Come, Let Us Reason Together

Background Passage Isaiah 1:11-18

He was the coolest guy in town, wearing his jeans, a white t-shirt and leather jacket. A snap of his fingers called six attractive girls to his side. A tap of his fist or a quick kick turned on the jukebox. If a kid from another high school was threatening his friends, his mere presence sent the bully running for the exit of the malt shop.

Arthur Fonzarelli. He was the Fonz. As a leading character of the popular 1970s sitcom Happy Days, the Fonz, played by Henry Winkler, dispensed his brand of street wisdom to his group of wide-eye followers, Richie Cunningham, Ralph, “the Mouth”, and Potsie. In their eyes, Fonzie could do no wrong.

The Fonz rarely made a mistake so sitcom writers gave him an endearing quirk. He had a hard time admitting he was wrong. He would start to confess his mistake to Richie or Ralph and invariably stumble over the word. “I was wwwrr…” After a pause to collect himself, he would again stutter, “I was wroonn…” Trying again and again to communicate his mistake, he would change his approach and finally admit, “I wasn’t exactly right.”

Nothing stings as much as the sudden realization that we are wrong. I suspect it happens in our lives more often than we’d like to admit. I know it does in mine. Like the Fonz, we struggle to admit we are wrong. The words catch in our throats.

At no time is that fault more evident than when we sin against God. In our attempts to live our lives in our own strength, we fail miserably at times to live up to the standard of Jesus Christ, making a mess of our days. Even when confronted with our sin, we use every excuse, every reason to justify our behavior. Only when the earth gives way beneath us and our world starts to crumble, do we admit that we were “wwwrr…,” “,,,Wroonn.” “…Not exactly right.”

God knows this struggle within us and stands ready to talk it out.

The people of Israel in the days of Isaiah gave lip service to worship of the One God. They went through the motions of honoring their God. Offering their sacrifices. Singing their praises. Conducting their religious festivals. Spreading out their arms in prayer. Because God knew the insincerity of their hearts, he called them to task for their sin.

“The multitude of your sacrifices, what are they to me?” says the Lord. “I have more than enough of burnt offerings.” God called their offerings “meaningless” and their assemblies “unbearable.” He said, “I will hide my eyes from you. I will not listen to your prayers.” God, their Father, challenged them. “ Stop doing wrong, learn to do right! Seek justice, encourage the oppressed. Defend the cause of the fatherless, plead the case for the widow.”

Then, he offered something that only a loving Father would offer. An offer he still makes to us today. He said,

“Come, let us reason together.”

Imagine that. Our God, our Creator, the Almighty, wants to sit down with us to talk it out. Another translation of this passage says, “Come, let us argue it out.” God’s word here is not an offer to negotiate our decisions and choices. It is so much more. God extends an invitation to us to talk about our lives, the things with which we struggle, the things that break our hearts, the things we do to try and control our lives on our own. He calls us to engage in thoughtful and honest conversation.

Why would a sovereign Lord seek time with us about the things we do that run counter to his teaching and his will for our lives? When we make an argument before God in an attempt to justify our sin, and when we sincerely listen to his counter arguments, God knows that at some point in that conversation we’re going to open our eyes and our hearts and realize he was right and we were wrong. In an honest dialogue with God, that outcome is inevitable.

Within that debate, if we’re honest with ourselves, God’s logic, his evidence, his arguments against our chosen lifestyle will simply be too convincing and compelling. We will have no choice but to admit our guilt. Oh, we’ll struggle to say it out loud. We will pussyfoot around it. We’ll admit, “I wasn’t quite right,” before we finally bow down before him and say it. “I was wrong.” “I have sinned.”

God doesn’t just want us to admit our mistakes, he wants us to turn away from them. To repent and reclaim his promises. And, he offered restoration. He told the people of Israel,

“Though your sins are as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow. Though they are red like crimson, they shall be like wool.”

The conversation God invites us to enter with him, the dialogue that ensues, doesn’t leave us begging for forgiveness that will never come. It always leads to redemption and restoration. Admitting our guilt is step one. Turning from our ways to full obedience and trust sets us back on the proper path of God’s will for our lives. And, it all starts with the conversation. “Come, let us reason together,” says the Lord.

Understand clearly, in the balance between our God-given freedom and his divine sovereignty, our obedience does not force God to forgive. If it did, we would control his forgiveness. God forgives, not because our obedience requires him to, but because he wants to forgive. It is the desire of his heart. Just ask David or Jonah or a host of others throughout the Bible. God is the God of do overs and second chances.

I saw a poster recently. Paraphrased, it said, “Nothing stinks more than that moment during an argument when you realize you’re wrong.”

There may be an element of truth in that statement as it pertains to our worldly relationships. We just don’t like to be wrong. But, in our relationship to God, there is nothing sweeter than that moment when our conversation with the Father convinces us of our mistakes and draws us back under his will and way.

“Come, let us reason together.” What a life changing conversation that can be!

***

Dr. Kirk Lewis is author of two unique devotional books–Put Away Childish Things and The Chase: Our Passionate Pursuit of Life Worth Living. Learn more about author and his books at www.drkirklewis.com. 

New Morning, New Mercies

Background Passage: Lamentations 3:1-25

You’ve seen them in magazines at the grocery store checkout line. Heard them listed in television newscasts. It’s that time when we look back upon the preceding 12 months and remember the major news events of the year. Depending on the organization creating the list, you’ll find celebrity marriages and deaths, natural disasters and human tragedies highlighting the lists.

The Associated Press ranked the following among its top 10 world news events this year:

• U.S. Election
• Brexit
• Black Lives Matter
• Worldwide Terror Events
• Attacks on Police
• Democratic Party Email Leaks
• Syrian Civil War
• Supreme Court Vacancy
• Hillary Clinton’s Emails

The thread of turmoil runs within all of these news stories. It’s difficult to determine whether the upheaval these events caused will eventually bring about something good. So, we look with promise of a new year to settle things down again, hoping that any negative consequences of these events do not touch us or our families.

But what about your personal year in review? If you had to list the top news events in your life for 2016, what would they be? Here’s my list (in chronological order).

• Our 40th wedding anniversary
• Retirement from full-time work
• An uncle’s stroke
• A cruise with friends in the Baltic
• Signing with a new book publisher
• Teaching part-time at the university
• Father diagnosed with cancer
• Death of several friends
• Birth of Amelia, our 2nd granddaughter
• Mother-in-law’s stroke

When I thought about this list, the first events I recalled were the bad news events…the diagnoses and the deaths. That’s human nature I suppose. It’s comforting to know that our days are filled with moments of joy amid the personal turmoil created by some life events. Yet, in those times when trouble falls like rain from a thunderstorm, life feels oppressive and overwhelming.

The writer of Lamentations in the Old Testament probably felt much the same way. The crushing nature of life events left him mourning for the nation of Israel and crying out on behalf of the people who faced the consequences of their own rebellion against God. He counted himself among them. Chapter 3 reads like a “Top 10” list of the devastating physical and emotional conditions in which the writer found himself…

• “…I am a man of affliction…”
• “…driven me away…”
• “…besieged and surrounded me with bitterness and hardship…”
• “…dwell in darkness…”
• “…weighed me down in chains…”
• “…made me a target…”
• “…pierced my heart…”
• “…became the laughingstock…”
• “…deprived of peace…”
• “…mocked me in song…”

Yet, the writer of Lamentations refused to abide in the circumstances. Refused to let life events control his spiritual condition. The crux of his faith centers on a confession he makes in Lamentations 3:21-23.

“Yet this I call to mind and therefore I have hope. Because of the Lord’s great love, we are not consumed for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. I say to him, ‘The Lord is my portion. Therefore, I will wait for him.”

As we must deal at times with events of life that suck the breath from our lungs and threatened to stop our hearts from beating, we must understand what this writer knows. Though the issues bubble never far from our thoughts, we still have hope. How is this possible?

God loves us. Pure and simply. His compassion and mercy flows always in abundance and prevents us from being eaten up or overwhelmed by that which we face. He proved it so in the past and continues to this day. His love never fails. Never.

Here’s the part that I really like. His mercies, his compassions, come new every morning. Fresh. Sustaining. We don’t have to rely on grace remembered that came once and never comes again. The dawn of each new day brings with it God’s abiding and unfailing love. Each day. Every day. God’s faithfulness is sufficient for our needs. So, as the writer declares, “I will wait for him” to carry me through the day…I will rest my hope in him.

Our ability to wait for him is built upon our history with God. Our knowledge of God and who he is strengthens our faith in difficult and uncertain times. For when we know what kind of God it is we trust…one whose mercies arise new each morning…we can remove the baffling and troubling aspects of life from our shoulders and place them instead in his hands.

This is my challenge to you. Reflect upon your year and remember that God’s love never fails. His compassions arise new every morning. Despite the difficulties you’ve experienced and those that are sure to come in 2017, let God be your portion. Wait for him.

May you enjoy a blessed new year.

It’s Just Not That Complicated–A Story

Background Passage: II Kings 5:1-15

The driver guided the gilded chariot
to the side of the valley road.
Dust from the day’s drive dulled its luster.
The Captain hopped off the back of the chariot.
Pressed his balled fists into the
small of his aching back.
Stretched the kinks from
his muscled frame.

He pulled the headpiece gingerly from his brow,
snapped his fingers.
Within seconds a servant boy
handed him a goblet of water.
Cool.
Fresh.
Soothing his parched tongue.
Slaking his deep thirst.

His caravan passed by,
continuing his journey.
Wagons bearing a king’s ransom.
Ingot and coin.
Silver and gold.
Carts hauling a king’s clothes.
Finest silk.
Softest fabric.
Gifts to the King of Israel
and his prophet.
The one his wife’s servant called
“The Healer.”

The Captain.
An imposing figure…
from a distance.
A head taller than those around him.
Shoulders broad.
Hips narrow.
Legs and arms
muscular and
mighty.
Tall in stature.
Regal in bearing.
Accustomed to the mantle of command.
Adorned with the tributes of his master…
Ben-Hadad II.
King of Aram.

An imposing figure, indeed…
until closer inspection.

His once handsome face
hidden beneath a soiled cloth.
Stained by open sores and
Ssall, weeping tumors which
consumed the skin around
his eyes and nose.
Red blemishes
circled his neck.
Gray splotches
covered his hands and arms.
Disfigured.
Discolored.

Naaman.
The Captain.
Greatest of Aram’s warriors.
Battlefield survivor.
A soldier’s soldier.
A prominent man
in search of
an improbable cure to
a dreaded disease.
A leper.

Naaman watched his entourage pass.
His men avoided looking his direction.
Partially in deference.
Partially in disgust.
Naaman noticed the slight.
He always noticed.
He roughly stroked his cheek,
angry at sensing no pain, no feeling
from the dying flesh.
More dead than alive.

An unknown prophet
his last ray of hope.
This trip a simple favor from the king
to his most trusted general.
Healing was a long shot both men willingly grasped.

Naaman gathered his strength again.
Exhaled a deep breath.
Climbed onto his chariot.
Nodded to his driver.
Followed the caravan toward the city of Samaria,
high on the distant hill.

He shook his head in weary disbelief.
He traveled this far on the word of a slave-child and
her blind trust in a holy man of Israel.

*

Naaman walked out the front door of what passed
for the king’s palace in Samaria.
Repulsed and revolted by the cowardice
he had witnessed.
He judged the Hebrew king.
A tattered bundle of nerves.
A sniveling sovereign.
A weak and whimpering ruler.

Entirely too intent upon keeping the leper at a distance,
the disdainful monarch summarily
dismissed the general from Aram.
Escaped personal accountability by
sending Naaman to
Elisha,
Israel’s prophet,
rather than ordering the prophet to the palace.
Unthinkable.

With each step along the path to Elisha’s house
Naaman grew angrier.
”What am I doing here?”
he muttered to himself.
“A fool’s errand.”

If the Israelite king’s palace was unimpressive,
the prophet’s home was little more than a hovel.
Naaman approached the door.
Hopelessness in his heart.
Contempt on his countenance.
A servant stepped onto the porch,
closing the rough-hewn door behind him.
Bowed respectfully at Naaman’s feet.

“My master bids you welcome and knows why you are here.
I tell you on his behalf to go to the Jordan River.
Dip yourself seven times into its waters.
When you rise up from the water the seventh time,
your flesh will be restored.
You will be cleansed.”

As quickly as he appeared,
the servant re-entered the home.
Closing the door in the Captain’s face.

Naaman stood stone-still in shock.
Mouth agape.
A man used to getting his way.
Now being sent along his way.
Accustomed to deference,
not dismissal.

Naaman.
Shouted indignantly at the prophet inside.
Rapped loudly at the locked door
with the hilt of his sword.
“I’ve traveled a great distance to see you.
Come outside and face me.”
Elisha did not come.
Naaman left in anger to return to his home.

Thoughts
troubled and
tumultuous.

“Not what I expected.”
“Did not stand before me and call upon his God.”
“No wave of his staff.”
“No potions.”
“No pronouncements.”
“No pretending
to do something…
anything!”

He shouted in anguish at the top of his voice,
staring at the heavens.
“Go bathe in the Jordan…Really?”
“A puny prophet!”
“An insignificant river.”
“An inconsequential country.”

“Superior rivers near Damascus…
Clearer.
Purer.
Could I not simply wash in them?
Why must I travel this far?”

He rode in silence aboard his chariot.
Returning home without a cure.
Fury slowly subsiding
into somber submission.
Resigned to his fate.

After moments of uncomfortable silence
his trusted chariot driver spoke in a meek voice,
never taking his eyes off the road ahead.

“My Captain,”
he hesitated before screwing up his courage to speak,
“if the prophet told you to do some great thing,
would you not do it?
It seems such a simple thing…
‘Wash and be cleansed.’
Is it not worth a try?”

A servant’s simplicity.

Naaman stared at the back of his driver’s head.
Then, into the distance.
Trying to find fault with his servant’s reasoning.
When he could not,
his anger evaporated.
Breathed deeply.
Exhaled slowly.
Clapped his hand upon the driver’s shoulder,
“Turn us around.
Take me to the Jordan.”

*

Naaman left the caravan a distance away,
taking only three servants with him.
Stood on the muddy bank of the Jordan.
Ankle deep in its languid flow.
Little more than 20-feet wide.
Slowly moving to the south.
A lazy current of muddy water reflecting
a greenish tint from the brush
along its slippery banks.

He stripped himself of his shirt and tunic.
Removed the soiled cloth covering his face and neck.
Hesitant.
Halting.
He waded into the water past
his hips to his chest.
With a quick glance at his servants
who had turned away to give him privacy,
Naaman submerged beneath the water…
Once.
Twice.
Six times.
Stared each time he emerged from the tepid stream
at his reflection in its wavy surface.
No change.
No transformation.

He took another breath.
Bent his knees.
Sank into the river a seventh time.
He floated beneath the surface.
Stared up through the murky water at the heavens,
filled once more with despair.

In the muddled quietness,
disturbed only by the rush of blood pulsing in his head,
he thought to himself.
“Just sink.
Open your mouth.
Drown.”
He exhaled and waited to die.
Self-preservation and aching lungs
forced him to the surface.

Water dripped from his hair.
Ran into his mouth,
Sputtering as he gasped for air,
the Captain offered a quick prayer
to a God he did not know.
Almost too afraid,
he willed his eyes open.
Looked again upon his image in the water…

Tears mingled with the
trickle of water
running down unspoiled cheeks.

The man with the smooth skin of a child
Splashed and danced in the muddy waters like a child at play.

Cleansed.
Whole.
Transformed.

With a shout that echoed through the hills of Samaria,
Naaman lifted his unblemished hands and arms to the sky…

“Now, I know there is no God in all the world
except in Israel.”

*

Naaman’s story.
An act of God leads to salvation.
Yet, he didn’t go down easily.

Look between the lines.
Arrogant by accomplishment.
Prideful of position.
Naaman almost missed out on
physical and spiritual cleansing.
We’re not so different from the
leprous warrior.

Why is it so hard for us to accept the simplicity of God’s grace?
“Believe.”
“Be saved.”
So easy to hear,
yet too hard to believe.

Whether grace unto salvation or
grace toward our need,
we pound on the Father’s door
demanding an audience.
He sends
his servant…
Pastor.
Friend.
A word of scripture.

They tell us,
“Why do you make this so hard.”
“Go wash…”
A simple act of obedience.

We fume!
He didn’t present himself to us personally.
We fuss!
He offered us nothing spectacular.
No whisper of a magic word.
No wave of a magic wand.
We demand something…anything
different than…
“Go wash.”

Far too simple for our tastes.
Not at all what we expected.

Such cleansing ought to be demanding.
A requirement through which
we can prove ourselves worthy
of His grace.

Thank God.
Naaman learned a lesson we all must learn.
God’s grace is not that complicated.
It’s a gift.

Naaman teaches one more thing.
There is no other river into which we can
plunge that offers us cleansing.
Not the rivers of our home.
Not the rivers of our family.
Not the river of our deeds.
No other river.
No other Lord.

“There is no other name under heaven given to men
by which we must be saved.” (Acts 4:12)

One last lesson.
Blessed is the one who has someone in life,
Like the chariot driver,
willing to challenge his or her stubbornness…
Someone to remind us of our illogical pride
that prevents simple obedience to God’s will.

“If He asked you to do some great thing,
would you not do it?
It seems such a simple thing.”
Go wash.”

You see.
It’s not that complicated.
The cleansing power of Jesus Christ
washes away…
Sin.
Self-importance
Smugness.
Stubbornness.
Everything that stands in the way of receiving
His grace.

Because it’s so simple,
we stare at the heavens through murky water.
Falling to its depths.
Waiting to drown.
until self-preservation pulls us to the surface.

With tentative eyes,
we stare at our own reflection…
our now unspoiled condition.
Cleansed.
Whole.
Transformed.
Shouting to the world in absolute joy…

“Now, I know there is no other God.”

Trust.
Believe.
Act.
It’s just not that complicated.

*

Publisher’s Note: You’ll find stories similar to this in each of the author’s books, Put Away Childish Things and The Chase: Our Passionate Pursuit of Life Worth Living available from Xulon Press, amazon.com, barnesandnoble.com or most online bookstores. You may subscribe to the author’s blog by entering your email in the subscription block on the right side of the page at www.drkirklewis.com.

Afraid to Let Go

Background Passages: II Samuel 11:1-17 and 12:1-13; Isa. 43:18-19; Psalm 51:19 and Heb. 12:1-2

My brother celebrated one of those milestone birthdays years ago, determined to scratch parachuting from an airplane from his bucket list. With the appropriate time in the classroom, he strap a parachute to his back, climbed into a perfectly fine airplane and took off for his first…and only…static line jump.

In my mind a static line jump fits a on an insanity scale at a level slightly less than skydiving simply because it reduces operator error. Rather than jump, fall and pull your ripcord before you die, you climb out on the wing onto a metal platform with your parachute’s ripcord attached to a static line inside the plane. When you jump, you get two or three seconds of freefall until the line pulls the cord, automatically deploying the parachute. Blind panic assisted by old school technology. Once the canopy fully inflates, you enjoy the magnificent view from above as you glide to a soft landing on the good, green earth below.

My brother found himself standing on the platform flying at 5,000 feet, clutching tightly with both hands to the strut underneath its wing. Buffeted by the wind rushing past him. He waited for his instructor to give him the thumbs up to jump. At the appropriate time, the signal was given. He executed a perfect three-point jump. His feet lifted from the platform and one hand released its death grip. His fourth point, his right hand, refused to release the strut. He flapped wildly in the slipstream underneath the wing, unable to will himself to let go of his hold on that last vestige of safety.

Let’s leave him hanging there and come back to him in a minute and see if I can draw a point from this story.

*

David, God’s chosen king of Israel, did some pretty horrible things in his life. One particular incident would have spawned a salacious investigation in today’s news cycle. An affair with a married woman left her pregnant. David attempted to manipulate the situation by recalling her husband, Uriah, from the front line of battle to create the impression that the baby was a result of her husband’s leave. Her husband unknowingly thwarted the king’s maneuvering by honorably refusing to go home while his brothers were at war. David then compounded his sin by quietly ordering Uriah and his soldiers on a suicide mission where he would most certainly die, giving David the chance to marry the hero’s widow. David did some despicable things.

When God’s prophet challenged the king’s actions, David recognized his sin, feeling the heavy burden of remorse for his actions. He fell on his face in repentance, asking God to forgive him for everything he had done. David’s felt the sting of his guilt, but he would never now release from that heavy burden until he let go of his failed past and accepted the ever=present reassurance of God’s grace and forgiveness. Only then would his relationship with the Father be reconciled and restored.

Two things happen to us who feel genuine remorse when faced with our own sin. We can seek God’s forgiveness and start anew within the grace he provides, much as David did. Too often, however, we never move past remorse to repentance, clinging to our failure with loathing and self-pity, certain that God could never forgive anyone so unworthy.

I was reminded of that fact not too long ago when I visited with a former pastor who had walked far from the path God intended. He was certain he strayed so far that God could never use him again in kingdom work. The work of Christ on the cross cleared the path for forgiveness, but this man could not bring himself to let go of the past and find a new way of serving him. It’s a journey most of us have made at some point in our lives.

When we refuse to accept the grace of God and forgive ourselves, we tend to drag the past behind us like an anchor. Instead God tells us the same thing he told the people of Israel in Isaiah 43:18-19…

“Forget (let go of) the former things; do not dwell on the past. See, I am doing a new thing. Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the desert and streams in the wasteland.”

The instruction is so clear. Let go of our sin. Release it into God’s forgiving hands. He makes a way in the wasteland of our lives to restore us for a new thing. A new work.

*

Let’s not leave my brother hanging on the wing.

Though it probably seemed like an eternity bouncing around in the slipstream, my brother eventually let go of the strut. The static line pulled the ripcord. The parachute opened. He enjoyed “a new thing.” For minutes on end, he floated lazily on his descent to earth 5,000 feet below with the wondrous panorama of sky and earth laid out before him. He called it “exhilarating,” and “adrenaline rush.” Yet, he only experienced the joy when he let go.

*

There may be nothing as miserable for a Christian who desires to walk the walk than to fail to do right. Walking in that shadow of guilt is debilitating, affecting not only our relationship with God, but our relationships with others. We can fall on our knees earnestly seeking and intellectually accepting God’s forgiveness. We will never experience full release until we let go of the past and accept the next new thing God prepares for us.

David got his life back on track by asking God to “Create in me a clean heart and renew a steadfast spirit within me.” (Psalm 51:19) It is a simple prayer of a fully repentant heart that says, “God, help me set aside my past and stay focused on you.”

The writer in Hebrews puts it another way by telling us to “throw off” or let go of everything that hinders us from serving God to the best of our ability. And, he even tells us how. Look at that remarkable passage in Hebrew 12:1-2.

“…Let us throw off (let go of) everything that hinders us and the sin that so easily entangles us. Let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. Let us fix our eyes upon Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith.”

Guilt effectively destroys grace-filled living. Keeps us from believing God can use us in any significant way. I’m convinced when we let go of our guilt we will find life laid out before us in a wondrous panorama of God’s exceptional will for each of us. Exhilarating. An adrenaline rush of eternal proportions.

(Author’s Note: Feel free to forward this Bible study to anyone you feel might benefit from its message. Encourage your them to subscribe to the blog by going to www.drkirklewis.com and entering their email address in the box on the right side of the page. Once registered, you will receive an email announcing each new post. Thank you for sharing.)

Camelot and the Cross

Background Passages: Mark 15:21-47; Phil. 2:6-8; John 3:16

The legend of King Arthur and Camelot reads as a favorite of many since it first appeared on the French literary scene in the 12th century. As a movie, released in 1967, the tale gained popular acclaim. In the movie’s climatic scene, King Arthur discovered the adulterous relationship between Queen Guinevere and Lancelot, the king’s most trusted and loved knight. Though Lancelot escaped capture, Guinevere, having broken the laws of Camelot, is tried and convicted, sentenced to burn at the stake. Arthur, deeply torn between his devotion to the laws of his beloved kingdom and his passion for Guinevere, faces an unholy predicament.

Mordred, King Arthur’s scheming, illegitimate son, dances in glee at Arthur’s “magnificent dilemma.” He says, “Let her die, your life is over. Let her live, your life’s a fraud. Which will it be, Arthur? Do you kill the queen or kill the law?” As the tragedy unfolds, Arthur stoically sacrifices his true love, “Let justice be done.”

The king watches in horror, heart shattered, as the guards lead Guinevere into the castle courtyard. The executioner chains her to the stake, waiting with his torch for the king’s signal to set the pyre ablaze. In the gripping agony of love, Arthur gives into his breaking heart. “I cannot let her die.” Mordred, relishing the downfall of the king, mutters, “Well, you are human after all, aren’t you, Arthur? Human and helpless.”

Guinevere is spared, but the dream of Camelot crumbles.

In his book, Windows of the Soul, Ken Gire compares the cross of Calvary with that climatic scene in the castle courtyard of Camelot. Think about it. God created his world and all within it and called it “good.” He loved his people so much that he made with them a covenant of relationship, a promise never broken by the Father. He loved them with all his being.

He handed them a set of principles by which they should live, asking for their obedience and commitment. Time and time again the world proved unfaithful, lost in the quagmire of its self-interest, rebellion and sin. Time and time again, the world was tried, convicted and deserving of death.

In the shadows, Satan gleefully watched as God faced his magnificent dilemma. “Let the world die, your life is over. Let the world live, your life’s a fraud. Which will it be, God? Do you kill the world or kill the law?”

Satan saw only a no-win scenario. God must turn away from his call to righteousness and ignore the sin of the world or hold to his principles and punish the world he loved. Either way. Satan wins. God loses. God, heart heavy in sorrow said, “I cannot let them die.” Satan smiled, relishing what he saw as the downfall of the Heavenly King. Helpless. But God was not finished with his redemptive act.

Filled with love for his created, the King left his throne. Took off his crown. Laid aside his scepter. Shrugged the royal robe from his shoulders. Traded his castle for a cross.

“Who, being the very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death-even death on the cross!” Phil. 2:6-8

God took the sins of the world upon himself through his “only begotten son.” A sacred, sacrificial substitute for a world that deserved to die. Today, we still find it difficult to comprehend because we are incapable of loving anything as God so loved his children. For those of us who accept by faith the grace that is the cross, we find a promise of life eternal in the arms of a living Lord who loves us as no other loves us. God’s third option remains the hope for the world.

In a story of love and justice, Camelot ends in tragedy. Gire said it best, “When love and justice collide, only the Cross offers a happy ending.”

“For God so loved the world that he gave his only son that whosoever believes in him should not perish but have everlasting life.” John 3:16

The Good Fight

Background Verses: Ephesians 6:12-18, 2 Timothy 4:7, 2 Timothy 2:2-3;

There is no question that the Christian faith is under attack across the world. Brutal persecution of Christians exists in regions of the world dominated by militant Islamic bullies. Often it feels as if too little is being done to protect those helpless, in a physical and political sense, to defend themselves.

While it in no way compares to the persecution Christians face from these extremists, it seems the Christian faith is being pushed into a corner by an American public policy that places parameters on personal and corporate worship, by the nation’s legal system that has broadened the court’s reach into matters of faith and heart and media’s penchant for encouraging controversy for controversy sake.

Yet, I wonder at times if the real and perceived erosion of religious liberty is not also an outgrowth to our strident and un-Christlike reaction to the current political and social climate. Extremist reactions from both sides of the debate drive a wedge between us, forcing us to choose sides in a battle that no one wins.

Scripture tells us in Ephesians 6: 12-18 we will face a battle against all things that run counter to the teachings of Christ. Paul encourages us to “take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day.” In the battle we must wrap ourselves in truth, righteousness, readiness to proclaim the gospel of peace, shielded by faith, equipped with the Spirit and Word of God.

If we face a continual battle, then it is not a question of whether we fight, but how we fight. Do we fight fire with fire and retaliate with the same negative name-calling directed against us, or do we, as Paul decalred in 2 Timothy 4:7, “fight the good fight” by keeping the faith and “enduring the hardship as a good soldier of Christ” (2 Timothy 2:3).

The battle we wage as Christians must look different that the war waged by the world. Look at Ephesians 4:31-5:2.

“Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you. Be imitators of God…and live a life of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us…”

A recent Facebook recently shared a video produced by The Piano Guys. It was a beautiful instrumental mix of Fight Song by Dave Bassett and Rachel Platten and Amazing Grace.

I doubt the lyrics of Fight Song were never intended to teach spiritual truth. Yet, the context of the song teaches that a small action on our part can create a great movement. That a single word can change a heart. That one spark can cause an explosion. The power we hold in our hands and hearts is not in the strident screaming of outrage at a world that pushes against what we believe and hold dear. The power comes when we let go of the rage and live a life of love.

A life of love is not a passive acceptance of the world’s antipathy, but an active fight…a good fight. As such, the chorus to Platten’s song speaks to the depth of commitment to engage in that good fight.

My power’s turned on.
Starting right now I’ll be strong.
I’ll play my fight song.
And I don’t really care if nobody else believes,
I’ve still got a lot of fight left in me.

Therein is where the musical mix created by The Piano Guys resonates. The power turned on within us derives from the presence of the Spirit of God in our lives. Amazing Grace is our fight song. We win this battle, not with aggressive animosity toward those who do not understand, but by proclaiming the amazing grace of God that is the world’s unclaimed gift.

Listen to the music. I hope it rekindles the fight within you.

It is a good fight.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mOO5qRjVFLw 

Source: The Searcher

The Obstinate Brother

Background Verses: Luke 15:11-32

Let’s pick up where we left off last time with our study of Jesus’ poignant parable known as “The Prodigal Son.” Jesus shared his message of God’s grace and his redemptive purpose because the religious leaders of his day groused and complained that Jesus spent his time with “tax collectors and sinners.” This detailed parable shared his response, illustrating how God delights in the return of those who have lost their way.

The story and its message didn’t end at the surface. It wasn’t enough to remind the Pharisees of God’s patience and compassion. They needed to be reminded of their own skewed vision of God’s kingdom.

I’m not sure who said it or where I heard it, but someone once remarked that the parable of “The Prodigal Son” had to have received its name from the older brother. The title itself is an accusation, pointing self-righteous fingers at the wanton behavior of the lost. As such, it points out the very heart of those to whom its message was intended…the Pharisees. Drag the intent into the 21st century and we find a message for the church that spews judgment toward the lost in such a manner that it deprives them of the joy God wants them to experience within the fellowship of believers.

Certainly, the story Jesus told condemned the sin of the younger brother. His actions stood as a testimony to the selfishness in our hearts that delights in taking our own path of self-discovery and self-gratification, regardless of who we hurt or disrespect along the way. Lest anyone miss the point of His message, Jesus exposed the self-righteousness of the Pharisees and religious leaders who never seemed to understand that Jesus came to “seek and save that which was lost.” Never able to join in the celebration when the lost sheep, coin or son were found.

Let’s take a peak between the lines at the reaction Jesus described.

He watched absentmindedly.
Reacted on muscle memory.
Driving the small herd of sheep from
pasture to pen.
Shuffling right or left.
Holding out his staff,
with mind-numbing repetition.
Keeping the skittish herd moving down the path.
Returning home at the end of another day.

With constant resentment
simmering beneath the surface
and nothing else to distract his heart,
the man muttered another in a string of curses
directed at his brother for abandoning the family
to pursue his own selfishness.

He spat upon the ground,
recalling how his father would stare down the road his brother traveled,
pining for months for his return.
Why his father had not washed his
brother’s memory from his heart was beyond him.
He had hurt too many people.
Disrepected every tradition.
“Good riddance,”
he breathed for what must have been the 1,000th time.

A distant sound broke through his
personal pity party.
Turned his ear to the wind.
The intermittent sound of a flute so out of place in the pasture
Became less intermittent with each step.
More fluid and melodious
as he topped the crest of the hill.
Sounds of laughter.
Shouts of delight.

The man took off running toward his home…
the source of the revelry,
scattering the sheep and leaving them unattended in the field.

Burst through the gate,
knocking a tray of food from the hands of a servant.
Without apology, he grabbed the young girl’s arm.
“What’s going on? Tell me.”

She looked at him, smile beaming from her face.
“It’s your brother! He’s come home!
Come on in and see.”
Gathering up the tray and rushing toward the door, she called,
“You should see your Father.
I’ve never seen him so happy.”
 
As he watched her open the door to HIS house,
The noise of celebration echoed in the courtyard.
His mind reeled.
Stunned.
Seething.
Shattered.

His feet were as unmoved as his heart.
Unable to bring himself to join the celebration.
Resentful of his brother.
Angry with his Father.
Bitter at his circumstance.

His father opened the door.
Rushed to his side.
Hugging his elder son…
an embrace that was not returned.
With his hand resting on the neck of his son,
eyes glistening with tears, the father said,
“Come. Celebrate.
For your brother who was lost has returned.”

The son pushed him away,
anger burning brighter than the sun.
Hurt and disappointment
evident in every expression.
“I’ve slaved for you…”
“Never disobeyed…”
“You’ve never thrown a party for me…”
“You’re celebrating for
this…this…son of yours who squandered and sinned…”
“What about me?”

 Scripture records Jesus’ words in response to the older brother’s tirade in Luke 15:31-32, “My son, you are always with me and everything I have is yours. Be we had to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.”

How fortunate that the younger brother was met first by the father and not by his older sibling…who would have turned him away and sent him back into the far country. The older brother lost nothing of his inheritance upon the return of the brother. The Father said, “All if have is yours.” His inheritance remained intact. Instead, he urged him to celebrate the return of “this brother of yours” who was “dead and is now alive, lost and is found.”

I picture Jesus finishing that last statement of his parable, looking into the eyes of the Phraisees who challenged his work among sinners. In this phrase Jesus was making yet another appeal to the blinded religious leaders to open their hearts to what God was doing for those who were lost right in front of their eyes. To the Pharisees, Jesus consorted with “this son of yours” when Jesus wanted them to see these same individuals as “this brother of yours.”

For the religious leaders it was more about the show and less about the substance. Their lack of love toward the lost prevented them from offering an alternative path of faith. In their eyes, the sinners were neither religious nor respectable enough to hear the word of God. Yet, Jesus taught that the show of religion and the pretense of respectability is no substitute for redemption.

As people of faith, we miss our chance to be redemptive when the language we use condemns the sinner and not just the sin. Jesus knew those with whom he shared his time were lost, living lives outside the will of God.  He chose to build relationships and connections with the sinners of the world so they could embrace the salvation he offered. He never put them down. Never called them names. Never suggested they were unworthy of receiving God’s grace.

Yet, that’s exactly the message that the words and behavior of some Christians convey through ugly and malicious messages on Facebook or mainstream media. We must take greater care in the words we use and the message we convey as we speak words of truth to a lost world.

Jesus began his parable as a way of celebrating the redemptive work of God among a world in desperate need of his grace. He concluded the parable with a stern warning to all of us our faith must be more than a show of religion and our lives more than a pretense of respectability.

Think how much better it would be if we worked alongside the father, one eye on the labor and one eye on the road traveled by our lost brother. Praying for the return of the lost to the Father’s loving embrace and joining in the heavenly celebration when our brother returns.

 

Source: The Searcher