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The End Game Counts

Staying In Step with God

Lessons in Oak

One summer afternoon years ago, an older business friend and I were at a cafe having coffee. We liked the place because it had a great view of a tree filled park across the street with a spectular view of the snow-topped Colorado Rockies behind it. This particular afternoon, I was complaining about a office situation that I was up-in-arms about. After I finished my ‘rant, he asked if he might give me a word of advice. I respected his insights so I said sure. He told me to put my coffee down, turn in my seat and take a good look out the window.

I looked and then turned back to him. “Turn around and look again,” he said. “You know why those magnificient oak trees live to be hundreds of years old?” I shook my head ‘no.’ “Because they are flexible. When the winds come roaring in gale force down from the mountains or howling off of the plains, they bend. No matter the direction of the wind, they flex. If they were rigid, they would snap. That’s why they live to be hundreds of years old.” By the time I had turned around he had picked up the tab and left.

We are becoming more and more an inflexible society. Bending does not mean changing. Bending means absorbing the ebb and flow of ideaological currents. Inflexiblilty results in chaos and cruelty.

The Sound of Nets

Jesus saw two fishermen, brothers casting their nets from the shore of the lake and He said to them, “Follow Me, and I will make you fishers of men” Immediately they left their nets and followed him.[Mk. 4:19-20] No questions asked. No hesitation. Just immediate action of dropping their nets and following Jesus.

That is the best action we can take. Just dropping our nets full of stuff that we do not need, that weighs us down and trips us up. Jesus is calling out to people. He is listening for the sound of nets dropping to the ground. The next sound should be our purposeful footsteps following Jesus in faith.

What stops you from dropping your ‘net.’ What stops Jesus from from using you for ministry?

How much worth?

How much is one human being worth? How much value can be assigned to one individual? Is a person’s importance a factor in assigning worth to a human being?

Each one of us is of immeasurable value to God because our lives belong to Him; He created us whether we choose to believe it or not. There is no human measuring device that can assign some numerical value to an individual life. Life insurance places a value on our lives; the more money we pay into the policy the more we are worth. No paid in, no worth assigned. If we cannot assign a value to life, then maybe we need an outside source to help us.

Most of us are not career practitioners in the life saving business on the street or in hospitals. By that I mean we are not on the front lines of life and death situations like firemen, emergency room  personnel, police or first responders in ambulances. The inherent motto of their profession is “all people are of the same value and worth saving.” Regardless of how they ended up in that circumstance they are given life saving aid, at least in America. However, in some other countries, life saving professionals may not be so inclined if the victim is racially or politically different.

When we think of life saving, we generally think of someone who is at death’s door due to an accident. But there is another type of life saving that is less dramatic unless one is aware of the dramatic yet unseen consequences of not rescuing that person. It is one thing to see the physical danger and act in a life saving manner accordingly. It is another to affirm the value of others and verbally or physically bless them. We fight to save lives. Do we have the same attitude as Jesus and refuse to be OK with wasted life, sacrificing our lives for others. All of heaven celebrates joyfully when one life is rescued.  This celebration points to the value we have to God.

The Spirit of God reminded the Prophet Ezekiel that “Behold, all souls are mine; the soul of the father as well as the soul of the son is mine …” God is the Supreme Creator. He values us far above human valuation systems. Doubtful? Look at what He accomplished through the cross and how that communicates our value through His rescue of us. Paul reminds us that “God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved—”  Think about that for a moment. ‘Even when we were dead’ to God; even when we wanted no part of God or what He stood for, He had a plan and it was not to abandon us. Because we have inestimable worth to God, He counts us worth the death of His son Jesus to save us.

This give us a clue as to why Jesus made it a point that it was not just loving God that was important but at the same level we are to love our neighbor. “… you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.” [Mark 12:30-31] Think about the last seven days. When did you take the opportunity this week to mentally give the benefit of the doubt to someone or verbally bless him or her?

All too often we fail to see those around us as God sees and values them. Luke the doctor turned historian quotes Jesus: “I tell you, there is joy before the angels of God over one sinner who repents.” I read this and I wonder how serious do I take Jesus’ words? I want to make a difference and experience the reality of the heavenly celebration of the rescue of those in your world … my ‘neighbors.’

Valuation

If you take the time to read the Bible as a book you will find it’s not some sort of rule manual but a book of art. It has great literature and high stakes drama. It opens people’s lives to the public viewing. It demonstrates humanity at its best and it’s worse. It shows how human value others for better or worse. And it reveals the heart of God the Creator and the importance He places on every human being regardless of their outward appearance and actions. God told Ezekiel: “… all souls are mine …” A few years ago a child into into a very narrow and deep well. Strangers to the child went to great lengths and expense to rescue the child. If anyone, if just one child who has no economic value is that valuable, then shouldn’t everyone be just as valuable. If it’s true for just one person then it is true for everyone.

The apostle Paul told the church in Ephesus that “God, being rich in mercy, because of his great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ ( by grace you have been saved)…” God just never seems to run out of mercy. And this is a repeated theme throughout the Bible; God is a God of mercy. That is what sets this God apart from all other gods.

Consider the Creation. When God was planning out what He was going to create, it was no accident that humans were created with free will. God the Creator no doubt ‘ran the numbers’ and realized that giving us free will could very well put a fly in the ointment of His flawless creation. He went ahead and created us anyway and felt like it was worth it. Sometimes we spend too much time paying attention to the negative things in our life and not saying “yes” to our value as God sees us. We are not worthless to Him no matter what we’ve done. And if we say “yes” to our own value as set by God, agreeing with God that we are worthwhile, then we have to say “yes” to the value of others around us.

Seeing ourselves as valuable and worthwhile to God is not a ‘head’ game. It is a matter of the heart’s conviction. Jesus often instructed his disciples in human values. Here is how Matthew records it: “I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother shall be guilty before the court; and whoever says to his brother, ‘Idiot’ shall be guilty before the Supreme Court; and whoever says, you ‘fool or moron’ shall be guilty enough to go to the fires of hell.” We as a society have become so loose in our conversation and what Jesus says is almost meaningless. But what He is bringing out is the contemptible attitude in our hearts toward other people. James, who didn’t become a Christ follower until after the death of his half-brother, makes this observation: “… with our tongues we bless our Lord and father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in the likeness of God …”

A Thought on Matthew 27:35

“After they had nailed him to the cross, the soldiers gambled for his clothes by throwing dice.

Matthew 27:35
Jesus was finishing a plan conceived by his Father on a celestial plane. We here on the terrestrial plane saw massive failure. This was the final humiliating human action. Stripped naked, nailed to a cross, raised up in a hill for all to see and mock. Now the final insult. His only earthly possessions now being gambled on … He did endured it all for us! For me!

Where is the Kingdom of God?

There is this interesting passage in the gospel of Luke that talks about the kingdom of God. Here is the passage:

“Once, on being asked by the Religious Leaders when the kingdom of God would come, Jesus replied, “The coming of the kingdom of God is not something that can be observed, nor will people say, ‘Here it is,’ or ‘There it is,’ because the kingdom of God is in your midst.”

[Read the whole passage for context: Luke 17:20-37]

In other words, it will not come with parade and pomp. Men look at events in a localized manner. Jesus was telling these leaders God’s kingdom would come in the “manner” in which they not expecting. To the religious leaders 2000 some years ago, as it is today, Jesus was telling them that the Kingdom of God is not the kind of kingdom to be confined to one place. They were looking for the liberation of Israel, and in particular Jerusalem. With that mind set, when indications of the appearance of God’s Kingdom showed signs of appearing, people will say “Look! It is appearing here!” or “Look over there. That is the real deal!”

Jesus words and his actions reflected ideas that were radically different form the views of the population in general. To them, and to most of us in the 21st century, this world is everything. Success is measured in material wealth and power. It is a culturally mandated quantity to aspire after; this supreme ambition of power. To Jesus, earth was but a fragment or shadow of a far greater realm. Some people advocate that when one dies they enter voids of silence, without life or thought. Others will say that you become something higher or lower in form depending on earthly performance. Still others will advocate it matters not what your life is like. All you need to do is just say one simple prayer and that is enough for the rest of your life to escape judgment. Yet if you take the time to examine the Scriptures you will discover that there is a realm of existence whose movements, unlimited by our physical bodies of flesh, have capabilities appearing subtle and swift as thought itself. This realm exhibits a life much different from the ‘grab all you can’ mentality of this realm.

Jesus taught about three realms; one physical and two spiritual. The first was the realm from where he came from originally. This was a spiritually realm [heaven] quite different from our current second realm called earth. In the mind of Jesus heaven was a realm of happiness and light. However, the spiritual realm outside of earth that Jesus taught about had two regions that are diametrically opposites both in condition and location. One was a place of woe and darkness, a punishing realm of fearful shadow. Borrowing the language of the day it was called the “place of burning.” There are two invisible realms, lying apart from earth, yet closely relating it from opposite directions. Jesus clearly taught that to one or other all the paths of human life are aimed. They select their eternal goal; their self-chosen destiny.

The kingdom of God is not discerned by many because it is looked for in all the wrong places. Jesus show us that although it is discernible now, but because individuals persuade themselves that it will appear with outward revolution and ceremony, it is yet to come. Most people due to ignorance look for God’s promised kingdom marked with a show of majestic events. Today there are many plain evidences demonstrating that Christ was the Messiah. His kingdom is here now and operational. The religious leaders were looking for signs with intense observation for an earthly Messianic kingdom with all of the trappings of earthly kingdoms.

Medical personnel use of the word “observation” indicates they are watching the symptoms of disease progression. It is used also of close astronomical observations. And that is a good plan for watching external phenomena. It will not reveal the signs of the kingdom of God. It is not a realm that can be observed by the eye as in an experiment. However, it can be distinguished when compared to the kingdoms of this world. Kingdoms and realms of rule of this world are places of outward pomp and splendor, a showing of ruling power, parading of the latest weapons, by greed and riches and by the bestowal of external honor and grandeur.

While the kingdom of God is not observable as with an experiment, people seeking Jesus will find that they will begin to see differently. Instead of looking for something physical to observe, they will begin to see what Jesus has done in individual hearts, radically changing their manner of life from self absorption to one of serving others. Men who are engaged solely in the pursuits of gaining possessions will never see the kingdom of God. They have in the past and will continue to confuse the importance of events, by the mere standard of nearness or remoteness. As the saying goes: “It is only at a distance that one can take in the outlines and features of a whole country.”

Jesus summarized his teaching on the kingdom: “Where there is a dead body, there the vultures will gather.” In other words, if you are looking for the Kingdom of God here on earth as a physical realm, then you will only find dead things.

Thank You

A friend of mine recently called me while driving home from a men’s conference. He called just to tell me “thanks” for sticking to his side when he was going through some really difficult times due to the side effects of a brain trauma. You know, it really made me feel good that my friend took the time to say “Thank You.”

Don’t you just hate it when you do something nice for someone but unfortunately, they forget to say those simple two words. That is what happened Jesus. Ten lepers with a disease causing sores all over the body were living in physical and social separation. Leprosy was very common in Jesus’ day. People who had this disease were considered to be unclean. In fact, they were required by law to stay away from other people – to live in isolation, because of the fear that they might infect others with the disease. Here is Luke’s account of what happened:

One day, Jesus was walking through a small village when he saw a group of ten lepers. They stood far away from Jesus and hollered to him, “Jesus, Master, have pity on us.” Obviously, they knew who Jesus was and that he had the power to heal them. When Jesus heard them, he called back to the lepers and said, “Go, show yourself to the priest.” As the lepers went on their way to see the priest, they looked at their skin and the sores were gone. Jesus had healed their disease. They were so happy that they ran up and down the streets singing and dancing. Suddenly, one of them stopped and went back. Praising God with a loud voice, he threw himself at Jesus’ feet and said, “Thank You.” Jesus said to him, “Weren’t there ten who were healed? Where are the other nine?” Only one out of ten remembered to say, “Thank You.” Luke 17:11-17

The words “thank you” seem to disappearing from our vocabulary as a culture. God gives us so much that we take for granted. We, according to God Himself, considers us to be better than the birds of the air. Listen to what Jesus told some people: “Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? Yet not one of them is forgotten by God. Indeed, the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows. Luke 12:6-7 Every day he provides everything we need: food, clothing, and shelter. How often just today have you forgotten to say, “Thank You?” Maybe we should stop right now and say “Thank You” to the Giver of all things. Ask God to help you remember to thank Him every day.

Have Evangelicals Who Support Trump Lost Their Values?

The Opinion Pages | Op-Ed Contributor

Donald J. Trump Credit Laura Buckman/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

IN 2006, the television comedy “The Office” aired an episode in which one of the characters, Dwight Schrute, nervously faces the prospect of delivering a speech after winning the title of top salesman of the year for his company, Dunder Mifflin. As a prank, his co-worker preps him for his moment by cribbing a speech from a dictator, coaching him to deliver it by pounding the lectern and waving his arms wildly. Dwight does it, and the audience gives a standing ovation to a manic tirade.

Watching a cartoonish TV character deliver authoritarian lines with no principles, just audacity, was hilarious back then, but that was before we saw it happening before our eyes in the race for the United States presidency.

Donald J. Trump stands astride the polls in the Republican presidential race, beating all comers in virtually every demographic of the primary electorate. Most illogical is his support from evangelicals and other social conservatives. To back Mr. Trump, these voters must repudiate everything they believe.

Ben Carson recently contrasted his own faith in God with Mr. Trump’s theatrical egocentrism. “By humility and the fear of the Lord are riches and honor and life, and that’s a very big part of who I am,” he said, citing a Bible verse. “I don’t get that impression with him.” Mr. Trump hit back, suggesting that Mr. Carson was faking his own faith: “So I don’t know about Ben Carson’s faith, and all of a sudden he becomes this great religious figure. I don’t think he’s a great religious figure.” Mr. Carson quickly backed off from his comments, but the questions are not so easily dismissed.

There’s no religious test for office, and there shouldn’t be. My Baptist ancestors were willing to make alliances with the heretical Thomas Jefferson because he believed in religious liberty. It didn’t matter that they never would have let him teach Sunday school.

We should not demand to see the long-form certificate for Mr. Trump’s second birth. We should, though, ask about his personal character and fitness for office. His personal morality is clear, not because of tabloid exposés but because of his own boasts. His attitude toward women is that of a Bronze Age warlord. He tells us in one of his books that he revels in the fact that he gets to sleep with some of the “top women in the world.” He has divorced two wives (so far) for other women.

This should not be surprising to social conservatives in a culture shaped by pornographic understandings of the meaning of love and sex. What is surprising is that some self-identified evangelicals are telling pollsters they’re for Mr. Trump. Worse, some social conservative leaders are praising Mr. Trump for “telling it like it is.”

In the 1990s, some of these social conservatives argued that “If Bill Clinton’s wife can’t trust him, neither can we.” If character matters, character matters. Today’s evangelicals should ask, “Whatever happened to our commitment to ‘traditional family values’?”

Mr. Trump tells us “nothing beats the Bible,” and once said to an audience that he knows how Billy Graham feels. He says of evangelicals: “I love them. They love me.” And yet, he regularly ridicules evangelicals, with almost as much glee as he does Hispanics. This goes beyond his trivialization of communion with his recent comments about “my little cracker” as a way to ask forgiveness. In recent years, he has suggested that evangelical missionaries not be treated in the United States for Ebola, since they chose to go overseas in the first place.

Still, the problem is not just Mr. Trump’s personal lack of a moral compass. He is, after all, a casino and real estate mogul who has built his career off gambling, a moral vice and an economic swindle that oppresses the poorest and most desperate. When Mr. Trump’s casinos fail, he can simply file bankruptcy and move on. The lives and families destroyed by the casino industry cannot move on so easily.

He’s defended, up until very recent years, abortion, and speaks even now of the “good things” done by Planned Parenthood. In a time when racial tensions run high across the country, Mr. Trump incites division, with slurs against Hispanic immigrants and with protectionist jargon that preys on turning economic insecurity into ugly “us versus them” identity politics. When evangelicals should be leading the way on racial reconciliation, as the Bible tells us to, are we really ready to trade unity with our black and brown brothers and sisters for this angry politician?

Jesus taught his disciples to “count the cost” of following him. We should know, he said, where we’re going and what we’re leaving behind. We should also count the cost of following Donald Trump. To do so would mean that we’ve decided to join the other side of the culture war, that image and celebrity and money and power and social Darwinist “winning” trump the conservation of moral principles and a just society. We ought to listen, to get past the boisterous confidence and the television lights and the waving arms and hear just whose speech we’re applauding.

Silence

Gandhi once said “There is more to life than increasing its speed.” Increasing speed increases friction which increases noise. We live in a world that knows little about silence. We yearn in our souls for some rest but generally intentionally do little to combat noise, busyness and hurriedness of our lives.

How many of us do what Jesus did by “… often retreating to lonely to places to be alone and pray.” [Luk 5:16] The antidote to the noise in our lives is the spiritual practice of silence. Jesus made it a practice. Part of the reason for needing space from the noise of life is needing silence. Some part of our prayers needs to be listening to God. Satan will always be in the business of moving me away from the presence of God to a position of doing something better for God. Social science calls that behavior modification.

You will never have the same peace and wisdom that the song writer had of old unless you are willing to
experience God as your refuge and strength. That is the antidote to hurried, busy and noise of life. When you make space for God to minister to your soul, you will not fear even if the very mountains around you give way and fall into the sea. Being in the presence of God is a place of refreshment. Today, nations are in a uproar, kingdoms are falling. God says repeatedly “Come and see what I have done….” “Be still, and know that I am God.” Take some time to listen to your Creator speak to your soul. Read Psalm 46.

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