God Is In The Messy

As a dog returns to its vomit, so fools repeat their folly. (Proverbs 26:11)

 

Where can I go from your Spirit? 

Where can I flee from your presence?

If I go up to the heavens, you are there;

if I make my bed in the depths, you are there.

If I rise on the wings of the dawn,

if I settle on the far side of the sea,

even there your hand will guide me,

your right hand will hold me fast. (Psalm 139:7-10)

 

God wants YOU.

He wants ALL of you.

He doesn’t just want the nice, clean, sweet-smelling you that you present to the church on Sunday morning … No.

He wants your pain, your mess, your agony.  He wants to be Lord over ALL your life (The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly).


God is as much Lord over your messes (and mine) as He is Lord over the neat, clean, and tidy.

He is with the child who’s undergoing chemotherapy for cancer.  He’s with the soldier who’s had an arm blown off in combat.

God wants to be Lord of your WHOLE life.

 

 

Christ has no body but yours,
No hands, no feet on earth but yours,
Yours are the eyes with which he looks
Compassion on this world,
Yours are the feet with which he walks to do good,
Yours are the hands, with which he blesses all the world.
Yours are the hands, yours are the feet,
Yours are the eyes, you are his body.
Christ has no body now but yours,
No hands, no feet on earth but yours,
Yours are the eyes with which he looks
compassion on this world.
Christ has no body now on earth but yours. (St. Teresa of Avila, 1515–1582)

 

God Is Not a Lawyer

The Ten Commandments is a binding contract … and God does not allow loopholes.

There is no such thing as “kind of sinning”, “sort of sinning”, and “sinning a little”.  Sin is sin is sin is sin.  You’ve either sinned or you haven’t.  It’s just that simple.

You shall not see your countryman’s ox or his sheep straying away, and pay no attention to them; you shall certainly bring them back to your countryman. If your countryman is not near you, or if you do not know him, then you shall bring it home to your house, and it shall remain with you until your countryman looks for it; then you shall restore it to him. Thus you shall do with his donkey, and you shall do the same with his garment, and you shall do likewise with anything lost by your countryman, which he has lost and you have found. You are not allowed to neglect them.You shall not see your countryman’s donkey or his ox fallen down on the way, and pay no attention to them; you shall certainly help him to raise them up.”  (Deuteronomy 22:1-4)

 “Observe the sabbath day to keep it holy, as the LORD your God commanded you. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a sabbath of the LORD your God; in it you shall not do any work, you or your son or your daughter or your male servant or your female servant or your ox or your donkey or any of your cattle or your sojourner who stays with you, so that your male servant and your female servant may rest as well as you.  You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, and you shall not desire your neighbor’s house, his field or his male servant or his female servant, his ox or his donkey or anything that belongs to your neighbor.”  (Deuteronomy 5:12-14,21)

The Ancient Israelites weren’t all that different from you and I.  The reason God has had to denote His Commandments in exasperating detail is because — just like modern man — the ancient Israelites went looking for loopholes and escape clauses (no doubt some Israelite asked the question,  “Ok, I can’t work on the sabbath … but the fields need plowing.  Can’t I have my kids or my farm hand work on the sabbath?  What about my wife?  Can’t any of THEM do it?”)

Truly living without ANY limits whatsoever is like trying to drive a car that has no steering wheel and no brakes at 200 miles per hour (good luck trying to stop the thing).

The consequences of sin can be catastrophic (just ask Adam and Eve — one wrongfully eaten apple brought death upon mankind).  How many marriages have been ruined because one spouse had an affair?  How many lives have been lost because of suicide and/or drug addiction?

God is a loving Father who wants to protect his kids:  you and I.  He knows us better than we know ourselves.  Would we be not wise to trust him?

 

God CAN Change His Mind

 

“Our God is in heaven; he does whatever pleases him.” (Psalm 115:3).

 


 

“Job replied to the Lord:

‘I know that you can do all things; no purpose of yours can be thwarted’ ” (Job 42:1-2).


 

“ ‘For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,’  declares the Lord.  As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts’ ” (Isaiah 55:8-9).

 

Many a preacher has made the mistake of proclaiming, “God would NEVER allow that to happen!  It says so right here in Chapter Three, Verse Eight of (Insert Book Here).”

God can and DOES change His mind.  In Acts 10:10-16, God does away with the Jewish dietary laws in one fell swoop.  In this passage, Peter has a vision of a sheet being lowered from heaven.  The sheet contained animals of every sort (clean and unclean alike), as well as reptiles and birds.  (No devout Jew in Peter’s day would be caught DEAD eating a snake or a lizard!)

A voice from heaven commands Peter to “kill and eat” (Acts 10:13) the animals that are now on the sheet that is lying before him.  Peter protests, “I have never eaten anything impure or unclean” (10:14).  The voice from heaven fires back, “Do not call anything impure that God has made clean” (10:15).

God doesn’t stop there.  He orders Peter to see a Roman centurion named Cornelius (10:22).  Cornelius was a Gentile and one of the despised Roman oppressors.  (n.b., Jews and Gentiles in Peter’s day usually had little to do with one another.  Christ’s encounter with the Samaritan woman at the well in John 4 was regarded in his day as being nothing short of scandalous.)

By the end of Acts 10, Cornelius and his entire household had been converted to the faith and baptized by the Holy Spirit (10:44-46).


God is still speaking today.  Have we the courage to listen?  In many respects, Peter is a reflection of the church today.  Prior to Acts 10, long-standing “tradition” prohibited Jews from eating certain animals (Deuteronomy 14:7-8, 10, 12-18, 19, 21).

How many outdated, hateful, and unjust traditions is God calling us to discard today?  Has the sun fallen out of the sky because women are preaching the Gospel and serving as priests and ministers?

It is not man’s place to dictate to God what He can and cannot do.  He cannot and WILL not be hemmed in by man’s “doctrine” and/or “tradition”.

Is our church truly to be a “church universal”, one that encompasses all peoples (men AND  women) in all times and in all places?  Or is it to be frozen for all time in the manners and mores of the 1st Century Near East?

Are we Christians willing to yield to God’s call for the church to change …. or are we going to be like the “stiff-necked” and disobedient Israel of the Old Testament who heard God’s voice (via the prophets Malachi, Amos, Joel, Jeremiah, Isaiah, Ezekiel, et al.) and refused to listen?

God is still speaking.  Are we too arrogant to listen?  Are we too full of ourselves to hear His voice?  Are we willing to heed the calls of the Malachis, Isaiahs, Amoses, and Joels that are among us and speaking today?

God changed His mind once.  What is to keep Him from doing so again … and again … and again?

“The Kingdom of God … ” (Explained)

“The Kingdom of God is within you.” (Luke 17:21)

 

Walk into your local Christian store.  Chances are you’ll see this passage printed on coffee mugs, T-shirts, plaques, etc.

What does it MEAN?  What does it truly mean to have “the kingdom of God” within a person?

 

“The Lord shall reign forever and ever.” (Exodus 15:18)

 

In Hebrew, Exodus 15:18 can also be rendered as, “The Lord is King forever and ever.”  If there is a King, one must assume that there is also a Kingdom.

If God is the Lord of your life … if you have Christ within you … then it follows that God’s KINGDOM lies within you.  Hallelujah!

 

“The Lord your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great God, mighty and awesome.” (Deuteronomy 10:17)

“He has a name written on His robe and on His thigh:  KING OF KINGS AND LORD OF LORDS.”  (Revelation 19:16)

 

 

God Won’t Move Until YOU Do

When the people broke camp to cross the Jordan, the priests carrying the ark of the covenant went ahead of them.  Now the Jordan is at flood stage all during harvest. Yet as soon as the priests who carried the ark reached the Jordan and their feet touched the water’s edge, the water from upstream stopped flowing. It piled up in a heap a great distance away, at a town called Adam in the vicinity of Zarethan, while the water flowing down to the Sea of the Arabah (that is, the Dead Sea) was completely cut off. So the people crossed over opposite Jericho.  The priests who carried the ark of the covenant of the Lord stopped in the middle of the Jordan and stood on dry ground, while all Israel passed by until the whole nation had completed the crossing on dry ground.

— Joshua 3:14-17

 

If there is work to be done, SOMEONE has to take that first step.

God halted the flow of the Jordan River for the Israelites (notice how it echoes God’s parting of the Red Sea in Exodus 14).

If that wasn’t miraculous enough, the water level was at flood stage!  Any attempt to cross the river would’ve been dangerous at this point in time.  (The Israelites risked drowning.  The rushing water would’ve easily swept them away.)

Notice verses 15 and 16 of this passage (“As soon as the priests who carried the ark reached the Jordan and their feet touched the water’s edge, the water from upstream stopped flowing.”)  In order for the people of Israel to cross the Jordan and into the Promised Land, SOMEONE had to first stick their toe into the water

What Jordan River is in YOUR life?  Are you hemming and hawing, putting off making a major decision?  Are you waiting for someone else to make the first move?  Are you waiting for someone else to stick THEIR neck out?

 

Faith is taking the first step even when you don’t see the whole staircase.

— Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. —

 

Perhaps God is waiting on you to step out in faith.  The same God who parted the Red Sea and held back the Jordan River can work a miracle in your life.

The Bible is filled with people who ran for the hills when called upon by God to do a great work:

  • Isaiah tried to get out of being a prophet by saying that he was a man of “unclean lips” (Isaiah 6:5).
  •  Jeremiah tried to dodge God’s call to be a prophet by saying that he was too young (Jeremiah 1:6).
  • Moses offered up excuse after excuse as to why he couldn’t lead the Israelites out of Egypt (Exodus 3:13; 4:1,10).

The same God who was with Isaiah, Moses, and Jeremiah can walk with you today, if you’ll let Him.

Jesus Feeds the Five Thousand

The apostles gathered around Jesus and reported to him all they had done and taught. Then, because so many people were coming and going that they did not even have a chance to eat, he said to them, “Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest.”

So they went away by themselves in a boat to a solitary place. But many who saw them leaving recognized them and ran on foot from all the towns and got there ahead of them. When Jesus landed and saw a large crowd, he had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd. So he began teaching them many things.

By this time it was late in the day, so his disciples came to him. “This is a remote place,” they said, “and it’s already very late. Send the people away so that they can go to the surrounding countryside and villages and buy themselves something to eat.”

But he answered, “You give them something to eat.”

They said to him, “That would take more than half a year’s wages! Are we to go and spend that much on bread and give it to them to eat?”

“How many loaves do you have?” he asked. “Go and see.”

When they found out, they said, “Five—and two fish.”

Then Jesus directed them to have all the people sit down in groups on the green grass. So they sat down in groups of hundreds and fifties.  Taking the five loaves and the two fish and looking up to heaven, he gave thanks and broke the loaves. Then he gave them to his disciples to distribute to the people. He also divided the two fish among them all.  They all ate and were satisfied, and the disciples picked up twelve basketfuls of broken pieces of bread and fish.  The number of the men who had eaten was five thousand.  (Mark 6:30-43)

If the idea of Jesus feeding 5,000 people isn’t impressive enough, consider this:

In ancient times, it was the custom to only count MEN in official records.  Archaeologically speaking, if women and children had been included in this total, the number of people that Jesus fed would’ve been closer to TWENTY-FIVE thousand.

Imagine for a moment Jesus feeding those same five loaves and two fish to a capacity crowd at Madison Square Garden in New York (with an overflow crowd of five thousand people lined up out the door and around the block)!

It’s trendy nowadays to discount Jesus’s miracles.  Many scholars today seek to argue, “The people there simply shared their lunches with their neighbors next to them.”

Let’s return to the passage for a moment.  Consider Mark 6:33 (“But many who saw [Jesus and the disciples] leaving recognized them and ran on foot from all the towns and got there ahead of them”).

Imagine the scene:  on impulse, the crowd dropped everything, stopped whatever it was that they were doing, and ran to meet Jesus.  Those five thousand people (or twenty-five thousand, depending upon which interpretation you follow) wouldn’t have had TIME to prepare a lunch!  (This pretty much shoots the whole “sharing” notion right out of the water.)

Consider Mark 6:35 (“It was late in the day”).  The people who were gathered around Jesus probably hadn’t counted on staying with him for so long.  The disciples had probably only brought enough food — five loaves and two fish — to feed themselves and Jesus, their teacher and Lord.  One must also consider that had the people in the crowd brought enough food to feed themselves, the disciples would not have felt the need to tell them to ‘go and buy something to eat’ (Mark 6:36).

Given the circumstances, what else BUT a miracle could explain Jesus’s ability to feed five thousand people with just five loaves of bread and two fish (leaving twelve basketfuls of bread and fish to spare)?

Jesus’s “Lost” Years?

When [Jesus] was twelve years old, [Jesus, Mary, and Joseph] went up to the festival [in Jerusalem], according to the custom. After the festival was over, while they were returning home, the boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem, but [Mary and Joseph] were unaware of it. Thinking he was in their company, they traveled on for a day. Then they began looking for him among their relatives and friends. When they did not find him, they went back to Jerusalem to look for him. After three days they found him in the temple courts, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions.  Everyone who heard him was amazed at his understanding and his answers.  When his parents saw him, they were astonished. His mother said to him, “Son, why have you treated us like this? Your father and I have been anxiously searching for you.”

Why were you searching for me?” he asked. “Didn’t you know I had to be in my Father’s house?”  But they did not understand what he was saying to them.

Then he went down to Nazareth with them and was obedient to them. But his mother treasured all these things in her heart.   And Jesus grew in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and man.  (Luke 2:41-52)


Now Jesus himself was about thirty years old when he began his ministry.  (Luke 3:23)

 

Much has been made about Jesus’s supposed “lost” years.  (What happened to him when he was a teenager?  What happened to him when he was a young adult?  What happened to him during those years?)

That said, much has been speculated about what happened to him during those supposed  “lost” years (at times, people have suggested that he traveled to Egypt and India, lived with the Essenes, traveled to Persia and Atlantis, etc.).

In order to answer this question, we need to consider how the ancients defined what we would call a “biography”.

(n.b., our modern word “biography” is derived from two Greek terms:  bios, meaning “life”, and graphia, meaning “to write”.  It goes without saying that a biography is a written account of a person’s life.)

Getting back to what the ancients regarded as a biography, they had a completely different concept of it than we do today.  Most of us today tend to define a biography as a written, sequential listing of the events of a person’s life (“This event happened … after that, this event, this event, this event, and this event happened, followed by this event”).

The ancients, on the other hand, were much more interested in the character of a person (What did they believe?  How did they live?  What did they teach, if anything?  What made them tick?).

This is why the four Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John) have long stood as biographies of Christ, even though none of them agree with each other (Christ names Peter the head of the church in the gospel of Matthew, but not in Mark, Luke, or John.  Christ re-instates Peter as the head of the church — this after Peter denied knowing Christ three times prior to his crucifixion — in the gospel of John, but not in Matthew, Mark, and Luke.  Matthew and Luke contain nativity narratives — both of which differ significantly — while Mark and John do not.  All of the gospels contain wildly differing accounts of Jesus’s crucifixion and resurrection.)

The short answer to the question that I posed above (What happened during Jesus’s “lost” years?) is thus:  nothing that the ancients would’ve found particularly interesting.  In all likelihood, he grew up living the typical life of a Jewish boy of that era, working alongside his father Joseph and going to the synagogue, where he learned the Hebrew scriptures that he himself — as a grown man in his early thirties — would someday preach.