Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Perfection - or Forgiven. What are you aiming for?

I remember getting ready to stand up before a group of maybe 2000 people to preach at a pastor friend’s church when I had a brief talk with God.  It hadn’t been a great week. My relationship with the Lord still had an unhealthy component of “do” in those days. It’s one thing to have a crummy week all by your self.  It’s another thing to crash and burn in front of a large group of people that expect you to tell them what God has to say to them.

A minute before I was to preach I simply said “God I’m sorry I’m not perfect”.  It was a heartfelt comment with a slight spin. 

He & I both knew no one would confuse me with perfection, especially “that” week. 

Though I meant it, I probably wanted to show contrition so He wouldn’t let me crash and burn in front of all those people.

I was not prepared for the quick fireside chat I encountered at that moment.  I heard the Lord speak in my spirit “So you’re saying that your perfection is better than the Blood of Jesus?”  No Lord that’s not what I meant.  Instantly I heard Him say “That’s exactly what you said”. 

My dad was a very hard working, extremely gentle Irishman. I have long said my dad wasn’t perfect, but he was the perfect dad for me.  I remember feeling that day as if God was speaking those same words over me.

In my short chat with my heavenly dad that day before preaching I realized an important truth regarding my relationship with God…..

 I would rather be forgiven than self-righteously perfect any day.

Growing in Grace I have realized my heavenly father isn’t being patient with me, He IS patient.  He can’t be any other way. 

That’s not trivial semantics.  Even the most patient person (like my natural dad) can at times loose their patience – but not God!  He does not want me fearing I am disappointing Him.  You may be disappointed when your restaurant meal doesn’t meet your expectations, but how can the God who knows everything ever be disappointed by unfulfilled expectations?  He always knows exactly what He’s going to get.

I have also come to realize forgiveness isn’t something I have to request daily.  I received His complete forgiveness the day I accepted Jesus Christ because Jesus paid the complete penalty for my sin (past, present, future)

The chat with my heavenly father that day has brought such freedom in my relationship with Jesus.  I no longer help the devil beat me up with condemnation.  I don’t call myself condescending names when I have a bad day anymore

I get it now……

It really is finished.

I hope you throw yourself at the mercy of God and find Grace to help in your time of need (He.4:16).

He really is just that in to you.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

What’s with the Double Stuff ?

Isaiah 40:1-2 “Comfort, comfort my people, says your God. Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and cry to her that her warfare is ended, that her iniquity is pardoned, and that she has received from the Lord's hand double for all her sins.”

Here is yet another beautiful snapshot of God’s amazing Grace. You have to hold it up to the light to see it in all its beautiful detail.

These are the toughest times financially that most people have experienced in their lifetime. You can drive the streets of your town and see a sheet of paper taped on the front door of homes all over town. It’s a legal notice of pending foreclosure on that property. Most of us rarely if ever remember seeing those signs in our lifetime.

Yet they have been around since Isaiah’s time. When a person incurred a debt they were unable to pay, a sign was posted on their front door that spelled out the scope of the debt. How humiliating to have your worst out there for God and everyone to see. Even worse, back then not only the person’s property but their family and the very person themselves could be seized for the debt.

You may be feeling less than “comforted” at this moment especially considering Isaiah said she received from the Lord’s hand “double” for her trouble. But this is a picture of redemption. The whole context speaks of valleys being filled in and difficult peaks being lowered and rough places being made smooth. We could use some of that today.

Did you notice the phrase “she has received from the Lord's hand double”? In that situation of impossible debt, if a person of great means happened to pass by and pause to read the note of debt, and if they were moved by compassion to help by paying the debt, something very special happened. The benefactor would fold the card in half on to the nail, and sign their name across the card. They became surety that they would pay the debt for the debtor, and the person was completely free. That action of folding the card in half was called “The Double”.

Now can you see why the comment “from the Lord's hand” takes on such great significance? What does that do for your understanding of Philippians 4:19? “My God will supply every need of yours according to His riches in glory in Christ Jesus.” God initiated this “front door signature” concept on the very first Passover with the blood of the lamb. God has always been an extravagantly gracious God except to those who demanded to live by rules (Moses you talk to God for us. Whatever He says, we are well able to do.)

One final thought on “The Double”. Once the benefactor folded the card over and signed to cover the debt, NO ONE had the right to peak behind the doubled card and see what the debt “was” (past-tense) because it was no more. It was paid in full. Not only was the debt paid but the person was free. Isaiah specifically said the “double” was for her sins. That’s amazing Grace, He really is just that into you!
                                          The Well at Crystal Lake

Friday, April 16, 2010

"Can't Touch This"

In his opening line MC Hammer thanks the Lord for blessing him with his lyric ability. I wonder if he got the title from God Himself. The Lord used that phrase when He was speaking about a holy artifact that represented His presence, for in fact from time to time He rested there. God gave the people specific instructions regarding the handling of His presence.

One time Israel went to face off against the Philistines and got kicked to the curb. Befuddled (not accustomed to loosing) they realized “oh yea – we forgot God (the Ark) we better go get Him.” Now we can get all spiritual and say “how could they” like how could Mary & Joseph misplace little Jesus? Truth be told, more people head off to work each day and forget the Lord than those who won’t leave home without Him.

So they send back to Shiloh for the Ark, born by two priests who were not the church’s best and brightest representatives. In short, they lost the Ark; let it fall right into the hands of the enemy. Now the Ark wasn’t a magical box that brought fortune to the beholder. But the enemy knew as long as God’s children didn’t have the presence of God with them, it leveled the playing field, and that it did (and still does today).

The enemy was amused by the special box but calamity struck everywhere they brought it. They surmised God might be angry with them for hauling Him all over town so they decided to make a peace offering and send the Ark back on an Ox cart. Imagine, this is the God of the whole earth we’re talking about. So they fashion gold mice & hemorrhoids (representing the problems they were experiencing) and sent the gold objects along with the Ark back towards a town called Beth-Shemesh. God has a sense of humor. “Hey what’d you get for Christmas? ….Ah….don’t ask.”

The milk cows pull into town and the children of God are happy to have their Ark back. They know something about handling the presence of God so they get the priests to remove the Ark from the cart. They burn the cart and sacrifice the cows as an offering to God. You won’t believe what happens next.

Some curious fellows want to sneak a peek inside the Ark so they slide the lid off – oogh can’t touch that. Half the translations say 70 men dropped dead. The other half say 50, 070 dropped dead. If you were one, it wouldn’t really matter how many others there were would it?

You see, the lid of the Ark is called the Mercy seat, that’s where the blood of the lamb was shed for the atonement of mans’ sin. The Mercy seat is also where the presence of God sat between the cherubim. When Jesus (the Lamb of God) shed His blood for your sin, it covered the Mercy seat. Your transgression was removed as far as the east is from the west. What is “under” the blood is off limits, paid in full. No one has the right to slide the mercy seat off and look into your past. You don’t have the right to let them or even help them.

So when someone approaches you with the obvious intention to lift the mercy seat and per into anything that is under the blood, back away just as if they were about to pick up a stick of dynamite. There’s dynamis power in the blood of Jesus. Tell them, “you’re own your own there bud, I wouldn’t touch that thing with a ten foot pole.” It’s just that serious to God! Mercy triumphs over judgment.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Does God give second chances?

Matthew 12:20 captures one of God the Father’s descriptions of Jesus, “A bruised reed He will not break, and smoking flax He will not quench.” The message version reads like this “He won't walk over anyone's feelings, won't push you into a corner.”

There is a beautiful word picture here if you can see it. Along the banks of the Jordan were growths of large reeds. Craftsmen would sit there daily and fashion musical wind instruments from the reeds, skillfully hollowing out the pith and carving holes of precise size and location.

Occasionally the knife would slip and cut too deep, or the reed would crack under the pressure of the craftsman’s hand while being fashioned. Because of their abundance, it wasn’t worth the effort to try to repair the damaged instrument; he would simply discard the damaged reed and go start on a new one.

This happened so often that as people would walk along the river bank they would be stepping on a mat of damaged and broken – “bruised” reeds, you could hear the crunching. Father said “not my son.”

It gives Jesus great pleasure to take a bruised instrument, bind up the broken heart and once again hear beautiful music from one the world said “not worth the effort”. There are no disposable people in God’s eyes. But wait; see one more very important detail.

When the Lord took Jeremiah to the potter’s house for an illustrated talk, Jeremiah 18:4 reveals a key detail. “And the vessel that he made of clay was marred in the hand of the potter; so he made it again into another vessel, as it seemed good to the potter to make.” You must note that the vessel was marred “in” (not “by”) the hand of the potter.

God will never use you up and leave you dry and spent like a crusty sponge by the kitchen sink. No, He “made it again”. Does the God you know give second chances? I’d still be in trouble. Mine is a God of “another chance.”

Well how many times will God do that? Let's let the bible define itself. “It was marred, so He made it again. It was marred, so He made it again. It was marred, so He made it again.” How many times is “again”? One more than it was marred! “A bruised reed He will not break”. He is just that in to you!

Friday, April 9, 2010

"The good old days"

Perhaps you have heard Christians romanticize about the early church in the book of acts.  Maybe you have read Acts and thought “why isn’t my church experience like that?”  Acts is a broad but orderly overview of the first thirty years of the church born on the day of Pentecost.

It’s easy to glance at a popular ministry or minister and envy what you see.  Seldom is it obvious the price they paid to be that which you admire.  Certainly that is the case with the disciples and fathers of the early church.  John is the only one who died a natural death (not because Domitian didn’t try to keep the record).

The traditions, corruption and jealousy of the leadership in the established religious system of that day fought the new covenant church every inch of the way.  They stopped at nothing – no false accusations and no twisted doctrine were off-limits to trip up the young church.  The Sanhedrin defended their system while the new Christians defended their faith.

A rose by any other name would smell just as sweet.  Times change, people and systems change, but the age-old opposition to God’s Grace remains the same.  The reasons are not all that different either.  Self-serving leaders wield control over people by imposing difficult lists of rules.  Today people are invited to receive Jesus at an altar call, yet it’s not unusual for a preacher to dangle parishioners over hell weekly to scare the hell out of them.  The Bible says it’s the goodness of God that leads to repentance.

Jesus came to save the Jew first.  The “older brother” rejected Him as sure as the prodigal’s older brother.  Again, the names change, but the fact remains that God still loves the older brothers too, and He’s not willing that any should perish.

The “gospel” is supposed to be good news.  I’m not ashamed of the gospel of Christ for it is the power of God unto salvation.  Why is it that people who must own the newest model of cell phone or current model car or latest fashion in clothes are so adamant about clinging to an old obsolete covenant relationship with God?

What we find so exciting as we read of the early Christians in the book of Acts was born of an atmosphere where people were so serious about a living vibrant relationship with Jesus Christ that they would let nothing dissuade them.  Well friend, Jesus is the same today.  He’s looking for a people who will worship Him is spirit and in truth.  Paul said in a race all run but one wins, run to win.  If it’s worth it to you to start the race, then stay the course, reach for the prize and defend the faith.  Let someone else warm the pew.  Amen?

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Good News!

Life isn't perfect - Jesus is.  It's hard to get through life without some bruises and skid marks.  A good life isn't a problem-free one, but the result of casting your cares on the one who cares most for you - Jesus Christ. He's the author and the finisher of your faith.  No one can write "the end" on your life's story except the author.

Time doesn't heal - Jesus does.  I once had a friend who lost two little children in separate events.  I relayed a word to him that I received from the Lord while in prayer for them.  There's nothing a man can do to completely insulate his family from ever experiencing crises.  Jesus said "in this world you will experience difficulties, but take heart, because I have overcome the world."  Time can make the pain less acute, but only Jesus heals.  Unless a person allows Jesus to heal them, time will only make them bitter.

Good deeds don't guarantee your salvation - Jesus did.  The Cross of Christ wasn't "plan B" for a hopelessly flawed mankind.  Jesus is the lamb of God slain from the foundation of the world.   So much of what is standard fair in sermons isn't really the gospel of Jesus Christ.  The good news is Jesus died once for all - all man, all time and all sin (past, present and future).  I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God unto salvation.

So if you feel you're too flawed to be really loved by God, I challenge you to spend some time with me here as I reflect the goodness of God which leads to repentance.  1 Co.4:15 says "There are a lot of people around who can't wait to tell you what you've done wrong, but there aren't many fathers willing to take the time and effort to help you grow up." 

Here's to our Well Being!

Happy Father's Day Paul! We Love You! -The Team at THE WELL