Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Day 4: Easter Devotional - Crucial Conversations . . .

Day 4:  Time is running out . . .
Matthew 26:1-5:
When Jesus had finished saying all these things, he said to his disciples, “As you know, the Passover is two days away—and the Son of Man will be handed over to be crucified.”
Then the chief priests and the elders of the people assembled in the palace of the high priest, whose name was Caiaphas, and they schemed to arrest Jesus secretly and kill him. “But not during the festival,” they said, “or there may be a riot among the people.”

Tick . . . tick . . . tick . . .
Only two more days and it all comes to an end.
I don't need to tell you that two days is not a lot of time.  It's less than a weekend.  The last three years comes down to a final forty-eight hours.  If you are reading this on Tuesday . . . by late Thursday night Jesus will be in custody.  Just imagine the person you have followed for the last three years (left home, left jobs, left life as you have known it) has just told you He will be murdered in two days. This is clearly the end of the line.
But hold up, isn't that all part of the plan?  Why would His followers be anxious?
We forget that we view this story from the end-first.  We come to the story of the crucifixion with thoughts about the resurrection.  It is like watching a movie knowing the ending.  Nothing is urgent when you know the ending.  
Of course, when you don't know the ending, everything changes . . .
Jesus' followers had no idea what was about to happen.  The Bible says they were deeply confused when He spoke of His upcoming death.  You would have been in the same situation if you knew nothing about the resurrection.  When Jesus talks about His death, you would not have viewed it as a doorway to salvation.  You would not have said, "yeah, but it all changes on Sunday morning when He comes out of the tomb."  Death for you meant that it was over.  Jesus is no more.  Time to find a new hobby.
But it was not just the end of a cool journey . . . if Jesus dies, it would be proof that He wasn't who He said He was.  His death meant He was a fraud.  The Jews had an idea of a future Day of the Lord when everyone is resurrected but they were pretty certain the Messiah had to be alive to make that happen.  For now, Jesus has less that forty-eight hours to figure out how to keep from dying because (as far as the disciples knew) once He is dead it pretty much proves the religious leaders were right.
If that wasn't enough pressure,  the word on the street is that He is about to be arrested.  Oh, and behind the scenes Judas is walking past the offices of the Jewish leaders and lingering just a little bit longer.  Inside the mind of Judas a plot is being hatched that will see Jesus betrayed.
It is like we are in the 4th quarter, there is a minute left to go and we are down by eleven points.  Something big has to happen or we were really wrong about this guy . . .
Tick . . . tick . . . tick . . .
Time waits for no man.   It is like we are all in a swift moving river that is headed for the sea of eternity.
For those who have not embraced the resurrection the clock is ticking.  Because we put our trust in Christ that ticking should be always there, always reminding us of the time that is running out.  Tick . . . tick . . . tick . . . 
It is Tuesday.  There are four days until Easter.  Would you join me in praying about who you are going to bring to church for Easter?  If you, like me, feel the urgency of people coming to the truth of God in Christ, what better week to summon up what Rob Fisher has called, "Twenty seconds of insane courage" and invite someone to go to church with you this weekend?
Something simple like, "where are you going for Easter?" gets the ball rolling.  Or "why don't you come to church with us this weekend and join us for dinner afterward?"  Maybe even, "my church is doing something cool this weekend, come with me to check it out and then we can hang out afterward."
The worst that could happen is that they have other plans.
You never know what God can do with an awkward invitation.  You will always know what happens if you stay quiet.
My church is starting a new series about important conversations this weekend.  If you need a place to invite someone to, click the link below and it will tell you the times and locations for LCBC, a church in Southeastern PA with a bunch of convenient locations.  Whether it is my church or yours, invite someone to come with you.
You have only four days left.
Tick . . . tick . . . tick . . .


Monday, March 30, 2015

Day 3: Easter Week Blog . . . Monday

3/28 –  Monday - Cursing the tree

Matthew 21:18-19
Early in the morning, as Jesus was on his way back to the city, he was hungry.  Seeing a fig tree by the road, he went up to it but found nothing on it except leaves. Then he said to it, “May you never bear fruit again!” Immediately the tree withered.

This is one of a handful of situations where Jesus seems to act completely out of character.  Jesus finds a fig tree, looks for fruit and then curses it when it doesn't have any figs.  

A couple of problems:

          *   When have we ever seen Jesus use His powers to condemn something?
          *    Isn’t this someone’s tree?
      *   According to what people know about fig trees, the month of April isn’t time for figs to            grow – how could Jesus be upset with a tree that wasn’t able to produce fruit?
        *   . . . and isn’t this someone’s tree?  I mean, come on . . .

I get sensitive about the cursing of the fig tree because I like to grow things in my backyard.  At least I like to think that I grow things – I have my fair share of success and failure.   I had a pear tree a few years ago that looked like you attacked it with napalm.  Seriously.  It was black from end to end.  Branches shriveled up and died.  

Every time we discussed the fate of the tree my wife would just raise her eyebrows and walk away saying, "you need to cut that thing down."

I let it go two years hoping it would get better . . . but then I had to cut it down.  It was beginning to spread disease - the raspberries and grapes were next.  If I hadn't cut them down, the whole backyard would be a shriveled up disease ward.

It is funny to think that I showed grace through judgment.  I saved a garden by killing a tree.

I really wanted to 'heal' the tree with grace.   Luke 13:6-9 was my inspiration.  However, the more grace I showed, the more diseased it became.  That's because grace and mercy doesn't fix anything by itself.  Only God's grace and mercy fixes things.  It is God's goodness that does the work - grace, mercy and even judgment are just ways His goodness is revealed.  When He shows mercy it is because He is good.  When He judges it is because He is good.

Perhaps that is what Jesus is attempting to display here.  

In the tradition of the great prophets like Jeremiah (who smashed clay jars) and Isaiah (who wandered around naked), Jesus is bringing a parable to life here.  He is using prophetic drama to make a point about God's goodness.  The fig tree was a symbol of Israel (like the Eagle is for America).  When Jesus judges a fig tree on the side of the road for not having fruit He is saying something about Israel.

Remember that He just came from Jerusalem where religious leaders who claimed to be close to God were nothing more than money-grubbing, power-focused hypocrites (see yesterday's devotional).  The picture of the fig tree withering and dying is a visual of God's judgment.  Perhaps it is a foreshadowing of what was about to happen in 70 AD when Israel would be crushed by the Romans.  It could also be a reminder that God redeems the world through both mercy and judgment.

Sometimes we forget that grace is a vehicle of God's goodness; it is only part of the picture.  Jesus came the first time in humility as a human and subject Himself to the cross obedient to God's plan to redeem the world.  There is a part two, however, and it is called the judgment.  One day Christ will return and the plan is for Him to show His goodness through judging the world.

The tree of sin will be cut down.

The disease of sin will not spread to the whole garden.  In fact, the garden we were kicked out of in Genesis will return in the form of a city at some point . . . and the everlasting goodness of God will be brought on by His judgment.

This is why Jesus warns His followers to respond to God while we can.  Though we prefer to hear about grace, it is important to realize that grace can only be given by someone who has the power to judge.  

On His way to the cross, Jesus reminds us that He is also on His way to the throne.

The happy person welcomes both.

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Day 2: Easter Week Devotional

Day 2 Easter Week Devotional
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Matthew 21: 12-13
 Jesus entered the temple courts and drove out all who were buying and selling there. He overturned the tables of the money changers and the benches of those selling doves. “It is written,” he said to them, “‘My house will be called a house of prayer,’ but you are making it ‘a den of robbers.’”

So why did Jesus go berserk in the temple?

And no, I don’t mean to be irreverent.  The word berserk means someone who is angry and excited about something.  It comes from an Old Norse word meaning ‘clothed in bearskin’ – a warrior.   Yes, I love etymology.

And it is obvious that Jesus was going to war . . .

He was going to war with ignorance.  Jesus was upset with people who were playing religion and ignoring those who were serious about finding God.

The temple was divided into several different areas.  There were areas for high priests, priests and regular folks like us.  One particular area was a large court a few acres wide that was reserved for those who weren’t Jewish.  It was an area that was separated from the rest of the temple by a half wall.  It was meant to be a place to pray and consider the holiness of God.

Anyone who really loved God would have been there talking to people who came from all over the world to consider the claims of Yahweh and discover more about Him. 

Sadly, that rarely happened because it was also a convenient place for people to cut through the temple from one side to the other.  Since the temple was so enormous you could cut a good 5 or 10 minutes off your walking by cutting through the court of the Gentiles.  So you, your animals, your cart you are pulling - whatever - it became a thoroughfare for people who really didn't value people who didn't know God.

In fact, the religious leaders needed a spot to sell their religious paraphernalia (and what better place than where there is foot traffic?) so they lined the area with points of sale.  Sheep, cattle, birds - all sold in the area that was supposed to be reflective and meditative.  The place became more of a noisy and smelly flea market rather than a contemplative place to pray.

More than noisy and smelly, the place was dishonest. This is why Jesus called it a den of thieves.  Priests who were inspecting animals for the sacrifice avariciously rejected many animals so that they would have to buy the animals sold at the temple.  Prices were jacked up in the thousands when it would have been hundreds elsewhere.  Money was changed on scales that were improperly balanced so that innocent pilgrims were rooked out of money.

On top of all of that, the people who conducted all of this shady business gave kickbacks to the high priest.  It wasn’t an issue of the religious leaders not knowing about the sketchy business, they were lining their pockets with dirty money.

Can you begin to get an idea of why Jesus was so mad?

So listen to the heart of God in Jesus' anger:

"Don't be a barrier to the love of God."

And it is not just the Pharisees that need to learn this lesson . . .

We too line the avenues of God's temple with all kinds of stuff to sell that only gets in the way of the truth.

For years I thought smoking was a sin.  It may be, but when I was in high school I figured it was something that God wanted you to work on in order to come to Him.  I was wrong.  But there were quite a few people that felt my disapproval as they lit up.  I am sure they equated my disapproval with my faith.  I was a barrier to God's unconditional acceptance.  

When I was in my early twenties I was surprised that someone was a Christian and a "pro-choice" Democrat.  I worked really hard to conceal my shock.  This was a woman who was confiding to me that she never feels welcome at her church because of her politics and I was probably giving off the same vibe that led to her leaving the church.  It was about that time that I started to see that I was imposing my ideas on people about what God valued.  Worse than that . . . my prejudices were imposing a barrier to God's love.  I may not agree with her, but that shouldn't be a barrier to God's love. 

As you show up in church today . . . look out for those who feel like foreigners to God's love.

Remember that today and next week there are going to be people showing up at church who routinely don't because they feel like they are being rooked.  Some of them genuinely are.  They are being sold something that just isn't true.  They don't need to clean themselves up.  They don't need to say the right things or do the right things for God to love them.  And the only person they might hear it from is you.  

Care for the person who is coming because it is a semi-annual event.  Show them the love of Christ and the acceptance of the Father.  As best you can, steer them away from avenues of shady theology that makes people feel judged and help them see the light of grace for the first time.  Do everything you can to remove the barriers to God's love. 

Saturday, March 28, 2015

Day One

This week I am publishing a series of Easter devotionals 

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Day One - Saturday March 28

The entire city of Jerusalem was in an uproar as he entered. “Who is this?” they asked.    And the crowds replied, “It’s Jesus, the prophet from Nazareth in Galilee.”  Matthew 21:10-11

There were 2.5 million people in Jerusalem and the surrounding area at Passover.

Chicago has about 2.5 million people in an area of 250 square miles.  Jerusalem is 0.7 square miles.  Imagine the entire population of Chicago in one of its parks.

It was a packed house.

And here is Jesus – usually eschewing attention – soaking it all up.  He is the guy who tells people to be quiet about His identity and now look at what He is doing in grand and dramatic fashion . . .

Several hundred years earlier King Jehu rode into Samaria on people’s coats and cries of deliverance.  He was on a mission to clean house and rescue true Judaism from the fraud it was becoming.  Just a few hundred years earlier Judas Maccabeus kicked out the Greek forces who had barged their way into the temple and mocked it by sacrificing a pig on the altar.  The people of Jerusalem would have recognized the iconic imagery of riding a donkey into Jerusalem from their history of leaders who came to save the day.  Zechariah connects the dots with the picture of Messiah riding on a donkey.  So well in fact that people are shouting “Hosanna” meaning “Save us now!”

Jesus could not have been any more overt in His claim to be the Messiah and that He was coming to save us . . . but from what?

Doubtless the crowd thought it was to save them from the current overlords the Romans.  They had a nasty habit of enforcing their peace in brutal ways.  Taxes were high and Roman soldiers routinely made sport of abusing the Jews and misusing their women. 

But it wasn’t the brutes that Jesus was angry with.  Jesus has His eye set on the religious.  Who were Jesus' real enemies?  It is not lost on the Gospel writers that the Jews welcome Jesus into Jerusalem with the cries of “save us” and then run him out of town to Golgotha with “Crucify him!” by the end of the week.   That’s because it is easier to usher God into the midst of our fights with others but it is not so pleasant to have Him come in to do war with our heart.

“Save us” sounds so good if it means He does what I want Him to do.  It is okay with me if God comes into the Jerusalem of my heart and agrees with me.  I would love for God to ride into my soul and give me the strength and ammunition to fire at my enemies . . . punishing those I am upset with. 

But God seldom does that – be careful what you wish for.  When you ask for God to come and clean house you might be tempted to kick Him out as well . . . or worse. 

As Easter week approaches, let us be sincere in granting God access to our hearts in a way that compromises our personal security.  Allow Him to expose the things that need to be exposed.  Grant Him access to the innermost places in your heart that you don’t want to change and let Him ruthlessly change you.  

The friend you need to call and forgive.

The boss you need to confess to.

The spouse you have neglected.

The teacher you have shown disrespect.

The secret sin you need to share with someone and get free.

That is what Jesus is after.

Yes, it hurts . . . but if you let Him transform you from the inside out maybe then He can take His rightful place as King.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Who was he?

His name was Andreas Guenter Lubitz.  

I say was because at 28 years old he decided to end his life and about 150 other people on a plane that he was piloting on Tuesday.  Apparently he waited for the captain to leave the cockpit and locked the cabin and began an almost 10 minute descent into the French Alps.  The plane was en route from Barcelona to Dusseldorf and crashed at just before 11am.

So why would someone do this?  Who was this guy?

According to his Facebook page he was a pretty normal guy.  His interests include mundane things like Burger King, a local DJ and he obviously loved flying.  His friends describe him as a normal and friendly person.  It doesn't seem like he was upset about anything.  He loved working for Germanwings and seemed to have a lot going for him.

No one suspects any terrorist connections either.  There were no radical religious chants as the plane began its descent.  No rationale for his behavior.  No recorded suicide note.   In fact, his breathing was normal as the captain tried to break down the door.  Screams were heard from the passengers but Lubitz remained silent.

The story just doesn't make any sense.  How can absolutely no one have any idea that this young man was considering doing something so horrific?  Perhaps the investigation will reveal clues to what the intention behind Andreas Lubitz really was.  Until then we are in the dark.  

Here is what I do know.  

No one makes this decision out of the blue.   The captain didn't leave the cockpit and the random thought of crashing a plane blipped across his mental radar and he decided to give it a shot.  

They say that he was terse with the captain minutes before he left the cabin.  Maybe Andreas got an unwelcome text from a girlfriend.  Perhaps there was something very deep that ran between Andreas and the captain that exploded inside his mind wanting revenge in some way.  Maybe he had been planning this for months and kept it locked inside for that very moment.  Regardless of the reason, there was a reason.

do know that because there had to be a reason, there had to be a moment when this seemed like a good idea.  Like a seed placed in soil, there was a moment this idea was accepted in his mind . . . and no one noticed.  

do know that the human mind has deep and dark soil.

do know that all of us have had moments where we wanted to settle a score . . . or give up . . . or take control regardless of the outcome.

And I do know that for as connected we like to think we are, things like this happen . . . but they shouldn't.  I do know that these kind of things get intercepted when we invest in others.  Whether it is neighbors or co-workers or friends . . . connecting with people and digging deeper into the soil of their lives can be the single most effective way to stop things like this happening in the future.

As spring comes around, maybe this is the kind of event that reminds us that we need to get our hands dirty in the soil of other people's lives.

Monday, March 23, 2015

A petition to ban Kanye West . . .

It's true.  Just about 125,000 people have signed an online petition to stop Kanye from appearing at the famous Glastonbury Festival in England (as of 3/23, but the figure is growing).  Glastonbury is a huge annual music festival in England.  A good size crowd of Brits found out that Kanye West was coming and they don't want him.  

The best part is why they don't want him.

Those signing the petition have included words like "egotistical, stupid, unthoughtful" and that he is "a disastrous musician."  Actually some of the words get more colorful than that, but that's not important.  Some have even added a jab that they would rather see Beck (the artist that Kanye bashed for beating Beyonce at this year's Grammys).  

What is most interesting is a word that keeps coming up in comments and in articles about Kanye.  It's not everywhere, but there is enough talk about him being immoral.  

It is interesting that we live in a world that has stripped itself of the stifling and irrelevant idea that there are religious morals - like if there were a God that He would care about how we live our lives.  But I can't help but see this word connected with Kanye West  - immoral.

What does this mean?

It means moralism isn't dead - it never died - it just changed form.  The church focused for so long on a personal relationship with God, stressing the idea of personal ethics and individual morals that we lost voice with a world that valued connection.   There was a time that morals were more about what we do behind closed doors.  There has been a significant shift.  Morals speak also to how we fit together - how we participate with the rest of humanity being just as important as our connection with God.  Morals are less about conforming to a list of ideas but rather bringing to life the person of Christ in our actions with each other.  The two are mutually dependent.  You can't love God without loving others.

People long for a God that gives them guidelines on how to connect with each other in love.

Kanye West is 'immoral' because he is loud, obnoxious and full of himself.  The narcissism it takes to compare yourself to Nelson Mandela is hard to stomach.  The insensitivity to those who serve in the military to compare yourself to a soldier violate the morals of a world community.  His immorality is evident in how he steps on others and apparently over a hundred thousand people have taken notice.  

Not everyone agrees, obviously.  Picking up on the talk about West's morals, Emily Eavis defended the concert promoters in The Guardian by saying: 

"I've seen people this week saying that Kanye shouldn't appear because, in their opinion, he's not a positive role model or because they think he's too self-assured. We book our acts by choosing the best and most challenging musicians on the planet – not by applying some kind of arbitrary morality test," 1

She missed the point.  125,000 signatures is not arbitrary and if she thinks this is about someone's personal moral choices she has no idea the kind of world we live in.  Morals matter because they are not personal.  Morals are more about us than me.

They are the same morals we find in scripture.  The Bible has always spoken to how we connect with each other.  Giving us advice on subjects like:

Always be humble and gentle. Be patient with each other, making allowance for each other’s faults because of your love. (Ephesians 4:2)

Haughtiness goes before destruction;
    humility precedes honor. (Proverbs 18:12)

Firing off at the mouth:
Understand this, my dear brothers and sisters: You must all be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to get angry. (James 1:19)

Keep this in mind as you seek to live a different way in this world.  Morals still matter - especially when it comes to how we treat others.

And of course there is nothing wrong with letting your voice be heard - here is a link to the petition.  Be nice.


1.   http://www.myfoxmemphis.com/story/28582458/thousands-sign-petition-to-keep-kanye-west-from-headlining-glastonbury-festival