Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Complicated tax forms are intimidating. It's little wonder that tax preparation services are big business. If it were only as simple as the humorous basic tax form with only two lines: (1) how much did you make? (2) send it in. On second thought, that's too painfully simple.

Perhaps we similarly complicate the road to the Kingdom of God. If someone were to ask, "how do I enter the Kingdom?", answers might include church attendance, financial giving, character integrity, and doctrinal grasp. And, while these are important areas, perhaps the best answer of all is this:

"Truly I say to you, unless you are converted and become like children, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven." (Matthew 18:3)

Could it really be that simple? Are the pursuits that we equate with spiritual maturity in radical opposition to Jesus' basic statement about child-likeness?

Let's preface an answer with the child-like qualities Jesus apparently had in mind. The following verse holds an important clue:

"Whoever then humbles himself as this child, he is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven." (Matthew 18:4)

Humility is clearly a prized quality: "Blessed are the gentle (meek; humble), for they shall inherit the earth." (Matthew 5:5). "Now the man Moses was very humble, more than any man who was on the face of the earth" (Numbers 12:3).

Humility is coupled with another quality that Jesus alludes to in the following verses in Matthew eighteen: forgiveness. A humble person is easily forgiving; a proud person can be harshly unforgiving.

Growth and maturity are essential on the road to the kingdom (Hebrews 5:12,13), but unless humility and forgiveness permeate our character, our growth is unproductive. These vital qualities are the bedrock of love, from which all must spring (1 Corinthians 13).

Confusing as it might sound, the priority is to grow up and be like a child. Pursue knowledge and understanding, maturity and wisdom, but never lose humility and forgiveness. Grow up, but never away, from these essential qualities.


Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Simple stories with deep meaning. Scholars found them offensively simple, but the simple found them profoundly insightful. And that was the plan.

"To you it has been granted to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been granted." (Matthew 13:11)

I remember the first time I heard two people in deep conversation about computers. I had no idea what DOS prompts and commands meant (this really dates me) . Since I had no idea as to the basic premise of their discussion, it all sounded like some foreign language I knew nothing about. Later, as I became more knowledgeable about computers, discussions such as this were enlightening rather than confusing.

Jesus' parables are like that. If we don't understand His basic premise, then the stories are nonsense; they are like jokes without a punch line. And, as a result, "YOU WILL KEEP ON HEARING, BUT WILL NOT UNDERSTAND; YOU WILL KEEP ON SEEING, BUT WILL NOT PERCEIVE" (Matthew 13:14; cr. Isaiah 6:9)

Jesus has granted to the receptive the ability to understand "the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven". A mystery is a revealed secret; something not previously understood. Growing seed in various kinds of soil, wheat and weeds, mustard seed, yeast in dough, treasure in a field, a priceless pearl, and a fishing net, all reveal "the mystery". And the mystery really is unexpected; it is the truth of a realm not seen, but real nonetheless. The mystery explains that the Kingdom HAS come, but not fully. Its presence opens up unprecedented opportunities for the miraculous; for radically changed lives; for renewal of relationships; for permeating influence. The "mystery" explains that an event is also an era; that the kingdom is more than a point on a line; it IS the line.

Jesus' simple stories offer insight to the simple, but also unfathomable depth to the scholar. Above all, they reveal both a realm and a hope that enrich our lives beyond measure.

May the mystery be clear and its implications powerfully motivating.

Pastor Steve

Monday, January 25, 2010

What's not to worry about? Unemployment and a shrinking economy strike fear in the hearts of many who face an uncertain future. How could an admonition NOT to worry have any basis in present reality?

"For this reason I say to you, do not be worried about your life, as to what you will eat or what you will drink; nor for your body, as to what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? " (Matthew 6:25)

These sound like the words of a carefree spirit whose needs are met through a rich benefactor. If we weren't certain of their source, we might attribute them to a wealth entrepreneur or investor. But, they are the words of a man who had nowhere to lay his head (Matthew 8:20).

How is it possible to live life without a concern for food, drink, clothing, and shelter? Or, is that what Jesus truly meant?

The key word is "worry", and it literally means "anxious, distracted care." In other words, an obsession with daily needs such that we are distracted from other priorities. Concern, however, directs us to responsible work and planning so that daily needs are met. As we read in 2 Thessalonians, "Now such persons we command and exhort in the Lord Jesus Christ to work in quiet fashion and eat their own bread." (2 Thessalonians 3:12)

Jesus' words not to worry are based on a previous statement: "For this reason". This previous statement is that "No one can serve two masters ; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth. " (Matthew 6:24). The real issue is concerning who and what owns us. If our heart is owned by the world, then we will have an anxious, distracted care for the things of the world. If our heart belongs to the Lord, our perspective will be that life is much more than these things that people of the world obsess over.

Few words are as challenging as these to those who live in an affluent society, as many, if not most of us do. Sophisticated advertizing and societal pressure assert that luxuries are to be deemed necessities, regardless of financial consequences. These tactics have effectively created the devastating economic circumstances we presently live with. We are a society, not so much driven by the pursuit of necessities, but rather luxuries. A sense of entitlement motivates far too many people to unswervingly pursue "the good life" to the detriment of spiritual values and priorities.

The absolute cure for misplaced material priorities is Jesus' famous admonition to "seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you." (Matthew 6:33). Undue worry and concern for daily needs can only be abated through a redirected focus on the realm of the reign of God, who richly and freely supplies what many untiringly pursue.

May the Kingdom priority override our daily worries and concerns.


Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Sometimes a job demotion sets the stage for a big promotion; at least it did for one guy I've heard about.

Through a series of seemingly unfortunate events, this guy wound up in prison as an innocent man. While there, he heard and interpreted the dreams of two men. Everything happened exactly according to the interpretation - the one man was was executed, while the other man was restored to his former position. But this man quickly forgot what had happened as he resumed his former duties. And that's where the story picks up ...

"Then the chief cupbearer spoke to Pharaoh, saying, "I would make mention today of my own offenses. Pharaoh was furious with his servants, and he put me in confinement in the house of the captain of the bodyguard, both me and the chief baker. We had a dream on the same night, he and I; each of us dreamed according to the interpretation of his own dream. Now a Hebrew youth was with us there, a servant of the captain of the bodyguard, and we related them to him, and he interpreted our dreams for us. To each one he interpreted according to his own dream. And just as he interpreted for us, so it happened; he restored me in my office, but he hanged him." Then Pharaoh sent and called for Joseph, and they hurriedly brought him out of the dungeon; and when he had shaved himself and changed his clothes, he came to Pharaoh." (Genesis 41:9-14)

In one day Joseph was elevated for innocent prisoner to second-in-command of a powerful government. Few promotions are as dramatic as this, and few people are capable of handling such lofty elevation. From all that we read, Joseph remained a man of impeccable character, never corrupted or tainted by his high office and status.

Unlikely as it might seem in the present economy, how well prepared are you to handle a promotion? If society's spotlight were to suddenly shine upon you, would you be able to retain character and integrity? Would humility characterize you, or would pride overwhelm you in the midst of fame and power?

It's been said that many people can endure the test of adversity, but few can survive the test of prosperity. Perhaps so, but the real measure is the ability to accept either and remain strong spiritually. As the apostle Paul said, "I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances I am. I know how to get along with humble means, and I also know how to live in prosperity; in any and every circumstance I have learned the secret of being filled and going hungry, both of having abundance and suffering need" (Philippians 4:11-12)

Challenging as this truth might be to accept, the true measure is not our circumstances, but our character in the midst of them. May godly character shine forth in whichever you find yourself in at this moment.


Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Was it a dream or a nightmare? It ultimately came true, but the journey was anything but painless.

"Then Joseph had a dream, and when he told it to his brothers, they hated him even more. He said to them, "Please listen to this dream which I have had; for behold, we were binding sheaves in the field, and lo, my sheaf rose up and also stood erect; and behold, your sheaves gathered around and bowed down to my sheaf." Then his brothers said to him, "Are you actually going to reign over us? Or are you really going to rule over us?" So they hated him even more for his dreams and for his words. 9 Now he had still another dream, and related it to his brothers, and said, "Lo, I have had still another dream; and behold, the sun and the moon and eleven stars were bowing down to me." (Genesis 37:5-9)

Dreams are prominent in the record of the Bible. Quite often Yahweh God revealed His plans and will to His people through dreams and visions. Were it not for this medium, we would not have the last and perhaps most intriguing book of the Bible, the Revelation.

Dreams and visions are intrinsically bound to the work of Holy Spirit in our era, as indicated in Acts 2:16-18. This Spirit era is the age of dreams and visions, but, not every dream is a Spirit-inspired revelation - some dreams are merely the mysterious and vivid activity of the subconscious mind. The source of some dreams may be more directly attributed to a late-night snack or meal than God's Holy Spirit.

How do we sort God's revelation from mental imagination? How do we know when God is truly speaking to us in a dream? This much is certain: God will never present anything contrary to what He has already revealed in His written word. If He truly speaks to us through dreams, it will be to clarify that which He has already revealed in the record of Scripture. He will only add revelation to those who diligently study His written revelation. Dreams and visions are no substitute for meticulous and faithful study of the Bible.

Joseph endured severe hardship on the road to fulfillment of his God-inspired dreams. And perhaps these vivid dreams sustained him in his darkest hours. The dreams were eventually fulfilled, Joseph was vindicated, his brothers saw truth validated, and God ultimately was praised and glorified.

If God has given you a dream, search for its confirmation in His written word, ponder its significance in your heart, and faithfully follow the dream to fulfillment, regardless of the hardships during the journey. If it is the dream of human imagination it will become clear; if is the dream of His Spirit, it will prevail!


Wednesday, January 13, 2010

A devastating earthquake strikes a country that experts say was overdue for one. Knowing that calamity is coming is one thing; preparing for it is another.

While a study of earthquakes and tectonic plates is not my area of expertise, I can predict with a high degree of certainty a coming cataclysm. The precedent for this future disaster is found in an ancient event:

"Then the two men said to Lot, "Whom else have you here? A son-in-law, and your sons, and your daughters, and whomever you have in the city, bring them out of the place; for we are about to destroy this place, because their outcry has become so great before the LORD that the LORD has sent us to destroy it." (Genesis 19:12-13)

The account of the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah is legendary, and serves as an example of what is to come:

"It was the same as happened in the days of Lot: they were eating, they were drinking, they were buying, they were selling, they were planting, they were building; but on the day that Lot went out from Sodom it rained fire and brimstone from heaven and destroyed them all. It will be just the same on the day that the Son of Man is revealed. On that day, the one who is on the housetop and whose goods are in the house must not go down to take them out; and likewise the one who is in the field must not turn back . Remember Lot's wife." (Luke 17:28-32)

September 11, 2001 began as a perfectly normal fall day in New York City. Nothing in the early morning routine in that city hinted at the coming catastrophe. But, with brutal suddenness, disaster came.

Perhaps it was a similar day in the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah. Few, if any, noticed the urgent flight from the city of a family and two men as they arose and began early morning preparation for the day. But, as day dawned, inescapable death and fiery destruction descended.

Most peculiar of all is Jesus' admonition to "Remember Lot's wife." Despite a clear and urgent warning by God's angelic messengers, she looked longingly back at the city of Sodom and immediately became a pillar of salt (Genesis 19:26). Present deliverance is forfeited in the face of impending judgment when we long for where we have been and what we have had.

The God of mercy is a Holy God of judgment - a fact much neglected these days. His patience is merciful, but it will not last forever. Amidst these days when abhorrent sins continue to pile high into the heavens, God's action point approaches with awful suddenness and finality for the unprepared.

This is the day to seek His face and blessings, and to extend an urgent warning to the unprepared. Now is the time of salvation, because the next moment may be too late. You have His Word on that.


Tuesday, January 12, 2010

I was given a telescope recently. Arizona, where I live, even amidst city lights and pollution, has some of the clearest night skies anywhere. I've spent considerable time gazing at the night sky through my telescope, focusing on the little dots of lights that are reminders of a promise made to a great man of faith.

"And He took him outside and said, "Now look toward the heavens, and count the stars, if you are able to count them." And He said to him, "So shall your descendants be." Then he believed in the LORD; and He reckoned it to him as righteousness." (Genesis 15:5-6)

It is a tender scene: the Father standing beside His faithful child and helping him to visualize the promise by considering the innumerable stars of the sky. Nothing could be more difficult for an elderly childless man to believe, but "he believed in the LORD; and He reckoned it to him as righteousness." In a simple, child-like act, this man of faith acquired the full blessings of His Creator.

The same is expected of each of us. The Lord God calls us to open our eyes, look up, and believe His vast promises, for without that simple faith "it is impossible to please Him" (Hebrews 11:6).

Few things are as difficult for this writer to comprehend than to believe that an unlikely and obscure group of misfits in the world will one day rule it with Christ. I, for one, have no government leadership experience and, as such, feel woefully inadequate for the task. And yet somehow He will use the likes of you and me to carry out the great purpose of His Father. ALMOST unbelievable!

Simple belief is more attainable by simply taking a moment to look in the mirror. You, as a person of faith in Jesus the Christ, are one of Abraham's descendants. And you are just one of a vast throng of his descendants down through the ages; those "who are of the faith of Abraham, who is the father of us all" (Romans 4:16).

Whether you peer into the night sky with a telescope or the naked eye, the reminder of the promise of God to Abraham is readily evident. And if faith is a struggle at this time in your life, perhaps the best exercise is to read God's promises to you from His word, and then ponder them tonight as you look at the stars of the night sky.


Monday, January 11, 2010

It's not about aging; it's about faithfulness. The passing of days and seasons shouldn't be viewed so much as benchmarks of aging, but rather as reminders that God is faithful.

"While the earth remains, Seedtime and harvest, And cold and heat, And summer and winter, And day and night Shall not cease." (Genesis 8:22)

Following the cataclysm of the great flood in Noah's day, God declared that He would never again destroy life in this way. In spite of His awareness that "the intent of man's heart is evil from his youth" (Genesis 8:21), He established the promise of the perpetuity of days and seasons in this age.

Life is seasonal in a variety of ways. There are seasons of ease and prosperity, as well as seasons of adversity and poverty. Yet amidst these seasons, God continues to remain faithful.

The faithful God Who has established the varieties of days and seasons desires our faithfulness amidst these changing times. Faithfulness in good times and unfaithfulness in difficult times is not faithfulness at all. As Job said, "Shall we indeed accept good from God and not accept adversity?" (Job 2:10).

Not all who read these words are experiencing the same season of life. Some are literally experiencing winter at the same time others are in the season of summer. And there are those who are experiencing these seasonal opposites emotionally and spiritually as well. But this much is certain: the seasons will change, and God will continue to remain faithful.

I write these words at the beginning of a new day, ripe with potential and possibilities. I anticipate blessings and progress, but I have lived long enough to know how uncertain life is. Unthinkable tragedy can just as easily be part of this day as are the familiar routines that I anticipate. God is there regardless, and on that I stake my faith and hope.

The variety of seasons remain in this age, but a brand new season is coming. It will be a season unlike any before; a season of perpetual day, with no need for sun or moon (Revelation 22:23,25). This age to come will be the culmination of all God's faithfulness, and it will be a time well worth being faithful for today.

Partner with the Faithful One in this day and season as you anticipate the Ultimate Season.


Wednesday, January 06, 2010

Need-to-know information about public enemy number one: "Now the serpent was more crafty than any beast of the field which the LORD God had made." (Genesis 3:1). Al Qaida has nothing compared to this crafty creature who is bent on not only destroying our lives in this age, but preventing us from entering the age to come. Deceit and violence are his key tactics.

Apparently we have an enemy well acquainted with our weakness as well as with the words and thoughts of God. In the garden of Eden, he was well aware of God's prohibition concerning the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, and thus craftily made his appeal to human desire for equality with God. Stirring a lust for greatness, coupled with the desire of the eyes, proved to be a lethal combination for our first parents. A fateful fall resulted from which humanity has never recovered. And yet a seed of hope is found in this cataclysmic fall from grace:

"And I will put enmity Between you and the woman, And between your seed and her seed ; He shall bruise you on the head, And you shall bruise him on the heel." (Genesis 3:15)

Spiritual warfare would be unceasing between devilish descendants and humans, but a certain "He" was destined from the beginning to bruise or crush the head of the evil one even as His own heel would be bruised in an evil effort to thwart the redemptive plan of the Creator.

The need-to-know information concerning the craftiness of our number one public enemy is vital. He will unceasingly appeal to our lust for greatness and satisfaction. He will stop at nothing in his obsession over our destruction. Like a modern-day terrorist organization, he will fight us on our own soil as well as from a distance. But we are not destined for defeat. The simplest of tactics is overwhelmingly effective: "Resist the devil and he will flee from you." (James 4:7).

We are not pawns torn between domination by our Creator or our enemy; we are free-thinking, intelligent beings who have one inalienable right: choice. It is ultimately a personal choice to listen to the luring offer of the enemy, or to resist and embrace the perfect law and word of our Creator. It is a choice, and it is ours alone to make. Standing before the Holy One and blaming the evil one for influencing our choice will be no more effective than it was in the garden of paradise in the beginning.

Our most sacred privilege this day is that of choice. The stakes are incredibly high; literally life or death. Choose wisely.


Monday, January 04, 2010

It's the first stated fact about God: "In the beginning God created" (Genesis 1:1). Ultimately the Eternal Self-Existing One is creative, and on a scale that we can scarcely imagine. He spoke a word and all that now exists came forth from nothingness.

We could devote our entire lives in study of that which He created, and we would not even begin to explore the depths of His creativity. Nothing is more complex or complete than that which He created. And of all that he created, there is nothing He values and prizes more highly than us. We are the crown of His creation.

All that exists came into being through His word of command, but we uniquely were made by His hands. No doubt He could have similarly commanded the first man and woman into existence, but instead he chose to take the dust of the ground and formed our first parents with His hands. As such, we are the most personal of His creation.

The personal and meticulous way in which we were formed indicates His ultimate plan for us. We were designed for intimate connection and relationship with Him. As His prized creation, He desires that we never be far from Him. The fact that He walked with the first man "in the garden in the cool of the day" (Genesis 3:8) is evidence that He eagerly desires close connection with His prized creation.

The evil one has very effectively disrupted our Creator's plan in far too many of His created ones. A walk in the garden has been replaced with every imaginable form of idolatry. His creatures too often choose to worship some from of His creation rather than the Creator.

We have the wonderful opportunity to remember our origins and align our lives with His purpose. The Creator longs for His creation and our deepest longings our satisfied when we respond to this desire. It is when we return to the hands that formed us that we truly find life and purpose.

May you discover and rediscover a sense of wonderment concerning your origins and purpose this day.