Friday, November 18, 2011

Salt, Light and Firm Foundations...

From Matthew 5 through Matthew 7, we have some of the greatest teachings ever given. We call it, "The Sermon on the Mount". And in these few short chapters, at the beginning of His ministry, Jesus turns upside down the conventional wisdom of the day and opens to us the heart of the Father and His desire for our lives.

He starts with the beatitudes and extols the virtue of being poor in spirit, mourning, gentle, hungry and thirsty for righteousness, merciful, etc. All of the things that the natural world and our natural inclinations would deem weak, Jesus celebrates and promotes as characteristics near and dear to the heart of God.

He challenges his followers to understand that they are salt and light to the world. They should add the flavor of God and shine His light to a fallen world. He says they do this for the simple fact that people might see God through us and give Him the glory.

He then spends a bulk of the message showing how He, Jesus, is the fulfillment of the law. That the conventional wisdom was to follow the letter of the law whereas He was challenging us to follow the spirit of the law. Jesus says it is easy not to murder, not to commit adultery, not to lie. But the deeper question is not in the absence of committing a banned act but in the intent of our own hearts.

He also teaches us His model prayer, how to truly fast, how to view our possessions and even the cure for anxiety (what a great need for our world today).

He closes this amazing message by talking about building on a solid foundation. The foolish man builds on the sand whereas the sensible man builds his house on the rock.

Every part of the Bible is God breathed, God inspired so we need to tread carefully when we single out one or two particular portions. However, I find myself continually coming back to the Sermon on the Mount and thinking, "If I could live life as Jesus describes here..."

And He taught His disciples to pray...

"Your kingdom come, Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven..."

What would or maybe what should God's Kingdom on earth look like? Pretty close to these two chapters I would venture to say...

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Think Carefully About Your Ways...

I just read through the book of Haggai this morning for my devotion time. Haggai was a prophet who came as the Jewish exile to Babylon was ending. He was among the returnees to Jerusalem and was struck with a message from God. He saw that the house of the Lord had not been rebuilt. The Jewish leaders and people had fallen on hard times and claimed that they couldn't rebuild God's house. They used the excuse that it really wasn't time to rebuild the house.

Haggai, true to his prophetic standing, calls them out. He asks, "Is it time for you yourselves to live in your paneled houses, while this house lies in ruin?" In other words, "How can you let God's house lie in ruin and make provisions for your own comforts and own houses?" (Haggai 1:4)

He then says a chilling statement...

"Think carefully about your ways..."

"My house lies in ruins, while each of you is busy with his own house." (Haggai 1:9)

"Think carefully about your ways..."

God has blessed the church in the United States with abundant resources. Even in economic hard times, we are able to build bigger buildings, install state of the art video and sound equipment, hire a legion of staff. Please understand I am not complaining but I am wondering when there are 9 out of 10 people in the world who are lost, are we really thinking carefully about our ways?

What about the 6,800 unreached people groups of the world that have less than a 2% chance to hear about Jesus? And even greater, what about the 3,800 people groups of the world that are unengaged and unreached with about zero percent of hearing?

Jesus said, "where your treasure is, there will be your heart as well." (Matthew 6:21)

I look at our churches in the USA and wonder, "where is our treasure?" Is our treasure in bigger and better things or is it in God and His desire for the nations to come to know Him as Lord and King?

Again, I am not complaining. I'm just saying...

Think carefully about your ways..."

I think Haggai was on to something...

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Our Task and Call: To the Lost, the Last and the Least (Part 3)

As followers of Jesus Christ we are called to reach out to the lost with the good news of the Kingdom. We are moreover called to reach out to the "last" of the lost joining God in His plan to see the "panta ta ethne" (the nations) hear His message. Additionally, we are called to the "least" which is the third point to this already lengthy blog.

In Matthew 25:31-46, there is a great story told by Jesus in which He describes a final judgement. The "Son of Man" (Jesus) in all His glory with His angels sits on His glorious throne and judges the nations. All the nations ("panta ta ethne") are gathered before Him and He begins to separate them, one from another. He separates the sheep (His flock) to the right and the goats (not of His flock) to the left and says to the sheep, "Come, you who are blessed by My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world..." (Matthew 25:34)

As you read through these verses and this story, it becomes evident that the criteria in this judgement has everything to do with how the "sheep" treated the hungry, thirsty, stranger, naked, sick and prisoners. The sheep are rewarded with an inheritance in Jesus' kingdom based upon how they responded to those in need. Conversely, the "goats" in the next few verses are excluded from the kingdom based upon the sole fact that they did not care for their needy brothers.

Then, Jesus makes an extraordinary statement revealing a disturbing truth. When the sheep asked, "Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed You, or thirsty and give You something to drink?..." To which Jesus replied, "I assure you: Whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of Mine, you did for Me." (Matthew 25:40)

I am not suggesting that Jesus is saying our "good works" are what gets us placed in the sheep pen. I am saying that our "good works" are a tell tale sign of how (or even if) our lives have been transformed by the Master Shepherd. For whatever we did for the "least", we did for Jesus.

Two things. The word "least" can really be interpreted only one way. These are the people who are "very little" or "very small" in the eyes of the world. These are the ones with the "least" dignity and the least hope in this life: the hungry, the thirsty, the naked, etc. You cannot spiritualize this fact. These are the "poorest of the poor" in the world.

Secondly, when we minister to these, in the name of Jesus, Jesus Himself says, " did for Me." Can it be that when we reach out to the "least", we are reaching out to Jesus? And conversely, when we turn our backs on the "least", we turn our backs on Jesus. Want to talk about radical?

I believe Jesus calls us, as His church and His body, to be on His business in making His name known among the lost, the last and the least.

Final note. It is interesting to me that the three passages we've looked at (Matthew 28:18-20, Matthew 24:14 and Matthew 25:31-40) all use the wording, "to the nations" or "panta ta ethne".

Our task and call? To the "panta ta ethne" of the lost, last and least!


Friday, November 11, 2011

Our Call: To the Lost, the Last and the Least (Part 2)

God's Word in Matthew 28:18 to 20 commands us to reach the lost. It is in the heart of God that as we are going about, we should be in the business of making disciples of all the nations. This is a mandate to the church. It is a personal command not to the "missionary" but to the average, everyday follower of Jesus.

But God's Word also commands us to go to the last of the lost as well. This is a command to every Christian as well but to the church as a whole. Second Peter 3:9 tells us that it is God's will that none should perish. Expounding on Matthew 28:19, we are commanded again to make disciples of "all nations" or the "panta ta ethne". This would be better said as making disciples of all people groups.

What is a people group? It is group of people often defined by language and culture. It is sometimes defined by geographical location as well. But the best Biblical definition of a people group is the largest group of people that the gospel can flow without encountering a significant barrier.

For example, we lived and worked in the Philippines for a number of years. We worked among tribal people groups helping with their livelihood and physical needs as well as sharing the gospel. We would see a lot of fruit of our work among a certain people. We would assume that that good work would spill over to other tribal people groups (there were about 60 tribal groups on our island). Over and over again, we saw that there needed to be a catalyst, an intentional plan, or a "jump start" to see the gospel "jump" people groups.

At best count, there are almost 12,000 distinct people groups in the world today. Over half of them, about 6,800, are unreached or less than 2% evangelical Christian. Out of this 6,800 "unreached", there are about 3,600 unengaged and unreached people groups. While those living in places deemed "reached" like the USA have a great opportunity to hear the gospel multiple times in their life, those living in unreached areas have a very small percentage chance to encounter a follower of Jesus and even smaller percent chance of hearing the gospel clearly in their own heart language.

Now, think about the 3,600 unengaged and unreached people groups. These are places and peoples in the world that no one is trying to engage with the gospel. They live in areas of the world that for some reason - political, geographical, religion related, inaccessible, etc. - that they will be born, live their lives and pass into eternity without ever having the chance to even hear the name of Jesus. This is "the last of the lost."

Jesus said to his disciples in Matthew 24:14, "And this good news will be proclaimed in all the world as a testimony to all nations. And then the end will come."

I am not suggesting that our global evangelism efforts in any way will slow, hasten or change the Father's timetable for Jesus' return. I am saying that God is inviting even commanding us to be about His business of making His name known among the "panta ta ethne" or "nations."

Question. If you are a follower of Jesus, I surmise that you like I are looking forward to his second coming? However, my heart cries out, "How can we celebrate His second coming when there are so many who have never heard about His first coming?"

To the lost...and to the last.

But there is a third category. To the least....

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Our Call: To the Lost, the Last and the Least...

I've never done this before but I've decided to preview the message that I'm going to share Sunday here on my blog site. It is a simple one that's titled, "To the Lost, the Last and the Least". The central theme is that God calls us to reach out to our world with His good news and His compassion. He commands us to reach to these three basic groups of people: the lost, the last and the least.

To the lost. Matthew 28:18-20 is probably the most familiar verse associated with missionaries sent out from the church to reach the lost of the world. Here, Jesus says, "Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe everything I have commanded you..."

The "command" word here is not "to go" but rather to "make disciples". It might even best read, "As you are going..." giving more of a passive but continuous action for the follower of Jesus to obey. It in truth presumes that "as we go" and "wherever we go" we will be doing what comes naturally to a follower of Christ and that is to make disciples. The command is in fact to make disciples. Another way of stating it is, "As you are going, disciple the nations..."

I would garnish that most people's interpretation here is that this verse is for sending out missionaries. But it appears to be more for the average Joe and Jane of the church to be about the business of disciple making of the nations wherever they are.

So this passage is not as much a challenge for the missionary to go to some dark continent taking the gospel but more about you and me, as we go about our lives, to have as our life's goal and practice making disciples of all the nations we encounter.

Keep in mind that "all nations" doesn't refer to geo-political nations with boundaries as we understand them (e.g. the USA, China, Brazil, etc.). It refers to the Greek, "panta ta ethne" meaning language groups and population segments of the world.

If you go to the grocery store today to shop for groceries, how many "nations" will you meet along the way? If you live in a fairly homogenous section of the USA (such as my home town), how can you be about Jesus' command of making disciples of all nations?

I desire to be a disciple maker of all the nations whether I live in rural Tennessee or urban Asia. I can do this by actively making disciples of those I come in contact with. I can also facilitate the making of disciples through my prayers and gifts through my local church.

I just need to constantly remember that as I go, I am to go about making disciples of all the nations.

Next blog: to the last...

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Time to Sit and Rest...

I heard a great devotion this morning. We walked through the fourth chapter of John and the story of Jesus and the woman at the well. The devotion leader took it verse by verse and brought out some great truths to a story that I had read time and time again but missed.

One thing that really spoke to me was the truth that he shared from John 4:6. It's at the first of the story, the place I'm usually rushing through to get to the "meat" of the main story. That's why I often miss God's simple messages.

The story goes that Jesus leaves Judea to go to Galilee and passes through Samaria along the way. It is technically "enemy" territory that he is passing through. The Samaritan's are not mortal enemies, but they are much lesser than the Jews because they are considered to be a mixed breed. No "good Jew" would be caught dead talking to a Samaritan.

However, as Jesus came to the town of Sychar near the property that Jacob had given his son Joseph and as He approached Jacob's well, the Word of God makes a simple statement that is easy to miss saying...

"...and Jesus, worn out from His journey, sat down at the well."

Our devotional leader camped a bit on this verse and said to our group,...

"When you're weary from the journey, sit down by the well...Jesus did."

I don't know if you're like me, but I tend to live life in a feverish panting swirl of activity. If I'm not doing something that I consider significant for God, I feel as if I'm maybe less worthy than I should be. However, it is comforting and chastising to me to know that even Jesus got tired and sat down from time to time. Not only did he sit down at the well, he sat down in the perfect place for God the Father to use Him in order to speak into the life of a woman who was coming to draw water but was deeply hurt to her core by the burdens and choices of her life.

I don't know about you but I need to sit down by the well more. I need to sit down and let God show me His next step and His next plan for my life.

Have you been in enemy territory lately? Are you a bit weary? Why not take a seat at the well? You and I might find some living water...

(Note: Thank you, Elbert, for allowing God to speak through you to me)

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Forth-telling the Obvious...

In my daily devotions, I have recently walked through the books of the "major" prophets: Isaiah and Jeremiah. I am currently in the book of Ezekiel. They have much to say about God's Kingdom. They have a great deal to say about what is coming "forth" as a result of God working in their midst. And I've concluded that prophets seem to be more "forth" telling than "fore" telling.

This strikes me as so because much of what they prophesy seems to be fairly obvious if you can look back and forward as we can when we meditate on what they say. To me, much of what they are speaking from God to the people of Israel and Judah are simply reminders of what Israel and Judah should already know. Love God, follow His commandments and live in His presence. Pretty simple and (to me as an observer from the outside) pretty obvious.

Conversely, they "forth" tell that if you rebel against God, follow after the ways of the world, and reject His commandments, you will reap sin, death and destruction. The law of reaping what you sow.

I know this is a base analysis and could be construed as naive or even simple minded. But it reminds me of what my Grandfather always talked about: God's word and way as an anchor to our souls. It also brings to mind a person whose life is arranged according to God's way as having a "moral compass", a guide, a set of principles (based on God's word and Spirit) that leads us to a fulfilled life in Him.

Then it hits me. It is easy to read/devotion through the prophets and think that the "forth telling" and warnings only relate to those in the story. That they missed the obvious, rejected God and His ways, and thus suffered the consequences. But isn't the story also about us?

The Psalmist tells us that God's word should be a lamp unto our feet and light unto our path. And blessed is the person who delights int eh Lord's instruction. As he meditates on it day and night, he becomes like a tree planted beside streams of water that bears its fruit in season. Whatever he does prospers.

I pray that today I will hear and heed God, His word, His way and His will.


Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Loving God; Loving Your Neighbor...

I heard a great message by our Pastor at Mt. Juliet FBC this past Sunday. He shared the story of the good Samaritan and made it come alive once again to me. The premise he started out with was simple...

"You cannot love God and not love your neighbor; conversely, you cannot not love your neighbor and love God."

A teacher of the Law had come to test Jesus. The teacher asked Jesus, "What must I do to inherit eternal life?" To which Jesus turned the tables and asked a question back to the teacher of the Law, "What is written in the law? How do you read it?"

Without answering the question, Jesus answered it. His question back to the teacher of the Law was to reveal the teacher's "yoke", or the burden that the teacher himself placed on others because of his beliefs. The teacher answered well from the Shema of the Torah by saying, "Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself." Jesus told him that he answered well and that if he did this, he would live!

But the teacher, wanting to justify himself, asked, "Who is my neighbor?" to which Jesus replies with the story of the good Samaritan.

What Jesus did in that short story was to dissect the heart of the teacher. He also dissects our hearts as well.

The point is that we not try to define who our neighbors are. The teacher of the Law wanted a strict definition of neighbor so that he could exclude those who weren't from his culture or even class. In other words, if his "neighbors" were only those people like himself (e.g. other teachers of the Law), he would find it easy to love them. However, Jesus shattered that idea by showing that the definition of "who" is our neighbor is infinitely insignificant to "how" we respond in a "neighborly way" to those in need that we encounter no matter who they are or where they are from.

It is easy for me to love others who are like me. It just isn't natural for me to love enemies or people that I don't know. I find it pretty easy to drive by the person on the side of the road needing help. I can find all kinds of excuses to justify doing so: I'm in a hurry, I'm on an important mission, I pass a value judgement on that person and just know that he/she is going to waste money on booze or something else if I give them some...the list goes on and on.

How do I love God? Take a look at how I love others. That should give you a clue and many times, it's not a pretty sight.