The Impossible Calling

Some things Jesus said make following Him sound impossible. I understand it, for the most part, but don’t see how I can meet the standard. Most religions give a code of conduct, or a place to visit, or some chant or posture, and you’re in.

But Jesus asks too much! Like in this passage – Turn from selfish way I get; I can’t do it, but I get it. Then … die. Take up  a cross, and die. After all, that’s what a cross is for.

In case this isn’t clear enough, he says it another way: give up your life. That’s die, again, right?

Don’t get too discourage. It helps to read on a few verses. The upside down logic is a call to be a “living sacrifice.” To die is defined like this: live for Him, live for others, and value following Jesus above stuff that takes His place as Leader. Consider yourself dead to what takes His place in your life. And it only takes a couple of seconds to identify what this is, right?

Islam has the sacrificial death of suicide bombers. Daoism has seppuku, the ritual disembowelment because of shame. Buddhism has self-immolation. And Hindu widows throw themselves on their husbands’ funeral pyre in sati ritual.

These “calls to die” lead to death. Whether it’s to get reward in the afterlife, cover shame, protest a hopeless situation, or avoid grief, the death religions call for is self-seeking and self-attentive.

Jesus’ “call to die” leads to life, and life to the fullest measure. He offers, through His life, death, and resurrection hope for the hopeless, mercy for the shamed, comfort for the grieving, and real life for those facing or contemplating death.

He calls us to live as long and as passionately as possible,  as His own sacrificing followers, impacting our world with Hope.

Put Him first. Live to serve others. Leverage life in ways that point to His offer of life over grief, shame, self-consumption, and hopelessness.

It’s better by far to know Him, gain our soul, and give up on hanging onto life without Him.

Hanging on to Him,
Rick

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Not business, but personal

I’ve heard the “it’s full of contradictions” comment on occasion when dialoging about the Bible. Here’s one that turns up occasionally. Why do Matthew have two ladies at the tomb after the resurrection and John only has Mary Magdalene?

A couple of simple insights clear this one up. The Jewish culture called for two or more witnesses to validate a truth. Mary, Salome, and probably a few other women were there. OK, so the truth is validates (of course, they are women, so some of the most strict would discount the testimony anyway – it was Jesus, and Christianity that return the worth to women’s importance.)

And, for John, the story is about the personal touch. He writes as the “disciple whom Jesus loved.” Relationship is the thread of insight throughout his story from chapter one — remember that Jesus (the Word) was with God in the beginning (emphasis “with”) and came to earth to dwell among people (emphasis “among”) — to chapter 25 when Jesus recast the call to “follow” and do life with and in Him. Mary Magdalene, for John, got the nod in his account because Jesus had done so much in her life, to forgive and restore.

So, when we are about the business of sharing the Great News, it’s not business, it’s personal.

The Greatest Act of Worship

Have you even wondered how the beauty of goodness and the ugly of evil can exist in such close proximity? Just inside the entrance to the Sistine Chapel, covering the wall is Michaelangelo’s “Judgement Day” fresco. He depicts heaven, Jesus enthroned, worship and redemption graphically juxtaposed with hell’s fires, anguish, hopelessness and evil. The light of heaven is above; the darkness of hell is below. And pulling toward the dark those who long for good are the demons of hell. He had insight!

I see this juxtaposition of goodness and evil every day around me (and unfortunately, the battle of this inside me, too.) In Matthew 26 you can read about the greatest act of evil happening right alongside the greatest act of worship.

The Pharisees plot Jesus’ death. They do so in a politically correct way, of course, by trying to avoid Passover — a sort of Jesus-gate collusion.

While they look for a breakthrough to this “Nazarene problem, Jesus experiences the greatest act of worship possible. He is with his disciples dining at the house of a man he likely healed of leprosy, and “the woman” brings the alabaster jar in and breaks and pours out this expensive gift in adoration onto his feet.

The writer of this account uses two key “transition words” that indicate these two events were happening side-by-side – different locations, down the street from each other, but at the same time. How revealing!

When I break open and pour out what I am before the Lord, the fragrance is sweet – not because of the good I have done or am, but because of the good He has poured in. And when this happens, the aroma can overwhelm the place I’m in and draw others to the Source of this perfume. No matter the evil “down the street” or the pull the enemy has to tempt us toward the darkness, the fragrance of God’s grace and the goodness through a life poured out for Him is greater!

As you and I seek the Father, live by the Spirit, and pursue the Son’s command to follow Him and build disciples of all nations, keep pouring out the good He has poured into you.

Broken and splashed – Rick

Looking for God

It was 1986, and it was another Sunday morning. My role at the church I serve in San Antonio was as pastor of discipleship and evangelism. We had begun a Hispanic church on half of our campus, and had recently begun a small group program in homes around the neighborhoods. And God was showing up in the homes in refreshing ways. One of our “nights of worship” with all the small groups together lasted long into the evening (long, especially for Baptists on a Friday night.)

The Sunday morning in question had been a better-than-normal crowd. The message was good for the moment, but I can’t remember it. The worship was very normal (and very forgettable) for a Baptist church with a choir loft and organ. The invitation was short; the results escape me. What was memorable happened as I was gathering my Bible and notebook together at the end of the service. In fact, I will never forget the words nor the look on the faces of the young Latino couple who found me at the front of the church.

“I have heard we can find God here.” The couple looked really out-of-place among the stained glass and maple woodwork. And at the same time, they looked like perfect candidates for the altar we were standing beside. The sunlight magnified the dust particles in the hazy air of the empty sanctuary these two had invaded, with hopes of finding God.

I said, “Yes, I can help you find God right here.” We prayed.

Skip forward to tonight. My pastor at the Beach led a membership class tonight for about a dozen people. I was there because I help with small groups and disciple-making. He talked about values, the history of our church, and told stories of how God has been working and how He has led us to this point.

Then he shared what kind of church he envisions us becoming. The top of his list didn’t include large numbers, huge buildings, a publishing house or film department (that seems the rage lately.)

He looked out the front door to the streets, the beach, the road to the local schools, the bars, the strip clubs, restaurants, malls, and the hideouts for the street people who live here. “I want the people who don’t know God to know that, if they can just get to our church, if they can just get here, they will find people who will love them, and they’ll find the love of God.”

He was the prophet tonight. There are people who come looking for God. The word is out. Hope…help…healing… wholeness…the love of God is here. God wants the place where church meets to be a place that people who may not look like they belong in church can look for God. Like the latino couple, they can risk the question, “Can I find God here?”

“…so he got up and went to his father. But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him.” (Luke 15:20)

What Disciples of Jesus Need (Part One)

This could get really personal… the nerve to tell others that I know what they need better than they! Just stay with me, though. Because, if God’s Grand Design for His people is anything…it’s deeply and painfully personal. So, maybe I can lift the painful part and couch it in first person.

I need mending. There is always a need for healing … because for me, there is always something wrong, needy, broken, misaligned, infected, or out of balance. In Christ, there is always a place for healing.

Could it be that I have limited my experience to salvation healing, but God wants to take the healing deeper to heal body, soul, mind, as well as spirit? (Jeremiah, with one breath, called out to God with praise for healing and for salvation!) I have a body that needs His touch, a soul that has taken on the scars of the battle, and a mind that has been smudged with the stuff of the world.

I need mending, and this comes by being in the presence of the Great Mender. In His presence, I find healing. Sometimes, right away. Sometimes, over the course of time, through much prayer and fasting, and with the help of friends whom God uses. I am mended.

Relationship with Christ always starts with mending. He heals my sin-sickness when I say “YES” to His gift of salvation through His sacrificial execution. He heals my misdirection when I take up the call to follow His plan and Lordship. He heals my relationships when I become less “me-centric” and more “other-centric.” And He continues to heal me when I come into His presence. And He opens the door to the waiting room, calls my name, examines me, and invites me to speak to Him about what hurts.

Disciples need mending.

Now, how painful was that?

More to come.
Rick

Real Treasures

So we’re driving back from Dallas and another long Sunday in the Inner City (really, we capitalized these words, as in Inner City Baptist Church) and Erwin begins explaining a message he had been working on. Yes, we had been in ministry activity all day long — Erwin is a little intense when it comes to Scripture.

“We give God our worst,” was the core truth of the message.  Wait a minute — we strive for excellence, we give Him our best when we serve Him. We love Him with the best we have. At least, that seemed to be the message I had gotten in church, and now in seminary, all my life.

But the principle that we give God our worst stuck in my mind. I didn’t agree with it, and I still wrestle with it since God is worthy of our best.

My relationship with God is an exchange. He give me His treasure and I give Him mine. His treasure is an eternity in friendship with Him, a relationship through His Son Jesus.

But what have I treasured. Wrongs done to me. Sinful habits. Envious thoughts. Places my heart and mind have lingered around, and at times jumped into full-on.  My treasures are the worst part of me because they are worth more than the greatest treasure God has given. I have placed great value on the very things that deflate the value I place on God’s mercy and favor.

My treasures are tangible. I can see them, touch them, befriend them, and place high worth to them. But they are so temporary, and really gone within seconds of the value I had place on them. Nothing left but the bad memory, the hurt friendship, the guilt.

Hosea said of Israel, “They are mud-spattered from head to toe with the residue of sin.” One writer has said that God has given us access to all He has created. We have access to His gifts, to use for His glory and to enjoy. He created it, we benefit from it.

And we give Him back the one thing that is solely ours through our creative powers alone — our sin. Everything else we do, live for, create, give purpose to, is a gift from the Great Giver. Except the sin we created by our own purpose.

The Great News is, He invites us to exchange gifts. We give Him the sin we created; He gives us mercy, favor, relationship, unfailing love. He gives us His best.

We give Him our worst.

Exchange gifts with the Great Giver when you pray today.

It’s the season!

Rick

Fire Proof Day Twelve – The Wrong Kind of Fire

Day Twelve – The Wrong Kind of Fire

That same day Nadab and Abihu, Aaron’s sons, took their censers, put hot coals and incense in them, and offered “strange” fire to God—something God had not commanded. Fire blazed out from God and consumed them—they died in God’s presence. After the death of Aaron’s two sons—they died when they came before God with strange fire—God spoke to Moses: “Tell your brother Aaron not to enter into the Holy of Holies, barging inside the curtain that’s before the Atonement-Cover on the Chest whenever he feels like it, lest he die, because I am present in the Cloud over the Atonement-Cover. Leviticus 10:1-2, 16:1-2

Some passages simply stretch our understanding of who God really is! For instance, why was Cain’s veggie offering unacceptable, yet Abel’s sacrifice pleased God? Grain offerings were clearly a part of the acceptable Old Testament practice according to later verses. And what about the two guys who tried to steady the Ark of the Covenant as they traveled along the road, and God took their lives? We almost want to cry out, God can you explain some of these things a little more clearly?

Aaron’s two sons (and by implication, Aaron) had been loose with the worship commands. In Aaron’s case, he had become too casual in his relationship with the Lord. In his sons’ case, they had not just been casual, but had chosen to come to God by a completely different path from the way God had given His people. They brought incense from a common fire (fires of offering always start with the fire God gave them from heaven at the altar), they took the place of the high priest in offering it (one man alone and chosen was to provide the incense sacrifice), and they ventured into the Holiest of Places (the curtain to the Ark’s place was closed to all but one.)

The lesson is clear: we come to God by the Way God provides. But look at the last part of verse 16 for one more “How could that be?” verse. The God of All Power, I Am That I Am, Creator of the Universe and Beyond, yes God… is in the cloud over the atonement-cover. Think about this: He is not distant, but He has drawn near. He is not silent, but He has spoken. He is bigger than the universe, but He is fully present in a cloud in the Tent of Meeting. And most importantly, He chooses to meet us at the Cover of Atonement (Mercy Seat is its name in another translation.) The New Testament identifies this Mercy Seat with the fully accomplished work of mercy by Jesus on the Cross.

Today is another “fasting day” and you may choose to skip one, two or three meals. Take extra time today outside of your Quiet Time to read up on the Mercy Seat. (Hebrews is a good place to look.) What was it? Why is this important to God’s people? What happened there? Where does it show up in the New Testament? Think about His mercy. Thank Him for the mercy He has shown you personally. Let this day cause you to be aware of His awesome, consuming, beyond understanding, super abundant merciful presence when you worship Him.

All For Him – Rick

Fire Proof Day 13 – Fire Altars, & Fire Alters

Day Thirteen – Fire Altars & Fire Alters
Don’t lie to one another. You’re done with that old life. It’s like a filthy set of ill-fitting clothes you’ve stripped off and put in the fire. Now you’re dressed in a new wardrobe. Every item of your new way of life is custom-made by the Creator, with his label on it. All the old fashions are now obsolete. Words like Jewish and non-Jewish, religious and irreligious, insider and outsider, uncivilized and uncouth, slave and free, mean nothing. From now on everyone is defined by Christ, everyone is included in Christ. Colossians 3:9-11

Today, read Colossians 3:9-11 in context with the rest of the chapter. Everyday brings a fresh set of choices. God has given His followers a lifestyle that has both clear boundaries and plenty of room to grow and roam and experience life. The “don’t’s” of our faith-life are all there to make life and relationships work right.  The “do’s” are there to replace man-made restrictions to freedom in Christ. The dividing labels listed in our verses today keep people apart, demean and belittle others, and tell them they are excluded and will never measure up.

In fact, the central point of the Gospel is that none of us measure up when we use God’s standard. We all are people of grace, needing His and each other’s forgiveness and space to grow.
God’s plan redefines how we measure one another. It is no longer the label, the heritage, the “bloodline” of our families, our education, our jobs, or the name of our church.  It is the simple truth that we are forgiven by the God who provided the Savior and Forgiver.  That causes us to give plenty of room for those who aren’t quite like us, or worship like us, or dress like us… or, well, you get the picture.
Read Colossians 3:1-17 again. But this time, read it in first person. Use your name; use, I and me; and use the word “choose” when the verse indicates a choice to be made. Everyday brings a fresh set of choices.

All For Him – Rick

Fire Proof Day Nine – Fire of Mercy/Fire of Calling

Day Nine – Fire of Mercy and Calling


“Woe to me!” I cried. “I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the Lord Almighty.” Then one of the seraphs flew to me with a live coal in his hand, which he taken with tongs from the altar. With it he touched my mouth and said, “See, this has touched your lips, your guilt is taken away and your sin atoned for.” Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?” And I said, “Here am I. Send me!” Isaiah 6:5-8

Isaiah’s calling started with fire. He recognized his unworthiness and unfitness, and the Lord sent a fire of mercy and forgiveness. Because he had experienced this fire, he was able to say YES to God’s next words. One who has been given a great gift like unconditional love and mercy, truly has something to tell others.
For this time of devotion, I want you to revisit your calling. When did you first sense that, because God had forgiven you, your life would never be the same? When did you know you had to serve Him with all you had inside you? What was it that drew you to use your gifts and passions and talents to make Jesus famous in our day? If you have never written this down, write it in your journal or blog and give this story to someone who has not heard it. Your story is a part of His story, and that’s worth telling!

All For Him – Rick

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