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Archive for October, 2013

Broken. But Not For Long.

Broken.

The older I get, the more I look around (and within) and see brokenness. Loose threads. Missing parts. Bent and twisted pieces.

Whether it’s a twisted spine, or nagging depression, or deep emotional wounds, we live within a world of brokenness – one that resembles those post-tornado photos. How does all this get fixed?

“For I am confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus.” -Philippians 1:6

God creates entire planets. Stars. Galaxies. A universe filled with clusters of galaxies. He upholds them all. And can He not bring His redemptive work to completion in you, and in me, and in our churches?

There are deep-rooted sins that are very slow to yield, and some wounds seem to barely heal before they once again ooze forth. Salvation comes to us in an instant, but works out in us over the long haul.

A master builder can look at a storm-destroyed home, develop a re-building plan, haul off the debris, re-set the foundation, and create something even better. Will Jesus Christ, through whom all the worlds were brought into being, do any less with us?

Yes, let us look with realistic eyes at the wreckage – but shall we not now look 5 times more often at the master plan, and 10 times more often than that at the Master builder?

I am, right now, woefully incomplete; and will be until the day I die. Yet, the promise is that I WILL be complete. Not because of me, but because of Him who has gone before us, overcoming even death.

God is not a God of unfinished business!

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From Deliverance to Praise

In Psalm 34, David kicks off with a ringing proclamation of his determination to bring praise to God, joined to a call for others to join him in the heart-song.

Why?

Did David suddenly come across some obscure point of theology that delighted his spirit? Was he caught up in some manufactured wave of emotion accompanied by wailing guitars and flashing lights?

No. His worship was based on his personal experience with the touch of God’s mighty hand – specifically, God’s deliverance.

“I sought the Lord and He answered me, and delivered me from all my fears…this poor man cried and the Lord heard him and saved him out of all his troubles.” (Psalm 34:4,6)

David was being unjustly pursued by King Saul, who was descending into jealous madness. And, despite all odds, David was kept from harm through divine intervention, time and again.

Nobody worships God because of abstract appreciation of His excellent attributes. The wellspring of praise is personal, ongoing deliverance. Only supernatural intervention by God stirs our souls into heartfelt praise and adoration.

This is why the finest choral production of Handel’s Messiah by those who don’t believe the words they sing is but an empty clanging in the courts of heaven. One rescued soul, delivering thanks in an off-key and wavering voice, brings far more glory to God.

Has the Lord saved you from troubles? Has He promised you salvation from ALL evil, within and without? Does He touch you and bring about spiritual healing day by day, even in the smallest of increments? Meditate on that, and let your praise flow forth from a grateful heart.

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The Touchingly Human Jesus

It was quite a crowded and exciting scene.

Jesus, the new authoritative rabbi, had been been out on a teaching tour (accompanied by miraculous healings), and the crowds kept on growing. Now, He was coming off the Mount, after perhaps His most stirring speech yet – a sermon cementing His position as the most provocative and popular rabbi of the day.

The people loved Him. A group of devoted disciples followed Him. And the current crop of jealous religious leaders hated Him.

The crowds were amazed at His teaching, and His huge following accompanied him down the mountain, when there in front of Him bowed down a single man.

Lowly. Needy. Sick with the most dreaded of all diseases – leprosy.

Jesus and the crowd. One distraught, desperate, unclean man.

“Lord, if you are willing, You can make me clean,” the man says. He remembers when he used to be “clean,” before the leprosy took hold. Now, he’s an outcast, almost a sub-human. No-one comes near him. No-one touches him. You don’t touch lepers.

Jesus touch leperJesus touches him.

He also heals him, and pronounces him clean. He is restored – human again!

His agonizing condition led Him to a willing Savior. One who seemed super-human in His divine powers – yet very human in His compassion.

Does God really care that much, to come down to our human condition in a broken world, and bring healing and truth? Yes – yes, He does. And it’s not those who think they are righteous that are drawn to Him, but those who know themselves to be unclean. The outcasts. The unrighteous. The sinners.

It’s one thing to be in the crowd, admiring the Lord from a distance. It’s quite another to be distraught, unclean, desperate. In touch enough with reality to seek the healing touch of a willing Savior.

In the mirror of my soul, I often see only uncleanness. I feel the leprosy of spirit that makes me so unlike a holy God. Of all men, I am most worthy to be cast out.

Yet, God reached down in the person of a man, Jesus the Messiah. And He touched.

And He still touches.

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Jesus: Innie or Outie?

When it comes to (physical) navel-gazing, about 90% of us have an “innie” rather than an “outie.”

BellyNo-one in their right mind would argue whether one’s belly-button configuration is a moral issue. But Jesus was very clear on the moral issue of genuine righteousness – the “outies” do NOT cut it.

In Jesus’ day, the majority of religious leaders were really into external righteousness in a big way. They created whole lists of rules and traditions piled up on top of God-given commandments, to such an extent that true righteousness was often buried under a bewildering array of nitpicky, external-focused religious “best practices.”

Except they weren’t best practices in God’s eyes, because they neglected the heart, and focused on what man could see.

In the Gospel of Matthew chapter 15, Jesus encounters yet another example of religious sniping by the Pharisees and scribes of his time, who questioned why Jesus’ disciples ate with unwashed hands. Because, you know, that’s against the rules. The outward cleanness standards (if these folks had hand sanitizers available, there’s no telling how far this ceremonial cleanness would have gone!)

Jesus blew their “outie” focus apart by proclaiming, “It is not what enters into the mouth that defiles the man, but what proceeds out of the mouth…do you not understand that everything that goes into the mouth passes into the stomach and is eliminated? But the things that proceed out of mouth come from the heart, and those defile the man. For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, slanders. These are the things which defile the man; but to eat with unwashed hands does not defile the man.”

Bottom line: whatever your belly-button configuration, it’s the heart configuration that matters. Jesus labeled “outie” religious guides as the blind leading the blind.┬áJesus is not interested in hypocritical rule-keeping; His focus is on a Spirit-given righteousness residing in the soul. The inward leads to the outward, not vice-versa.

Defilement comes from within, and external religious actions cannot cure it. Sincere, faith-filled obedience also comes from within, and religious observances cannot create it.

My evil heart will never be fixed by washing hands, or bowing down 5 times, or making public prayers, or giving tithes. My defilement cannot be cured by multiplying rituals.

But the man or woman who abides in the righteousness of Christ is a new creature, with a new heart. That’s the only cure for the futility of outie-righteousness.

(Summary from Adult SS Class Lesson 3 – Jesus: Relentlessly Heart-focused)

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