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Showing posts with label Hope. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Hope. Show all posts

Monday, September 19, 2022

The Year of Jubilee - Nothing to Hide

Introduction
When I was a kid, we would sometimes have company over to the house.  Usually, it was relatives who were visiting from out of town.  (We had a lot of relatives who lived far away that would come visit once or twice a year.)  Now, there were four kids in my family and my mom was a single mom who worked full-time, so our home was usually quite “lived in”.  When we knew company was coming over, my mom made sure we all pitched in to clean the place up.  Sometimes our relatives would arrive and say something polite like “Oh, your house looks so nice!  I can never keep my place clean like this!”  (I often thought to myself, you should have been here and saw how it looked yesterday!  Oh, and don't open that closet door where we stuffed all our junk!)

We do that sometimes don’t we?  We try to clean ourselves up to look good for people and keep up appearances.  We don’t want people to see our problems, our faults, our mess.  And if we have any secrets, we want to keep them secret.  We might not want people to see who we really are on the inside.

Jesus came to set us free from all that and that’s what this blog is about .  In Jesus, we have nothing to hide.

Leviticus 25:14-17
14 “When you make an agreement with your neighbor to buy or sell property, you must not take advantage of each other. 15 When you buy land from your neighbor, the price you pay must be based on the number of years since the last jubilee. The seller must set the price by taking into account the number of years remaining until the next Year of Jubilee. 16 The more years until the next jubilee, the higher the price; the fewer years, the lower the price. After all, the person selling the land is actually selling you a certain number of harvests. 17 Show your fear of God by not taking advantage of each other. I am the Lord your God.

Real Estate in Ancient Israel
This is my third installment in a study of ancient Israelite laws for the Year of Jubilee.  Every 50 years on the Day of Atonement, the priest would blow a sacrificial ram's horn, in Hebrew a jubil (or yobel; AKA a shofar).  Everyone had a whole year off from agricultural work so they could celebrate, worship the Lord, and just enjoy life.  Furthermore, all slaves were set free, all debts were forgiven, and any family land that had been sold was returned to the original family.  It was a tremendously joyful occasion when everything and everyone  in society was renewed. People were made right with God and with each other.

The year of Jubilee is something that sounds both amazing, but also strange to people today.  It’s hard for us to understand some aspects of the Year of Jubilee, because Americans have different concepts of property ownership than the ancient Israelites in the Bible.  

For one, America is the Land of the Free.  We were founded on the principle that we are not bound to a king.  Most people throughout history, including the early settlers who came to America from Europe, understood that they were vassals of their homeland’s king.  They only came to America because their king granted them the right and granted them land in the New World to farm on behalf of their King.

The American Revolution was truly a revolution.  Our forefathers revolutionized the way people in our country think about freedom, individualism, and property ownership.  They declared that all men are created equal.  IE. the common man and woman is equal to the king and queen.  Furthermore, our founders declared people are free and not vassals who must serve a monarch as lord.  In this new world order, people may purchase and own their own property as individuals (and not merely hold property in trust on behalf of their king).  We take this idea for granted today.  If you purchase a home, you understand that the property belongs to you. It doesn’t belong to the king (or to the president or the government) who generously allows you to use it.  It’s truly yours to keep or to sell.  We don’t even think about this.  We just accept it.  However, this is truly something new that started with the American Revolution when our nation broke free from the king of England.  This was not the way most cultures thought of property for the vast majority of the world throughout history. 

In ancient Israel, they had a totally different concept of property ownership.  Ancient Israelites started as slaves in Egypt.  Then God delivered them from slavery and brought them to the land in Canaan.  God fought on behalf of the Israelites to conquer the Canaanites and gave the land to the Israelites.  The Israelites understood that they didn’t really own their land.  God owned it and granted it to the people of Israel.  God gave each tribe, clan, and family a certain piece of land to maintain.  Every Israelite family understood that their land did not really belong to them.  They were merely stewards of land that belonged to the Lord God of Israel.  They were to tend the land and live off the land and use it for the glory of God as they served as God’s representatives to the world. 

If the circumstances of life required an Israelite to sell part of his family’s land, there was a problem.  How can you sell land that doesn't really belong to you?  So, in the way ancient Israelites thought of their land, they were really only leasing the land for a set number of years–the number of years until the next Year of Jubilee when the land would revert to the original land holder.   

So, suppose there were still 40 years left until the next year of Jubilee, then the land might be worth $40,000.  But if there were only 10 year left until Jubilee, the land was only worth $10K.  Or if the Year of Jubilee was only 1 year away, the land might only be worth $1,000, because once the ram’s sounded on the Year of Jubilee, the land would have to return to the original owner.

People are people; they always have been–even thousands of years ago.  People will always try to take advantage of each other when it comes to business deals.  If you work in business or sales you probably experience this–whether you sell cars, sell houses, or other things.  You know how it works.  You see some really nice people, but  they will try to take advantage of you to work out a deal that’s better for them but not necessarily fair for you.  That’s the old sinful selfish nature inside us.  It’s been their since the fall of humanity way back in the Garden of Eden. 

God wants His people to be different.  He wants us to be holy as He is holy.  And so Leviticus 25:17 reminds us, “Show your fear of God by not taking advantage of each other. I am the Lord your God.

For the ancient Israelites, this meant making sure their real estate deals were fair and honest.  Buyers shouldn’t take advantage of sellers.  And sellers should not take advantage of buyers.  Everything needs to be open and transparent.  This meant they must always consider the number of years remaining until the Year of Jubilee, because this affects the value of the property. 

John 8:31-32
31 Jesus said to the people who believed in him, “You are truly my disciples if you remain faithful to my teachings. 32 And you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”

Being a Christian
Christians follow Jesus' teachings.  We aren’t saved by being good people.  We are saved by God’s grace when we have faith in Jesus and choose to follow Him.  Following Jesus means being faithful to His teachings and Jesus taught us to be people who repent of sin and live lives of moral integrity.

Ironically, the people who opposed Jesus the most in the New Testament were the Pharisees–people who were seen as the most righteous people around.  Jesus said the Pharisees were like whitewashed tombs.  They were all bright and pretty on the outside, but inside they were like rotting corpses–full of filthy evil deceit.  The Pharisees claimed they were completely devoted to the God of Israel, but when God sent His Son, Jesus the Messiah, to save them, the Pharisees rejected Jesus.  They were even willing to kill the Son of God in order to protect their position and power.

Jesus and His followers shouldn't be like the Pharisees.  We should be people of integrity.  We don’t need to pretend we’re perfect.  Jesus didn’t come to save perfect people.  Jesus came to seek and save the lost.  So if you lost, He came to save you.  If you’ve got some flaws, it’s ok.  If you can admit your sins, you’re good; repent and believe in Jesus and He’ll forgive you and save you.

But if you’re sweeping your sins under the rug, pretending to be something you’re not, there’s a problem.  How can Jesus save someone who pretend they're already perfect and don't need forgiveness, healing, and salvation?  This is true spiritual blindness and hypocrisy.

It’s a heavy burden to live a lie.  You’ve got to keep up appearances.  You’ve got to guard your secrets.  You’ve got to always worry when someone might see you for who you really are.  It’s so much better to just come clean.  Then you have nothing to hide!  Sure, you lose the lie and maybe some people won’t think you're the hero they once thought you were, but there will be many more who respect and admire your honesty.  Most important of all, your heart will be right with God.  Jesus said, “You will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”  You are truly free when you have nothing left to hide.

Jesus should know.  He is the trumpet that calls people to repentance and announces God’s Great Jubilee when all slaves to sin who answer the call to repentances are set free and every person is restored to a right relationship with God and their neighbors.

Invitation
Won’t you hear Jesus calling you to repent today?  Won’t you accept His invitation? 

 I invite you to use Psalm 51:1-10 as your prayer to God today.  This famous Psalm was a prayer written by David recalling his on repentance aft a serious sin.  David committed adultery with Bathsheba and then murdered her husband to cover up his sin.  God accepted David's repentance.  There were consequences for David's sin, but their was also healing and restoration.  Whatever sin you've committed, what ever mess you've made of your life, God can forgive you and restore you, but you've got to repent and believe.

Psalm 51:1-10
“Have mercy on me, O God, according to your steadfast love; according to your abundant mercy, blot out my transgressions. Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin. For I know my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me. Against you, you alone, have I sinned, and done what is evil in your sight, so that you are justified in your sentence and blameless when you pass judgment. Indeed, I was born guilty, a sinner when my mother conceived me. You desire truth in the inward being; therefore teach me wisdom in my secret heart. Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean; wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow. Let me hear joy and gladness; let the bones that you have crushed rejoice. Hide your face from my sins, and blot out all my iniquities. Create in me a clean heart, O God, and put a new and right spirit within me."

Amen.

 

Tuesday, March 1, 2022

Creation: Day 2 - Sky


Introduction
The world we live in is breathtaking and complex.  The artistic genius of it points to Something/Someone higher, greater, more wonderful than we can even imagine.  Who is this Creator who set the world in motion?  What does the story of creation in Genesis tell us about the Creator’s character?

Long before science existed, people were already asking questions about how the world began.  We want to know where we came from.  We want to know Who made us.  We want to know why we are here.  Genesis was written to speak to the mysterious longings within our hearts to know the Truth about God.  The creation story reveals the character of God and the life He offers us.  If you want to know God and why we are here, you can find out by studying the story of creation in Genesis.

Genesis 1:6-8
6 Then God said, “Let there be a space between the waters,
to separate the waters of the heavens from the waters of the earth.” 7 And that is what happened. God made this space to separate the waters of the earth from the waters of the heavens. 8 God called the space “sky.”

And evening passed and morning came, marking the second day. On the second day, God created the sky. At the time Genesis was written, people observed the world around them and tried to understand. They looked up into the blue sky and it reminded them of a vast ocean of water. *Yet, they could clearly see that the air above them was invisible. So it seemed there was an empty space between the blue “water” above and the water and land upon which we stand here on earth.

How would you describe the sky if you had never been told a scientific description of it?  Suppose you had no way of going up into the sky or into space to look around and measure what you found.  How would you explain this mysterious existence of earth below and blue sky above?

Children are inquisitive.  They want to understand the world around them—even before their minds are capable of grasping it.  Parents often struggle to answer their questions.  One day a 5-year-old boy asked his father if a stick was alive.  “No.  This stick is not alive.”  “But it comes from a tree.  Is a tree alive?” Asked the son.  “Yes, a tree is alive.”  “Then why isn’t this stick alive?”  How would you answer this child’s question in a way that they could understand?  Even more challenging: how would you explain the same thing to a dog or a cat?

How difficult it must be for an infinitely intelligent Creator God to explain the intricate details of His creation to people whose thinking is so limited.  This was especially true thousands of years ago when Genesis was written.  So God used words that made sense to ancient people.  He describes the sky or atmosphere as a “space” between the waters of the sky and the earth below. 

The Hebrew word is translated “firmament” in KJV.  This gives the impression that the sky is firm to hold up the blue expanse that we see above us.  God named the sky Shamaym, “heaven.”  The word means lofty—the home of God. God beckons us to reach for higher ideals. God created within each of us a desire to reach for something higher.  We could not even imagine God if it were not so.  One cannot help but look up at the sky and wonder about it.  We lay in the grass on a pretty summer day and stare up at the mysterious clouds above.  What are they made of?  What do they feel like?  They look like giant cotton balls floating in the sky.  It was not until the 1903 that man successfully built an airplane and soared through the sky.  However, people have watched birds soaring among the clouds since the very beginning, and we have longed to be up there with them.  It took thousands of years of longing, stretching, reaching before humanity was able to achieve our dream of flight.  If we never had the ambition to fly through the magnificent sky, we would never have achieved flight. We don’t just long for a higher altitude. God created us to yearn for higher ideals.  If we were just another one of the animals, we might only care about the basics that all animals need to survive—food, water, shelter, reproduction.  Yet the human spirit longs for higher ideals.  We value faith, hope, and love.  Our greatest joys in life come when we realize these; our greatest sorrows are when they are missing. Faith and Hope are two higher ideals God gives us. Faith is the confidence that what we hope for will actually happen; it gives us assurance about things we cannot see.” (Hebrews 11:1)  Having faith gives you a distinct advantage.  If Orville and Wilbur Wright never had faith that flight was possible, they never would have risked the dangers of flight or the ridicule of those who did not believe it was possible.  The greater rewards in life are rarely within plain sight.  Faith enables you to push yourself beyond the limits of what is immediately visible.  Faith also empowers you to trust others.  Trust is the bond that enables people to work together—as husband and wife, as parents and children, as co-workers, as soldiers in an army, or as a church full of people who can count on each other.  Without trust, we must do everything on our own power—which is very limited.  But when we can trust others, we can work together as a group and accomplish so much more. Ultimately, faith allows us to trust the Creator.  Just because a person believes God created the world does not ensure they trust God.  Many people do NOT trust God.  We see the same mistrust played out in many religions—including biblical Judaism—where sacrifices were made to appease the gods.  Such religious practices reveal a deep mistrust of divine power.  Yet God turns this whole religious practice of sacrifice upside down through Jesus Christ.  Instead of people making a sacrifice for God, God—in Christ—sacrifices Himself for us.  God has done everything possible to show He is trustworthy.  Now it is our choice whether we will take hold of the higher ideals of faith and hope.  Do you have faith in God? Do you have hope? Love is the highest ideal for which God beckons us to reach. 1 Corinthians 13:13 says, “Three things will last forever—faith, hope, and love—and the greatest of these is love.”  We were created for love. There are 21 definitions for the word love on Dictionary.com.  However, the Greek word 1 Corinthians uses is “Agape,” which is “self-giving love, expressed freely without calculation of cost or gain to the giver or merit on the part of the receiver.”  The clearest demonstration of love is found in the life of Jesus Christ.  By all accounts, Jesus was an extraordinary man.  A man who can heal the blind and walk on water could have gained anything he wanted—power, wealth, prestige.  However, Jesus refused to seek anything for himself.  Instead, he gave up even the basic things most people desire—a way to make a living, a wife, children—and he dedicated his life to helping others.  We have seen a few exceptional people, like Mother Theresa, who lived a life of sacrificial love, but Jesus went even further.  Jesus showed us the greatest love of all when he laid down his life for the world. Jesus didn’t just die for his friends.  He sacrificed his life for people he’d never met—people like you and me.  He died for people most might overlook—the outcast, the forgotten, the neglected.  He died for people most might find despicable—those who have cheated, abused, murdered.  Jesus even died for those who drove the nails through his feet and hands into the cross.  He said, “Father, forgive them, for they don’t know what they are doing.” (Luke 23:34) When Jesus died on the cross, he demonstrated the highest form of love.  We admire his self-sacrificing love.  Somehow, it speaks to our hearts.  We know it is good.  We know it is right.  It awakens a longing within us to reach for this kind of higher love—even when it seems out of reach.  However, just as early people must have thought flight was out of reach, we hope that—with God’s help—we might one day love like Jesus.  The Truth is, we can love like Jesus.  With man it is impossible, but all things are possible with God.  And God beckons us to reach, to stretch, to grow toward love. Closing Whenever you look up at the fluffy white clouds that float high above us in God’s beautiful sky, remember to reach for the higher virtues in life: faith, hope, and love. Pray and ask God to help you. And then, keep reaching for the highest ideals in life.

Monday, December 20, 2021

In Between, part 4 - Divisive Factions

Introduction
God’s 400-year official silence in between the Old and New Testaments was a pause that prepared the world for the most important Word God would ever speak—the Word made flesh, Jesus the Christ.  John 1:14, “So the Word became human and made his home among us. He was full of unfailing love and faithfulness. And we have seen his glory, the glory of the Father’s one and only Son.” 

We will celebrate the birth of that precious Word, Jesus, this week at Christmas.  But we have one more Sunday of Advent to go.  And so today, we will look at the last 100 years of the intertestamental period and consider the various factions that developed before Christ was born—factions that we read about in the Gospels that bitterly divided God’s people—and we will contemplate the bitter divisions in our own times as we wait for Christ to come fix our divided world.

 Isaiah 49:5-7

5 And now the Lord speaks—
    the one who formed me in my mother’s womb to be his servant,
    who commissioned me to bring Israel back to him.
The Lord has honored me,
    and my God has given me strength.
He says, “You will do more than restore the people of Israel to me.
    I will make you a light to the Gentiles,
    and you will bring my salvation to the ends of the earth.”

The Lord, the Redeemer
    and Holy One of Israel,
says to the one who is despised and rejected by the nations,
    to the one who is the servant of rulers:
“Kings will stand at attention when you pass by.
    Princes will also bow low
because of the Lord, the faithful one,
    the Holy One of Israel, who has chosen you.”

God's Chosen People
Israel is often called God's chosen people.  Some think this goes back Moses, because God sent Moses to deliver Israel from slavery in Egypt and lead them to the Promised Land.

God’s choice of Israel goes back even further to Abraham, because God chose Abraham and said, "Leave your homeland and go to a lad I will show you and I will make you the father of a great nation.  You won't even begin to count all your descendants.  And you will be a blessing to all the nations of the earth.  God chose Abraham because he was a man of faith who believed God, even when it seemed impossible. 

But really, God's choice goes all the way back to creation.  God chose to create people.  He didn't need people, but He chose to make people so they could enjoy the beautiful world He created and experience God's love and love Him too.    

God loves all people. He doesn't create some for destruction and some for salvation.  God created all people in hopes of sharing love.  And so, in this sense, God chose all people to be HIs people, but we are so stubborn and sinful we urn away from Him.

But God chose Abraham, because he was a man of faith, to be a blessing to all the nations and help people everywhere repent of sin and come back into a love relationship with God.  

And from Abraham, came Israel, a people who were to be a blessing. Israel was to be a kingdom of priest who brought all people back to God.  Unfortunately, Israel became puffed up by their status and blessings as God's people. They became proud and only wanted to satisfy their own selfish ambitions and build their own kingdom instead of seeing to God's mission to bring the whole world back to God.

Israel began to suffer the consequences of their selfishness and idolatry.  little by little, their kingdom eroded away until they oppressed and conquered by foreign empires.  And in their distress, they cried out for a Messiah to save them.  God said in Isaiah 49:6, I "will do more than restore the people of Israel to me.  I will make you a light to the Gentiles, and you will bring my salvation to the ends of the earth.”

America seems more divided today than it ever has been. We could learn a lot from the history of Israel's mistakes during the intertestamental period.  If ever there were a divided people, it was Israel by the time Jesus was born. 

Israel Between the Old and New Testaments
From the 500s BC until the birth of Christ, Jerusalem was ruled by a succession of foreign empires.  First, the Persia ruled Israel and allowed the Jews to rebuild Jerusalem and the Temple.  Then, Alexander the Great lead Greek Empire to conquer Persia and take control of Israel.  However, Alexander the Great died unexpectedly and his empire shattered into four smaller kingdoms--Macedonia, Pergamum, Ptolemaic Egypt, and Seleucid Syria. And so Israel was then ruled by Greek Egypt followed by Greek Syria.  Then the Maccabees revolted against Syria and a brutal revolution led to a brief period of independence when the corrupt Hasmonean kings ruled Israel.  Then, in 63 BC, the Roman Empire from the west marched into Jerusalem and took over. 

All these wars and devastations and instabilities gave rise to many different political and religious groups in Israel—each one believing they knew what was needed to make Israel great again.  Let's look at these various groups.

The Pharisee and the Sadducees
The Pharisees and Sadducees were both active political parties—backing different leaders and giving allegiance to various different foreign influencers through the intertestamental period.

Because the Greek Empire had been so successful in the Mediterranean world, people everywhere realized the Greeks had some really good ideas.  Therefore, people in many different countries adopted Greek ideas about government, military, philosophy, and even religion.  This process of becoming more Greek was called Hellenization.

Most people realized, if you wanted to get ahead in life and the global world, you needed to be more Greek.  The Sadducees welcomed Hellenization in Jerusalem and it helped them rise in social status.  However, the Pharisees wanted Jews to remain pure.  They didn't want any foreign cultural or religious influences seeping into Judaism.  The Pharisees were the scribes who copied the Torah.  They believed the Bible faithfulness to the Law of Moses was the way to make Israel great again.  So they set about teaching the Law on the streets and encouraged everyone to follow it perfectly.

While the Pharisees were loyal to the Torah, the Sadducees were loyal to the Temple.  They believed what everyone needed was to worship God with sacrifices in the Temple.  They were the priestly class who controlled the coveted and lucrative positions of the Temple order, including the position of High Priest.

The Pharisees believed in ressurection in the afterlife.  The Sadducees were "sad you see" because they didn't believe in ressurection.  They believed there was no life after death; this life is all you get.  So, they wanted to make the most of this life--earn all you can, gain as much power and influence, and enjoy the comforts of this life--because it's all you get.  The Pharisees, on the other hand, believed you should be willing to sacrifice your life for the sake of faithfulness to the Torah because God would reward you in the next life.

The Pharisees were seen as the party of the people, because they could be seen out in the streets teaching the Law to the common person.  On the other hand, the Sadducees the elite upper crust of society, wealthy, holding high positions, and were always in the exclusive temple.

Pharisees were very pious, trying to follow God's law perfectly.  For example, they refused to work on the Sabbath and even forbid people to have too many tacks in their sandals on the Sabbath because walk around with too many takes might be considered carrying a heavy load, which would be work.  The Sadducees, on the other hand, saw religion as a mean to get ahead.  They were often quit corrupt, using their political and religious positions for gain, selling appointments for bribes, cheating people with unfair exchanges in the temple, and getting rich off the people's tithes and offerings.

The Herodians and the Zealots
Another bitter division was between the Herodians and the Zealots.  When Rome marched into Jerusalem in 63 AD, they installed Antipater as their puppet king in Jerusalem.  When Antipater died, his son, Herod the Great, became king in 40 BC.  Herod was a ruthless and savvy king.  He murdered all his Jewish rivals including his sons, his wife, her 2 sons, her brother, her grandfather, and her mother.  This is the same Herod the Wisemen visited in Matthew chapter 2 when they were looking for the infant Jesus, which led Herod to order the murder of every baby in Bethlehem under 2 years old. 

Most people loathed Herod, but he was a savvy political leader who skillfully walked the fine line between being the political leader of Judea and a puppet king for Rome.  Herod’s rule divided Judea further between two opposing groups—the Herodians and the Zealots.

The Herodians supported Herod's rule.  Herod was not of the line of David, Israel's royal line from of old.  However, the Herodians supported Herod's dynasty as the new royal line of Israel.  They also sought to preserve Israel's autonomy by cooperating with the Roman's.  They believed rebellion against Rome was futile and would lead to Jerusalem's destruction.

The Zealots were a militant political party that opposed the Herodians.  The Zealots passion for the national and religious life of the Jewish people led them to despise Rome and even Jews who sought peace through cooperation with the Roman authorities.  The Zealots fiery nationalism meant they hated the Herodians.  They wanted to fight violently for Jewish independence.  They were even willing to resort to terrorist attacks, assassination, and killing their own people to restore David’s Kingdom, which they saw as God’s Kingdom. 

The Essenes
With all the division and strife in Israel’s broken world before Christ, many had given up on this world altogether.  Have you ever felt like that?  Have you ever felt:  "This world is just too dark, too evil.  I don’t even know how to live in this place.  I just wish I could run away to a lonely mountain and live as a hermit."  Or maybe you think, "I'm too social to be a lonely hermit.  I’ll join a commune with a bunch of other truly good people, and we’ll turn our backs on this evil world and start over and make our own good world, where there will be peace and love and happiness.” 

That was how the Essenes felt before Jesus came.  

The Essenes were the “preppers” of the ancient world.  They wanted to leave this world behind.  They realized the systems of this world were so broken, there was no hope for the world to be found in kingdoms and empires and political factions.  Even the established religious systems seemed broken beyond repair.  They rejected the Temple in Jerusalem as corrupt as well.  So they abandoned it all and moved away out into the wilderness.  They wanted to learn how to farm the land and be self-sufficient so they didn't have to depend upon markets and systems and governments of this evil world. 

We have the Essenes to thank for the preservation of the Dead Sea Scrolls.  While they were caching away food for their communities in caves in the Judean wilderness, they also saved the Holy Scriptures.  One day in 1947, a shepherd was wandering through the Judean hills.  He picked up a rock and through it into the mouth of a cave and heard something inside smash.  When he investigated, he found a clay pot with and ancient scroll inside.  It was an ancient copy of the Prophet Isaiah.  People often wonder, "How do we know if the BIble we have today hasn't changed from what was ordinally written?"  Well, in the Dead Sea Scrolls, we see many of the ancient biblical texts, over 2,000 years old, and they are the same as the texts we read in our Bible's today.  Thank you Essenes!

Many scholars also believe John the Baptist was either an Essene or deeply influenced by their religious movement.  And it seems very plausible.  John the Baptist lived in the wilderness, ate locusts and wild honey, and dress in animal skins (many similarities to the Essene's ascetic lifestyles as monks).  The 

The Essenes wanted to forget about the world.  The world could go to hell; the Essenes wanted to start over from scratch.  But by retreating from the world, the Essenes abandoned God's mission for Israel to be a light to other nations.  God doesn't want the world to go to hell.  God wants to save the world.  God did not send His Son to condemn the world, but to save it (see John 3:17).

Conclusion
This was the broken and divided world into which Jesus was born.  He came to bring light into the darkness and to show God came to save ALL people.

God’s Kingdom is not just for Jews or Jerusalem or Israel.  God’s Kingdom is for ALL nations.

And God’s Kingdom is not of this world. In other words, it doesn’t operate by the politics and principles of worldly Kingdoms.  It is not won by political maneuverings or by the might of a sword.  God’s King is a baby born in a manger and His Kingdom is won by a cross. 

It breaks my heart to look around at our broken world—divided between so many factions.  And everyone thinks their way is the only way.  And I feel great kinship with the Essenes, sometimes, and those who want to leave it all behind and move to a remote cabin in the wilderness and just forget about this broken world.  

However, God’s call for His people today is the same as it was in Isaiah 49:6,  I will make you a light to the Gentiles, and you will bring my salvation to the ends of the earth.”  And Jesus said in Matthew 28:19 – “Go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.” 

I believe Christ is coming again, just as He came 2,000 years ago. But when Jesus comes again in final glory, our Messiah will finally bring His Kingdom on Earth and all that is wrong will be made right.  In the meantime, in the waiting, I will do His work on earth.  I will take up my cross and follow Him.

And I hope you will too.

Monday, October 18, 2021

Love Never Gives Up

Introduction
If you followed football yesterday, you may know that Ole Miss beat TN.  Alabama beat Mississippi State.  Georgia beat Kentucky. Auburn beat Arkansas. LSU beat Florida. GT beat Duke.

You know, in a football game, there often comes a certain moment in a game where the tide turns for your team and the game is no longer winnable.  You can sometimes gauge when this critical moment comes, because you may see fans start leaving the stadium.  They know their team is beat at this point.  So they start leaving to get ahead of the traffic.

If you’re a true fan, you may hold on to hope.  You may think, “That’s Ok.  We can still get this back.”  And you’re rooting for your team and you’re hoping that they will retake the lead and win the game.  Then, the opposing team get’s another score.  And you’re frustrated.  But it’s still not over. You still believe—because you’re a true believer.  You believe your team can still pull out a win.  But the time is ticking off the clock and soon your down to the final minutes.  And you’re hoping beyond hope that your team can still do it.  Maybe you’re thinking, “If they get the ball back, and this happens and this happens… They could still do it. It’s possible!” You start running through different scenarios in your mind.  “It may take a miracle, but it’s still possible!”  But then the clock is down to the last minute, then the last seconds, and all your timeouts are gone…

I remember watching a few football games with my dad and older brother as a young kid, I would always be the last one to give up hope.  Dad and Nelson were older and knew the game better.  They could read the writing on the wall when the game was lost.  But I was young and na├»ve and I loved our team and was full of hope.  I would hold on till the last seconds.  But then our team would lose.  It was inevitable. 

Well, that’s football.  But love, according the 1 Corinthians 13:4-7, love is another story. Love never gives up.

1 Corinthians 13:4-7
Love is patient and kind. Love is not jealous or boastful or proud or rude. It does not demand its own way. It is not irritable, and it keeps no record of being wronged. It does not rejoice about injustice but rejoices whenever the truth wins out. Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance.

The City of Corinth
This passage is from Paul’s first letter to the Corinthian church.  The Corinthians lived in Corinth, an important port city in Greece.  Corinth was especially important because it was located on the isthmus of Corinth—a narrow strip of land separating the Gulf of Corinth and the Saronic Gulf.  Ships could be carried over land about four miles on a special paved road made just for moving ships.  It saved a tremendous amount of time and money and was much safer than sailing 185 miles around the treacherous Peloponnesian peninsula.  Corinth’s strategic location made it a very wealthy city, and with it’s wealth also came debauchery.

Ancient Corinth was the home of the temple of the goddess, Aphrodite—the Greek goddess of love.  It was said that the temple employed 1,000 professional prostitutes to “help” the people “worship” Aphrodite.  (I guess that's one way to get people to church!)  

By the time Paul wrote his letter, Corinth had been taken over by the Romans, who converted the Temple of Aphrodite to the Temple of Venus (the Romans name for the goddess of love).  Both Aphrodite and Venus “are known for their jealousy, their beauty and for their affairs with both gods and mortals.”[i]

Study notes in the The MacArther Study Bible say, “Even by pagan standards of its own culture, Corinth became so morally corrupt that its very name became synonymous with debauchery and moral depravity. To ‘corinthianize’ came to represent gross immorality and drunken debauchery.”

Despite Corinth’s centuries of sin and debauchery and corruption of the virtue of love, God did not give up on them.  God sent Paul to Corinth in AD 49 or 50.  According to Acts 18:11, Paul spent 18 months discipling a group of new Christians who then formed the Corinthian church.  God is always working to save people and bring them back from the brink of destruction.  And it doesn’t matter how far gone they seem to be, God still cares.  We see this clearly in the Corinthian church.  From a city as wicked as Corinth, God established a group of Christians to be a beacon of God’s light.

But they still had a lot to learn.  The Corinthian church had some severely warped ideas of love—no wonder; they were a product of a city that worshipped the so-called “goddess of love” that taught love was only a carnal, consuming thing.  Paul wrote about the One True God’s love that is demonstrated in Jesus self-sacrificing love on the cross.  And Paul wrote “Love is patient and kind.”  It had to teach the Corinthians that real love is not jealous like the so-called love of Apphrodite or Venus.  And love “is not boastful or proud or rude.” So they shouldn’t fight amongst themselves about who was the most important or who was more spiritual or who was in charge.  And today we’re learning that “Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful…” just as God never gave up on the Corinthians, despite their centuries of wickedness and sexual immorality and moral corruption.  God's love neve gives up and it changes people's live and even changes the whole world.

John 3:16
John 3:16 is probably one of the most well-known verses in the whole Bible, and for good reason.  John 3:16 could be a summary of the entire story of the Bible.  “For God so loved the world that he gave His only begotten son so that whoever believes in him will not perish but have eternal life.”

The whole story of the Bible—from beginning to end—is the story of God’s love that “never gives up, never loses faith, and is always hopeful” that people will turn from their evil ways and return to a love relationship with God.  Throughout the centuries, while God is reaching out to people to beckon them to come back to Him, God is also setting up His plan to save the whole world.  The ultimate message of God’s love is given through Jesus Christ.  In Jesus, God came in the flesh to show the world His love.  He came teaching people the truth about how to live.  His presence brought healing and life—everywhere he went, the lame were made whole, the blind could see, and the deaf could hear.  Leprosy and deformity and demonic possession were banished.  And so, hoping beyond hope, God reached out to fallen humanity.  There is a way to heal your spirit!  There is a way to be made whole again!  There is a way to be saved!

And there was a tremendous sense of hope.  The Disciples followed Jesus.  And crowds of people heard his teachings and saw his miracles and they believed.  Could this be the Messiah who was sent to save us, even when it seems all hope is lost?

But They Crucified Him
Jesus came in love, but we crucified him.  Can you imagine the disappointment of Jesus’ disciples and followers?  Jesus was love.  He was hope.  They put all their faith in Him.  And then He was brutally murdered on a Roman cross.

Roman crucifixion was the most painful, humiliating, degrading way to kill someone.  It was intentionally designed to make a bold statement to anyone who dared challenge Roman rule.  Crucifixion’s message was: “We own you.  We can do whatever we want to you—any of you.  It doesn’t matter if you are a peasant, a religious leader, a king, or even supposedly a messiah or god, we can strip you naked and beat you to a pulp and nail you to a cross and hang you up to die and agonizing death that will take days while everyone watches in horror—including your mother.”

If ever there was a moment in history when the game was lost, it was on the Friday they nailed Jesus to the cross.  And I don’t care who you were or how much faith you had, everyone who saw Jesus die new the game was over.  Love had lost.

Some cried bitter tears.  Some got angry and cursed Jesus and spat on him.
Some just left, because they knew the game was over. Some ran away in horror and hid in shame.
Some just stared in disbelief.
How could this happen?  How can evil triumph over good?  What do we do now?

There’s a certain point in a football game that’s the point of now return—when the game is lost and there’s no hope to win.  But football’s just a game.  What do you do when it’s real life?

What do you do when the marriage really is over and ends in divorce?
What do you do when your son’s addiction finally takes him?
What do you do when cancer wins?
What do you do when the game clock of real life finally says zero and it really is over?
What do you do when Jesus is really dead?

A Childlike Faith
Jesus was dead and buried in a tomb.  A stone was rolled over the door. 
Soldiers guarded the entrance.  No one was going to get in. 
But Jesus was going to come out!  On the Third Day, Jesus rose from the grave!

With God’s love, true love, divine love, there is always hope.  1 Corinthians 13:7 says, “Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful…”  Love never fails.

Jesus said, “I tell you the truth, anyone who doesn’t receive the Kingdom of God like a child will never enter it.” (Mark 10:15)

Children often have more faith than adults.
Adults know better.  We know how the game of life works.  We know when the game is over—even if the clock hasn’t finished running out.  We think we know when all hope is lost and how it will all end.
But children believe in magic.  They believe in hope.  They still believe in miracles.
And God can work through miracles.  He saved the world through a miracle.
Jesus was dead, but then He was alive!
Jesus can save you with a miracle.  

So, we need to be mature and use our intelligence, but we also need to keep our childlike faith.
“Humanly speaking, it may be impossible.  But with God, everything is possible.” (Matthew 19:26)

Invitation
I want to tell you something though. 
Sometimes you've got to lose before you can win.
Sometimes you've got to die before you can rise to new life.
There may be something you've got to let go of before God can give you something new.
Do you trust Him?
Open your heart. 
Let go. 
Let God do a new thing in you.



[i] http://www.differencebetween.net/miscellaneous/culture-miscellaneous/difference-between-aphrodite-and-venus/

Monday, January 18, 2021

You Can Do Anything!

Introduction
The world is a crazy place.  If you follow the ways of this world, you will end up in a crazy place.  Jesus gave us a better way.  Jesus’ way most often contradicts the ways of the world.  But I choose Jesus’ way.  I hope you will too.  In this series, I want to point out some of the contrasts between the ways of the world’s way and Jesus’ way.  I hope you will notice them and always choose Jesus’ way.

Our Scripture today is Matthew 19:23-26.

Matthew 19:23-26

23 Then Jesus said to his disciples, “I tell you the truth, it is very hard for a rich person to enter the Kingdom of Heaven. 24 I’ll say it again—it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the Kingdom of God!”

25 The disciples were astounded. “Then who in the world can be saved?” they asked.

26 Jesus looked at them intently and said, “Humanly speaking, it is impossible. But with God everything is possible.”

In Jesus' day, people believed you needed to earn God's blessings.  Most people were very poor and had a hard time doing good deeds; they were too busy just trying to survive from day to day.  People looked up to those with great wealth thinking they were blessed by God--that's why they had so much.  Furthermore, the wealthy had disposable income and could hep the poor or give money to the Temple.  Thus, Jesus words astounded his disciples: "It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter into the Kingdom of God!"  The disciples thought that if a rich person couldn't earn their way into heaven then there was surely no hope at all for the poor.  

Thankfully, we don't have to earn our way into heaven because Jesus already paid the price in full when he gave his life on the cross.  

A Mother’s Wisdom – “You Can Do Anything You Put Your Mind To!”
We didn’t have a lot when I was growing up.  We were part of what I would call the lower middle class.  Then, things got even worse after my parents divorced.  We scraped by on what little my dedicated determined mom was able to earn by herself.  But one thing she gave me was far more valuable than anything money could buy.  She told me again and again: “You can do anything you put your mind to.” 

And I believed her.  No matter what challenge I faced, I believed I could overcome if put my mind to it and was willing to work hard.  My mother’s wisdom motivated me to surmount some great hurdles in life.  While most of the people I grew up remained trapped in Macon, a town with little opportunity descending into poverty and crime and corruption, I went away to college.  I didn’t have any money to pay for college, but I worked and found financial aid and paid for it anyway.  I was determined to make a better life than the one I grew up in and I did. 

I always assumed everyone had the benefit of a mother who told them, “You can do anything if you put your mind to it!”  I was wrong.  Story about the people of Highland UMC in a mill town…

So if you’ve never been encouraged, I want to encourage you today.  You are capable of great things—far more than you may realize.  But I want to do even better than my mother’s wisdom.  I want to give you Jesus' wisdom.

Jesus’ Wisdom

Jesus wisdom is similar to my mother’s wisdom, but even better.  Jesus said in Matthew 19:26, “Humanly speaking, it is impossible. But with God everything is possible.”  Jesus recognized that there are some things that aren’t possible for us.

At 46 years old, I can’t play professional football.  It's just not going to happen no matter how hard I work or put my mind to it.  And even if I really put my mind to it, I can’t walk on water; the laws of nature will not allow it.  And I can't earn God's love or salvation.  It can't be done.  Thankfully, I don' have to because Jesus already made salvation possible and I experience God's full and unconditional love through faith in Christ.


Jesus also has the wisdom to know there are somethings you are capable of doing, but you shouldn’t do them because they aren’t God’s will for you.  When I was a child--like many other boys--I wanted to be a professional football player.  And maybe, if I had really put my mind to it and worked really hard, I could have accomplished that dream. However, eve if I did, I would not be as happy or as fulfilled or healthy as I am today because it was not God's plan for me to be a professional football player.  When I was in college, my goal was to be a textile engineer and I did graduate with a degree in that field and start that career.  However, God showed me that was not His plan for me either and I am much happier and fulfilled serving as a pastor no because that was God's purpose for me.  We are always better off doing what God wants us to do, even if we are capable of doing something else.

The greatest encouragement of all is knowing God has a special purpose for your life. Your purpose is important. It means your life has meaning beyond just your own personal fulfillment.  And your life will have an eternal impact on the world.  Even the small things you do when you do them within God's will are more important and lasting that impressive things you do outside of God's will.  Furthermore, God will help you do whatever He calls you to do.  Even if it seems impossible to fulfill your purpose, it is possible with God’s help. Jesus said, “I tell you the truth, if you had faith even as small as a mustard seed, you could say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it would move. Nothing would be impossible.” (Matthew 17:20)

Nothing is impossible with God.  Consider, Peter walked on water even thought the laws of nature say that's impossible.  The apostle Paul traveled the world telling people about Jesus even though people everywhere were trying to stop him.  Martin Luther King Jr. helped defeat segregation and win civil rights for African Americans.  What great thing might God want to accomplish through you?  Humanly speaking, it may be impossible, but all things are possible with God's help.

Now, that doesn’t mean you can just sit on your butt and let God do all the work.  Once you know what God’s purpose is for you, you’ve got to have faith in God and be totally committed.  You’ve got to work for it and never give up.  Faith can move mountains, but don’t be surprised if God gives you a shovel.

 

Know God’s Will for You
Perhaps, the hardest part of life for some is finding out God’s purpose for them.  People share how they struggle with this all the time.  I know it can be hard and I won’t minimize that struggle.  But perhaps I can share some wisdom that might help.  First of all, let’s start with what we know about your purpose.


God clearly told us some concrete things about your purpose.  First of all, we know God’s purpose is to save you for eternal life.  John 3:16 "For God so love the world that He gave His one and only son so that whoever believes in him would not perish but have eternal life."  That purpose is for you.  We also know God wanted to save you for a relationship with Him.  You are to walk with God every day.  We also know that you’ve got to surrender unconditionally to God through Jesus Christ in order to start living in a relationship with God.  You've got to recognize that your life is not your own to live any way you please.  You were made to love God and love for Him.

Once you start walking with God, there are more things you know you should do.  As you read God's Word in the Bible, you know it’s God’s will for you to love your neighbors, control your tongues, act justly, love mercy, and walk humbly. You know God doesn’t want you to steal, murder cheat, lie, slander, gossip, or boast.  You know this because God tells us in the Bible.  When you are obedient and do what you know God wants you to do, He is more likely to reveal what you don’t know—like His specific purpose for your life.  So start by doing what you do know and have faith the rest will be revealed.


I love Psalm 119:105 where it says, "Your word is a lamp to guide my feet and a light for my path."  Now a lamp doesn't shine hundreds of feet ahead of you.  It shines on your path allowing you to see what a few steps ahead so you can walk safely without tripping.  That's a fitting illustration for the life of Christian faith.  God's Word shows us the next few steps and as we walk those steps, God will reveal more.  Eventually, we find we've walked quite a ways down the road God is leading us on, but you have to have faith and you have to take the steps God gives you.

 

That’s the way it worked for me.  I started out as a kid with my mother’s wisdom—"You can do anything you put your mind to.”  But then a particular failure in my teenage years brought me to my knees and I turned to God.  I started out small—simply walking with God by reading one chapter of the Bible every day before I went to sleep.  Then, I started going to church when my wife when we started dating.  Next, I tried to live the way I knew God wanted me to live.  I started serving in the ways I felt God was asking me to serve—first volunteering to help our youth director with the youth group, then singing in the choir.  From there, God began to reveal more and more about His will for my life.  Eventually, I heard Him calling me into full-time ministry and I left my career as a textile engineer to become a pastor.  My journey isn’t over yet.  I still have to walk the path God puts before me.  As I do, He reveals more of His purpose for me and I try to do it.

 

Do You Very Best

Whatever God calls you to do, do it with all your heart.  Colossians 3:23 says, “Work willingly at whatever you do, as though you were working for the Lord rather than for people.”  Martin Luther King, Jr. put it this way: “If a man is called to be a street sweeper, he should sweep streets even as a Michelangelo painted, or Beethoven composed music or Shakespeare wrote poetry. He should sweep streets so well that all the hosts of heaven and earth will pause to say, 'Here lived a great street sweeper who did his job well.”

 

Closing

The more you live for God, the more God reveals His purposes for you and the more people will notice there’s something special about you will open doors that lead you into the future God has for you.


It all starts with a simple choice and commitment to surrender your life to God and follow His will for you.  Humanly speaking, it is impossible.  But with God, everything is possible.