Jesus Writes in the Dust

John 8:3-11

Then the scribes and the Pharisees brought a woman caught in adultery, making her stand in the center. “Teacher,” they said to him, “this woman was caught in the act of committing adultery. In the law Moses commanded us to stone such women. So what do you say?” They asked this to trap him, in order that they might have evidence to accuse him.

Jesus stooped down and started writing on the ground with his finger. When they persisted in questioning him, he stood up and said to them, “The one without sin among you should be the first to throw a stone at her.” Then he stooped down again and continued writing on the ground. When they heard this, they left one by one, starting with the older men. Only he was left, with the woman in the center. 10 When Jesus stood up, he said to her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?”

11 “No one, Lord,” she answered.

I remember how Jesus defended me from the religious men. I had been publically led through the crowds. The temple was filled with people who were there for the festival. It was a time of joy and feasting, but not for me. Definitely not for me.

The religious police escorted me to Jesus. I was now the focus of everyone’s attention. I felt dirty and ashamed. Standing there I could feel the leering looks from the Pharisees; but there was something else as well, a look from Jesus that I had never seen before. There was compassion there, something quite extraordinary. I saw a firm mercy.

I’m ashamed, but I had committed adultery. I slept with a man who wasn’t my husband.

I was to be stoned, to know hard rocks thrown by “holy” men. The Law had pronounced my guilt, and I knew exactly how I was to be punished. And I deserved it. Yet the man I slept with was never charged; he escaped, and I would be put to death. I didn’t blame him.

My shame was now public knowledge–everyone knew, the Pharisees made sure of that. Jesus had been accepted by some to be the Messiah and by others not so much. I wasn’t sure one way or another. I was in a daze, not able to even try to defend myself.

They only put me front and center to test Him. These men who brought me had ulterior motives, they desperately hoped Jesus would stumble. I think they wanted to prove once and all to the crowds that were watching that Jesus really wasn’t the Messiah. They tried to trap him.

Jesus realized the ugly implications of this satanic effort against Him.

Only Rome had the power of execution, and the Mosaic Law declared that I was to die. I stood waiting, expecting the worst. What else could I do?

It’s funny, but Jesus understood all of this. He looked right through this theological trick, and He responded in a way that really shocked everyone. He never spoke, but bowed low and began to write in the dirt with his finger. Amidst their vicious accusations, they pressed their case.

Jesus bent down again, and he wrote some more.

I never knew what he wrote–but I had to believe it must have been something about the sin of the men who were accusing me. At that moment, they dropped the case against me and left. They all filed out, one by one, in dramatic fashion. I now stood alone with Jesus.

Jesus looked directly at me. I was still afraid, but it was strange, I felt a wave of peace as well. I quietly waited, not knowing what He was going to say to me. I half expected the worst.

Yes, he did confront me. He wanted me to acknowledge that those accusing men had left. I saw it and understood. Jesus was asking me to believe that I was now really free. But then he wanted me to understand something that seemed quite crucial.

“Neither do I condemn you,” said Jesus. “Go, and from now on do not sin anymore.”

That dear one was a powerful moment. He set me free with the understanding that He did not condemn me. My new freedom came with a catch–sort of. I knew then that my sin must be renounced. My freedom came with a price. But knowing I was completely released, meant I was now a free woman.

At that moment I understood everything completely.

A Martha Spirit

Luke 10:38-41, NCV

“While Jesus and his followers were traveling, Jesus went into a town. A woman named Martha let Jesus stay at her house. 39 Martha had a sister named Mary, who was sitting at Jesus’ feet and listening to him teach. 40 But Martha was busy with all the work to be done. She went in and said, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me alone to do all the work? Tell her to help me.”

41 “But the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and upset about many things. 

42 Only one thing is important. Mary has chosen the better thing, and it will never be taken away from her.”

My name is Martha and I’m a friend of Jesus. My home was one of His favorite places to stay–a refuge for Him whose life was so busy. I joyfully opened my house for Him and His disciples. When Jesus came I went all out, I wanted the best for them and that meant there were always things to do. Is that really a bad thing?

The kitchen was verging on bedlam–lamb, cucumbers, figs, and so on. Roasting and slicing, I had bread in the oven. All of this was requiring constant attention, and I remember not being able to keep up.

I wanted things to be perfect for Jesus.

I took occasional peeks at He who was teaching in my living room. I just brought in some bowls of figs and raisins as an appetizer and found my sister Mary sitting with the men listening to Jesus and asking questions. It was that which started to get a little ticked off.

I can see now that I was getting irritated.

There was so much to do and I realized I had to have her help. And the more I thought of Mary the more frustrated I got. I suspect she didn’t understand the work that need to be done. I suppose her priorities were messed up–she simply didn’t understand her role as a hostess, and to sit with the men like she was doing was wrong.

Mary didn’t understand her place.

I admit I was having issues with my sister. I had brought out another bowl of figs and that’s when I gently interrupted the Lord’s teaching. I wanted Him to tell Mary that her place was with me in the kitchen. He could correct her and I knew she would listen. “Tell her to help me.”

Instead, it was Jesus who corrected me. I still remember Jesus’ words. I wasn’t expecting this.

“Martha, Martha, you are worried and upset about many things.”

Was I really that transparent? He understood, but rather than encouraging me I had become another lesson to everyone present. I realize now that the real issue was with my attitude, and not the work. Yes, I was bothered and upset and I know that it’s those things that were the problem.

Only one thing is important. Mary has chosen the better thing, and it will never be taken away from her.”

I suddenly knew that He was right. Jesus was in my home, and all I did was get angry. I thought my work would please Him and after all, wasn’t that important? Didn’t He “deserve” my best efforts?

My younger sister Mary was being praised. She was my example and now I was being gently rebuked. I realized that all I was doing, all my work, was not what Jesus wanted from me. The problem was my own heart—-it wasn’t Mary, it was me!

I had taken my eyes off of Jesus and was immersed in my service to Him.

I had become critical and resentful of Mary, and I had forgotten that my place was at Jesus’ feet, listening and learning. That’s what Jesus wanted from me, and somehow I had forgotten that. The work could wait, my real place was with Jesus.

Martha’s frustration is typical of those who diligently serve with good intent, but forget to also sit at Jesus’ feet. “The Martha spirit says, if the work is done, is not that all? The Mary spirit asks whether Jesus is well pleased or not? All must be done in his name and by his Spirit, or nothing is done.”

C.H. Spurgeon

Learning to Love Prodigals

Learning how to forgive

Once I was punched in the face while preaching. I served as a full-time evangelist with SOS Ministries in 1987. I was leading a group to Haight/Ashbury St. in San Francisco. I remember it was really busy, and the it was a good team, and they were excited to take their church to the streets.

Haight/Ashbury was the place the “summer of love” kicked off, it peaked in 1968. It has a certain sense of notoriety, and even in 1983 it still had a dubious reputation as a center of the counter-culture. “A cult a day is born in San Francisco,” a pastor friend once shared with me.

Normally the neighborhood where I took a team would direct me on how to preach. Tonight I focused on God’s love for sinful people.

That message seemed appropriate for this place, and especially on this street. God loves these people very much.

A young man came forward. He told me that he was a backslidden Christian, and his father was an Assembly of God pastor. He had run away from home. Suddenly he began to weep. The entire team seemed to lean forward and I know they were praying earnestly for him. It seemed to me that he was teetering on the brink.

The punch came unexpectedly.

His fist hit me square in the nose. My eyes began to water. Oddly enough he took a step back and began to really cry out. My team wasn’t quite sure how to respond, but I hoped they prayed even harder. I sort of gasped and tried to shake it off. Someone must have called the police.

The Holy Spirit was very much present, both convicting and comforting each of us.

One or two minutes went by and suddenly he stopped sobbing and he became really angry. He took a step and then tried to kick me in the stomach, but I dropped the mic and caught his foot. I was ready for him this time.

About 20 minutes went by before SFPD showed up and asked if I wanted to press charges. I thought for a bit, but deep down I knew that wasn’t the will of my Father. Maybe I should of, I don’t know. But I thought about my own sin and couldn’t judge no one.

The Father was reaching him while teaching me!

God loves His prodigal children very much, He understands the guilt and shame (and frustration) they feel. The Father however is always watching and waiting. He works through life’s circumstances to lead them home. Each belongs to Him. He continues far past what we think is possible. He will never give up.

“We know what real love is because Jesus gave up his life for us. So we also ought to give up our lives for our brothers and sisters.”

1 John 3:16

I suddenly saw a “wounded” brother, very confused and quite angry. Not with me, the team, or the music–but with God who created him, and died for him.

At that moment I just happened to be God’s love for this prodigal.

“How did Jesus expect His disciples to react under persecution? (In Matthew 5:12 He said), “Rejoice and be glad!” We are not to retaliate like an unbeliever, nor sulk like a child, nor lick our wound in self-pity like a dog, nor just grin a bear it like a Stoic, still less pretend we enjoy it like a masochist. What then? We are to rejoice as a Christian should even “leap for joy” (Lk. 6:23).”

     John Stott

“How did Jesus expect His disciples to react under persecution? (In Matthew 5:12 He said), “Rejoice and be glad!” We are not to retaliate like an unbeliever, nor sulk like a child, nor lick our wound in self-pity like a dog, nor just grin a bear it like a Stoic, still less pretend we enjoy it like a masochist. What then? We are to rejoice as a Christian should and even “leap for joy” (Lk. 6:23).”

    

Worshipping With a Knife

 by the Forward

In the doctrine of biblical hermeneutics, the ‘Law of First Mention exists. Essentially it means that the first time a word or a concept is mentioned should go on to determine the way it needs to be understood throughout scripture. It is a guiding principle more than anything, and a good one at that. The Book of Genesis, being the first book, is a blessed repository for many of these ‘first mentions.’

In Genesis 22, we have the story of Abraham and Isaac on Mt. Moriah.

Abraham has tied up his son on an altar to offer him as a sacrifice in obedience to God’s direction (v. 2). This is faith being tested to the ultimate extreme. And Abraham shows us how to enter in.

“Then on the third day Abraham lifted his eyes and saw the place afar off. And Abraham said to his young men, “Stay here with the donkey; the lad and I will go yonder and worship, and we will come back to you.”

Genesis 22:4-5

This is the law of the first mention of the word “worship” in the Bible.

It sets the singular tone for all the scriptures on this subject. I guess what is interesting is there were no musical instruments involved. There were just these needful things:

  • stones,
  • wood,
  • rope,
  • fire,
  • a knife,
  • and Isaac, (the would-be ‘lamb.’)

When the Hebrew word for ‘worship’ was used for the first time; it is interlaced with the idea of an incredible sacrifice. Abraham is the first ‘worship leader’ and he has no guitar. No piano, or drums either. No musical instruments whatsoever. No overhead lyrics to speak of.

Just a handmade altar, and a knife.

In the end, as Abraham raises that knife, he is stopped suddenly, to the relief of us all. His faith has withstood the test, and he has genuinely ‘worshipped.’

“But the Angel of the Lord called to him from heaven and said, “Abraham, Abraham!” So he said, “Here I am.” And He said, “Do not lay your hand on the lad, or do anything to him; for now I know that you fear God, since you have not withheld your son, your only son, from Me.”

Gen. 22:11-12

Principle One:

There really can’t be worship without sacrifice.

Recovering this truth concerning worship would be beneficial. It seems we delegate ‘worship’ to a select few who are talented and gifted. We probably don’t do this deliberately, but sometimes we feel it makes a better presentation. We all want to look good, even Christians. (Perhaps this is more substantial then we know.)

Principle Two:

The first worshiper didn’t use a guitar, but a knife.

This difference keeps the idea of sacrifice in its definition. There isn’t worship without sacrifice. The knife thrust he was ready to wield wasn’t backed up by drums or piano. Yet Abraham understood worship every step to Moriah with the knife in his belt.

“The Scriptures include or allude to just about every approach to worship there is: organized, spontaneous, public, private, simple, complex, ornate or plain. Yet there is no comment anywhere about any one way being preferred over another. Rather, it is the spiritual condition of the worshiper that determines whether or not God is at work.”  

Harold Best

Ultimately, we must realize our sacrifice is the Lamb of God. It’s His blood on God’s altar for our sin. As believers, our faith firmly rests in this spiritual fact. We of all people have cause to really worship.

“So, brothers and sisters, because of God’s mercies, I encourage you to present your bodies as a living sacrifice that is holy and pleasing to God. This is your appropriate priestly service.”

Romans 12:1

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The Pharisee & the Tax Collector

Luke 18:10-14

 “Two men went to the Temple to pray. One was a proud, self-righteous Pharisee, and the other a cheating tax collector. 11 The proud Pharisee ‘prayed’ this prayer: ‘Thank God, I am not a sinner like everyone else, especially like that tax collector over there! For I never cheat, I don’t commit adultery, 12 I go without food twice a week, and I give to God a tenth of everything I earn.’

13 “But the corrupt tax collector stood at a distance and dared not even lift his eyes to heaven as he prayed, but beat upon his chest in sorrow, exclaiming, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner.’ 14 I tell you, this sinner, not the Pharisee, returned home forgiven! For the proud shall be humbled, but the humble shall be honored.”

Meet the Pharisee:

I had it all together. I had shaped myself to be the ultimate Pharisee–the Pharisees of the Pharisees. I understood the Law; I could quote whole books, forward and backward. I fasted twice a week, and tithed everything, right down to my herbs and spices. I had it all together.

I made sure everyone saw my commitment.

I strenuously kept God’s Law. I was consumed by understanding it, I tried to grasp all its nuances and complexity. The 10 commandments were emblazoned on all that I did. I wanted everyone to know that I was one of “the pure ones,” for that was the meaning behind the word Pharisee. I knew that I was pure.

I went to the Temple every day to pray, I stood holy and set apart, standing before a real and holy God. I was always the truest example to the people of Israel. I always stood when I prayed, for I was completely committed to doing all that the Law demanded of me.

One day I saw a wicked man in God’s holy temple. I had to thank God that we were total opposites. He was a tax collector and an evil person. I really was nothing like him. I rejoiced that I had become a true example of a righteous man.

I knew I was righteous, and certainly not at all like that sinful tax collector.

———————-

Meet the Tax Collector:

I didn’t have it all together. I understood this and was horrified that I had become so evil. I came to the Temple, driven by my guilt and shame–no one had to tell me this, for I knew my sin and I was deeply ashamed.

Why I came, I don’t know. I honestly didn’t belong here, and I kept a distance from the front. I guess that’s where I belonged. On the fringes before the Holy One. It seemed now that I was drawn to this place, and I’m still not sure why I came that day.

I knew that I breathed evil and had become evil.

I fell to my knees, and I begged God to forgive me. I saw the Pharisee standing in the presence of God, but I knew I wasn’t at all like him. He was righteous and I knew I was not. Oh, how I wanted God to forgive me for all the sins I had committed.

I must tell you that my spirit was in agony.

“Humble men are very fortunate!” he told them, “for the Kingdom of Heaven is given to them. Those who mourn are fortunate! for they shall be comforted. The meek and lowly are fortunate! for the whole wide world belongs to them.

Matthew 5:3-5, LB

Jesus clearly told us who was truly forgiven that day. When we think we have it all together, we’re deceiving ourselves.

Let’s not pretend otherwise, okay.

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Art: Eugene Burnand, 1850-1924, litho; Scripture used here is from the Living Bible.

Many Troubles, Bad Times

“You have given me many troubles and bad times, but you will give me life again. When I am almost dead, You will keep me alive.”

Psalm 71:20, NCV

“He was despised and forsaken of men, A man of sorrows and acquainted with grief.”

Isaiah 53:3, NASB

Everyone hurts sometimes. We all will face our special sorrows. But there are times when our pain pounds us intensely, and it can get really bad. The darkness rolls in on our souls like a caustic fog. We might devastatingly discover that there are things that are worse than terrible.

I have never spoken out like this, but my wife and I had a daughter who died— she was stillborn. She was doing great, up to a week before her due date. We knew that in seven days, we would be able to see her– face-to-face.

But that was not to be. Elizabeth Grace Lowe died from strangulation (from her own umbilical cord.) Nothing could have been done. My wife had noticed a moment of very frantic activity, as Elizabeth fought for her life. We plummeted from ecstatic joy to devastating sorrow in just seconds. It came “out of the blue,” totally unexpected.

We were completely undone. 

“For the Lord will not reject forever,
For if He causes grief,
Then He will have compassion
According to His abundant lovingkindness.
For He does not afflict willingly
Or grieve the sons of men.”

Lamentations 3:32-33, NASB

There is pain, but there are also promises.

There can be brutal sadness, but there are psalms. There is a blessing for all those who grieve. This topic deserves far more attention than this simple post. (If you’re in the thick of things, I’m trusting the Holy Spirit will help you to your next step.)

There can be such sorrow in this life, much more than the human heart can possibly contain. But our Savior has a title (one of many.) He is the “Man of Sorrows.” He is the one who is “on point.” He leads us through such intense hostility. He is there when the switch is flipped and it becomes instantly dark. He can’t, won’t, and will not leave you to face your pain alone.

There are a few things that I want to communicate to you. These have come out of great darkness. I have tried awfully hard to be a disciple, even through the worst of it. They may be right, wrong or just okay, I don’t really know…

  1. God takes the full blame for our pain and sorrow. He doesn’t shift the blame or deny His presence in our sufferings. Sometimes you need to adjust your theology. Maybe it’s hard to trust Him right now–that’s more than understandable. In eternity, I believe, it’ll make perfect sense.
  2. Jesus has fully shared our sorrow. All that you are feeling right now, He feels. If you feel you are at a minus 10, then He does as well. As you suffer, He is your shadow. He knows. He feels it all.
  3. Nothing is ever wasted. We really shouldn’t treat these moments of sorrow as a waste. Have you ever wondered at Jesus’ ‘economy’ after the 5000 were fed?  He assigns value to the leftovers. The disciples pick up their baskets and collect everything again. Nothing will go to waste. 
  4. This pain, this sorrow is the intensive crash course in becoming a person of mercy. You now will always walk with a limp. At times the scars will be quite visible to those who can really see. This will become forever a healed wound (but a wound nevertheless.) It helps to seek out others who have walked this same path. I don’t think I will ever fully trust a person who doesn’t walk with a limp.
  5. You will need (but maybe not accept) the transformation of your suffering into glory. This will take some time, and it almost feels like you’re not progressing at all. I encourage you to re-think each of these simple points. The Holy Spirit may be working, perhaps behind the scenes.
  6. Finally remember this: God is not a monster, stomping on us like a boy crushes ants. He has carried all of our pain and illness. He clearly comes alongside every suffering believer. It is Satan who would suggest to you that God is a Celestial Menace, not worthy of our love. I will be very blunt with you, that idea has to be implicitly rejected. Its origins are satanic.

*“The LORD is close to the brokenhearted; he rescues those whose spirits are crushed.”

Psalm 147:3, NLT

“The Spirit of the Sovereign LORD is upon me, for the LORD has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to comfort the brokenhearted and to proclaim that captives will be released and prisoners will be freed.”

Isaiah 61:1, NLT

“He heals the wounds of every shattered heart.”
Psalm 147:3, TPT

*

The Older Brother Syndrome

Luke 15:25-32

25-27 “All this time his older son was out in the field. When the day’s work was done he came in. As he approached the house, he heard the music and dancing. Calling over one of the houseboys, he asked what was going on. He told him, ‘Your brother came home. Your father has ordered a feast—barbecued beef!—because he has him home safe and sound.’

28-30 “The older brother stomped off in an angry sulk and refused to join in. His father came out and tried to talk to him, but he wouldn’t listen. The son said, ‘Look how many years I’ve stayed here serving you, never giving you one moment of grief, but have you ever thrown a party for me and my friends? Then this son of yours who has thrown away your money on whores shows up and you go all out with a feast!’

31-32 “His father said, ‘Son, you don’t understand. You’re with me all the time, and everything that is mine is yours—but this is a wonderful time, and we had to celebrate. This brother of yours was dead, and he’s alive! He was lost, and he’s found!’”

I hated him. I know I shouldn’t but I did. He betrayed all of us with his nonsense. It all started when he demanded that our father immediately divide up our inheritance. Strange I know. It was a shock, like a punch in the stomach. No one knew what to say, it was so bizarre. I have no idea where this idea came from.

He insisted that we divide things up right this instant. He didn’t have the decency to wait for our father’s funeral. It was such a shameful thing that I couldn’t begin to tell you how mortified I was. No one ever heard of anything happening like this before. Even now, after these many years, I can hardly talk about it.

My father simply did what was asked, there was no argument, no resistance.

The property was appraised, and the money was divided up according to custom. We sat at the kitchen table, and the ass watched to make sure that he received every penny that was coming to him. His hungry greed was beyond belief. He oozed arrogance–it was then I really began to hate him.

Never ever had I been so angry and ashamed.

My younger brother never even batted an eye and my father simply did what was asked. My brother didn’t even have the decency to say “thank you.” I desperately wanted to leave, and I couldn’t. I had to be there, and I felt like I was going to throw up.

Enough of that. Let’s move on.

That ass, that brother of mine, suddenly packed up and left. Oh, occasionally I heard of his escapades. There were awful reports of his drunkenness and whoring. He was spending our father’s money as if it would never going to run out. Even talking about it now makes me angry.

The last I had heard was he was now feeding pigs. He had spent every last dime and now it seems he was getting what he deserved. I didn’t shed a tear, I felt no pity. Good, he was getting what he should have gotten all along. I only wished that things would get even worse.

Coming in from the fields I heard a raucous party coming from the house.

I asked one of the servants what was going on. When they told me I was even more shocked. Our father had arranged a celebration, all because my brother had returned. The fatted calf had been killed, the one that was saved for parties, and I heard shouts of joy and dancing. They were celebrating, and that made no sense to me at all.

I had served the estate faithfully, I had sweated to make things work, and I never got a party like this.

My father came out to find me, I had hidden out in a shed–I didn’t want to be a part of this awful charade. When he found me he said that the party had to happen. It seems the scoundrel had the audacity to return–the money was spent, and apparently, he came home in rags–it served him right. He got what he deserved.

He told me that this celebration must happen.

My mind reeled. Could things get even crazier? Never had I heard of anything so bizarre. It was beyond belief. My father wanted me to come in and join them; I’d rather die. You have no idea.

He kept telling me that this had to happen–apparently he was given a new robe, and worst of all he was given the family ring, the ring that declared that he was now a full-fledged son, someone who could have all of the privilege and authority of a son. I had never heard of such foolishness.

My father said this was necessary, that my brother who I hoped was dead, was now alive.

How bad could things get? Perhaps my father had lost his mind.

“Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.”

Luke 15:7

Painting: “The Return of the Prodigal Son by Rembrandt, c. 1667, oil on canvas. This picture shown is a small part. Scripture is The Message, a translation by Eugene Peterson.

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Lost & Found

On a warm afternoon, a lamb takes a peek at a visitor while eating hay at Fat Rooster Farm in Royalton, Vt., on April 27, 2003. (Photo by Geoff Hansen)

 “All the tax collectors and sinners were approaching to listen to him. And the Pharisees and scribes were complaining, “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.”

3 “So he told them this parable: “What man of you, having a hundred sheep, if he has lost one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the open country, and go after the one that is lost, until he finds it? And when he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing. And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and his neighbors, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost.’ Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.

Luke 15:1-7

What does it mean to be lost? Some have that much figured out by now, (and if not, we will.) The Bible nails us with this story, and it rings true of the human condition. You don’t need a Ph.D. in Psychology to understand this. The heart and soul of a man and a woman are in an awful state of separation from God, and some are beginning to understand this.

The three stories reveal that the Pharisees and the scribes have issues.

Their whole belief system–the idea of who’s righteous and who’s not, is being rocked. The sinners are coming to listen to Jesus (maybe for the stories, maybe for something else?) The religious regime is mystified, and maybe a bit jealous. Perhaps they were irked at the grace of God they see in Jesus?

Jesus tells His first story, (and he loves to tell stories I’ve found.) Anyway, the parable he shares is 100 words (more or less) and it describes the condition of every man, woman, and child–everyone who has ever existed. He clearly cuts through “religion” like a hot knife through cold butter. He quite succinctly describes us. And wow, these stories are eye-openers.

We’re all lost sheep–wandering, and sometimes very confused.

The paths we’ve taken to get out of our “lost-ness” have only confused us even more. We’ve had to deal with thorns and vultures; it hasn’t been easy, and we’ve never been able to reconnect to safety. Some become “smart” people, others buy fast cars, and some kill their lost-ness with booze or drugs. We find many different ways to keep us from feeling this separation from God.

A very lost sheep.

In Luke 15, we find three parables that all deal with lost things–sheep, coins, and sons. Essentially, they each explain what now has happened to us. Most of us know that the religion of the Pharisees hasn’t worked. Even the sinners understand that much. Sometimes even the very lost have figured that much out, even before the so-called righteous do.

Jesus tracks us down–our confusion has finally lifted enough to see his outstretched arm. The Father has this odd preference for those who know they’ve lost, and these three parables come in a deliberate succession–that should make things pretty clear.

So dear one, will you insist on wandering? Is that what you really want?

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w

When God Puts You Into a Quarantine

quarantine

Quarantines are a real possibility, even to this day. A quarantine is imposed when a disease is contagious enough that it would harm a society: Measles, Smallpox, and the recent COVID-19 are just a few physical diseases where isolation must be imposed.

It can be severe— an epidemic, with desperate consequences if not adhered to; in some rare cases, the use of deadly force has been authorized to maintain a quarantine until the disease is no longer communicable.

This may surprise you, but there are examples of ‘quarantines’ in the Bible.

The term ‘unclean’ was used for ‘leprosy.’ Those afflicted had to isolate themselves; they had to ‘announce’ their presence when in contact with society. Lepers lived in groups away from the general populace, as a result of their disease.

In Paul’s epistle to the Corinthians, he addresses another kind of ‘quarantine.’ The situation was dire; the church had advocated a Christian living with his father’s wife.

“I have already passed judgment on this man in the name of the Lord Jesus. You must call a meeting of the church. I will be present with you in spirit, and so will the power of our Lord Jesus. Then you must throw this man out and hand him over to Satan so that his sinful nature will be destroyed and he himself will be saved on the day the Lord returns.”

1 Corinthians 5:3-5, NLT

Understanding the Principle of Usefulness

Now in a large house, there are not only gold and silver vessels, but also vessels of wood and of earthenware, and some to honor and some to dishonor.”

2 Timothy 2:20, NASB

Found in God’s pantry are lots of pots and pans of various uses.  Paul writes Timothy about the ‘large house’ which is the Church inclusive. Look around Timothy, there are gold ones, and there are silver ones. They have a noble purpose fitting for such a great house. These are the ones the guests will use; they befit the significance of the Lord himself. These vessels have great value for they are made of precious metals.

There are vessels of different categories. These are the ones made of wood, and of clay. These are part of the household, make no mistake about it. But their use is one of function, they’re utilized in common and ignoble ways. (A clay ‘bed-pan’ perhaps?!)

21 “Therefore, if anyone cleanses himself from these things, he will be a vessel for honor, sanctified, useful to the Master, prepared for every good work.”

2 Timothy 2:21

Paul, the author of the New Testament doctrine of grace emphasizes the place of personal holiness. We are to ‘cleanse’ ourselves to become a vessel of honor. There is good news here:

  • All are vessels in the Father’s house. Each of us belongs to Him. He alone determines their use.
  • Things are not yet in their final state. Changes in status can be experienced. In God’s economy, clay pots can become ‘golden.’ Silver can become ‘wood.’

Some sin is contagious.

It affects believers, and the Church becomes compromised by what we’ve done. And then sometimes we are quarantined by the Holy Spirit–until the contagion passes. This spiritual disease must not be permitted.

I have experienced this several times in my own discipleship. These are not pleasant times, but there is no condemnation. I’m still His servant, His love for me stays outrageously constant. He has never turned away a sinning child who repents of their sin.

“Yes, I am His servant, but I must wait out in the hall. I haven’t been faithful. So I sit in His waiting room, waiting for His call. This is for my good. And my Father knows what is best.” 

alaskabibleteacher.com

When Eagles Go Bad

Looking for their dinner

“I am coming soon. Continue strong in your faith so no one will take away your crown.”

Rev. 3:11, NCV

I have lived in Alaska for over 30 years.  It’s beautiful, probably one of the most enchanting places on earth, by far. Admittedly it does have an “edge” as well. It can get very cold, and we can have snow piled up waist-high in just a few hours. I have to admit though, that the winter nights up here can be excruciatingly long and dark.

But my freezer is full of salmon, halibut, caribou, and of course, moose meat. We can pick berries in the summer, with a wary eye for bears, I never carry a gun though.  We kayak, ski, and snow machine for fun. My son was a snowboarder wanna-be. We get chased by moose–I was very close to being trampled once.

I have always had a strong connection with eagles.

You can find them throughout most of North America, from Alaska and Canada to northern Mexico. About half of the world’s 70,000 bald eagles live in Alaska.  And that is a lot.  You can see them every day here if you want. (And you never let your small dog out, he can become dinner for the eagle. Seriously.)

I’ve been thinking about eagles. When I went to the dump recently I saw several of them working for the trash heaps.  I don’t know, but it really bothered me.  They had the form of an eagle; the wing span and the aloofness, but they were pathetic.  Their feathers were matted down, and they looked completely disheveled.  They were scrounging for scraps, competing with the crows.

The dump here is like a “crack house” for eagles.

A hard day’s night

Perhaps the saddest thing was they were losing their distinctive white heads. They had given it up for dump food.  This is a big problem in many towns here in Alaska.  The eagle’s heads turn in color to a dark grey.  You have to look a little closer to see that they are still bald eagles. You can’t be too sure.

In the Bible, God is identified as being an eagle. But so are Christians. There is something quite unsettling and tragic to encounter a believer addicted and controlled by their appetites. Soon they will change, as they grow more pathetic and disheveled.  They give up soaring and become wretched souls, without joy or purpose. All they know is a steady misery.

We don’t belong, and it isn’t who we are.

Those of us who struggle can’t live out of a landfill. You see, we were meant to soar, strong and free.  No matter who you are– addictions, compulsions, or mental illness. We can still become eagle Christians.

Do you not know?
Have you not heard?
Has it not been declared to you
from the beginning?
Have you not considered
the foundations of the earth?”

Isaiah 40:21

Deep down I want to spiritually soar–I resist living out of the dumps.  It is a heavy struggle at times, but we were re-created to fly. Please, never forget that. Keep flapping your wings. You were meant to glide with Him.

The dump is not your home.

 

alaskabibleteacher.com