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

April 18 Esight, 2011

“When Jesus heard this, he said to him, ‘You still lack one thing. Sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.’” Luke 18:22Throughout Jesus’ ministry, contrary to modern Christianity, we do not find Jesus endeavoring to motivate those around Him to do something so that they can go to heaven when they die. Rather, over and over, Jesus calls those around Him to embrace a way of life in this age, that they may be in harmony with the way life is lived in the age to come.

I’ll give you a moment to recover from that last sentence. I do not mean those words in any “meritorious” sense at all. I’m NOT saying that how we live in this life “merits” a “right” to the age to come. However, Jesus was quite clear (see the parable of the rich man and Lazarus) that the philosophies we embrace and choose to live by in this life dramatically determine whether the age that is to come is the paradise He intended for us to experience, or whether it is a place of torment and torture instead. No, I’m not teaching eternal torment either. Let me explain.

First, Jesus’ primary focus was NEVER (again, contrary to modern Christianity) making sure people go to heaven when they die. This idea is foreign to the teachings and focus of the Jesus we find in the four gospels. Rather, Jesus emphasized two eras or ages: the one now, and the other one which is soon to come. Note carefully the following statements by Jesus:

“‘Anyone who speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but anyone who speaks against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven, either in this age or in the age to come.’” Matthew 12:32

“‘…the enemy who sows them is the devil. The harvest is the end of the age, and the harvesters are angels…the weeds are pulled up and burned in the fire, so it will be at the end of the age…This is how it will be at the end of the age. The angels will come and separate the wicked from the righteous.’” Matthew 13:39, 40, 49

“As Jesus was sitting on the Mount of Olives, the disciples came to him privately. ‘Tell us,’ they said, ‘when will this happen, and what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?’” Matthew 24:3

“‘…Teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.’” Matthew 28:20

“‘…will fail to receive a hundred times as much in this present age…and in the age to come eternal life.’” Mark 10:30

“‘…will fail to receive many times as much in this age, and in the age to come eternal life.’” Luke 18:30

“Jesus replied, ‘The people of this age marry and are given in marriage. But those who are considered worthy of taking part in the age to come and in the resurrection from the dead will neither marry nor be given in marriage.’” Luke 20:34-35 (Don’t get side-tracked here on the debate of whether there will be marriage in the age to come. Don’t. Stop. The only point I’d like for you to take from this is that Jesus lived in the paradigm of the age on this earth now versus the age on this earth to come. He did not live in the paradigm of life on this earth now versus life in heaven when we die.)

Now, with this paradigm in place, I want us to stop and ponder for a minute exactly what the “age to come” will look like. I want to point out simply one aspect, one description of the age to come that has become meaningful to me as of late. It is by no means an exhaustive description of the age to come, but it is one aspect of what life in the age to come will look like that will help me illustrate why, I believe, Jesus taught that how the philosophies we embrace in this life determines not whether we will “obtain” life in the age to come, but rather what we will EXPERIENCE that life to be in the age to come. (The age to come is a guaranteed gift from God, by virtue of His love, to everyone! As in Adam all die, in Christ ALL will be made alive. All are given entrance into the age to come as a gratuitous gift by grace, but not all will EXPERIENCE it the same way. Some, Jesus said, are resurrected to LIFE, while others, Jesus said, will be resurrected to condemnation. See John 5.)

Okay, back to that description of the age to come. This one is from the Apostle John:

“After this, I looked, and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and in front of the Lamb.” Revelation 7:9

What I want you to notice about this description is the multi-ethnicity of the age to come.

The age to come is an extraordinarily complex, interconnected, and diverse reality in which individual identities are not lost or repressed, but are embraced and celebrated—an age that is an expansive unity that goes beyond, and yet fully embraces, staggering levels of diversity.

Now, stop for a moment and consider this: I grew up in the South, where racism, much to my concern, is still rife. For the sake of making the point painfully clear, bear with me here open-mindedly. What would be the experience of a racist in the age to come? How would a Klan member feel sitting next to one of my best African American friends? The age to come for a racist is not going to feel like a gift at all, but rather, like torture. (Maybe this was the point of Jesus’ parable of the rich man and Lazarus—not that when you die, you go to a place of eternal torment [a teaching that I personally abhor], but rather that the philosophy of life we embrace in this age determines whether our EXPERIENCE in the age to come is one of paradise or torment, heaven or hell.) This is the point I believe Jesus was making for the rich young ruler as well.

“A certain ruler asked him, ‘Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?’

‘Why do you call me good?’ Jesus answered. ‘No one is good—except God alone. You know the commandments: “You shall not commit adultery, you shall not murder, you shall not steal, you shall not give false testimony, honor your father and mother.”’ ‘All these I have kept since I was a boy,’ he said. When Jesus heard this, he said to him, ‘You still lack one thing. Sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.’ When he heard this, he became very sad, because he was very wealthy.” Luke 18:18-23

The one commandment Jesus leaves out is, “Thou shalt not covet.” The philosophy that this young man was subscribing to in this age was predisposing him to an experience in the next one. Jesus sums up the other-centered philosophy of God’s kingdom in His statements immediately following His interaction with this young ruler:

“‘Truly I tell you,’ Jesus said to them, ‘no one who has left home or wife or brothers or sisters or parents or children for the sake of the kingdom of God will fail to receive many times as much in this age, and in the age to come eternal life.’” Luke 18:29-30

The age to come will be one of radical self-sacrificial, other-centered love. It will be an age of extravagance, loving to give, not to get. Every other person will be considered of greater importance than oneself (according to Paul). I want to be clear. The philosophies we subscribe to in this life do not merit or disqualify us for the age to come. God loves all, Jesus came to save all, and all are given a resurrection. But not everyone feels that what they are being resurrected to is paradise. Some feel as if “heaven” is, for them, really hell. The philosophies of life we choose to live by in this age determine whether the age to come is a place in which we find joy and happiness or torment and torture. The spirit of unselfish love that reigns there—every heart responding to the central Divine heart of Infinite Love—will touch no answering chord in the hearts of some. Their thoughts, their interests, their motives, will be alien to that age. They will be a discordant note in the melody of the age to come. The age to come will be to them a place of torture; and at the center of it all, they would long to be hidden from Him who is its light, the Other-centered Center of that age’s joy. It is no arbitrary decree on the part of God that excludes them from the age to come; they are shut out by their own unfitness for and dissonance with the other-centeredness of the age to come. The other-centered love of God would be to them a consuming fire (see Song of Solomon 8). They would welcome destruction, that they might be hidden from the “face” of Him who died to redeem them (see Revelation 6).

How, then, do we ensure that the gift we have been given by the extravagant love of God through the medium of the cross of Calvary is to us the gift of heaven rather than the gift of hell? I thank God that His other-centered love for me is powerful enough to awaken that same love in me—that faith in His love for me actually has a transforming power itself to restore me into the same image of that love once again. I am HIS workmanship. I am HIS creation. And as long as I believe in His undying love for me, He, and His love for me, will finish the work He has begun in me. WHEN He puts those finishing touches on me, and HOW He does it, is up to Him. My only concern is to BELIEVE in His love, and submit to (rather than resist) the work that His love for me is doing in my heart toward others.

I’m quite sure that this week’s message will produce many questions. Many have abused some of the things I’ve shared. Balance is much needed. My prayer is that we will ultimately see that if any are lost, it will not be some arbitrary decision made by God based on a life that, quite honestly, none of us ever chose to born into in the first place. If the racist is not there, if the abusers of women and children are not there, if those who take advantage of the poor are not there, if those who cherish power “over” rather than power “under” are not there, it will not be God’s decision, but theirs.

Something to consider.

Keep building the Kingdom of His other-centered love until this age becomes the next.

In love,

Herb

April 4 Esight, 2011

What about those eighteen people in Siloam who were killed when the tower fell on them? Do you suppose this proves that they were worse than all the other people living in Jerusalem (Luke 13:4)?Here is my warning. I’m a little hot under the collar this week and so I’m about to vent. My intention is to remember that if it has flesh and blood, it’s not our enemy, for truly, “We are not fighting against human beings but against the wicked spiritual forces in the heavenly world, the rulers, authorities, and cosmic powers of this dark age” (Ephesians 6:12).

With that said, let me explain.

I have had it with the repeated instances in which I have heard the tragedies that have struck Japan over the last few weeks explained as being a punishment from God. Jesus flat out rejected this “Old Testament” picture/understanding of God in relation to tragedies:

What about those eighteen people in Siloam who were killed when the tower fell on them? Do you suppose this proves that they were worse than all of the other people living in Jerusalem (Luke 13:4)?

Over the last few weeks, I have heard repeated over and over again that cultural cliché that hurts my heart every time I hear it, “God is in control.” The apostle John wrote exactly the opposite when he took in the tragedies of this world: “We know that we belong to God even though the whole world is under the control of the Evil One” (1 John 5:19). Did you catch it? If this is the type of world that exists when GOD is in control, then heaven is going to be an extremely scary place. But John stated that it’s not God who is at the helm of the atrocities we witness taking place down here on planet Earth.

Let me quickly also add a point of which my Jewish friends frequently remind me. If you were to ask a Jew if he believes in the existence of the Devil, he would frankly tell you that a “devil” is the invention of the Christians to absolve themselves of guilt. I want to be clear. I do believe in a Devil, but I believe that the belief in a Devil also has been abused. Too often, we blame him for things that are really our fault! No one can say, “The Devil made me do it.”

So when I look at the atrocities that are taking place in Japan, I have to realize that Mother Nature is not functioning in the least part the way God intended her to. The laws of nature were designed to preserve and sustain life, not to tear life apart. Why are the laws of nature themselves so out of whack with their original design? I look at Japan today and I have to drop to my knees and with tears streaming down MY face say, “God forgive ME!” Forgive me for the rebellion that is in MY heart against you and the intrinsic chain of events that my rebellion against You and Your radical, other-centered, self-sacrificial love has set in motion on this planet. God, forgive me for the selfishness that’s in MY heart and the indirect and unintentional effects that MY selfishness has set in motion.” I, myself, can’t even blame other human beings for indirectly and unintentionally causing the tragedies in Japan. The apostle Paul understood this: “Do you, my friend, pass judgment on others? You have no excuse at all, whoever you are. For when you judge others and then do the same things which they do, you condemn yourself” (Romans 2:1).

It would be too easy to blame God, under the misconception of the role He is playing in the affairs of this planet. It would be too easy to blame the Devil for things he also did not do (remember, no one can say the devil “made” me do it). It would even be too easy to blame other people who have gone before me for their abuses of this planet, which are causing it to respond in ways that wreak untold pain and heartache in the lives of those who are innocent (like Japan). I must instead, look the tragedies of Japan in the face and simply say to Japan and to God, “I’m so so sorry for the rebellion against the principle of other-centered love that is in my heart. I’m so so sorry.”

Who is to blame for Japan? It’s me, Herb Montgomery.

God forgive me.

Thank you for your patience with my heart’s ranting this week. I pray you can understand and embrace the truth in what I intend to say. May we not blame God for the things for which we, as humans, are responsible. May we be the ones, even if the blame falls on us, who say what is right about our God. May we be grouped with the ones, in whose mouths is found “NO LIE” about God (Revelations 14:5).

May we learn, in the light of God’s Calvary love for us to also love like the sun, love like the rain, and keep enlarging the kingdom (Matthew 5:44-45).

I wish you (and those hurting in Japan) God’s best this week.

In love,

Herb

March 28 Esight, 2011

“We are ruled by the love of Christ, now that we recognize that one man died for everyone, which means that they all share in his death. He died for all, so that those who live should no longer live for themselves, but only for him who died and was raised to life for their sake. No longer, then, do we judge anyone by human standards. Even if at one time we judged Christ according to human standards, we no longer do so. Anyone who is joined to Christ is a new being; the old is gone, the new has come.” 2 Corinthians 5.14-17 (TEV)

When someone understands Calvary correctly, it changes how you look at everyone you meet.

When we consider the cultural climate that provided the context of Jesus’ ministry, I cannot help but wonder about the head-space of the disciples sometimes. I mean, here was their long-awaited Messiah, but something didn’t add up. Everyone you expected would embrace this new Messiah, such as the religious leaders in whom you had placed your trust, was rejecting Him, and everyone you personally held disdain for and were disgusted by, like those Roman-loving traitors the tax collectors, and the morally destitute whores who offered themselves to anyone for sexual pleasure for a price, were the ones quickly becoming attracted. We too many times unknowingly assume that the disciples must have looked at these people the same way Jesus did, but they didn’t. The disciples quickly found themselves right in the center of the “wrong” crowd. It was this reality taking place in the hearts of the disciples that prompted the following statements from Jesus:

“Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you. Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in someone else’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from the other person’s eye. Do not give dogs what is sacred; do not throw your pearls to pigs. If you do, they may trample them under their feet, and then turn and tear you to pieces.” Matthew 7.1-6 (TNIV)

There are two points I’d like to make concerning this passage. The text before us reveals the explanation, first off, for why Christians are too many times looked at with disdain. Jesus wasn’t telling us that if we are judgmental of others, “God” will be judgmental of us. NO NO! Though this is the common interpretation of Jesus’ words here, this is not His intent at all. Jesus’ intent is more to communicate that like produces like! If we are respectful of others, others will be respectful of us. If we give attention to others, others will give attention to us. If we are kind to others, this will awaken kindness in others toward us. If you truly love others, others will love you back, for even “sinners love those who love them.” The reason that so many in our world today are critical of Christians is that quite honestly, for two thousand years Christians have been critical of those who were not like them! Just stop and think about it.

But the second, and most important thing I’d like to point out is this idea of throwing your pearls before swine. NO ONE uses that which is sacred as dog food! NO ONE takes pearls and throws them out as worthless pig slop! Jesus here, by His comparison, is hoping to effect a paradigm shift for His disciples. Jesus, by implication, is asking the disciples why they are taking these people, whom He has esteemed as “better than” Himself, as having inestimable worth, as being worthy of coming to this planet and living a life of radical other-centered self-sacrificial love for, why are you looking at these people, even if they are tax collectors and whores, and placing them in the category of pig slop and dog food? In light of Calvary’s love, Paul makes the most beautiful statement He possibly could as to how we, as followers of Jesus, are to treat others.

“No longer, then, do we judge anyone by human standards.”

Just stop and think about it.

I wish you God’s best this week.

In light of His extravagant love for us all:

Love like the sun, love like the rain. And go enlarge the kingdom.

Much love to you all,

Herb

February 21 Esight, 2011

“But a Samaritan, who was on a journey, came upon him; and when he saw him, he felt compassion.” – Luke 10.33I have been on a beautiful journey of rediscovering Jesus through the Gospel of Luke since last August, and this week I would love to share with you a thought that, I believe, God has been pressing on my heart. It may have absolutely no application to you, but it’s HUGE in its application for me personally. You see, in the early stages of my own Christianity, I was VERY “egocentrically” religious?to the point that I missed the entire point of what Jesus’ kingdom was even about. (Some of you have heard me share some of those stories in my presentations.) I honestly am scratching my head as I write this, completely dumbfounded as to how so many of us, including myself, continue to miss what I am about to share. We have traded “religiosity” for “compassion” and too often busy ourselves with making others around us “religious.” Instead, we should focus on changing the world through genuinely enlarging God’s kingdom through radical self sacrificial compassion for others. Look with me at the following passage.

“And by chance a priest was going down on that road, and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. Likewise a Levite also, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan, who was on a journey, came upon him; and when he saw him, he felt compassion, and came to him and bandaged up his wounds, pouring oil and wine on them; and he put him on his own beast, and brought him to an inn and took care of him. On the next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper and said, ‘Take care of him; and whatever more you spend, when I return I will repay you.’ Which of these three do you think proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell into the robbers’ hands?” And he said, “The one who showed mercy toward him.” Then Jesus said to him, “Go and do the same.” (Luke 10.31-37)

In this story, Jesus lists a priest, a Levite, and a Samaritan. The mention of these three is intentional. Both the priest and the Levite played significant roles that were at the heart of the Jewish “religious” system. The Samaritan, on the other hand, followed a religion that was a hybrid of the teachings of Moses and the paganism of the surrounding region. Yet the hero of Jesus’ story is the religiously misguided Samaritan. This is most interesting to me, because, although in his religious practices the Samaritan was judged to be in error by his Jewish neighbors, Jesus holds him up as an example because of his “compassion.” Over and over we see Jesus repeating this lesson, not simply in word, but in deed. Being a Sabbatarian myself, I have always felt a keen interest in Jesus’ relation to the Bible Sabbath. What I have been impressed with the most, however, is that in each of the four Gospels’ Jesus/Sabbath stories, it is never the validity of the Sabbath that Jesus was negating, but the heartless way we too often go about practicing our religious beliefs, even if those beliefs include something as important to us as the Sabbath.

Read carefully the following passage:

And He was teaching in one of the synagogues on the Sabbath. And there was a woman who for eighteen years had had a sickness caused by a spirit; and she was bent double, and could not straighten up at all. When Jesus saw her, He called her over and said to her, “Woman, you are freed from your sickness.” And He laid His hands on her; and immediately she was made erect again and began glorifying God. But the synagogue official, indignant because Jesus had healed on the Sabbath, began saying to the crowd in response, “There are six days in which work should be done; so come during them and get healed, and not on the Sabbath day.” But the Lord answered him and said, “You hypocrites, does not each of you on the Sabbath untie his ox or his donkey from the stall and lead him away to water him? And this woman, a daughter of Abraham as she is, whom Satan has bound for eighteen long years, should she not have been released from this bond on the Sabbath day?” As He said this, all His opponents were being humiliated; and the entire crowd was rejoicing over all the glorious things being done by Him. (Luke 13.10-17)

Can you, like me, feel the passion in Jesus’ reaction above? The synagogue official was deeply religious, but absolutely devoid of compassion, which is what Jesus’ kingdom is really all about.

Again:

Now it happened that He was passing through some grainfields on a Sabbath; and His disciples were picking the heads of grain, rubbing them in their hands, and eating the grain. But some of the Pharisees said, “Why do you do what is not lawful on the Sabbath?” And Jesus answering them said, “Have you not even read what David did when he was hungry, he and those who were with him, how he entered the house of God, and took and ate the consecrated bread which is not lawful for any to eat except the priests alone, and gave it to his companions?” (Luke 6.1-4)

What I find interesting is Matthew’s addition in his account of this story:

“But if you had known what this means, ‘I DESIRE COMPASSION, AND NOT A SACRIFICE,’ you would not have condemned the innocent” (Matthew 12.7).

First of all, the disciples were not guilty, according to Jesus, of breaking the Sabbath as the Pharisees had accused them. The Pharisees, on the other hand, who were the most stringent in their religiously motivated Sabbatical restrictions, were the guilty party. And what were they guilty of? The Pharisees, although religiously stringent, were simply HEARTLESS.

Compassion vs. religiosity: these are the two things I would like to contrast for you this week. I do not believe they are mutually exclusive, but my concern is that too many times in our lives, they simply are.

If compassion is the standard, the signature for those who are a part of God’s kingdom (John 13.35), of those who are responding to God’s spirit (1 John 4.7,8), of those who are submitting, even unknowingly, to God’s work in their life, I would suggest, that maybe, many of those we religious people call “heathen” may be closer to the kingdom than we thought, maybe closer than even ourselves (myself included).

Something to ponder.

I wish you God’s best this week.

Love like the rain, love like the sun, and go enlarge the kingdom.

In love (and compassion),

Herb

February 14 Esight, 2011

“If because of the sabbath, you turn your foot From doing your own pleasure on My holy day, And call the sabbath a delight, the holy day of the LORD honorable, And honor it, desisting from your own ways, From seeking your own pleasure And speaking your own word, Then you will take delight in the LORD, and I will make you ride on the heights of the earth; And I will feed you with the heritage of Jacob your father, For the mouth of the LORD has spoken.” Isaiah 58.13,14 NASBThis week I would like to address a very misunderstood verse that has come to my attention once again. Many, especially within my own Christian-Sabbatarian culture, have mistaken what Isaiah’s intent in this verse really is. It has too often robbed those who are sincere and honest from truly entering into what God originally intended the gift of the Sabbath to be. The misunderstanding is simple and actually has a deep history in Sabbatarianism, whether Christian or Jewish.

In the verse above, Isaiah is quoting the Lord’s admonishment not to “seek our own pleasure” on the Sabbath day. Keeping the Sabbath “holy” has, through a misunderstanding of Isaiah 58, been taken to mean that anything of a pleasurable nature is forbidden. Not only has work been strictly forbidden, but anything pleasurable has too often been forbidden as well. (The Sabbath has such a history of restrictions that the Essenes, whom Josephus considered to be the strictest in their Sabbath observance, even refrained from defecation during the Sabbath hours. [OM. Prob. Lib. 81; cf. Vit. Contempl. 30f.] Wow! The lengths to which we will take our misunderstandings.)

A careful study of the Sabbath in the scriptures reveals that only one thing was really ever forbidden on the Sabbath: work to gain a livelihood. The verse under consideration seems to be the only exception to this rule, but “seems” is the right word; it truly is not an exception. The Hebrew word translated here as “seeking your own pleasure” is only translated this way in this one instance. In all other instances, the word used here for pleasure is indicative of “that in which one takes delight, his business, one’s own business affairs.” (Brown, Driver & Briggs, Hebrew-English Lexicon, p. 343, reference 4)

You see, even here in Isaiah, God is simply repeating what He has stated consistently about the Sabbath everywhere else. We are to cease from the pleasure of making money, and call the Sabbath a pleasure or a delight! God, on this day, desires us to cease from our business affairs to focus our energy on something else.

But this begs the question: Focus on what? Why does God desire for us to cease from our labors on this day and on what are we to expend that energy now? The answer is found in Nehemiah, where one discovers the Biblical meaning of “keeping a day holy.” What does “a day’s holiness” mean for Nehemiah?

Then Nehemiah the governor, Ezra the priest and teacher of the Law, and the Levites who were instructing the people said to them all, “This day is holy to the LORD your God. Do not mourn or weep.” For all the people had been weeping as they listened to the words of the Law. Nehemiah said, “Go and enjoy choice food and sweet drinks, and send some to those who have nothing prepared. This day is holy to our Lord. Do not grieve, for the joy of the LORD is your strength.” The Levites calmed all the people, saying, “Be still, for this is a holy day. Do not grieve.” Then all the people went away to eat and drink, to send portions of food and to celebrate with great joy, because they now understood the words that had been made known to them. (Nehemiah 8.9-12)

The idea here is that the Sabbath was intended to be what we in our modern culture call a “holiday.” A day where we don’t work, but instead CELEBRATE! Eating the fat! Drinking the sweet! But what are we to be CELEBRATING?

Over and over again, the answer is clear.

Exodus 16.23 – “. . . holy sabbath to the LORD.”

Exodus 16.25 – “. . . today is a sabbath to the LORD.”

Exodus 20.10 – “. . . a sabbath to the LORD your God.”

Exodus 31.15 – “. . . holy to the LORD.”

Exodus 35.2 – “. . . a day of sabbath rest to the LORD.”

Deuteronomy 5.14 – “. . . is a sabbath to the LORD your God.”

We are to be celebrating HIM! With choice foods and sweet drinks (sounds like Thanksgiving, doesn’t it?) we are to remember and celebrate what our Lord and Savior has done for us, not only on that Friday evening during the creation week but also on that Friday evening in the PASSION week as well. Our Savior, again, on the sixth day cried out, “It is Finished,” and then on the Seventh rested from the work He had accomplished. Truly this day is hallowed and blessed, not simply by the events surrounding creation, but by the events surrounding our redemption as well.

This weekend, beginning on Friday night, set time aside to celebrate our Lord and the generously extravagant love He has poured out on each one of us. Take time to make HIS day special. Set off some fireworks! Have a super special meal! Give presents to the kids in your family! Do something, do anything that celebrates the unfathomable, radical, self-sacrificial, other-centered love of our God! (It’s also interesting to note that nowhere in the scriptures does the Bible tell us how to celebrate the Sabbath; it simply calls us to do it. This should speak volumes to us.)

Remember, love like the rain, love like the sun, and go enlarge the kingdom!

I wish you God’s best this week.

In love,

Herb

January 31 Esight, 2011

John answered and said, Master, we saw someone casting out demons in Your name; and we tried to prevent him because he does not follow along with us. But Jesus said to him, Do not hinder him; for he who is not against you is for you. Luke 9.49-50Let me start by clarifying what I’m not saying this week. I do not believe we should sacrifice passion for what we sincerely believe to be Truth. My concern is rather how we treat those with whom we find ourselves in disagreement about what is Truth. The Bible seems, from what I have witnessed, to contain two types of teaching. One is purposeful. It is clearly the intention and passion of the author to communicate, and it is expressed with such clarity that most people find themselves in agreement with. The other kind of teaching is one that we derive by observing the authors as they write about a different topic than the one we have questions about.

An example of the first type of teaching is that Jesus is the Christ. This is clearly the New Testament’s central passion.

One of many examples of the second type of teaching in the Bible is church organization. None of the New Testament authors sat down and composed a church manual for us. We are left piece together how the church was organized from what the authors say about how the early church was organized and functioned while they are passionately speaking on other topics. Another example (and I want to be clear that I am a Sabbatarian, if labels mean anything) is the Sabbath. Nowhere in the New Testament do the authors forsee the church’s history of transitioning from a Saturday celebrated day of worship to a Sunday celebrated day of worship. They do not forsee it, and thus they do not address it DIRECTLY. What we do have from the New Testament authors are gleanings that they themselves and the early Christians were Sabbatarian in their day of worship. But we have no DIRECT writing on the topic in which it seems to be the author’s passion to give us a complete dissertation of the Sabbath in the New Testament, its meaning, and how it should be celebrated by New Testament Christians. Does this mean it isn’t a concern for us simply because they were not concerned with it then? No, it simply means that those writing the New Testament lived before events they could not forsee took place, and thus they did not address the issue.

But this is not my point at all. I simply what you to begin thinking about these two types of truth in the New Testament. The first kind is clear, and most Christians today agree about it. The second is the “gleaned” kind in which there is room for misunderstanding, misapplication, and disagreement. My point is, how should we relate to others who we find ourselves in agreement with on the first kind of truth, but disagree with on the second? Does it mean we write off what we believe about the second category as unimportant? NO, it simply means that we understand that these two different types of teachings in the New Testament exist and we still extend the right hand of fellowship to those we disagree with about the second kind of teachings. Follow John’s statement closely:

Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Messiah is born of God, and everyone who loves the father loves his child as well. 1 John 5.1 (TNIV)

If someone in our post-modern, evolutionist, atheistic-tending society believes that Jesus is the Messiah, the Christ, the Son of God, then we already, simply by that belief alone, find ourselves having something very special in common with that person. I guess my concern is an attitude I see too often in our churches (and I’m in a different one each weekend). There is this “us and them” kind of spirit. It is not espoused by all, but it is definitely more present than I like to admit. There is something inside us that wants to set up a criteria, a list, of what makes a person “in” or “out.” It’s an attempt to find a kind of false assurance that we ourselves are “in.” But in doing this, we reject God’s love for us as being the basis of our assurance, and we establish our own criteria in its place. Our religious beliefs and practices take the place only God is to have in our hearts and become nothing more than idolatry. We go about establishing our own ideas of what is the identifying mark of who is “with” us or who is still “outside.”

This attitude is fundamentally flawed on many levels, but the greatest problem, in my opinion, is that in thinking and relating to others according to these principles, we deny the very fabric of what God’s kingdom is all about. Jesus was much more inclusive than what we find many Christian communities, including my own, being today. (For evidence of this, just look at the types of people Jesus attracted. Those are the folks that churches today repell.) I’m simply being honest, and I’m speaking from my heart. The more familiar I find myself becoming with what Jesus was all about, the more questions and concerns I have about how modern traditional “Christian” communities fit into that. Just questions. Not doubts. Please don’t label me too as being “out.” I’m simply asking questions and voicing concerns. I want to be different. Not that I have by any means arrived, but I want to live in relationship to others with that radical, self-sacrificial, other-centered, inclusive love that characterizes the life of Jesus and the kingdom He came to establish in our hearts.

I’ll close with a story a dear friend of mine from Minnesota shared with me recently that I believe expresses my point beautifully.

I was walking across a bridge one day, and I saw a man standing on the edge, about to jump. I ran over and said, “Stop. Don’t do it.”

“Why shouldn’t I?” he asked.

“Well, there’s so much to live for!”

“Like what?”

“Are you religious?”

He said, “Yes.”

I said, “Me too. Are you Christian, Hindu, Muslim, or Buddhist?”

“Christian.”

“Me too. Are you Catholic or Protestant?”

“Protestant.”

“Me too. Are you Episcopalian, Lutheran, Presbyterian, Methodist, Pentecostal, or Baptist?”

“Baptist.”

“Wow. Me too. Are you Southern Baptist, General Baptist, Northern Baptist, or Separatist Baptist?”

“Separatist Baptist.”

“Me too. Are you Original Separatist Baptist, or are you Reformed Separatist Baptist?”

“Reformed Separatist Baptist.”

“Me too. Are you Reformed Separatist Baptist, Reformation of 1879, or Reformed Separatist Baptist, Reformation of 1915?”

He said: “Reformed Separatist Baptist, Reformation of 1915.”

I said: “Die, heretic scum,” and pushed him off.

Within our churches, we already have so much in common with each other, especially within the denomination I belong to. On some of those secondary areas of Biblical teaching, can we not administer a little more grace toward one another, trusting that God is at work in all of our lives and that He will complete this beautiful work He has begun in us? Patience, love, and forbearance—these are the staples of the kingdom. Love that will not let each other go, but at the same time, gives each one his or her own space to grow in.

Thank you for your patience with my heart’s cry this week. It comes from a sincerely troubled, weekend-church-visiting, traveler.

I wish you God’s best this week.

Love like the sun. Love like the rain. And go enlarge the Kingdom.

In love,

Herb

January 24 Esight, 2011

I am reckoned among those who go down to the pit; I have become like a man without strength, Forsaken among the dead, Like the slain who lie in the grave, Whom You remember no more, and they are cut off from Your hand. (Psalms 88:4-5)First, I’m on my way back from Oregon tonight and I’m writing this on the airplane. I don’t have time to send this to the editors and wait for it to come back before I have to get it posted in order to go out in the morning. So, for all those who are grammatically astute, I am apologizing in advance. I have seen three new verses this weekend and I am beside myself in wanting to share them with you.

The verses I’d like you to consider are four amazing psalms (one I share almost every weekend, the others I have just seen). Simply ponder them for a moment for me. I believe that these psalms are not simply relaying the experiences of their author, but that they also have a prophetic purpose pointing forward to the future experiences of the Messiah too. (Theologians call these “Messianic Psalms”) But what they reveal, I believe, is life changing.

Psalms 69.15

May the flood of water not overflow me nor the deep swallow me up, nor the pit shut its mouth on me.

Looking at these as a window into what was transpiring in the heart of Jesus as He hung on the cross for you, I’m asking these questions: Why such desperation here? Doesn’t He know He’ll be resurrected on Sunday? Why the sense of pleading? (For more insight into this please listen to the presentation The Awakening on our sermons page at www.renewedheartministries.com)

Again,

Psalms 39.13

Turn Your gaze away from me, that I may smile again before I depart and am no more.

Did you catch that last statement? “Before I depart and am no more.” What does He mean “no more?”

Again,

Psalms 41.8

A wicked thing is poured out upon him, that when he lies down, he will not rise up again.

NOT RISE UP AGAIN? What is being said about Jesus here? Wasn’t He resurrected?

Psalms 88:4-5

I am reckoned among those who go down to the pit; I have become like a man without strength, Forsaken among the dead, Like the slain who lie in the grave, Whom You remember no more, and they are cut off from Your hand.

Without a doubt I believe with all my heart in the resurrection of Jesus Christ. But whether He was resurrected or not, that is not the issue here. My question is was there a time on the Cross where Jesus FELT, regardless of what He may have known intellectually going into the cross, was there a time on the Cross where Jesus FELT utterly forsaken of God, that Sin was so hateful to a holy God that if He went through with saving you and I it would be goodbye to life for Him forever? I have had some very zealous folks argue with me over the years about whether or not Jesus died the second death or the first death in redeeming us from our sins. And I want to be very clear. I’m not writing this to argue that point at all. My question is which death did Jesus FEEL like He was dying? One where He would be remembered and resurrected in two more days? Or was there a point on the cross, even if for only a small period of time, where Jesus FELT that if He gave His life for you and me, it would be at an eternal price to Himself? I believe the answer according to these psalms is a resounding YES!

Think of this dear reader. What does that mean about your value or worth to the God of this universe? What does this mean about how much He must love you? That the God of this universe would look at all the glories of Heaven, the reuniting embrace with His Father, and all the adoration of the angels, and still say, “Heaven is not a place that I desire to be if YOU cannot be there with me.” That God would decide, when faced with either saving Himself at your eternal ruin, or saving YOU at His own eternal ruin, that He would, out of deep inestimable love, decide to save YOU in utter abandonment of Himself.

I’d like you to ponder these thoughts this week. You are the object of the radical, self-sacrificial, selfless, other-centered, love of your God! He will stop at nothing to make sure you are in the kingdom. You mean more to Him than you could possible understand. Just as the woman at the well discovered, He knows everything there is possibly to know about you and He is looking at you today saying, “The gift is still on table”

Won’t you receive it? Won’t you embrace this radical kind of love? Not just as a the gift that it is from Him to you, but also as the way you want to live this life He is giving you?

I wish you God’s best this week.

Love like the sun. Love like the rain. And go enlarge the kingdom.

In love,

Herb

January 18 Esight, 2011

Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective.—James 5.16This last weekend I was in Wheeling, WV conducting our Awakening weekend seminar. Leading up to this event, I sent out an email message (and posted one on Facebook) for folks to be praying for this event simply because prayer is “powerful and effective.” This generated some responses and questions that I would like to address in this week’s E-sight, as I am quite positive that they reflect the concerns of a number of folks out there who didn’t write in as well.

You see, any time we talk about prayer, inescapably, there will always be questions about the prayers we have so desperately prayed and felt as if God did not come through for us. The subject of prayer touches a raw nerve for many and I, too, find myself in that category. Culturally, within modern Christianity, there are two extremes. One is the vending-machine type of understanding that says, “Ask anything in Jesus’ name and it will be done,” and the other is the viewpoint that “prayer doesn’t really change God or things, but rather it is for the purpose of changing us.” Both views have their pitfalls and subtle lie about the character of our God. I believe that prayer actually does change things. It changes what is possible for God even in some circumstances. But I also believe that prayer is not the only variable in many situations. Yes, prayer does make a difference, always, but there is also the free moral decisions of those involved that we have to take into account.

There are four points I want to give you this week to think about in relation to the subject of prayer.

1. God’s promises are principles, not formulas.

When the Bible promises something, too many times, we translate it as a formula. We think that if we do what the Bible says, then we are guaranteed a certain outcome. Then when the outcome fails, so does our faith in the promise. But again, God’s promises are principles, not formulas.

A common example that I run into all the time is in Proverbs 22.6:

“Train up a child in the way he should go, even when he is old he will not depart from it.”

This is a principle about being purposeful in our child training. It tells us that raising our children with a determined purpose is effective. But remember, this promise is a principle. Not a formula. It does not negate the free will of the child itself. It is possible for the child, even rightly trained, to turn and rebel against that training. But for the majority, the training does pay off and is the largest determinant in the life a person chooses. But how many parents of wayward children have I met who beat themselves up over the decisions their kids have made? We need to remember that, first, every parent makes mistakes, and second, that every child has the freedom to be responsive to proper training or to rebel. The principle in Proverbs 22 is for parents to do their part.

2. We live in a world that is unfathomably complex.

Too many times there are only two possible reasons given for why a prayer was not answered. Either it must not have been God’s will or the person praying did not have enough faith. I believe that both of these answers can be very destructive if this second point about the complexity of this world is also not understood. Many times we are left either blaming God for not coming through for us, or blaming ourselves for not having enough faith to bring about the desired outcome for which we prayed. Both of these are very destructive to a relationship with God. There are two examples of this I’d like you to consider. One is in Daniel 10 where neither God’s will nor Daniel’s faith was the problem. Rather it was the complexity of another being’s free will preventing Gabriel from answering Daniel’s prayer for 21 days. Someone else was getting in the way. And the second is in Matthew 17 (17:21), where the casting out of a certain kind of demon required much more than God’s will and the faith of the Disciples. The casting out of this demon was much more complex than average.

Whatever one makes of these two examples, it becomes very clear that the free moral decisions that are made on this planet make life here a lot more complex than we understand. One day, God is going to pull back the veil so we can understand. But on that day, He will not be showing us why He DID intervene in one situation and why He DIDN’T intervene in another. But rather, He will be showing us why He COULD intervene in some situations and why He COULDN’T intervene in another. And that is a very different understanding of what it means for God to give us free will.

3. Prayer, because of the free will of all who are involved, never guarantees we will automatically get what we prayed for. But it DOES make a difference.

We have no way of knowing how things would have turned out if we had not prayed. But just because we do not see that exact outcome we prayed for, our prayers did make a difference. The situation was different. The substances God had to work with were dramatically different. So pray, and get everyone you know to pray too. And believe that you ARE making a difference. And if it doesn’t turn out the way we, and God, desire, as hard as this may be, know that this situation must have been very complex. We must trust that God did do all He could, and that our prayer enabled God to do more than He could have had we not prayed. This leads me to my fourth and final point.

4. When we pray, it is vitally necessary to remember that God looks like Jesus Christ.

Jesus healed all. He didn’t make them muster up enough faith first. And He never looked at suffering as part of God’s will. He saw it as an enemy element which must be overcome. There was only one place Jesus did not perform the miracles He did everywhere else. Nazareth. But remember, it was not by choice that Jesus did not perform His miracles there. The complexity of the situation in Nazareth prevented Jesus from being able to perform miracles there.

Please, know and believe that your prayers are powerful and effective. They really are!! Does that mean that everything we pray for will just happen? Even if it’s God’s will, the answer sometimes can still be no. I’m sorry. Prayer is a powerful variable, but it is not the only variable. There are many variables in each situation: God’s will, faith, prayer, AND every free moral decision that has ever been made by free moral agents that went into creating this situation (free will). And that’s just to name four; I’m sure there are even more variables than that.

There is so much more I would like to say about prayer, but this is already the longest E-sight we have written to date. I apologize for its length, but I felt it was needed.

In conclusion, should we pray? Absolutely!! It changes more than just ourselves. It makes a definite difference in the outcome of the events that transpire around us, whether the DESIRED outcome transpires or not.

Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective.—James 5.16

I wish you God’s best this week.

Love like the rain, love like the sun, and go enlarge the kingdom.

In love,

Herb

January 10 Esight, 2011

“Do everything in love” (1 Corinthians 16.14).This week I received an email expressing concern that we as a ministry have an unhealthy overemphasis on “love.” “There is a lot more to the Christian life than love,” the email stated. I have spent much time in prayer over this, and honestly, it brings me great concern. This is not an isolated issue; rather, it is one that I meet (especially in our weekend seminars) more often than I would like to admit.

I have no desire whatsoever to defend our emphasis, as a ministry, on love. (If anything, when one reads the New Testament, one finds that in reality, we as a ministry are actually guilty of not emphasizing love nearly as much as the scriptures themselves do.) Rather, my burden is to defend love itself.

First, remember, Jesus did not come to establish the Christian religion (a religion, remember, that in the eyes of the world has been guilty of more bloodshed than any other religion in human history). Jesus came, instead, to establish a kingdom—a kingdom where love is not simply an element among many others but rather is the centerpiece from which everything else flows.

Isaiah prophesied:

“In love a throne will be established; in faithfulness a man will sit on it—one from the house of David—one who in judging seeks justice and speeds the cause of righteousness” (Isaiah 16.5).

A throne, or kingdom, established in love. Listen to the words of Jesus Himself:

“A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another” (John 13.34,35).

Love, according to Jesus, is the distinguishing characteristic by which we know who is part of the kingdom and who is not. It is not a label, not a set of intellectual facts; rather, all who genuinely love are the ones who comprise God’s kingdom.

In the words of the apostle Paul:

“Therefore, be imitators of God, as beloved children; and walk in love . . .” (Ephesians 5.1,2).

“Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves” (Romans 12.10).

“You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the sinful nature; rather, serve one another humbly in love” (Galatians 5.13).

“Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love” (Ephesians 4.2).

“Do everything in love” (1 Corinthians 16.14).

And the apostle Peter:

“The end of all things is near. Therefore be alert and of sober mind so that you may pray. Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins” (1 Peter 4.7,8).

Above all! Did you catch it? Above all? What does that really mean? Are we willing to allow it to truly have this kind of significance in our hearts?

I will say this, that my dear friend who wrote me is correct. There is much more to the Christian life than simply knowing God’s love for us and allowing that love to be reproduced in us toward others. So much so, in fact, that Christianity has too often become occupied with all that other stuff. But the more familiar I become with Jesus and His teachings, the more questions I find myself asking about how modern Christianity fits into Jesus’ mission, and the more passionate I find myself becoming about helping others see the truth about God’s character of love and being a part of a kingdom of love that is being established in people’s hearts today.

Finally, I will close with the apostle John’s incredible statement. Meditate on it, if you will, and simply let the Spirit speak to your heart right now:

“And so we know and rely on the love God has for us. God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in them” (John 4.16).

Wow, whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in them. Wow!

I realize that we cannot love by simply trying to love others. I know that what is needed is not more effort but rather a deeper encounter with God’s great love for us, which will awaken, in our hearts, love for all who are around us. Therefore, in the light of God’s self-sacrificial, other-centered love for each of you this week:

May everything you do this week be done in love. In the light of His love for you, may you too, love like the rain, love like the sun, and go enlarge the kingdom. (see Matthew 5:44,45)

I wish you God’s best this week.

In His extravagant love for us all,

Herb