Book Recommendation

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On many occasions I was moved to tears as I read Michael Catt’s book, the Power of Persistence. Through story and scripture Catt elevates the necessity of prayer and urges the Church to get on her knees – the place where her true power lies – and seek God with urgency and conviction. The book is a challenging reminder of the truth of Jesus’ words in John 15, “apart from Me you can do nothing.”

Natural, instinctive…and harmful.

“Lord, do you want us to tell fire to come down from heaven and consume them?”

It’s fairly easy to pass over this statement in Luke 9 and miss what’s going on. It deserves a little reflection, however, because it is both remarkable and instructive.

In these verses the whole purpose of Jesus’ coming is reaching it’s climax, and He and the disciples are on their way to Jerusalem for a final time. On the way they intend to pass through a Samaritan village where the people flat out refuse to receive him, probably because they had heard of his claim to be the Messiah. But in the minds of at least two of the disciples, such a rejection is unacceptable, and consequently elicits a strong response from the Sons of Thunder, James and John. They ask Jesus if he’d like them to put an end to those scoundrels, the Samaritans, by telling fire to come out of heaven and consume them. Always the consummate picture of self-restraint, Jesus of course rebukes them and they travel on.

Here’s what is remarkable about this brief incident. The disciples’ instinctive response is to assume that this is a physical battle, and that the Samaritan’s are the enemy. They thus conclude that to rain down fire and destroy them would bring an end to the conflict, and assure certain victory. They presume success in fighting a spiritual battle – rejection of Jesus – with fleshly arms.

The instruction is this: almost daily we are inclined to do the very same thing. We live and look on the surface. Every conflict we face is an apparent physical battle, and like a real-life game of whac-a-mole we hammer every alleged enemy that arises as though our fleshly fighting will actually prevail. We rain down fire. We heap destruction. We fight in the flesh. We miss the point.

Hear the rebuke of Jesus. I’m sure it was kind. I have no doubt it was strong. I am certain James and John got the message. And though I’m more than a little hard-headed, I’m getting it too.

Perspective

Perspective is an interesting word. It speaks of what I can see or perceive from where I presently stand. We say, “from my perspective” or, “to give you perspective.” In other words, you don’t have enough information to weigh in on the subject, therefore let me fill you in, let me give you some details. In essence we are giving you our perspective.

  • Perspective is critical to marriage.
  • It is key in every relationship.
  • Perspective is the source of conflict, and it is the means to resolution.
  • Perspective is learning to see things from another’s point of view.
  • It is gaining understanding through conversation and information.
  • It is getting inside another person’s head.
  • It is orienting ourselves to their way of thinking and seeing so that we can understand things as they understand them.

An argument is the result of differing perspectives. Marriages are defined by moments like these. As such it is the perfect battleground for illustrating different perspectives. Husband comes home from work kicks his boots off and plops down in the recliner. Wife has reserved parking at the spa or she gets her weekly manicure and pedicure. He spends because “you only go around once, and you might as well enjoy the ride.” She is thrifty and frugal because “you don’t know how long the trip is going to last.” She would prefer time run out before the money does. She likes the beach, he prefers the view from the mountains.

Now obviously the challenge of perspectives isn’t limited to marriage. Teenagers and parents face similar difficulties. From your teenage son’s perspective the jeans and tennis shoes are perfect, and the friends he hangs out with are the greatest influence.

I could go on…

Just one question though: Where might you and someone else have a difference of opinion about a matter – maybe a very important matter – merely because you have a difference perspective? You think they are wrong. They think you are. You see things differently. It’s something to think about…

At least that’s my perspective.

What are you up against?

I read this today from Matthew 27. It’s the very last verse, it’s referring to the body of Jesus, and goes like this, “So they went and made the tomb secure by sealing the stone and setting a guard.” 

Now we have the benefit of hindsight, so when you stop laughing I’ll continue…

I looked up that word secure and it means to make sure or firm. It’s the same word used in Acts 16 when Paul and Silas were imprisoned with their feet fastened in the stocks. The idea is that whatever is “secured” can’t get out or away. And in the case of Jesus, in Matthew 27, the measures taken were extreme. The seal was an official seal of the Roman government, that if tampered with would yield the wrath and fury of Rome. The security guard, a squadron of elite Roman soldiers numbering 16 or more, whose failure would result in their own death. Clearly they wanted to keep the body of Jesus “secure’ from any attempt by the disciples to swipe it and claim He was raised from the dead.

Can you say “waste of time and resources”?

In looking back it becomes clear that the attempt only serves to further validate the claims of Christ, and strengthen our faith in Him 2000 years later. The only world superpower of that day went to extreme lengths to keep the Son of God sealed in a tomb. And they failed. Because the only real superpower belongs to the One who came out of that tomb. He is King of kings and Lord of Lords, and can’t be held back, fixed or fastened by things other than His own sovereign will, or our own silly lack of faith.

So, what’s holding you back? Who or what seems to be trying to prevent you from breaking through and experiencing God’s best? If Rome couldn’t keep Jesus in the tomb, than nothing can stop you either.

Hand washing? Really?

handwashing“Why do your disciples disobey our age-old tradition? For they ignore our tradition of ceremonial hand washing before they eat.” 
This was the Pharisees big hang up. Or, perhaps it would be more accurate to say it was one of their hangups. They had a bunch of ‘em. But on this day at least, their problem with Jesus’ disciples is that they had failed to perform the traditional ceremonial hand washing before they ate. Whose paying attention? Right? But these guys were, because those were the kinds of things they cared about most.
Now we might be inclined to overlook their penchant for tradition – the ceremonial hand washing – if they’d kept it to themselves. In other words, if that’s something you want to do, and feel like you should, go for it!
We might also graciously accept their preferences if they are otherwise obeying the commandments. Unfortunately, the Pharisees were not. And on this day they made the mistake of challenging the wrong person on adherence to tradition. When they aim their hypocritical guns at Jesus, he turns those guns right back on them. “And why do you, by your traditions, violate the direct commandments of God.” He points to a specific example where there were actually encouraging their followers to dishonor their parents, supposedly because they were fulfilling the more important duty of giving to God. It hearkens back to the Old Testament prophet Samuel who said, “has God as great delight in sacrifice as in obeying the voice of the Lord?” Behold to obey is better than sacrifice.”
Jesus concludes the conversation with a quote from Isaiah that is as relevant today as it’s ever been:
“These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me.
Their worship is a farce, for they teach man-made ideas as commands of God.” – Matthew 15:8-9 NLT
 
Several things come to mind regarding this exchange that I think are important:
  1. Religious observance can easily become more important than God’s law. Whether it’s a tradition like that of the Pharisees, or our own spiritual exercises (things like church attendance, and even reading the Bible and prayer), religious observance can easily become an end rather than a means to an end.
  2. Hypocrisy isn’t exclusive to those who do all the right things. What I mean is this. We often label the religious zealot as hypocrite because while he is clearly obeying all the rules (external), it’s obvious his heart (internal) isn’t right. But let me flip that around. If you attend worship services, call yourself a Christian, and perform an occasional service project, while living an otherwise selfish, indulgent life, your heart isn’t right either. You’re just as much a hypocrite. I looked it up. Hypocrisy is “the practice of claiming to have moral standards or beliefs to which one’s own behavior does not conform.” It is posturing yourself one way, while your heart – and thus behavior – reflects a different reality. (I’m tempted to qualify this, but I won’t. Apply it however necessary.)
  3. God isn’t opposed to the things that matter to you. He just doesn’t want them to matter as much as the things that matter to Him! Wow, that was probably a very confusing way of saying it. But I hope you get the point. Our traditions are fine. If certain things are important to you, make you feel more comfortable, make church and/or spiritual exercises more real or valued, no problem! But they must always be servant to the weightier matters of the law – things like loving God, and loving your neighbor as yourself! If you come to church on Sunday because that’s important, but act like the devil on Monday, because that isn’t important, your priorities are out of whack. If you care more about where you sit on Sunday, or how folks are dressed, than you do the needy sinner that just walked through the door, you need some adjustments. The things that matter to God are always of greater importance, and every preference or tradition must be servant to them.
This wasn’t Jesus’ only interaction with the Pharisees in the Gospels. He had many of them. But the core characteristics of those conversations were all the same – God’s law first, man’s tradition second. May we never forget!
What matters most to you?

The key to connectedness…

download (1)“Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me.” – John 15:4

This is clearly the most important thing I can do in the Christian life, if I hope to be fruitful and experience God’s best. It is also the hardest. Because it goes against my nature. You see, the key to abiding is “staying connected”, that’s the comparison Jesus draws with the vine and branch. And I have trouble staying close enough to Jesus to stay connected. Here’s why:

  • Sometimes I run ahead – because I am almost always in a hurry. Sometimes I don’t even seek His counsel. I want to solve every problem, answer every question, meet every need, and save the world – NOW! Jesus’ pace is even and steady. He never concerns himself with time. He has different objectives.
  • Sometimes I veer off course – because I am selfish and want to do what seems or feels best to me. Jesus always takes the selfless path; the path of humility, sacrifice and service.
  • Sometimes I lag behind – because I’m pretty sure I know what He wants, and where He’s leading, and I am reluctance to go there. Jesus always walks in perfect step with – and in perfect obedience to – the Father.
  • Sometimes I sit and wring my hands, in worry – because I am fearful the outcome won’t be what I want or when I want. I am anxious my needs won’t be met. Jesus, on the other hand, walks in perfect peace knowing the Source of all provision.
  • Sometimes I’m just oblivious. You know that blank-eyed stare of the guys who is absolutely clueless. Yea, that’s me sometimes. I don’t know why, but I just don’t get it. I am so grateful Jesus is patient, and understanding, and “remembers that we are dust.”

I know I have the Holy Spirit, and the Spirit is the key to abiding. But I also know that He needs much better cooperation from me. I am nothing, and can do nothing, on my own. So I definitely cannot afford to hang out by myself. I am asking God to renew my passion, and strengthen my resolve to abide. I want to be in step with Jesus.

Here’s how I can be… (found in Psalm 37)

  1. Be still and wait patiently on the Lord. vv.7,9,34
  2. Delight in the Lord. v.4
  3. Commit my way to the Lord. v.5
  4. Trust in the Lord. vv.3,5
  5. Become established by the Lord. v.23
This is my aim. You’re welcome to join me!

Pastor Dave

Renounce it all

Those-who-do-not-renounce“So therefore, any one of you who does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple.” – Luke 14:33

The word radical comes to mind when I read that statement. It sounds as though Jesus expects me to sign my life over. That I relinquish controlling interest. That He holds exclusive rights to my time, talent and treasure. That my loyalty – my allegiance – is to be to Him only. That He has everything and I have nothing.

I can think of only two reasons why He would do that.

He is a tyrannical dictator – a control freak – with a desire to rob my possessions and suppress my achievements to His own end. In that case He is the self-centered One, building His Kingdom on the backs of mind-numbed robots like myself who don’t possess the knowledge or power to fight back. But the evidence doesn’t favor this position. He never lead an army and never wielded a sword. It seems those who followed Him did so of their own accord. Besides, look at what He gave up! A crown. Look at what he took up. A cross. Paul said, “he who was rich, for your sakes became poor, that through His poverty you might be made rich.” It can’t be this. There must be something more.

He must have known that what we received would be of far greater value that all we gave up! And thus the battle begins. It seems that this is indeed the invitation, but can it really be? The things I have are so dear. The things I do with the things I have are so enjoyable. My rights are precious. Is it possible that what Jesus is offering by what He is demanding is better than all of that? Here’s the subtlety of His invitation: every one of us has to answer that question for ourselves. It’s a risk either way. But which is the greater risk? To hold on to what I have, or renounce it for the offer of something better?

Let me just offer this. You can ’t afford to get it wrong!

Pastor Dave