:22-26). That means that your flesh cannot produce a joyful heart! It’s incapable! Let me add that he’s not talking about “temptations” to sin here. We’re not supposed to be filled with “joy” when we face temptations to sin! We’re supposed to FLEE those kinds of temptations the Apostle Paul told Timothy (2 Tim. 2:22-24). James, here, is referring to the trials, tests, and difficulties of life! And, our flesh will never respond with “joy” when those things enter our lives! Because of our sinful flesh, our natural response is never going to please God, is it? Our flesh always wants to please our flesh! A spiritual response is counter-intuitive for us. It’s not natural! It’s God’s work in us! So, what James is calling for here will require that we crucify our flesh!

The Testing Of Your Faith

-A Terrible Secret!

The daughter of missionaries, to the Congo Republic, told the story of her participation in the celebration of the 100th anniversary of the 1st missionaries coming to that part of Africa. It was a huge celebration to commemorate the lasting impact of the work of those original missionaries. Special speakers were invited. There was lots of special worship music, festive meals, and many other planned activities.  At one point, she said that an aged native came forward & introduced himself as the last person alive who was privy to a terrible secret.

-They Tested Their Sincerity!

The old man confessed that 100 years earlier, his ancestors didn’t know whether to believe the message those 1st missionaries brought. So, to test the sincerity of the missionaries, they devised a plan. Slowly, secretly, and systematically they began poisoning the missionaries. Then, they watched intently as mothers said goodbye to children; husbands said goodbye to their wives, and friends said goodbye to one another. The old man explained that it was only as they saw how the missionaries died, that the truth of their message was confirmed. As a result, many came to believe & embrace the gospel message!

-A Faith That Remained Firm!

They observed a faith that remained as firm in death, as it was in life. It’s in James, chapter 1, where the writer— James; Jesus 1/2 brother— began his epistle like this:  “James, a slave of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ: To the 12 tribes which are scattered abroad…” Let me tell you why that introduction is significant. He’s writing to Jewish followers of Jesus Christ who have been “dispersed” or scattered in persecution for their faith. James’ purpose, for writing this letter, was to encourage them & offer them a basis & a reason for their suffering! To teach them that their pain was not pointless! That God had a purpose for it!

-On Display In An Unbelieving World!

And, part of His purpose for the pain & the suffering & the setbacks we endure, is to put us on display in an unbelieving world. The genuineness & quality of our faith is most visible & apparent during times of intense pain and testing. In other words, the gospel is seen most plainly & Jesus is seen as most valuable when we continue to pursue Him even during life’s trials & tests. Jesus’ ministry was authenticated, in part, by His response to betrayal, to false testimony & to His unlawful death. And, because He did not condemn them; but, said “Father, forgive them”, we see centurions & soldiers & many of the priests (who approved of His crucifixion) coming to believe in Him!

-Jesus In The Flesh!

There are people all around us who need to see Jesus in the flesh before they’ll believe! Like the 1st believers in the Congo, they need to see our response to pain, suffering & setbacks before they’ll come to faith and believe in the Jesus you say you believe in. James continued from his opening sentence with these words: “Consider it a great joy, my brothers, whenever you experience various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. But endurance must do its complete work, so that you may be mature and complete, lacking nothing.” (James 1:2-4) I sense a storm brewing in our land! Don’t you? We might be closing in on a day when it’s against the law to be a Christian! Church, we need to be teaching our children & our grand-children how to live in a culture & environment like the believers of James day lived. I don’t believe we’ve done a very good job of that! We haven’t prepared them! Will you pray for God’s help to do that?

Have The Attitude Of Jesus!

-Stuck In This Broken Flesh!

The Apostle Paul’s command to the Church of Philippi in the 2nd chapter of his letter to them is somewhat disturbing:  “Make your own attitude that of Christ Jesus,…” he says. Let that sink in for a moment! How are we going to do that, Church? How can we possibly have the attitude Jesus had; and think as He did? We’re stuck in this broken flesh! He was God! Paul went on to say that Jesus existed, “…in the form of God, & He did not consider equality with God as something to be used for His own advantage. Instead, He emptied Himself by assuming the form of a slave, taking on the likeness of men. And when He had come as a man in His external form, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death— even to death on a cross. For this reason, God highly exalted Him and gave Him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee will bow… and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (2:5-11).  How can we possibly have the same attitude that Jesus had? And, yet, we are commanded to!

-Encouragement In Christ!

Does that not disturb you a little, as it does me? I hope that it does, and I hope it drives you deeper into the text because there are 2 significant details that we can’t leave out if we hope to obey this command to have the attitude of Jesus. If you’ll look back to verse 1, you’ll see that Paul says, “If there is any encouragement IN CHRIST…” If there is an encouragement! If there is any hope in doing what Paul is about to direct this Church to do, it’s because of our position “IN CHRIST.” If you’re a follower of Jesus; if you believe in Him, you are IN CHRIST! And, Christ is IN YOU by the Holy Spirit! So, Paul is telling the church that we CAN have the attitude of Christ— that He’s going to describe for us next— because we are IN CHRIST!

-Work Out Your Own Salvation!

There’s a 2nd significant detail in this text. Look at verses 12-13. Paul says, “Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling. For it is God who is working in you, enabling you both to desire and to work out His good purpose.” Again, Paul gives us a command! You… work out your own salvation! Your Christian life is your responsibility. But, then he adds, “…it is GOD who is doing the WORK IN YOU…” It is because you are IN CHRIST that God enables you & gives you the desire! So, IN CHRIST, God enables us with a desire to think; or have the attitude of Jesus!

-An Attitude That Mirrors Jesus Christ!

I hope you’re tracking with me; because this is great stuff! And, let me show you the payoff! The idea, that we floated in our last post, that Jesus uses the transformed lives of our church to convict Sioux City (or your city!) of their need for a Savior, is why everything we do in life is significant. God uses the deep relationships— through our participation in Small Groups & Sunday School & ministry opportunities— to transform us into Gospel lights everywhere we go! In our places of work! In our neighborhoods! Even in our leisure! Let me show you why I say that! It’s found in v.15, where Paul says, “So that you may be blameless and pure, children of God who are faultless in a crooked and perverted generation, among whom you shine like stars in the world.” IN CHRIST, God enables us by giving us the desire to have the mind or attitude of Jesus! He will make us shine like stars in the world; and right here in our own city!

We Are Gospel Lights!

-Forgiveness Or Plotting Revenge?

So, what were fights like growing up in your home? When my sisters and I got into a fight, as long as there was no blood & everyone still had all their appendages attached, we were usually just made to hug each other and say we were sorry! That was pretty much what negotiating peace looked like in our family. But, as I meditate on it, that method had some pretty serious flaws because it never got to the heart of the issue behind the conflict. We were usually saying “I’m sorry” through gritted teeth at the same time we were plotting our revenge. We hadn’t truly forgiven each other. We just went through the motions so we could get our parents off our backs.

-What A Church Family Ought To Look Like!

If you’ll open your Bibles with me to Philippians chapter 2, let me remind you that it’s imperative to always consider the context of every Scripture in order to come to a correct interpretation. This is a letter, written by the Apostle Paul, to the Church of Philippi. So, his audience is a specific local church community. Just flip back to chapter 1, verse 1, where it says Paul was writing “…to all the saints in Christ Jesus who are in Philippi, with the Elders and the Deacons…” So, we need to keep in mind that all his references to “you” are meant to include the church family of Philippi as a whole. This is what a church family should look like, Paul says. This is how you work through conflicts.

-The Way You Do Church Matters!

Here’s why the way you do church matters both inside the church and outside. Because it impacts & affects our ability to make disciples in our city.  Let’s remember that the New Testament begins with the announcement that the Messiah had come! That Jesus was His name; and, for 33 1/2 years He lived a perfect, sinless life; and then willingly died as God’s sacrificial lamb to pay for the sin of the world. On the 3rd day He rose from the dead; and, before ascending back to the Father, He commissioned His followers to make disciples & to establish local churches everywhere they went. And, for the most part, the rest of the New Testament is all about life and community within the local church body.

-Church Behavior Impacts The World!

There is a consistent sub-theme that weaves its way through all the Epistles & letters of the New Testament. And, this is it— how the church lives, on the inside, has a direct bearing on how many people, on the outside, come to know Jesus! We are not an island; nor do we live our lives in a vacuum. If our city rejects Jesus, we are part of the problem. Sioux City, Iowa has been my home for the last 19 years & Jesus uses the transformed lives of our church to convict Sioux City of their need for a Savior. That’s the message that Paul shares in Philippians, and it’s the persistent message in the New Testament.

-An Attitude That Mirrors Jesus Christ!

As we look into this small; but dynamic book, that’s what we see. Paul is challenging this Church to live their lives in a way that adorns the Gospel. And, that happens only as we take on the mind of Christ, Paul says. “Make your own attitude that of Christ Jesus, who, existing in the form of God, did not consider equality with God as something to be used for His own advantage. Instead, He emptied Himself by assuming the form of a slave, taking on the likeness of men. And when He had come as a man in His external form, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death— even to death on a cross. For this reason, God highly exalted Him and gave Him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee will bow… and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (2:5-11). It’s a command; an imperative to the church to have the attitude Jesus had!

Speaking Truth With Grace!

Today Is Last Post Until June 15th

-Uncomfortable Subjects!

Over 40 years of ministry, I’ve learned that if I’m going to be committed to preaching the whole counsel of God’s word, I’m going to have to deal with some passages that will make my audience uncomfortable to hear it; and me, uncomfortable to preach it. 1 Corinthians, chapter 6, is one of those passages; and as much as I would love to avoid it, the Spirit of God compels me to preach it and to teach it. It addresses a topic that I cannot sidestep & neither can you. You & I need this message because we need to hear from God on this subject; and if you ever hope to disciple individuals caught up in certain sins, as the Apostle Paul outlines here, they’ll also need to hear what God has to say.

-No Inheritance In God’s Kingdom!

Here’s what Paul writes to the local church of Corinth: “Don’t you know that the unrighteous will not inherit God’s kingdom? Do not be deceived: No sexually immoral people, idolaters, adulterers, or anyone practicing homosexuality, no thieves, greedy people, drunkards, verbally abusive people, or swindlers will inherit God’s kingdom. And some of you used to be like this. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God” (1 Corinthians 6:9-11). If Paul was writing this letter in our day, it most certainly would have been addressed to the Churches of America. Of the 12 NT epistles, with Paul’s name on it, the sins he calls out the Church of Corinth for most closely resemble our own culture. As I open up this volatile “can of worms” my greatest fear is NOT any negative backlash I might face for taking up a Biblical position on the subject matter! My greatest fear, in presenting this message, is being misunderstood & being portrayed as hateful, mean-spirited & unloving toward the LGBTQ+ community.

-We Neither Celebrate Nor Hate!

The dominant culture today tells us we have only 2 choices; that there are only 2 possible camps! You either “celebrate” LGBTQ+ sexuality, or you’re “haters.” If you don’t support them, you hate them. On Biblical grounds, I reject both of those camps! God gives us a better way! If we grasp the truth of the Good News of the Gospel, then we have something better to bring to this discussion. As followers of Jesus, we cannot base our belief system or our worldview on public opinion! That’s shifting sand! Public opinion is a moving target; but we’re called to live by the immutable, unchanging Word of God. And, as God of the universe, He is the final authority on every matter, including our sexuality. He created us “male” and “female” according to the creation account in the book of Genesis. In other words, He created us gender-specific. In the same creation account, God instructed the “man” to leave his father and mother & cleave to his “wife.” It was God who created marriage; and, we dare not change it!

-So How Do We Respond?

As followers of Christ, then, how do we respond to a prevailing culture that has rejected the absolute truth of Scripture? As followers of Christ, how do we respond to a culture that insists on normalizing sexual behavior that is labeled as sin in God’s Word? The key part of that question is “…as FOLLOWERS of Jesus Christ…” How do we respond as followers of Jesus Christ? I’ve often been amazed at how Jesus never compromised the truth of God’s law; and yet He was loved by sinners! No one ever lived a more righteous life. No one exalted God’s standards more than Jesus. So, how could He also be called the “friend of sinners”? It was because He was full of truth AND GRACE! And, in a sex-crazed & sexually-confused world that’s exactly how we’ll respond if we’re following Jesus. When encountering anyone caught up in sexual sin, we act most like Jesus by showing them truth AND GRACE! Every sinner needs truth mingled with love AND GRACE!

Radical Trust In Jesus!

-Entering The Kingdom!

Here’s the thing— entrance into the Kingdom of God requires radical trust in Jesus! Why do I say that? In Luke, chapter 5, Jesus is calling His disciples to Himself; and, He comes to Simon Peter, a fisherman; and, v.4 says:  “When Jesus had finished speaking, He said to Simon, ‘Put out into deep water and let down your nets for a catch.’  ‘Master,’ Simon replied, ‘we’ve worked hard all night long and caught nothing! But at Your word, I’ll let down the nets.’” Only Jesus could have convinced Peter to do it! And, then, v.6 says:  “When they did this, they caught a great number of fish, and their nets began to tear. So they signaled to their partners in the other boat to come and help them; they came and filled both boats so full that they began to sink. When Simon Peter saw this, he fell at Jesus’ knees and said, ‘Go away from me, because I’m a sinful man, Lord!’”

-Radical Transformation!

Now it seems to be Luke’s method of operation to use that term, “LORD”, whenever a radical transformation takes place in someone’s life. Peter was radically converted to Jesus Christ; and, from this point forward, he lived the balance of his life for God’s Kingdom in pursuit of God’s Kingdom! In the next chapter, of Luke’s Gospel, Jesus introduces a new kind of value system for entrance into God’s Kingdom. Living for this world’s values will not gain you entry into God’s Kingdom. His Kingdom value system is upside down; and, counter-intuitive when compared with this world. In other words, entrance into the Kingdom of God also requires a new value system! Jesus declares 8 blessings, in His “Sermon On The Mount”, that He says are necessary to enter into God’s Kingdom. Looking at His disciples, “…He said, You who are poor of spirit are blessed because the kingdom of God is yours. You who are now hungry are blessed, because you will be filled. You who now weep are blessed, because you will laugh. You are blessed when people hate you, when they exclude you, insult you, and slander your name as evil because of the Son of Man. Rejoice in that day and leap for joy! Take note—your reward is great in heaven…”

-Kingdom Values!

Jesus’ Kingdom values fly in the face of the things considered of value here in this world. We live in an age of consumerism, narcissism; and, living for today. Those are not values in God’s Kingdom; and, all of it will pass away one day! It is the poor in spirit; or, the humble, that are blessed in God’s Kingdom. There’s deep joy, not the superficial, fleeting happiness that plagues this generation. There is a trade-off! If you desire God’s Kingdom, you have to give up the value system of this world; and, long for the eternal. And, once you enter the Kingdom by new birth; and, begin to follow Jesus radically, the things of this world will begin to lose their appeal. As Jesus changes your affections, you’ll feel the blessings!

-A Sacrificial Life Required!

Here’s one of Jesus’ most difficult sayings:  “As they were traveling on the road someone said to Him, ‘I will follow You wherever You go!’ Jesus told him, ‘Foxes have dens, and birds of the sky have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay His head.’ Then He said to another, ‘Follow Me.’ ‘Lord,’ he said, ‘first let me go bury my father.’ But He told him, ‘Let the dead bury their own dead, but you go and spread the news of the kingdom of God.’ Another also said, ‘I will follow You, Lord, but first let me go and say good-bye to those at my house.’ But Jesus said to him, ‘No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God’” (Luke 9:57-62). There’s more going on here than meets the eye. Earlier, in v.51, it says, “Jesus set His face to Jerusalem.” He’s speaking of His mission as He calls some to follow Him. His mission would end on a cross! God’s Kingdom begins at the cross; and, Jesus calls us to a similar sacrifice!

The Kingdom Of God!

-Where Trees Fall Up!

As crazy as it sounds, there is a place, in this world, where trees fall “up” when they’ve been cut. The place is in Para, Brazil where thousands of acres of rainforest were flooded with the building of a hydroelectric dam back in 1980. Underwater lumberjacks in submarines harvest trees as far down as 164 feet below the surface; and, they never have to worry about a tree falling on them after it’s been cut since they all fall “up” to the surface. This happens because it’s a place that operates under a different set of laws.

-A Kingdom By A Different Set Of Laws!

From the very beginning of Jesus’ public ministry, He offered His followers an opportunity to enter the Kingdom of God— a kingdom that operates by a different set of laws! As He unpacked & defined God’s Kingdom over His 3 1/2 year ministry, Jesus was careful to set it apart from the kingdoms of this world. God’s kingdom was nothing like this world’s kingdoms! Even as He stood trial, before Rome, He explained to a somewhat confused Pontius Pilate: “’My kingdom is not of this world,’ said Jesus. ‘If My kingdom were of this world, My servants would fight, so that I wouldn’t be handed over to the Jews. As it is, My kingdom does not have its origin here’” John 18:36. The principles, of God’s Kingdom, defy the laws of this world.

-What Is Greatness In God’s Kingdom?

In God’s Kingdom what was once up is down; and, what was once down is up. Greatness in God’s Kingdom is completely different from greatness in the kingdoms of this world; and, you will be unable to grasp a significant portion of Jesus’ teaching if you don’t understand the doctrine of God’s Kingdom! I don’t think I’m overstating my case one bit to say that the Kingdom of God is perhaps the main overriding theme in the entire Bible; and, if you dissect the content of all of Jesus’ words, in the 4 Gospels, it is the main message Jesus preached! Depending on your Bible translation, mention of God’s Kingdom is found some 147 times in the New Testament; and, 86 of those are in the 4 Gospels.

-The Substance Of God’s Kingdom!

The substance of God’s Kingdom is the people of God living in God’s place under the authority of God! That is foundational to a doctrinally sound understanding of what God’s kingdom looks like. From eternity past, God purposed to create a people for Himself. And, God’s Kingdom pattern began inside the Garden of Eden where God walked in perfect relationship with Adam & Eve. You can see all God’s Kingdom elements there— the people of God were living in God’s place under the authority of God! But, sin effectively murdered the entire human race in Adam; and, the pattern of God’s Kingdom was broken because of sin. Then, God reestablishes the pattern of His Kingdom through Israel.

-A Christian Nation?

God removes Israel from Egypt, at the Exodus; and, relocates them in the land of promise. Again, we see God’s Kingdom elements— the people of God living in God’s place under the authority of God! It was an utterly unique relationship! It was a Theocracy where God ruled! Never before or never since has there been such a relationship between God and a nation of this world. That’s something we must always keep in mind as we make comparisons to our own country. We are not; nor, have we ever been a “Christian nation” in that sense. We are NOT Israel! Only one nation, Israel, has ever had a “land contract” with God! We are not a Theocracy where God rules through His anointed prophets and kings. Nor has the church replaced Israel! God still has plans for Israel that He intends to finish. Israel remains prominent in Bible Prophecy! And, we also know, from Scripture, that Jesus will ultimately be the fulfillment of God’s Kingdom pattern!  Amen!

The Good News Of The Gospel!

-The Beginning Of Jesus’ Gospel!

At Jesus’ baptism, John the Baptizer said:  “Here is the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world! This is the One I told you about” (John 1:29-30).  The Biblical writer, Mark, opens his account of Jesus’ life like this:  “The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.” The word “gospel”; or, “euangelion” in the original Greek language, means “good news”; and, it’s found more than 100 times in the New Testament Scriptures. It’s used in the context of “justification”; or, becoming a born again believer; and, “sanctification”; or, spiritual growth as a follower of Jesus; and, even “glorification”; or, the completion of our salvation when we get a resurrected body like Jesus’ body.

-The Gospel In Everyday Life!

So, we need to ask by the Gospel of Jesus Christ has been limited, in many churches, to Easter Sunday sermons; and, to altar calls, as though it only applies to our getting saved; and, not to our growth or sanctification in Christ? If you ask most Christians, “How do you apply the Gospel to the everyday stuff of life?” they wouldn’t know how to answer! I submit to you that the Gospel has everything to do with every single thing you go through in your life. Here’s how we need to unpack the Gospel of Jesus Christ:  “Whatever the question, Jesus is the answer! Whatever the problem, Jesus is the solution!” That’s not original with me; but, I have no recollection where I first heard it! But, I can’t think of a more complete; but, simple way to define the Gospel of Jesus Christ!

-We Never Graduate From Jesus!

What Jesus accomplished on the cross, for you, has everything to do with your family, your work; and, even the painful struggles of life. You need to grab hold of that truth if you’re a follower of Jesus; or, you will flounder greatly in your faith. The Gospel, of Jesus Christ, isn’t just for salvation; or, your justification! We never graduate from Jesus and His Gospel. Whatever you’re questioning in life, the Gospel of Jesus Christ is the answer; and, whatever the problem you’re facing, the Gospel of Jesus Christ is the solution! One of the biggest flaws in the way that we have made disciples is we’ve taught them how to successfully navigate the Christian life; or, to grow in their sanctification, without Jesus! One of the biggest flaws, in our prayer life, is that we pray that God will change the circumstances! Rarely will God answer that prayer!

-The Prayer God Wants Us To Pray!

He wants us to pray, NOT for a change of circumstances; but, for a change of heart; and, that only happens as we apply the truth of the Gospel. The Gospel of Jesus Christ is activated as you prepare the way for Him to enter your life. As Jesus’ forerunner, John the Baptizer prepared the world for His arrival. We have to prepare the way, in our own private world, for Jesus to enter. I mean, by that, that we must give proper place to Him. We must denounce all other competing loves!

-Not Worthy Of Me!

In Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus said, “He who loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me. And he who loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me. And he who does not take his cross and follow after Me is not worthy of Me. He who finds his life will lose it, and he who loses his life for My sake will find it” (10:37-39). To prepare the way for Jesus the Messiah to enter your heart, you must see Him as the ultimate value! He is of greater value than all of our other loves! His worth is infinitely greater than even the great worth we attach to our mothers & our fathers & our children; and, to our own lives also! Jesus is the ultimate value of the universe; and, the good news of His Gospel tells us that as much meaning & enjoyment as we may experience in the pleasure of God’s created things around us, none of these will do for us what the Gospel of Jesus Christ will! And, so, we must prepare the way of the Lord in our hearts & lives.

Messiah; Or, Not?

-Messiah’s Everywhere!

Because of the times, it wasn’t at all uncommon for “Messiahs” to pop up all over Israel before and after Jesus’ arrival on the scene! Many were “military Messiah’s” claiming the ability & power to overthrow the Roman occupation of Israel. And, because so many of the O.T. descriptions, of Messiah, depicted a conquering king, the hopes of the people would rise each time it appeared that one of these “Messiahs” could deliver them from their oppression; and, make Israel great again!

-Protocols To Confirm Legitimacy!

So, because of all the anticipation & hope, of a coming Messiah; and, because of all the failed “Messiahs”, the Jewish religious leaders developed specific protocols to follow whenever anyone came on the scene claiming to be the Messiah. Historical records reveal a 3-step process that the Scribes and Pharisees used to investigate every Messianic claim. Just explore Matthew’s gospel— written specifically to a Jewish audience— and observe how this process played out with Jesus’ claims. Like the Scribes and Pharisees, you need to consider the evidence; and, make your own decision about Jesus Christ. You cannot remain neutral about Jesus!

-Liar, Lunatic; Or, Lord!

As C.S. Lewis put it, Jesus was either a liar (and, therefore not a good person); or, He was a lunatic (and, therefore to be pitied); or, He was Lord, the Messiah, God in the flesh and worthy of all our devotion & worship! So, let’s suppose that we were part of the religious contingent when Jesus came on the scene. Here’s how they would have responded as the claims of miracles & Messiahship began to come to their attention. First, they would begin to observe the Messianic claims from afar! That’s precisely what we see in Matthew’s gospel. A delegation was assembled, by the religious leaders; and, they simply observed Jesus. They asked no questions; and, they raised no objections.

-Observing Messianic Claims!

Their only purpose, at the first, was to put together as much information as they could to determine if the claim was legitimate enough to advance to the 2nd step. They would report back to the Sanhedrin where the religious leaders would determine, from the observations, what the next step would be moving forward. Was it a legitimate movement? Was it significant? If not, they’d call off the investigation; and, the so-called “Messianic” movement would just die a slow death! That’s most likely what was happening, in Acts chapter 5 when Gamaliel made his comments about the followers of Jesus. He warned them to be careful what they did with these followers. Let them go; and, they may just scatter over time! “But if it is of God,” he said, “you will not be able to overthrow them. You may even be fighting against God.” Jesus was still being debated after His death.

-If The Messianic Claims Were Legit!

If the Sanhedrin determined the Messianic claims were potentially legitimate, they’d move to the next stage. The Messianic examination would continue with interrogations. At this point, the delegation was permitted to interview all bystanders; as well as the leaders in the movement; and, even the one claiming to be the Messiah. They would interact with His teachings; they’d raise objections; and, even attempt to trap him in such a way as to break him out of his “Messianic” character. From their studies in the Old Testament, the Jewish Rabbis; and, religious leaders knew that the Messiah would fulfill prophecy & complete certain tasks that only God would be able to perform. We know, from the Jewish writings of the time, that the sages of Israel believed the Messiah would perform 3 specific miracles to validate His identity. And, we’ve run out of time & space! So, we’ll pick it up there at our next post!

Sound Asleep!

-A Disturbing Prejudicial Response!

For anyone claiming to follow Jesus, the Old Testament story of Jonah is a disturbing one! Our posts the last few weeks have focused on Jonah’s story. And, while it’s startling to observe Jonah’s prejudicial response to the revival of the people of Ninevah, we may be more like Jonah than we know; or, than we care to admit! The church cannot hold prejudice against any other people group, nation, or religion; and, remain true to Jesus’ commission to make disciples of every tribe, nation & people group. To make us useful, in His kingdom purposes, God must awaken us to souls nearby!

-Wake Up! Call To Your God!

Just turn back to Jonah, chapter 1, with me, and pay close attention to the words of the ship’s captain. Remember, this is the ship that Jonah chose to take passage on as he ran away from God’s calling to share the gospel message with the city of Ninevah. Starting at v.4, “Then the Lord hurled a violent wind on the sea & such a violent storm arose on the sea that the ship threatened to break apart. The sailors were afraid, and each cried out to his god. They threw the ship’s cargo into the sea to lighten the load. Meanwhile, Jonah had gone down to the lowest part of the vessel & had stretched out & fallen into a deep sleep. The captain approached him & said, ‘What are you doing sound asleep? Get up! Call to your god. Maybe this god will consider us & we won’t perish’” (1:4-6).

-Silencing The Call Of God!

As I studied my way through this passage, the words of the ship’s captain arrested my attention. As I read it, I just let it play out in my mind like a TV drama; except, I saw it from Jonah’s vantage point— a believer;  a prophet of God; commissioned by God to take His word to another people group! But, he ran from that call! Getting on that ship; and, finding a place deep in its belly, he was determined to silence the call of God by just “sleeping it off.” He’d just wake up in a new place where, hopefully, God would just give up on him. But, as he slept— a deep sleep it says— a violent wind & storm arose on the sea; and, all the crewmen feared for their lives! So much so, that it says they, “…each CRIED OUT to their god…”

-What Are You Doing Sound Asleep?

Then, while beginning to throw the cargo overboard to keep the ship from breaking apart, the captain stumbles onto Jonah, wakes him; and, asks him:  “What are you doing sound asleep?” And, then he rebukes him, “Get up! Call to your god. Maybe this god will consider us, and we won’t perish.” What an embarrassing role reversal this was for Jonah! Who was the spiritually motivated one? The more I meditated on that picture the more it kind of morphed into an image of OUR day! Have you noticed that there’s a major storm brewing all around us with wars & rumors of wars with the constant threat of nuclear weapons? There’s fear of a worldwide economic collapse!

-Down In The Belly Of The Ship!

There’s political unrest; and, a huge racism problem. And, to personalize the drama of Jonah’s story, WE are down in the belly of the ship! Many of us, who claim to be followers of Jesus, are running away from our calling! And, just like Jonah, we’re sound asleep! Even the unbelievers around us are recognizing the grave danger we’re in. All the cargo— the stuff of this world— isn’t worth keeping. Many of the lost all around us are crying out for help; and, in my mind I see the lost discovering me down in the ship; and, they’re angry! Angry at my non-loving, non-caring attitude toward them. Why wasn’t I helping them? They cry out the same words as the ship’s captain, “What are you doing sound asleep?” If you’ve been asleep; and, God’s Spirit is rousing you, let me remind you that He is the God of 2nd chances! Even as He gave Jonah a chance, He offers you a chance to repent & jump into God’s work?