Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Getting It Backwards

From that time on Jesus began to preach, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.”   
                                                                                                                              Matthew 4:17

There are issues in the lives of people we care about who do not know Jesus that are clearly against God's design and desires for their lives.  To put it in blunt moral terms, they are wrong.  All sin is wrong in God's sight if we want to use the term wrong.  That is a definition of sin, going against what is right.

There are some who seem to believe that we can't speak to our loved ones about Jesus or witness to them in any way because to do so means we have to tell them how wrong their behavior is.  That is backwards.  They are living out their sinful nature just as we did before we were transformed by Jesus.  We can't expect anything else.  And to them that is normal and "right."  

If anyone had the right to preach at people and tell them they were wrong, it was Jesus when He was here on earth.  But that is not what He taught.  He called people to repent because the Kingdom of Heaven had come near.  Even when He conversed with people who were living in terribly sinful lifestyles, He didn't condemn them about their lifestyle.  He spoke to them about their need of quenching the thirst they had inside them.  Or coming out from under the cloud of shame or guilt.  Or for Peter raising his vision from catching fish to catching men.  Or for Nicodemus moving him from being a son of Abraham and religiously validated to being a son of God and finding true transformation in life.  

We must be careful not to get the cart before the horse.  We don't have to tell people they are wrong.  In reality, most of them already know they are.  What they need is to know that there is a way to get from where they are to where God intended for them to be.  They won't say that.  They may not know it.  They only know the need inside them.  And the only way for that need to be met is for them to come into the Kingdom of God.  That is what we have to share with them.  

Don't become confused or deceived.  It is God who has already declared what is wrong and right.  And all of us apart from a personal relationship with Jesus are in the wrong.  So declare the Kingdom of Heaven and give hope to those who are away from Him.  Tell them how the Lord has worked in your life.  It is His job to convict them of their sin and draw them to Himself.

Monday, November 26, 2012


Ever have those times when you got caught red handed in a situation and you had nothing to say?  I have had a number of instances in my life where I promised to do something and failed to carry it out yet and was questioned by the person to whom I made the promise.  I had nothing to say.  I was silenced by my failure.  How else could I respond?

Jesus is eating at the home of a Pharisee.  There is a very sick man in attendance.  Here is the encounter:

One Sabbath, when Jesus went to eat in the house of a prominent Pharisee, he was being carefully watched. There in front of him was a man suffering from abnormal swelling of his body. Jesus asked the Pharisees and experts in the law, “Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath or not?” But they remained silent. So taking hold of the man, he healed him and sent him on his way.
Then he asked them, “If one of you has a child[a] or an ox that falls into a well on the Sabbath day, will you not immediately pull it out?” And they had nothing to say.

Pharisees like to impose rules, usually ones they have made up, on others.  They often pounced on Jesus with criticism if He healed someone on the Sabbath because they considered it work.  Notice before He heals, Jesus asked them if it was legal to do so.  They remained  silent.  How could they look the hurting man in the face and say no?  Following the healing, Jesus asked them if they were in a situation the required them to take action to help one of their children or care for one of their animals if they would act on the Sabbath.  And they had nothing to say.  Caught red-handed.

Isn't it interesting that we can be like the Pharisees and ramp up our religious fervor toward others about things that don't matter when we would do something similar if it benefited us?  Jesus was focused on people.  They were focused on rules.  Jesus was acting for the benefit of others.  They were promoting themselves.  It is also interesting that He goes on to teach about humbling yourself as opposed to seeking honor.  

Lord, help us to see where we are red-handed today, to humble ourselves and remain silent.  Amen. 

Friday, November 23, 2012

Fan or Follower?

Pam and I have been discussing a common practice among us as human beings.  In sensitivity to what people have experienced in their lives, we dismiss them or ourselves from responsible decisions they can make today because "they were never taught" or "they never did that before."  I get that and I don't want you to read this as being some hard-nosed condemnation of anyone.  Its not. 

What I do want to do is ask a different question.  What do you see in Scripture when someone is truly and completely encountered by Jesus?  What difference did that make?  Were the patterns of their lives different?

I find that those who were self-righteous or only religious admirers of Jesus were no different and even tried to find ways to criticize Him or His followers when the truth He spoke made them feel uncomfortable.  In turn, Jesus spoke of them as snake pits or white washed tombs.  Or for those who were close enough to participate in some miraculous events yet failed to follow when He did things differently than they expected, He said He never knew them.  (Matt. 7)

But for the ones whose encounter with Jesus transformed them, it was different.  Zacchaeus declared he was going to return stolen tax money to people four fold.  That is what the law required but his practice had been the polar opposite.  The woman at the well went from hiding in the shadows of shame to telling everyone about the man who told her everything she ever did but treated her with compassion and gave her hope.  The Ethiopian eunuch knew enough to ask to be baptized after Philip introduced him to the Truth.  A Roman centurion encountered Jesus and related his understanding of authority to what Jesus could do.  And Jesus was amazed at his faith. 

I'm not suggesting that we don't need help in the journey, we do.  And that is why Jesus gave us to each other.  But I do believe that our expectation should be that if someone has truly been transformed by Jesus, moving from being a fan of Jesus to being a true follower, the work of God in them changes the desires of their lives.  And there is change.  No matter what they came out of. 

Jesus said in Luke 9:23:  23 Then he said to them all: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me.

Die and follow me wherever I may lead you.  Our trouble comes when we want to admire and cheer Jesus on but not die with Him.  That is the difference between a fan and a follower.  Kyle Idelman, pastor of Southeast Christian Church in Louisville, KY, has written a book and done a series on this very topic.  Here is the explanation from his own life.  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eVXs0vkQNvc

Are you a fan or a follower?   Transformed and growing in commitment or excusing why that isn't happening while giving Jesus limited access to speak into your life?  

Jesus said the way is narrow and only followers will be on it. 


Sunday, November 18, 2012

An Update on Israel from one of its Ambassadors

I had the privilege of being on an informational call Saturday afternoon with David Siegel, Israeli Consul General in Los Angeles.  He is the former chief of staff for Danny Ayalon, Deputy Foreign Minister for Israel.  Here is a summary of what he told us:

Israel has had 1000 rockets fired at them from Gaza or the Sinai this week, 800 of them since the start of the Pillar of Cloud operation on Wednesday.  The Iron Dome units have halted the 250 of the 800.  Those 250 were headed into highly populated urban areas.  With the updated weapons supplied to Hamas from Iran they now have 4-5 million of the 8 million people in Israel in their sights.  Closer to Gaza, people have 15 seconds to get to a bomb shelter when the alarm goes off.  Further away, they have a minute.  Imagine living under such conditions.

Israel has shown tremendous restraint.  Over the past three years alone, over 3000 rockets have rained down on Israel from Gaza.  In the past 12 years, over 12,000 rockets were fired.  Israel withdrew from occupying Gaza in 2005.  After repeated attempts to stop the rockets in 2009, they did a ground invasion and then withdrew. 

   Israel is committed to the defense of its citizens and their citizens are unanimous in their support.  Up to 75,000 reserve soldiers have been called up if necessary for a ground invasion.  Israel will avoid that if the firing of missiles stops.

President Obama and the Congress have shown tremendous support and because of US funding or sharing of technology, a fifth Iron Dome anti-missile system is in place in Tel Aviv.  It shot down incoming missiles hours after installation. 

Despite the incessant firing of rockets from Gaza, Israel has kept the crossings open and humanitarian aid flowing to Gazans.  Also, wounded Palestinians have been treated in Israeli hospitals by Israeli doctors.  In addition, Israeli has dropped leaflets, made phone calls and sent text messages to Palestinians in Gaza to stay away from Hamas members and rocket launching sites for their own safety. 

An illustration of their strong desire to also protect the lives of Palestinian civilians is the decision of one of their F16 pilots.  He was tasked with taking out a long range missile firing platform.  Before he fired on it he saw women and children around it.  He did not fire.  Hours later that rocket was fired on Tel Aviv.

While Israel takes such precautions, the jihadists do not.  Hamas intentionally places their rocket launching sites and ammunition storage facilities in civilian areas and they use civilians for human shields.  When Hamas took over the Gaza Strip from the Fatah party, they threw leaders of Fatah off the rooftops of buildings to kill them.  So they do not care even about their own people.  Their only goal is to destroy Israel.

Iran backs Hamas in Gaza and also Hezbollah in Lebanon, on the northern border with Israel.  The Syrian government is also backed by Iran.  Reports indicate that the tons of biological weapons that Syria possesses potentially could get into the hands of Al Qaeda elements.  That is not good news for either Israel or the US.  This is one other reason, besides the Biblical mandate to pray for the peace of Israel, for us to show our full support.  It is not only about their future, but ours. 

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Our Response to Events in Israel

This is a map as of Friday evening showing where rockets have landed in Israel since the barrage started.  Civilians have been killed.  All the rockets are randomly shot at the entire population, not military installations.  Overnight, more rockets have been shot toward Israel, including 14 in one hour.

Israel has done strikes on Hamas military personnel and rocket launch sites and overnight destroyed Hamas government headquarters without their leadership inside.  They have sent text messages to Gazans to stay away from Hamas members for safety's sake.

Yet Israel is being criticized for defending herself.  I know of no nation on earth, including those being critical of Israel, who would allow such an attack on their population to go unanswered. Such criticisms make no sense.

How should we as Christians respond in this crisis?

First, I ask that all believers pray for the people.  Pray for all the innocent Israeli and Palestinian civilians who are in the crossfire. While God has a special covenant relationship with Israel, He also loves the Arab people as well.  And we have Arab Christian brothers and sisters in the Gaza Strip too.  Pray protection for them all.

Second, pray for wisdom for the Israeli leaders.  In any incursion, lives will be at stake.  Hamas tends to hide their rocket launch sites and military installations in hospitals, schools and among civilian populations, using innocent civilians as shields.

Finally, please pray for Palestinian Chairman Mahmoud Abbas and his advisors that they may be able to exercise some influence to stop the violence.  He seems to have little control over Hamas currently and they are being supported by Egypt and Iran.  But he may be able to do something.  

This is personal for us.  We have friends in Eilat (where missles have fallen from the Sinai); our friend Nir, who lives in Gedera, just 23 miles from Gaza City; and people we know in the suburbs of Jerusalem where at least two rockets have fallen.  This is the first time since the 1991 Gulf War that air raid sirens have gone off in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem.

Nir has told us they are good and strong at this point.  He appreciates our prayers.  Thank you for joining us in praying. 

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

My Prayer

The recent Pew study on faith indicated that 20%, that is 1 in 5 people surveyed, indicated no affiliation with an organized religion.  Twelve years ago that figure was at 8%.  If that kind of trajectory continues, we will look like Europe from a faith perspective in our next generation.

So what is the deepest prayer on my heart and mind right now?  What is it that I desire most to see in every person within my sphere of influence or area of accountability?  Long ago, I did an extensive study of the book of Ephesians and it continues to be a well of hope and guidance for me.  There are three key focuses of prayer I have for every person I know, including myself.

First, that we may know Him better.
17 I keep asking that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may give you the Spirit[f] of wisdom and revelation, so that you may know him better.

Not just know about Him but know HIM.  Do I care to know Him better?  Do I make any effort to know Him better?  There were some guys I had met before but really did not know them.  I was able to spend some time with them this week.  I now feel I know them better.  How? We sat and talked, I heard their story, asked them questions and prayed with them.  I don't know them fully but I know them better because I took the time to be with them and listen to them.  Same with God.

Second, that we may know the hope to which He called us.
18 I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you

We have hope in Jesus.  I grew up in a home with an insecure mother who found fault with most everything I did.  She was acting out of hurts she suffered long ago.  I was constantly looking for ways to have people accept me because I felt unacceptable.  And then I found the truth of this hope.  I found in Ephesians 1:5-6 that God, who knew and knows everything about me, chose to adopt me according to His pleasure and will, through the grace He poured out through the One He loved, Jesus Christ.  In other words, I am fully accepted through the One He loves.  No striving.  No questions.  Fully accepted.  That is the hope He called us to.  And it is available to everyone like me who felt hopeless.

Third, that we experience power in the church. 
the riches of his glorious inheritance in his holy people, 19 and his incomparably great power for us who believe.  

Our inheritance in the church is the same power God poured out when He raised Jesus from the dead. He did it all for the church.  And now He does the same today by taking dead people and making them alive.  That is us.  That power is what makes us holy and blameless in His sight. (v. 4)  And it is that kind of holy living that demonstrates the power of God in our midst today.

We can't change the whole world, but we can seek to bring change in our world.  Think about this.  If we each experienced the three things above, how would our lives change? How would our homes change if everyone in them experienced knowing God better, having hope and being touched with the power of God?  How would your work or school environment change if you carried "Christ in you, the hope of glory" with you wherever you went?  

Would you join me in prayer today for this to take place?