May 30 Esight, 2011

When the days were approaching for His ascension, He was determined to go to Jerusalem; and He sent messengers on ahead of Him, and they went and entered a village of the Samaritans to make arrangements for Him. But they did not receive Him because He was traveling toward Jerusalem. When His disciples James and John saw this, they said, “Lord, do You want us to command fire to come down from heaven and consume them?” But He turned and rebuked them, and said, “You do not know what kind of spirit you are of; for the Son of Man did not come to destroy men’s lives, but to save them.” And they went on to another village. (Luke 9.51-56, TNIV)I have to admit that this is a very confusing story for me personally. I’m going to ask you to put yourself in James’ and John’s sandals for a moment as we begin this week and consider some very important questions. The first question is this: why did James and John ask if they should call fire down from heaven on these Samaritans? The answer is even stranger, because it’s rooted and grounded in an Old Testament way of seeing God.

There are two bold historical events that give James’ and John’s question some basis. The first is the fire that God rained down out of heaven on Sodom and Gomorrah (Genesis 19), and the second is Elijah and his interaction with actual Samaritans (2 Kings 1).

But it gets worse before it gets better. We have to add to these the additional numerous other accounts (I will only list a few of them here) as well as prophetic statements that form the basis for their question as well. This exercise may seem tedious, but I encourage you to stay with me until the end.

And fire came out from the presence of the LORD and consumed them, and they died before the LORD. (Levitus 10.2)

Now the people became like those who complain of adversity in the hearing of the LORD; and when the LORD heard it, His anger was kindled, and the fire of the LORD burned among them and consumed some of the outskirts of the camp. (Numbers 11.1)

Fire also came forth from the LORD and consumed the two hundred and fifty men who were offering the incense. (Numbers 16.35)

For the LORD your God is a consuming fire, a jealous God. (Deuteronomy 4.24)

Know therefore today that it is the LORD your God who is crossing over before you as a consuming fire. He will destroy them and He will subdue them before you, so that you may drive them out and destroy them quickly, just as the LORD has spoken to you. (Deuteronomy 9.3)

For a fire is kindled in My anger, and burns to the lowest part of Sheol, and consumes the earth with its yield, and sets on fire the foundations of the mountains. (Deuteronomy 32.22)

Therefore, as a tongue of fire consumes stubble and dry grass collapses into the flame, so their root will become like rot and their blossom blow away as dust; for they have rejected the law of the LORD of hosts and despised the word of the Holy One of Israel. (Isaiah 5.24)

From the LORD of hosts you will be punished with thunder and earthquake and loud noise, With whirlwind and tempest and the flame of a consuming fire. (Isaiah 29.6)

And the LORD will cause His voice of authority to be heard, and the descending of His arm to be seen in fierce anger, and in the flame of a consuming fire in cloudburst, downpour and hailstones. (Isaiah 30.30)

And say to the forest of the Negev, “Hear the word of the LORD: thus says the Lord GOD, ‘Behold, I am about to kindle a fire in you, and it will consume every green tree in you, as well as every dry tree; the blazing flame will not be quenched and the whole surface from south to north will be burned by it.’” (Ezekiel 20.47)

“Thus I have poured out My indignation on them; I have consumed them with the fire of My wrath; their way I have brought upon their heads,” declares the Lord GOD. (Ezekiel 22.31)

So I will send fire upon the house of Hazael and it will consume the citadels of Ben-hadad. (Amos 1.4)

So I will send fire upon the wall of Gaza and it will consume her citadels. (Amos 1.7)

So I will send fire upon the wall of Tyre and it will consume her citadels. (Amos 1.10)

So I will send fire upon Teman and it will consume the citadels of Bozrah. (Amos 1.12)

So I will kindle a fire on the wall of Rabbah and it will consume her citadels amid war cries on the day of battle, and a storm on the day of tempest. (Amos 1.14)

So I will send fire upon Moab and it will consume the citadels of Kerioth; and Moab will die amid tumult, with war cries and the sound of a trumpet. (Amos 2.2)

So I will send fire upon Judah and it will consume the citadels of Jerusalem. (Amos 2.5)

Seek the LORD that you may live, or He will break forth like a fire, O house of Joseph, and it will consume with none to quench it for Bethel. (Amos 5.6)

The point I want to make for you is that James and John were fully “Biblical” in their response to the Samaritans’ rejection of Jesus. And yet Jesus REBUKED them. Don’t gloss over that word “rebuke.” It’s a strong word to describe a strong response to them by Jesus.

I am becoming more and more alarmed at modern Christians in their use of the Old Testament to justify their refusal to follow the clear teachings of Jesus and the principles of His kingdom. (I recently encountered this in some responses to comments I made on Facebook about the execution of Bin Laden.)

Jesus taught us:

Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. Whoever hits you on the cheek, offer him the other also; and whoever takes away your coat, do not withhold your shirt from him either. Give to everyone who asks of you, and whoever takes away what is yours, do not demand it back. Treat others the same way you want them to treat you. If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. If you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners do the same. If you lend to those from whom you expect to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners in order to receive back the same amount. But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return; and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High; for He Himself is kind to ungrateful and evil men. Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful. (Luke 6:27-36)

I know this is going to raise some significant questions for some of you. It’s OK. Live in those questions for a moment. Put yourselves in the same head-scratching position as those who listened to Jesus in His own day.

Consider what the account of Jesus’ Transfiguration is whispering to us today.

Follow closely. The Jews based everything they believed about God on the Law and the Prophets (the cultural symbols for these were Moses and the greatest prophet, Elijah, himself being translated.)

To the law (Moses) and the testimony (the prophets represented by Elijah)! If they do not speak according to this word, it is because there is no light in them. (Isaiah 8.20)

But the picture of God that the people in Jesus’ day had taken from these two sources was imperfect. It was partial. It wasn’t complete. In the Transfiguration, what we are witnessing is a special transfer of authority from Moses and Elijah to Jesus, to be witnessed by Jesus’ disciples. Peter, James and John witnessed Moses and Elijah, figures which, in their culture, stood for the source of all of their beliefs about God and how He calls us to live, standing there with Jesus. Then the Father speaks audibly:

Then a voice came out of the cloud, saying, “This is My Son, My Chosen One; listen to HIM!” Luke 9.35 [emphasis added.]

What is this saying? As you have based everything you believe about Me on the teaching of Moses and Elijah, now base everything you believe about Me on My Son! Listen to Him now!

You see, although what they believed about God was based on the Law and the Prophets, they had grossly misinterpreted this God they had found in the Law and the Prophets. They had taken from these two sources a picture of God that was lacking. We are not to think that Jesus came to abolish the Law and the Prophets, but rather, Jesus radically re-interpreted the Law and the Prophets in such a unique way that it gave the people of His day a completely different picture of God. (It also undermined the entire religious system that had been built on that wrong picture and that is one of the primary reasons that they crucified Him.)

Take note of Jesus’ reinterpretation of what the Law and the Prophets were actually teaching with James’ and John’s original question in mind:

In everything, therefore, treat people the same way you want them to treat you, for THIS is the Law and the Prophets. Matthew 7.12 [emphasis added.]

This is the message of the New Testament. The Old Testament, although true, had been misunderstood. Jesus had come, by contrast, as the exact, full, complete representation of the character of God.

God, after He spoke long ago to the fathers in the prophets in many portions and in many ways, in these last days has spoken to us in His Son, . . . . And He is the radiance of His glory and the exact representation of His nature . . . . (Hebrews 1.1-3)

For the Law was given through Moses; grace and truth were realized through Jesus Christ. No one has seen God at any time; the only begotten God who is in the bosom of the Father, He has explained Him. (John 1.17,18)

Once again, I’m not saying that Jesus came to abolish the Law and the Prophets (Matthew 5:17) at all. But the picture of God that the people in Jesus’ day had understood from these two sources was imperfect. It was partial. It wasn’t complete. Paul understood this when he wrote to the Corinthian believers,

For we know in part and we prophesy in part; but when the perfect comes, the partial [picture of God ] will be done away. (1 Corinthians 13.9)

It was this tension between the Old Testament and the Teachings of Jesus that caused the religious leaders of Jesus’ day to reject Him. It is this tension that we need to live in today as followers of Jesus. And it is this tension that should give us grave warning not to base our treatment of our enemies on Old Testament stories but on the life, teachings, death and resurrection of God Himself in the person of Jesus Christ. When we find tension between the Old Testament and Jesus’ clear commands, we must, by default, side with Jesus’ clear commands and assume we are misinterpreting the Old Testament. Remember, Jesus interpreted the Old Testament in such a way that allowed Him to still give the Old Testament authority in His life, but in a way that simultaneously gave Him a radically different picture of God than what others had gotten from the Old Testament.

Lastly, I hope those who need to hear this right now will understand what I’m saying and what I’m not saying. When we look at the violence of Christian Church history, and even today’s American nationalistic violent version of Christianity, we do not find that the teachings of Jesus have been tried and found wanting. We find that the teachings of Jesus have been found difficult and left untried.

Thinking of all those who are not believers, but who are watching us today from the outside, may the day come soon when the label “Christian” is used, once again, to designate those who are following the teachings of Jesus. I want to be a part of that, don’t you?

Something worthy of wrestling with. (For sure.)

Imitate God. Live in Love. Love like Christ. And go build the kingdom.

Much love to each of you this week.

Herb

May 23 Esight, 2011

“And when you are praying, do not use meaningless repetition as the Gentiles do, for they suppose that they will be heard for their many words. So do not be like them; for your Father knows what you need before you ask Him” (Jesus—Matthew 6:7, 8).This week, I’d like to share a few thoughts on prayer. Almost every time I speak on this topic, I try to be careful, because there are so many misconceptions out there about this issue. I don’t want to ever give the idea that prayer somehow entails asking God to be “good.” I am convinced that He already is. Think about the above statement from Jesus.

God already knows what we need before we ask. Notice the following statement by Jesus as well.

“For the Gentiles eagerly seek all these things; for your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things” (Matthew 6:32).

Now, if we believe that God is good, and God already knows what we need, then why are we praying? Some would answer that question by simply saying, “Well, prayer changes or benefits us.” Although I would agree that to some degree, it does affect us when we pray, the Bible doesn’t seem to teach that the primary purpose of prayer is to change the “pray-er.” Rather, prayer is something much more dynamic in its effect on the world around us. You see, prayer is NOT about convincing God to do what He otherwise wouldn’t have done. Prayer affects this world, enabling God to do what He otherwise couldn’t have done.

Follow the following story carefully.

In those days, I, Daniel, had been mourning for three entire weeks. I did not eat any tasty food, nor did meat or wine enter my mouth, nor did I use any ointment at all until the entire three weeks were completed. On the twenty-fourth day of the first month, while I was by the bank of the great river, that is, the Tigris, I lifted my eyes and looked, and behold, there was a certain man dressed in linen . . . He said to me, “O Daniel, man of high esteem, understand the words that I am about to tell you and stand upright, for I have now been sent to you. And when he had spoken this word to me, I stood up trembling. Then he said to me, “Do not be afraid, Daniel, for from the first day that you set your heart on understanding this and on humbling yourself before your God, your words were heard, and I have come in response to your words. But the prince of the kingdom of Persia was withstanding me for twenty-one days; then behold, Michael, one of the chief princes, came to help me, for I had been left there with the kings of Persia . . . Then he said, “Do you understand why I came to you? But I shall now return to fight against the prince of Persia; so I am going forth, and behold, the prince of Greece is about to come. However, I will tell you what is inscribed in the writing of truth. Yet there is no one who stands firmly with me against these forces except Michael your prince (Daniel 10:1–21).

This is quite an extraordinary story, and there are some simple points that I’d like to expand on. Daniel’s prayer had been heard three weeks earlier. This angelic being was dispatched immediately. Another free moral agent, whether angelic (fallen) or human, interposed to create a three-week delay for this angel. There is so much that I want say about this, but time and space will not permit it here. Suffice it to say, however, that too many times we attribute unanswered prayer to a desire that is contrary to God’s will or to faith too weak to bring about the desired result. (I think both of these concepts have been sorely abused.) Yet this story speaks of issues far beyond these clichés and pat answers. This was not a matter of God’s will or of Daniel’s faith. There was another variable here that was quite different from either of these two issues. And in this variable, I believe we begin to see what prayer actually does.

Follow the words of Paul:

For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms (Ephesians 6:12).

Our enemies are spiritual forces, authorities, rulers (fallen) in heavenly places. (As a side note, it’s good to remember that if it has flesh and blood, it’s not our enemy. We, as kingdom people, are called to love those we would normally consider our enemies, realizing that the real enemies are the forces working behind the scenes in any given situation. Maybe I’ll write more about this in a future eSight.)

Paul again:

The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds (2 Corinthians 10:4).

We are given very powerful weapons in this spiritual warfare. Paul lists these weapons for us in Ephesians 6:11–18, and the last weapon that he mentions is PRAYER. Then he states:

With this in mind [this spiritual warfare that we are engaging in with spiritual forces], be alert and always keep on praying . . . (Ephesians 6:18).

It is through our prayers that God’s will is enabled to be “done on earth as it is in Heaven” (Matthew 6:10).

Again, prayer isn’t about asking God or convincing God or even informing God of anything! Prayer is one way that we confront the forces at work down here that are standing in the way of God doing what He knows we need and what He is more than willing to do. Again, prayer is NOT about convincing God to do what He otherwise wouldn’t; rather, it is enabling God, on a planet where free will is a significant variable among humans and even fallen angels, to do what He otherwise couldn’t.

Prayer is not at all about persuading God to be good. Notice Jesus’ words.

“In that day you will ask in My name, and I do not say to you that I will request of the Father on your behalf; for the Father Himself loves you . . . (John 16:26, 27).

He doesn’t need persuaded.

And Jesus has assured us that He, too, is on our side!

“Whatever you ask in My name, that will I do” (John 14:13).

“If you ask Me anything in My name, I will do it” (John 14:14).

This is why the Apostle John could write the following:

This is the confidence which we have before Him, that, if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us. And if we know that He hears us in whatever we ask, we know that we have the requests which we have asked from Him (1 John 5.14, 15).

Then why does it seem that some very good prayers remain unanswered? Remember, God answered Daniel’s prayer on day 1, but there were other variables at work that delayed the actual results for three weeks. This was not God’s doing. God was at war, through the medium of Daniel’s fasting and prayer, for three weeks and finally was able to get through to him. (I know this sounds odd to our post-modern naturalistic mind-set, but live in the “bizarre-ness” of this story for just a moment, and see if some pieces of the puzzle don’t begin to fall into place.)

Each and every prayer that we pray is effective. Each one leaves the world a different place than it was before we prayed. Does this mean that God then becomes able to easily step in and make His will be done? Not necessarily. Through our prayers, he may be able to pull off some of our and His desires now, and others He may accomplish at some point in the future (given that we keep praying); still others He may finally pull off in the age to come. But it is our privilege and duty to expand the kingdom in the here and now, confronting the spiritual forces that oppose God’s will—and one of the mightiest weapons we have with which to do so is prayer.

I will say that it is encouraging to me that sometimes even Jesus had to pray twice. Have you ever considered that? The blind man did not immediately receive His sight. It was God’s will, God was working, Jesus’ faith was perfect—yet it took Jesus praying twice for this man to receive the full restoration of His sight!

They came to Bethsaida, and some people brought a blind man and begged Jesus to touch him. He took the blind man by the hand and led him outside the village. When he had spit on the man’s eyes and put his hands on him, Jesus asked, “Do you see anything?”

He looked up and said, “I see people; they look like trees walking around.” Once more Jesus put his hands on the man’s eyes. Then his eyes were opened, his sight was restored, and he saw everything clearly (Mark 8:22–25).

In closing, let me add one more thing. James gives us insight into the power of prayer: when we are living in love, in reconciliation one with another as a community, our prayers have a greater effect on this world.

Therefore, confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another,

For more strong or able is the entreaty or prayer of him who is put right or in right relation [to each other and God] to bring about the desired result (James 5:16).

(That is my personal translation.)

Three things I leave with you:

First: Live in Love.

Second: Know that prayer is not informing God of what we need or convincing God to be good and to give us what we need.

Third: Know that each prayer we pray has a powerful effect and leaves the world a different place than it would have been had we not prayed. Each prayer makes a difference, whether or not we obtain the desired outcome. We will witness some desires being fulfilled now, and others maybe not until we are in the Kingdom, but it is our job and privilege to enlarge the kingdom here and now, today!

Live in love, pray without ceasing, and keep enlarging the kingdom.

I love you guys,

Herb

May 17 Esight, 2011

And a woman who had been suffering from a hemorrhage for twelve years, came up behind Him and touched the fringe of His cloak, for she was saying to herself, “If I only touch His garment, I will get well.” But Jesus, turning and seeing her, said, “Daughter, take courage; your faith has made you well.” At once, the woman was made well. Matthew 9:20-22.Matthew’s description of the above event is a little sparse. Take a moment and read through Luke’s and Mark’s telling of this story, and then I’d like to share with you what’s on my heart that I see in Jesus’ understanding of the character of the Father this week.

Luke 8:

And a woman who had a hemorrhage for twelve years, and could not be healed by anyone, came up behind Him and touched the fringe of His cloak, and immediately her hemorrhage stopped.

And Jesus said, “Who is the one who touched Me?” And while they were all denying it, Peter said, ” Master, the people are crowding and pressing in on You.” But Jesus said, “Someone did touch Me, for I was aware that power had gone out of Me.” When the woman saw that she had not escaped notice, she came trembling and fell down before Him, and declared in the presence of all the people the reason why she had touched Him, and how she had been immediately healed. And He said to her, “Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace.”

Mark 5:

A woman who had had a hemorrhage for twelve years, and had endured much at the hands of many physicians, and had spent all that she had and was not helped at all, but rather had grown worse — after hearing about Jesus, she came up in the crowd behind Him and touched His cloak. For she thought, “If I just touch His garments, I will get well.” Immediately, the flow of her blood was dried up; and she felt in her body that she was healed of her affliction. Immediately, Jesus, perceiving in Himself that the power proceeding from Him had gone forth, turned around in the crowd and said, “Who touched My garments?” And His disciples said to Him, “You see the crowd pressing in on You, and You say, ‘Who touched Me?’” And He looked around to see the woman who had done this. But the woman, fearing and trembling, aware of what had happened to her, came and fell down before Him and told Him the whole truth. And He said to her, “Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace and be healed of your affliction.”

Let’s begin by looking at the “legal” situation, with its social and religious implications, that this woman would have experienced during her 12 years of hemorrhaging. It will take a moment, but the point will be well worth it.

When a woman has a discharge, if her discharge in her body is blood, she shall continue in her menstrual impurity for seven days; and whoever touches her shall be unclean until evening. Leviticus 15.19.

Now if a woman has a discharge of her blood many days, not at the period of her menstrual impurity, or if she has a discharge beyond that period, all the days of her impure discharge she shall continue as though in her menstrual impurity; she is unclean. Leviticus 15.25.

Also, whoever touches the person with the discharge shall wash his clothes and bathe in water and be unclean until evening. Leviticus 15.7.

She shall not touch any consecrated thing, nor enter the sanctuary until the days of her purification are completed. Leviticus 12.4.

With the above texts in mind, follow carefully what this would mean for her. And remember, this had been going on for twelve long years.

She had been:

Cut off from other people; she would have been a social outcast.

Cut off from the sanctuary; she would have been viewed as a religious outcast.

Cut off from being able to be a man’s wife; she would have been alone, destitute, and abandoned, even reduced to begging for some sort of income. Mark (Peter) even indicates that she had exhausted what money she did have on failed medical solutions, as well.

No human touch for twelve years. No connection with any religious service for twelve years. Financially destitute, she was with no means or hope of turning things around. Far more devastating than the financial dilemma, the social and religious stigma of having to walk around being “unclean” and the garments she would have worn, also indicating, from a distance, that she was “unclean,” would have given her the same standing as a leper.

Now notice the risk for her in doing what the above story tells us she did regarding her “touching” Jesus as He passed through the crowd.

First, she, by “sneaking” in, polluted the crowd. Once everyone found out, she would have made a lot of people extremely upset. They would now have to go through, each of them, the ceremonial washings and be unclean (i.e. in isolation without coming into contact with anyone else) until that evening. Talk about having someone ruin your day!

Second, she polluted Jesus by this act. She touched HIM!

Third, she lied. Luke’s telling of this story reveals that they were all denying it, but when this woman realized she could not escape, she came forth and confessed what she had done.

Now notice Jesus’ response:

Don’t pass over this too quickly. She was expecting rebuke. In fact, it’s how Jesus, according to the law, should have responded. This woman broke the law and polluted everyone there, including Jesus Himself by touching Him. And yet, Jesus affirms her by calling her “daughter.” He affirms what she did calling it “Faith”. Jesus affirms what she has done, although highly “illegal”, as a beautiful thing.

Now I will admit that this raises some serious questions that I will not attempt to answer here. I simply want you to catch a glimpse of Jesus’ heart in relation to this woman and realize that He did nothing unless it was how He saw His Father relating to things as well (John 5:19).

Jesus doesn’t give instruction on how the law is to be carried out now by the crowd in this situation. No lectures about washing. No instruction for the people. And NO rebuke given even to this woman for her total disregard of the law’s direct commands. Why?

I want to say that it was situations such as this (Jesus implied approval of this woman’s total disregard for what had been commanded) that made it necessary at times for Jesus to say things such as, “Do not think that I came to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I did not come to abolish but to fulfill” (Matthew 5.17). This is not an isolated case. Two (of many) similar situations that immediately come to mind are the many Sabbath altercations between Jesus’ disciples and the Pharisees and Jesus’ defense of the woman caught in the midst of adultery. In each situation Jesus defends the violators of the law. Here, with this woman who shows total disregard for what the law says with issues of blood, Jesus calls this woman “daughter”! What a term of endearment for this woman! She has spent the last twelve years on the outside of everything she held dear. Jesus knew what she needed to hear the most. It was as if He put His arms around her with this one word and whispered, “Welcome home; this is where you belong. Be whole; I’ve got you; you have no more to fear. You’re with Me now.”

“But she broke the LAW!”, some will say. And to that I would agree. Yes she did. And who hasn’t? What always eclipsed everything else for Jesus though, was not a person’s position toward law, but rather what was their heart’s orientation to Himself. What direction were they moving in, away from or closer to Himself? This is what Jesus always seems to make the criteria for whether someone was “in the kingdom” He was establishing or outside of it. (See the story of the thief on the Cross, for the clearest example of this.)

In closing, I want to zero in on this one subtle point.

Over and over again, in matters of law, Jesus exemplified that when the concern for people contradicts or crosses our keeping of law, Jesus always chose people over the law. (In the altercation between His disciples and the Pharisees over the Sabbath, Jesus even used David’s illegal eating of the showbread as an example. Then applying it to the current situation, states, the Sabbath was made for people. Not people for the Sabbath.) I know the questions this raises, but I believe it is healthy for us to simply let our hearts “marinate” in this reality for a moment before we try to “theologize” it away.

People mattered most to Jesus. People were His top priority. And when we, known for being people of the law, become known for being people who believe that people matter most, then and only then will the earth be lightened with the truth of God’s character of love as it also was through Jesus. Too often, I have been guilty of placing the law above people. And just as He did in His own day, Jesus turns this reality again on its head in our day as well.

May we become experts, not simply in the law but in our concern for the people God brings to our path as well. When they matter most to us and we become successful at communicating that they matter most, too, then we won’t simply be enlarging a church; we’ll be enlarging the “kingdom” as well.

Here is a statement I read just this past weekend by Tim Keller in his Reason for God.

“If your fundamental is a man dying on a cross for his enemies, if the very heart of your self-image and your religion is a man praying for his enemies as he died for them, sacrificing for them, loving them—if that sinks into your heart of hearts it’s going to produce the kind of life that the early Christians produced. The most inclusive possible life out of the most exclusive possible claim—and that is that this is the truth. But what is truth? The truth is a God becoming weak, loving, and dying for the people who opposed him, dying forgiving them.”

It’s this truth that this woman with the issue of blood saw in the eyes of Jesus. It was this truth that forever changed her life that day. May those who cross our path see this truth in how we relate to them as well.

Live in love, take up the Cross, and let’s together go enlarge the kingdom.

Much love to each of you,

Herb

May 9 Esight, 2011

BY THIS EVERYONE WILL KNOW THAT YOU ARE MY DISCIPLES, IF YOU LOVE ONE ANOTHER” (JOHN 13:35, TNIV).This week, I’d like to simply string a few texts together and let them do the talking (or, ahem, the writing). Here goes:

By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another” (John 13:35).

May the Lord make your love increase and overflow for each other and for everyone else, just as ours does for you (1 Thessalonians 3:12).

Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins (1 Peter 4:8).

Follow God’s example, therefore, as dearly loved children and walk in the way of love (Ephesians 5:1, 2).

Do everything in love (1Corinthians 16:14).

If I speak in human or angelic tongues, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing (1 Corinthians 13:1–3).

If the above verses have any truth in them, then we have to confess two things. First, we must take these verses seriously. Jesus and the Apostles were clear that nothing else is as important (i.e., “above all” in 1 Peter 4:8) as embracing love, as our doctrine, as our lifestyle, as our message, and, most importantly, as our method in reaching the world.

I just finished reading the book UnChristian by Kinnaman and Lyons, and I have to confess that I, too, am guilty of embracing a religion that, historically, has placed almost everything else above loving others. Jesus prayed in John 17, “that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me” (John 17:20–21). Jesus had hoped that the love seen in His followers would convince the world that He IS this world’s Savior; however, because many of us do not obey Christ’s command, the Christian church has today become the best argument and evidence for some that He IS NOT.

Writing this week in defense of another popular and gifted preacher who has just been labeled as a heretic, a friend of mine wrote the following:

“You have to wonder why millions of people have been tortured and murdered by Christians throughout history for espousing ‘heretical’ views about baptism, communion, the church and a very long list of other doctrines, while not one person (so far as I know) has been officially disciplined—let alone accused of “heresy”—for failing to adequately love (as when they tortured and murdered others in Jesus’ name, for example).”

It’s an honest question for sure.

As one final example, I’ll take you through an exercise that I was recently taken through. Read the following closely and see if you can identify this scene, which is taken from religious history: (Warning, the following historic account contains graphic violence.)

“Mothers were skewed on swords as children watched. Young women were stripped and raped in broad daylight, and then doused and set on fire. A pregnant woman’s belly was slit open, her fetus raised skyward on the tip of a sword and then tossed on one of the fires that blazed across the city.”

I guessed the Middle Ages. What did you guess? More often than not, people’s number one guess is the Crusades. Sadly, what people say is, “How horrible. That must be describing Christians.” Actually, the above passage describes the violence that erupted between Hindus and Muslims in India in the spring of 2002, as described in the New York Times. BUT, the fact that this is so readily attributed to Christian history should be a wakeup call to all of us who are followers of Jesus. This is the reputation that Christians still hold in the world we are trying to reach with the message that God is Love.

I, too, am not innocent. I, too, have been part of this. I, too, have been part of something that has been the main obstacle keeping people out of the kingdom instead of being the means to get people into the kingdom. Simply through the label “Christian,” I am known in the broader society for a lot of things—and sadly, the depth of love for sinners, my enemies, and even other Christians doesn’t make that list.

How is this going to get turned around? I am convinced of a third thing, and that is that we will never begin loving others by simply trying to do so. What we need is a transforming encounter with God as He really is, as revealed through the life and teachings (and death) of Jesus. What we need is a transforming encounter with God’s love for each of us on a deeply personal level. Only by love is love awakened.

We love because he first loved us (1 John 4:19).

This is why Paul prayed the following:

And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God (Ephesians 3:17–19).

Filled with all the fullness of God? Yes, that’s what I need! I want to be an imitator of God and walk in the way of love too. All of our credibility depends on it (John 17:20–21).

I leave you with these two thoughts this week:

1) Whatever faults we may accuse others of having, if we are devoid of love for them, all of their faults are NOTHING compared with our own (Matthew 7:1–3). We can have all of the right doctrine in the world, but if we fail to love as Christ loved us, we are all heretics.

2) The God of this universe loves you more deeply than you could ever fathom! Take some time this week to bask in, meditate on, and dive deeply into what’s in His heart for you. It, in and of itself, will awaken those very same things in your heart for those around you as well.

Love as Christ loved you,

Live in love,

And keep enlarging the kingdom.

Much love to each of you,

With the utmost sincerity,

Herb

May 2 Esight, 2011

Or those nineteen who died when the tower in Siloam fell on them—do you think they

were more guilty than all the others living in Jerusalem? (Luke 13.4)As I look at the devastation left in the wake of last week’s storms in the South, and I read the various comments by believers and unbelievers alike in current online news forums, my heart breaks. It doesn’t break so much from the accusations being made against God by those who are either hurting or simply don’t understand. Though these are sad, it simply confirms that, as believers, we need to do a better job of explaining why things like this happen. But my heart largely breaks because of (warning) the relational stupidity and lack of sensitivity I witness in the responses of those who claim to be believers. There are four puzzle pieces I would like to put together for you this week that I believe every follower of Jesus in this time in earth’s history must understand. Each of which will become more and more relevant, I believe, to the events that have ravaged our Southern states as we progress through this weeks thoughts.

Puzzle Piece 1:

First, modern Christianity seems to be guilty of looking at the speck in everyone else’s eye but not noticing the tree trunks that are in our own. We would much rather point out and condemn the sins of others around us than our own. The “deal breaker” sins seem to always be things such as homosexuality and abortion (sins of others) rather than greed, gossip, pride, gluttony, and gross misrepresentations of God’s character to the masses (sins prevalent within the church setting).

Puzzle Piece 2:

Second, Jesus attracted and accepted those whom we as Christians condemn and repulse. His strongest rebukes and condemnations were not toward the “sinners and tax collectors” but rather toward the Pharisees and Teachers of the Law.

Puzzle Piece 3:

Third, I see these two realities as relevant in regard to traditional interpretations of the plagues in the Book of Revelation versus what I see the Book of Revelation actually teaching. Traditionally, Christians have interpreted the plagues as coming just before the end of the world, poured out upon sinners at large for their various and gross immorality. BUT the Book of Revelation is clear that the plagues are instead aimed at the religious systems of the day, those who claim to represent God but grossly misrepresent Him to the masses, maligning His character and name, saying monstrous things about Him.

Puzzle Piece 4:

Fourth, I believe the traditional view is what causes the persecution of others in the last days by those who claim to be following God. If the disasters we see around us are God pouring out plagues on the world for their sins—rather than an understanding that the Apocalyptic plagues are aimed at the religious populous rather than the irreligious—then the logical response is to legislate morality and force those who aren’t like us to “stop sinning” so that all these “acts of God” will cease. The persecution in the last days by those who claim to be following God is rooted in a misperception of God as well as a misinterpretation of the “why” of end-time disasters.

Lastly, we need to be very careful in our statements about what we see happening around us on planet Earth these days. Mother Nature was never designed to operate in the way she is operating now. Her laws were set in motion to preserve life, never to take it. Something has gone wrong, and an enemy has done this. This is especially sensitive to me as I am sitting the immediate context of what has just transpired here in the South. Many well-meaning, sincere Christians are saying things such as, “Surely God’s coming is getting nearer and nearer.” But, honestly, I have to protest. Statements like these are, at the very least, grossly insensitive. I friend of mine lost his mother this last week due to the devastation that ripped through Alabama. So, what are we saying? That the nearer the coming of an all-loving, radically self-sacrificial, other-centered God, the more innocent people (like him) will lose their loved ones? This is blasphemy at a bare minimum.

Yes, things are going to get worse before they get better, especially in the area of “unnatural” disasters, but these are the unintentional but direct result of free will, mankind’s moral abuse of Mother Nature and the intrinsic chain of events we have set in motion. These are not the result of God’s soon return. Yes, the end is near, but we must be clear about the actual cause-and-effect connection really is, or we will do irreparable damage to those who are the innocent victims of the things we see all around us. Yes there will be plagues in the last days. BUT, the life of Jesus and the book of Revelation are very clear. These plagues will NOT be that which comes upon the IRRELIGIOUS, the “tax collectors and sinners” if you will, because of their immorality. But rather, the plagues are that which come upon the RELIGIOUS systems, the “Pharisees” if you will, that have grossly misrepresented the Father and done almost irreparable damage to innocent people’s picture of God.

At the very least, as a follower of Jesus, please, oh please, be careful of what we imply about God in the midst of all the grief and loss currently taking place.

An enemy has done this.

Something worth thinking about.

Keep enlarging the kingdom,

With much love and empathic prayers for those who are suffering this week in the South.

Herb