Monday, August 29, 2016

The Untouchable

Matthew 8:1-4 (The Message version)

Jesus came down the mountain with the cheers of the crowd still ringing in his ears. Then a leper appeared and went to his knees before Jesus, praying, “Master, if you want to, you can heal my body.”Jesus reached out and touched him, saying, “I want to. Be clean.” Then and there, all signs of the leprosy were gone. Jesus said, “Don’t talk about this all over town. Just quietly present your healed body to the priest, along with the appropriate expressions of thanks to God. Your cleansed and grateful life, not your words, will bear witness to what I have done.”
Things to think about:

  • Leprosy is a disease that attacks the nerves. Left untreated it causes damage to the skin, nerves, eyes, and limbs.  By itself, it does not cause body parts to fall of, rather that comes from secondary infections that are often left untreated because of numbness.  Because it was thought to be highly contagious, “The Untouchables" traditionally have lived quarantined lives away from the “healthy” population. 
    • I didn’t know any of this stuff. I thought it was flesh-eating disease that caused fingers, noses, ears, etc. to fall off.
    • interestingly, one can have the infection for up to 20 years before exhibiting symptoms  
  • while I don’t think any of us have leprosy, we all have a sin problem. This sin problem dulls our senses and sensitivities causing various parts of our lives to become unfit for their proper function.
    • depending on what the manifestation of one's sin is, a person can also be ostracized by society, family , friends 
    • I’m thinking of things like addictions (alcohol, drugs, pornography, gambling), adultery, stealing
    • can you see the connection between an insidious disease like leprosy and the analogy to sin?
  • I love the leper! This sick man simply falls to his knees and says to Jesus, “Master, if you want to, you can heal my body.”
    • He acknowledges Jesus for Who He is - Master
    • He appeals to Jesus’ gracious nature, “if you want to"
    • He asks for His healing power
  • Jesus is immediate in His  compassion - “I want to”
    • He is immediate in His action - He reached out and touched him
  • Who has God placed in your path who is an “untouchable”?
    • are you willing to befriend them?
    • is there an act of mercy or compassion that you could extend to them to make a meaningful change in their life?
      • e.g., offering forgiveness or being generous with your time or gifts
  • Then Jesus says a strange thing (strange at least to me), “Don’t talk about this…”
    • can you imagine in our age of social media??? This would blow up on Facebook!
    • Instead, Jesus tells the man to go to the place of worship and present himself to the priest (quite possibly an opponent of His)
      • notice I didn’t call him "the leper" this time? We are not defined by our shortcomings once we have met the Savior
    • He also tells the healed man to give an appropriate thanks offering to God
      • short of his very life, what would be an “appropriate expression of thanks to God”???
      • And that’s just what Jesus tells him - let your “cleansed and grateful life.. bear witness to what I have done."
    • We have been healed of way more than leprosy!
      • What is an appropriate expression of gratitude that God is nudging you with right now?
      • Why are mere words and religious ceremony inadequate?
  • Give thanks to God today today by living your gratitude “out loud” so that your very life bears witness to what He has done for YOU!

Monday, August 22, 2016

Study, Obey, Teach - in that order

Let’s look at Ezra 7:10. In case you don’t have this one already memorized, here you go:

10 For Ezra had devoted himself to the study and observance of the Law of the Lord, and to teaching its decrees and laws in Israel.

Things to think about:
  • There are three things the prophet Ezra is modeling for us that bear closer examination
    • He studied the Law, he obeyed the Law, and he taught the Law
    • You can’t do right if you don’t know what’s right, and you certainly can’t teach what you don’t live (just ask your kids about that last one!)
  • So let’s start with Study
    • 2 Timothy 3:16-17 “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, 17 so that the servant of God[a] may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.”
      • Notice it doesn’t say the seminary trained pastor may be equipped, but simply “the servant of God”
    • Psalm 119:11-12 “I have hidden your word in my heart that I might not sin against you.12 Praise be to you, Lord; teach me your decrees.”
    • How is your study time going today? If you’re on a roll, what do you attribute it to? If you’re struggling, what seems to be the barrier?
  • Obey
    • James 1:22-25 Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. 23 Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like someone who looks at his face in a mirror 24 and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like. 25 But whoever looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues in it—not forgetting what they have heard, but doing it—they will be blessed in what they do.”
    • 1 Samuel 15:22 “Does the LORD delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices as much as in obeying the LORD? To obey is better than sacrifice, and to heed is better than the fat of rams.”
    • Psalm 119:1-2 “Blessed are those whose ways are blameless, who walk according to the law of the Lord.Blessed are those who keep his statutes and seek him with all their heart—“
    • I like how James says to “look intently”. Maybe we would benefit from slowing down and not trying to gulp down too much spiritual food in one sitting (maybe I should reconsider all of the scriptures in this email!)
    • King Saul disqualified himself by trying to pass off “pretty good obedience” as good enough. God says, “Be holy as I am holy”.
    • It is likely that all of us at the table this morning have good intentions and want to follow Jesus. At the same time, it is for sure that all of us fall short of the standard. Even Paul in Romans 7 talks about this “So I find this law at work: Although I want to do good, evil is right there with me. For in my inner being I delight in God’s law; but I see another law at work in me, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within me. What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death? Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord!”
      • Do we have to be perfect to be called obedient?
  • Teach
    • Matthew 28:18-20 “ Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”
    • 1 Corinthians 4:1 “This, then, is how you ought to regard us: as servants of Christ and as those entrusted with the mysteries God has revealed.”
    • Are you actively engaged in teach (discipling) anyone today?
    • Is God putting someone in your life that needs to grow in their understanding of who He is and how much He loves them?
  • Which of these three is the hardest for you? Why?

Monday, August 15, 2016

A Red Letter Day

According to the dictionary, a red letter day is "a day that is pleasantly noteworthy or memorable.” But maybe there is a more important meaning to red letters than that. We’ll be looking at the words of Jesus which of course are found in many Bibles in red letters. We know that all Scripture is God-breathed but those words that appear in red letters certainly do seem to carry just a little bit more weight.

I have been reading the Book of Matthew and came to the famous Sermon on the Mount in beginning in chapter 5 .  There,  Jesus is expanding on what the listeners had traditionally been taught as “the Law”. He says that He did not come to abolish the Law but rather to fulfill it.  And yet, He holds out an even higher standard to His listeners than what was already unattainable. Whether it is murder versus anger, adultery versus lust, or loving friends versus enemies, there are many teachings He presents that are hard to come to grips with. But if it is in red letters then it comes from the highest authority and is therefore non-negotiable,  and as a follower of Christ it must be for me.

Things to think about:

  • There are six variations on the Law Jesus identifies:
    • Murder, Adultery, Divorce, Oaths, Eye for Eye, Loving Enemies
    • let’s read each one
  • Which of the six areas of contrast is most challenging for you intellectually, spiritually, or practically?
    • why did you pick that one?
  • The Pharisees were the “ruling party” at the time and they placed a great emphasis on the appearance of keeping the law
  • What is the distinction Jesus is making with topics like murder/anger, adultery/lust, etc.?
    • why does our attitude matter to Him and not just our actions?
  • Traps to avoid - Relativism, Religiosity, Rationalization
    • Relativism would be comparing our attitudes and actions to those outside of the church - “well, this is way better than what unbelievers are doing."
    • Religiosity would be comparing our attitudes and actions to those within the church - “well, I’m keeping the letter of the law (sort of)” or “this will look good to those who know what I’m supposed to be doing."
    • Rationalization would be comparing our attitudes and actions to ourselves - “well, it may not be perfect but it’s better than what I was doing.” or “God knows how I am and He knows I just can’t help it.”
      • are one or more of these excuses that might ring a little too true??
  • God has given us several tools to become the men He would have us be:
    • His Word to teach us
    • His Son to show us
    • His Spirit to help us
    • His Church to encourage us
  • May today be a red letter day for each of us as we take to heart the words Jesus has spoken so that we can continue to grow in His likeness 

Monday, August 8, 2016

Leading Lives of Quiet Aspiration

If you go on one of the famous life coaches’ web sites like Tony Robbins, you will see lots of advice for maximizing your personal success. In fact, for a fee of $650 - $3,000 you can learn about “Unleashing the Power Within”, "Life and Wealth Mastery”, and your “Date with Destiny”.  This is all about living big, living bold, and being exceptional. I’m not suggesting there isn’t merit in some of the curriculum but what does one of God’s life coaches, the Apostle Paul, say we should aspire to? 

In 1 Thessalonians 4:11-12 we are given encouragement of another kind:

11make it your ambition to lead a quiet life: You should mind your own business and work with your hands, just as we told you,12 so that your daily life may win the respect of outsiders and so that you will not be dependent on anybody.

Things to think about:

  • Well, that doesn’t sound very spectacular or world changing! In fact, in 21st century America “make it your ambition to lead a quiet life” sounds like giving up.  Henry David Thoreau famously wrote that “most men lead lives of quiet desperation”. So a quiet life is a desperate life?
    • what does being ambitious mean to you? Do you have a different definition professionally versus personally?
    • what is your ambition? Have you ever articulated it to someone else?
  • What is a quiet life?
    • does that mean we should be disengaged or passive? why or why not?
    • in the Beatitudes, Jesus says, “Blessed are the poor in spirit for theirs is the kingdom of God” and “Blessed are the meek for they shall inherit the earth.”
    • How does a Type A person in our culture lead a quiet life?
  • “You should mind your own business”
    • In what ways do we not mind our own business?
    • when should we get involved?
    • why is gossiping so malignant?
    • Apparently Paul had some lazy folks on Thessalonica who weren't working but were busy being busybodies.  2 Thessalonians 3:11, " we hear that some among you walk in idleness, not busy at work, but busybodies.”
  • Work with your hands
    • I thought I went to college so I wouldn’t have to work with my hands! 
    • Paul gives great nobility here to old fashioned hard work.
    • The idea here I believe is that diligent work, of whatever kind, is honoring to God. 
      • Colossians 3:23-24, "23 Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, 24 knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. You are serving the Lord Christ. "
  • God’s kingdom is built by men and women who lead quiet lives, working honestly and humbly
    • people in your sphere of influence are watching you
    • when we profess to be followers of Jesus, our lives go under the microscope of all the others who make the same claim and haven’t lived up to the standard
    • when folks outside of God’s family see genuine humility, coupled with honest work, it is winsome and respectable
    • when done well, we can be a blessing and not burden on others

Monday, August 1, 2016

My Friend, the Attorney

Let’s look at Job 9:32-35. Of course, Job is in the throes of having had everything stripped away from him and his friends are telling him it’s probably because he is a sinner and God is punishing him. Job is making a defense for himself but realizes that going mano a mano with God isn’t a great strategy.  Our passage below picks up the story.  The key verse I’d like to highlight is 33, “If only there was someone to mediate between us, someone to bring us together”.

“He is not a mere mortal like me that I might answer him,
    that we might confront each other in court.
33 If only there were someone to mediate between us,
    someone to bring us together,
34 someone to remove God’s rod from me,
    so that his terror would frighten me no more.
35 Then I would speak up without fear of him,
    but as it now stands with me, I cannot.

Things to think about:
·       When things aren’t going our way, a very natural tendency is to try and figure out, “What did I do to deserve this?” 
o   Sometimes this may be true, as bad decisions generally reap bad consequences.
o   We may have others encouraging this line of thinking
o   Other times though, we don’t really have the capacity to see the bigger picture. See John 9:2
o   Can you think of a particularly trying time when faith in God gave way to self-doubt?
·       While he was once a very rich and powerful man, Job realizes here that he isn’t dealing with just another man, but God Himself
o   As a result, he is not up to the task to confront God directly
o   In a court of law, we do not rely on our own skills to obtain a favorable verdict, but rather we enlist the help of a trained and experienced intercessor
§  When we do act as our own lawyer with God, what evidence do we typically bring forward?
o   See Job 16:19-21. Twice his advocate is called “friend”
·       The obvious parallel is Jesus as our mediator, see 1 Timothy 2:5
o   Bringing together two thoughts, Jesus as our mediator, and from the verse above, He is our friend, then we realize that we are not just another case on the docket for the public defender, but a dear and precious friend who is in desperate straits
o   Moreover, not only does He intercede for us, but He goes way beyond that and does what no attorney would do: He says “Free my friend, I will take his punishment Myself.”
·       Job closes by saying that if there was such a Mediator, he would speak up without fear
o   Romans 8:15 says, “The Spirit you received does not make you slaves, so that you live in fear again; rather, the Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship. And by him we cry, “Abba, Father.”
o   Are we living in the reality that of our standing as sons, no longer slaves to fear?