Category Archives: Church

Slackers and “Slack Takers”

Hello-My-Name-is-Slacker 2

There are two kinds of people. There always have been. They work in factories, teach in schools, serve in the military, fly airplanes, operate on people, serve in government and occupy office in high-rise building in the center of New York.  Many even go to church.

One group does only what is required of them. They are constantly seeking ways, very cleaver ways to minimize their output and do the very least possible to get by undiscovered. That thought can be troublesome if you are a patient!

They know about Jesus’ parable of the second mile but they consider that as something silly.  Some are just lazy but for most being a slacker is the clever way to conduct business. They call themselves dexterous or inventive but the problem is more sever than simple nouns can disguise.  They conclude it a victory if they can outsmart you by getting the most from giving the least effort.

We all know them and perhaps are even one of them.

Then there are the others.  These are the “slack takers!”  Something drives them to the head of the pack. Things half done, promises un-kept, tasks unfinished gnaw at them relentlessly.  These folk are not content with giving God the minimum. They are “maximum” people!

And so enters Epaphroditus, longtime friend and co-worker with the Apostle Paul. Here is a man who bears no fancy titles of distinction. He’s not in this race for the “perks.” He’s in it for something far more lasting. Paul calls him “brother,” “fellow worker,” “fellow soldier,” “messenger” and “minister of Paul’s needs.”  What a job description!  I doubt that any one in today’s modern church would have signed up for his job.  We want the title!  We want the respect and recognition, but not so for Epaphroditus.  Yet it is crystal clear that the significance of his life is far deeper than any title of esteem could convey.  But one title that could be given him is he was a “slack taker!”

Paul wrote it like this, “Because he came close to death for the work of Christ risking his life to complete what was deficient in your service towards me…” ()

The church in Philippi loved Paul but as in the case in many places their love was more easily talked about than shown.  They said all the right things but their actions were different.  They fell slack and so emerges the SLACK TAKER!

With personal disregard Epaphroditus fills the gap left in their service. Unknown, working while sick, never giving up and risking his very life Epaphroditus set the bar high for all future “slack takers.”

The price he paid was not to attain the applause of men either. These people in Philippi would have never known his sacrifice had Paul not told them.  But as it is with those fearless doers his actions spoke loudly! Loud enough to be recorded in the Bible for all eternity!

Things have changed little since then.  Today we still see them both.  My question is…

WHICH ONE ARE YOU?

 


30 for he nearly died for the work of Christ, risking his life to complete what was lacking in your service to me. (ESV)

THE FUTURE

Future

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It is known!

It was told!

It is certain!

The recent decisions of the Supreme Court of the United States have unleashed a flurry of speculation and fear among the religious community.  No one can deny that change is accelerating and our country as well as the world is moving at break-neck speed to a conclusion, one which is debated with much earnest in the social media.

Underneath all of this speculation is a towering fear that things are spinning out of control and the powers that once gave us a complacent life are now in jeopardy. The “monuments of security” such as the presidency, military supremacy, economic stability and moral stability are eroding and it is causing a national angst.

It is a justified fear, if you are standing on your own!

But if you are His, if you have, as Jesus told Nicodemus been “Born Again” the future is not a mystery.

Jesus took his “students” to His favorite classroom, the Mount of Olives and taught them some alarming things. This was not a class that any one had expected.  It was a class on THE FUTURE.

In the middle of His discourse he makes an astounding statement.  “Be on guard; I have told you all things before hand.”  In other words all the things that would challenge us as His children of a different Kingdom in the difficult times ahead, he gave on that lonely hillside.

But what were these things he was talking about?

Their ears stood at attention as he told them of their future, and ours as well! “There will be imposters who come saying they are the Christ and will lead many astray.  Wars of incredible violence and even news reports of such will fill the news media and alarm the population.  Those who are not killed in these wars will be paralyzed by the fear that they are approaching their own borders.  Earthquakes of unprecedented strength will occur even in the most unlikely places causing worldwide famine with millions starving, even in developed countries.  Persecution will arise by unjust laws aimed at Christians, regulations and edicts that will attack their foundational beliefs and force them to choose my law or their king’s. My sons and daughters will be hated by all men, even those in their own family for the stand they take. Teenagers will call 911 to arrest their folks because they refuse to allow their daughters to have an abortion. Tribulation will come that will shake the very soul of man and in that storm of fear one will come forward and declare he is the Christ. “

Jesus continued, “ But when they bring you before the courts let the Holy Spirit form your response. The stage I will put you on is too big for you to take the credit and say anything you want. Use the opportunity wisely and let my Spirit tell you what to say.”

continues with other signs of what is ahead but let it be said,

OUR FUTURE IS KNOWN

OUR FUTURE WAS TOLD

OUR FUTURE IS CERTAIN

The disciples’ heads must have been swimming as they listened.  This was not what they imagined his future kingdom to be like. Most of us do not either.

But two things seem to stand out in his discourse.  One, we have alluded to but will expand on here, namely, our response before our accusers.

Facebook is an excellent platform to communicate with others far beyond your locale but the responses I have seen to the present abrupt changes seem to be mostly responses that have come from emotion more than from The Spirit.

Perhaps we should regard our counterclaims as those that reflect the Risen Lord rather than our rage.

Then coming to the end of we see Jesus’ exhortation to the 12, “STAY AWAKE!”

It is vital for those in power to numb the populace for their agenda to progress.  This numbness comes in a wide variety of ways but regardless how it inflicts its stupor, we are called to remain awake and vigilant.  We are the children of light and see with eyes that can penetrate the darkness.  This ability to see is what will propel many of us into conflict with the current regime.

So, our future was designed for us! You are here in this time at this place for this moment!  He knew you would be here when it all breaks lose and He has invested a heavy price to insure your success.

So fear not!

Be wise!

Stay full!

Live light!

And never retreat!

Even so Lord Jesus… COME!

 

 

 

 

 


13:1 And as he came out of the temple, one of his disciples said to him, “Look, Teacher, what wonderful stones and what wonderful buildings!” And Jesus said to him, “Do you see these great buildings? There will not be left here one stone upon another that will not be thrown down.”

And as he sat on the Mount of Olives opposite the temple, Peter and James and John and Andrew asked him privately, “Tell us, when will these things be, and what will be the sign when all these things are about to be accomplished?” And Jesus began to say to them, “See that no one leads you astray. Many will come in my name, saying, ‘I am he!’ and they will lead many astray. And when you hear of wars and rumors of wars, do not be alarmed. This must take place, but the end is not yet. For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be earthquakes in various places; there will be famines. These are but the beginning of the birth pains.

“But be on your guard. For they will deliver you over to councils, and you will be beaten in synagogues, and you will stand before governors and kings for my sake, to bear witness before them. 10 And the gospel must first be proclaimed to all nations. 11 And when they bring you to trial and deliver you over, do not be anxious beforehand what you are to say, but say whatever is given you in that hour, for it is not you who speak, but the Holy Spirit. 12 And brother will deliver brother over to death, and the father his child, and children will rise against parents and have them put to death. 13 And you will be hated by all for my name’s sake. But the one who endures to the end will be saved.

14 “But when you see the abomination of desolation standing where he ought not to be (let the reader understand), then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains. 15 Let the one who is on the housetop not go down, nor enter his house, to take anything out, 16 and let the one who is in the field not turn back to take his cloak. 17 And alas for women who are pregnant and for those who are nursing infants in those days! 18 Pray that it may not happen in winter. 19 For in those days there will be such tribulation as has not been from the beginning of the creation that God created until now, and never will be. 20 And if the Lord had not cut short the days, no human being would be saved. But for the sake of the elect, whom he chose, he shortened the days. 21 And then if anyone says to you, ‘Look, here is the Christ!’ or ‘Look, there he is!’ do not believe it. 22 For false christs and false prophets will arise and perform signs and wonders, to lead astray, if possible, the elect. 23 But be on guard; I have told you all things beforehand.

24 “But in those days, after that tribulation, the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, 25 and the stars will be falling from heaven, and the powers in the heavens will be shaken. 26 And then they will see the Son of Man coming in clouds with great power and glory. 27 And then he will send out the angels and gather his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of heaven.

28 “From the fig tree learn its lesson: as soon as its branch becomes tender and puts out its leaves, you know that summer is near. 29 So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that he is near, at the very gates. 30 Truly, I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all these things take place. 31 Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.

32 “But concerning that day or that hour, no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. 33 Be on guard, keep awake. For you do not know when the time will come. 34 It is like a man going on a journey, when he leaves home and puts his servants in charge, each with his work, and commands the doorkeeper to stay awake. 35 Therefore stay awake—for you do not know when the master of the house will come, in the evening, or at midnight, or when the rooster crows, or in the morning— 36 lest he come suddenly and find you asleep. 37 And what I say to you I say to all: Stay awake.” (ESV)


13:1 And as he came out of the temple, one of his disciples said to him, “Look, Teacher, what wonderful stones and what wonderful buildings!” And Jesus said to him, “Do you see these great buildings? There will not be left here one stone upon another that will not be thrown down.”

And as he sat on the Mount of Olives opposite the temple, Peter and James and John and Andrew asked him privately, “Tell us, when will these things be, and what will be the sign when all these things are about to be accomplished?” And Jesus began to say to them, “See that no one leads you astray. Many will come in my name, saying, ‘I am he!’ and they will lead many astray. And when you hear of wars and rumors of wars, do not be alarmed. This must take place, but the end is not yet. For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be earthquakes in various places; there will be famines. These are but the beginning of the birth pains.

“But be on your guard. For they will deliver you over to councils, and you will be beaten in synagogues, and you will stand before governors and kings for my sake, to bear witness before them. 10 And the gospel must first be proclaimed to all nations. 11 And when they bring you to trial and deliver you over, do not be anxious beforehand what you are to say, but say whatever is given you in that hour, for it is not you who speak, but the Holy Spirit. 12 And brother will deliver brother over to death, and the father his child, and children will rise against parents and have them put to death. 13 And you will be hated by all for my name’s sake. But the one who endures to the end will be saved.

14 “But when you see the abomination of desolation standing where he ought not to be (let the reader understand), then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains. 15 Let the one who is on the housetop not go down, nor enter his house, to take anything out, 16 and let the one who is in the field not turn back to take his cloak. 17 And alas for women who are pregnant and for those who are nursing infants in those days! 18 Pray that it may not happen in winter. 19 For in those days there will be such tribulation as has not been from the beginning of the creation that God created until now, and never will be. 20 And if the Lord had not cut short the days, no human being would be saved. But for the sake of the elect, whom he chose, he shortened the days. 21 And then if anyone says to you, ‘Look, here is the Christ!’ or ‘Look, there he is!’ do not believe it. 22 For false christs and false prophets will arise and perform signs and wonders, to lead astray, if possible, the elect. 23 But be on guard; I have told you all things beforehand.

24 “But in those days, after that tribulation, the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, 25 and the stars will be falling from heaven, and the powers in the heavens will be shaken. 26 And then they will see the Son of Man coming in clouds with great power and glory. 27 And then he will send out the angels and gather his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of heaven.

28 “From the fig tree learn its lesson: as soon as its branch becomes tender and puts out its leaves, you know that summer is near. 29 So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that he is near, at the very gates. 30 Truly, I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all these things take place. 31 Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.

32 “But concerning that day or that hour, no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. 33 Be on guard, keep awake. For you do not know when the time will come. 34 It is like a man going on a journey, when he leaves home and puts his servants in charge, each with his work, and commands the doorkeeper to stay awake. 35 Therefore stay awake—for you do not know when the master of the house will come, in the evening, or at midnight, or when the rooster crows, or in the morning— 36 lest he come suddenly and find you asleep. 37 And what I say to you I say to all: Stay awake.” (ESV)

This Magnificent Man Day 2

images

 

Forerunner

 John appeared, baptizing in the wilderness and proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.  And all the country of Judea and all Jerusalem were going out to him and were being baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. Now John was clothed with camel ‘s hair and wore a leather belt around his waist and ate locusts and wild honey. And he preached, saying, After me comes he who is mightier than I, the strap of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie. I have baptized you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.

 “John!”  Wam! Bam!  Front and center!  The mystical John simply appears. Other Gospel writers give us a little history about this “enigmatic man” but Mark doesn’t waste time on things like lineage, or the family tree.  For Mark it is “get on with the story.”

Times had been strange indeed for Israel.  Having another country dominate over them was not to their liking.  There were revolts, uprisings and of course all the intrigue and politics of trying to appease the occupying force. But people lived pretty much in a normal system.  Families knew one another; kids played together and teenage boys dated the girl down the street. Yet, out of this somewhat normality, there appears a man who, well, breaks the mold!

The Prophet is not dressed in linen nor does he carry phylacteries on his forehead or arm.  His unusual dress, a skin tunic and a leather belt easily identify him in the crowd.  One would suppose that that alone was enough to make the man stand out, but there was something else.  His message.  It was so off the norm.  He spoke like no one else using wild animations, launching words that became like arrows convicting even the most hardened hearts.  Those who listened could not listen with indifference.  There was no yawning in his crowd, no eyeballing the girls, just a people riveted on what they saw and what they heard.

Such is the nature of the Prophet’s message.

His pulpit was a tree stump; his audience was composed of a wide variety of people who came out to the desert to get a look at the latest “Headline.”  John’s message was focused on one word REPENT! A sense of urgency ignited his words and the people who heard him were caught in this current that would eventually lead to the Lamb of God.

Oh the people came. From all over Judea and Jerusalem the news had spread and people planned their vacations not to go to the beach but rather go to the desert.  John’s message offered hope, it offered a future that seemed beyond imagination and… it offered a new King.

The river Jordan was the backdrop for this “Rural Revival” as there was ample water to baptize the vast throng of people. Some stood on the shore watching and wondering while others joined the long line of men and women, boys and girls, who entered the waters to be baptized and confess their sins. One would suppose that tears mingled with the waters of Jordan as sinners for the first time ever could finally feel clean. As they approached he might have taken them in his arms and dipped them into the waters and upon rising he would say something very strange: “I have baptized you with water but He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”

“What is this?” they wondered. “We have never heard of such a thing.”  But they would and things would never be the same again.

John was not a master of gimmicks or technique. There was no stage with multicolored lights or sound equipment that could make one heard all the way to Jericho.  There was just a man who embodied a message that was more than mere words spoken. His message was demonstrated and what it said was, “I am nothing in comparison to the One who is coming!”

John had that strange itch, knowing that Jesus was on his way!

 

 

 


John appeared, baptizing in the wilderness and proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. And all the country of Judea and all Jerusalem were going out to him and were being baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. Now John was clothed with camel’s hair and wore a leather belt around his waist and ate locusts and wild honey. And he preached, saying, “After me comes he who is mightier than I, the strap of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie. I have baptized you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.” (ESV)

This Magnificent Man! Day 1

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Over the past several months I have been immensely enriched by taking a hand in hand journey with Peter and Mark. My adventure in Mark’s Gospel has drawn me into the scenes, the smells and the sounds of a time in the past and has enlivened  my senses to a Jesus who seems to come out of the pages.

I will begin to post my journey here on “Thoughts From My Moleskine” and I want to invite you to come with me, eat with me, feast with me.  This is not a technical work as much as it is a story, one that calls us to enter into.

Now… we begin.

THE BEGINNING

“The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.  As it is written in Isaiah the prophet,  “Behold, I send my messenger before your face, who will prepare your way, the voice of one crying in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight,’”

Beginnings start at the beginning and Mark sets in motion the story, not just any story but a story that has impacted all of creation and shall continue to do so for all eternity.  This is the story of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. It is filled with amazing joy and deep pathos.  There are tears of profound saddness  and shouts of Hallelujah, babies, demon possessed, prostitutes, raging seas, jealous followers, cruel death and an empty tomb.    But our narration does not begin in a manger. It begins with the pen of an aged Prophet, seven hundred and fifty years earlier who is drawn into the far distant future.

Sitting at his desk Isaiah is arrested by the Holy Spirit.  This is no strange thing for this man. It is not a sudden fit nor is it a trance but rather a beckoning to come aside and listen. He is accustomed to such special moments, accustomed but never comfortable with them.  He sits attentive smothered with great respect and a sense of awe.   His wife a prophetess in her own right understood the things he saw and heard and even his sons were named to reinforce the prophetic narrative of Judah, but this didn’t make anything better for his kinsmen.  The enemies of Judah would soon surround her and the life span of her walls seemed numbered.

Smoke from Babylonian campfires would one day soon fill the nostrils of frightened Jews. It was a bleak time but it belonged to YHWH and he was about to speak something that men would hardly believe.  It is during this difficult season that God points to a future that seems like a pipe dream to those who hear it.  In the darkness of men’s pessimism the Holy Spirit interjects Himself and sounds forth a different narrative, one that contradicts the story on the ground.

Prophets do that! They see an alternative and then against all odds proclaim it with an assurance that causes the “brokers of power” unavoidable tension.

Mark sets the stage with a quote from Malachi and then concludes with a passage from Isaiah’s fortieth chapter.  The prophetic announcement bursts forth like a sonic boom with a “voice of one crying in the wilderness.”  He uses words like ‘messenger,’ ‘voice,’ ‘crying,’ and ‘wilderness.’  This is no political machine or a new conqueror about to come to the forefront appearing like the proverbial knight in shining armor.  It is herald by a single man, a man who would be called the last and the greatest of all the prophets.  It is the urgent disclosure that someone is coming and you’d better get ready!

Imagine it.  Isaiah was telling people not yet born to set their house in order and brace themselves for the dawning of a new era!

This is where Mark begins!

 

 

 

 

 


1:1 The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.

As it is written in Isaiah the prophet,

“Behold, I send my messenger before your face,
who will prepare your way,
the voice of one crying in the wilderness:
‘Prepare the way of the Lord,
make his paths straight,’” (ESV)

Controlled Substance

big-grace

TEXT:
“In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, which he lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight”
( ESVST)

This verse is deeply profound, filled with meaning that we may all to frequently over look. It announces the unimaginable riches of His grace being lavished upon us beyond all limits. This gift super abounds! It exceeds a fixed number and speaks of extravagant excess. It is the amply Divine influence upon the heart and its reflection in daily living! And… it leads to redemption through a sacrifice, namely, the sacrifice of Christ’s blood.

It was the ”Riches of His grace” that inundated earth to bring men to Christ. No back alley, no homeless shelter, no corporate boardrooms, no elementary or college classroom, no place on earth finds escape from this divine invasion!

Yet, this infinite grace is not haphazardly cast upon us. It is not just a general “blessing” of sorts that is poured out without consideration. As a matter of fact Paul points out that great attention has been given to its distribution. Paul says it like this, “…In all wisdom and insight.” In other words He has given the abundance of the riches of His grace within the boundaries of His wisdom and insight. It is clearly seen that this gift was a deliberate and wisely calculated one.

You might call it a “Controlled Substance.” Given to aid, given to heal, given to save but given under strict guidelines and limitations, namely His wisdom and insight.

Looking at this I stand in even greater awe at the substance of His grace. It puts my salvation in a new perspective; I see what I did not see. Perhaps that is what Paul means in the next verse when he says, “Making known to us the mystery of His will…”

Mystery is uncovered and revealed to be Christ Himself.

So grace is not like a Christmas gift that was bought as a second thought or because of a sale. It is a gift with immeasurable thought behind it. This lavished grace is calculated and corralled by infinite wisdom, divine insight and mysterious love.

Enjoy it. Revel in it and… handle it carefully.

Controlled Substances require great care!

JWIII


In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, which he lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight (ESV)

Truth or Slogan

truth or Slogan

 

Our experience is smothered in slogans.  We design them, embrace them, market them and distinguish ourselves with them.  Put simply, we carry the brand we like.

This “Hip Abbreviation” has spilled over into a church that has tried to become relative to a disjoined society. Now we try to attract others by being “cute.”

There is a reason for this. Information floods over us at an incredible speed and great quantity and we need a filter of sorts to weed it all out, hence, the need for slogans.

Commercials, political parties, and brands all jostle to invade what limited intellectual and spiritual space we have with their images and promises.  We pick them up, as Willard Dallas says,  “Like a dark suit picks up lint.”  But like the lint slogans have that serious potential to distract from truth.  The lint seems to capture the eye while the suit goes unnoticed.

Their invasion is very, very effective.  So, we emulate the world with our catchy phrases in both speech and writing.

In essence we code the Truth!

The danger with all of this is Truth is so infinitely greater than can be codified in a catchy phrase.  Truth simply cannot be contained in a “bumper sticker,” a “tweet” or a religious jingle.  It deserves much more attention, more consideration and great care. But we continue trying to reduce it into a brief symbol of words.  Venues like Face Book or Twitter or even this blog reinforce the need to be brief and consequently, shallow.  But this remains our challenge, to express the vastness of truth in limited words.

It is my observation that cuteness and superficiality is a scourge of our times.  They may be fine for a bit of humor or even to muse upon for a while but they offer no ballast in turbulent waters.  There exist no lasting stability or strength in them when the enemy raises his ugly head in mortal battle.

Our faith rests on something more than a catchy phrase.  It rests on the Infinite Word uttered from the mouth of YHWH and seen in the life of His Son Jesus.

Now, try to put that in a slogan!

We are challenged!

 

JW III

Flute Players

terbrug99Everyone “plays an instrument” in church.  The church is like a symphony with its brilliant brass section, it’s subtle strings and powerful percussion.  Violins, oboes, trombones, clarinets, trumpets, piccolos, flutes and drums come together under a conductor to either produce a master piece or a mistake. All the ” musicians” follow sheet music, the treble cleft – the bass cleft, tempo, rhythm, style, loudness, it is all turned into harmony with the aid of the scores and conductor.   But while some choose to follow the sheet music, others go off on their own tempo and scale.  But this work is not a solo, it is a concert.

In this context Jesus has something to say about the flautist.

In . Jesus describes his generation in musical terms.  He likens it to children calling to their playmates.  Here they consider John and Jesus their playmates, other members of the band.  In this orchestra there can be no conductor, just each musician playing with their instrument following their own desire.  Chaos is about to unfold.

 ” We played the flute for you and you did not dance; we sang a dirge and you did not mourn”.

In this scenario the leadership has shifted from the conductor and the score to the musician. But this Conductor doesn’t follow their lead.  Disgruntled, the musicians complain, “We played – you didn’t dance”.

Pastors face rebellious flautist every day who say, “Do as I say”.  Yet there are many conductors who refuse to relinquish the podium and baton. They have heard the song in its totality and will not resign to an “off beat” who promotes mutiny against the score.

The sound of their complaints becomes louder, more insistent.  The whole idea here is one of control.  The flutes want it and insist they have it. If it is not relinquished they will resort to name calling and harsh criticism.

But Jesus and his band of conductors will not bend to the pressure.  They will not “perform in the band”. Instead they will hoist their batons and stick to the score regardless of the cost.

There are three types of people reading this.  There are the flautist, the conductors and the audience.  To the flautist let me say that you have a chair, not a podium. You are part of a team whose goal is to reproduce the harmony seen in the score, to transcribe notes from paper into something living, active and  beautiful. Each disciple of Christ has been trained to join in and add too the “music of the ages”. In a world of discord the sounds of a heavenly melody are to be heard from a “musical master piece” written by Christ Himself.  So take your chair, follow the conductor and stick to the score.

For those “conductors” that are reading this, know the score well!  Most of your work is done before mounting the podium and such effort is displayed in that brief period in public.  The “baton” is not a rod to beat, but a tool to lead. Use it to accentuate, to draw in the various individuals of the orchestra from being a group of soloist into a community of one. Be aware that there will be those who insist you play by their tune, but you are not their playmate. You are their leader.  In time wisdom will be justified by her works.

Now to the audience. You came to hear a concert and perhaps you were disappointed  to find confusion and discord.  Hang around because the concert is not over. In time the musicians and the conductor will all fall into harmony with the score, the Bible and the mountains will respond with unfettered praise for the “Writer of the music”.

Who knows, perhaps one note, one line will so deeply attract you that you will leave your seat and climb on to the stage only to take your seat and play your instrument with the  saints of God.

Your place awaits you.

 

JW III


16 “But to what shall I compare this generation? It is like children sitting in the marketplaces and calling to their playmates,

17 “‘We played the flute for you, and you did not dance;
we sang a dirge, and you did not mourn.’
(ESV)

Solitude Doesn’t Exist

is a song of secret.  It shatters the idea that life is lived in a vacuum because it isn’t.  For the saint or the wicked, solitude is an illusion because there is God.

The words of this Psalm read like a catalog of the wicked and is met with a plea of deliverance from them. When considering these images one would think the Psalmist is not describing the wicked but rather a successful broker on Wall Street, a prosperous CEO or even the President of the United States.

In verse one a pointed question is asked, “Why do you hide yourself in times of trouble?”  He recants the deep feelings many experience in times of grief and personal crisis.  There are times when He seems distant from the experience and the question is “Why?”  The answer perhaps is found in and 18. He concludes by saying that God does see and He will respond and control not only the wicked but the nations as well.  In the pain of the present, the Psalmist looks beyond the emergency and sees that God is not unconnected with the moment.

Following this question the lyrics of the song changes tempo and describe the cruelty and indifference of the wicked toward the poor and his scorn of God.  Now things are declared in disturbing honesty,  for as the righteous is not alone neither is the wicked.

The delusional “independent ” seems like he is unbridled in his narcissism because of his mistaken view of God. (10:4).  “All his thoughts are, ‘There is no God.’”  This might lead one to think that all wicked men are atheist who do not believe in God but something more sinister lurks here. I would take this to mean that there is no God who rules , takes in to account or sees. His danger is that he knows there is a God but this god is impotent, uncaring and distant. So, the wicked feels free, unchained to pursue his  quest free of consequence.   Why do I say that the wicked says there is no god but at the same time propose that he does believe there is a god that is impotent and distant? I suggest this because of and 13.  First the wicked says in “God has forgotten… .”  Then in the Psalmist asked “Why does the wicked renounce God?”  How does a non existent god forget?  How does one renounce something that does not exist?  It appears that we see here one who says he is above accountability to anyone, even YHWH.  He really does believe in God but sees him as a non-factor in his daily affairs.

This view removes all sense of morality and decency in the pursuit of obtaining more power and wealth.  This drive is seen by how he tramples down the poor for his benefit.

He runs hard after accumulated wealth  by taking advantage of the poor. (10:2). He stalks and sets in ambush to rob the unsuspecting in board rooms, banks or congress. (10:8).  His actions crush the poor and helpless, (10:10).  He has all the business and legal savvy to draw his net around the belongings of the marginalized and disadvantaged and with each gain he becomes more and more arrogant thinking he is “hot.”  He prides himself as Hollywood makes a reality show about his conquests.

He further advances in his delusion, thinking that his wealth sets him far from pain.  He hides behind the “bottom line” thinking he is untouchable, (10:6). His tongue speaks sweeping things and feels it is his privilege to speak his mind  and considers that his fortune has procured him this freedom to say whatever he wants, (10:7).

His prosperity increases yet he is blind to the final outcome.  He hammers onward thinking his foes are no competition.  He responds to them with disdain, (10:5).

To put it plainly his wealth has caused him to live in a fairy tail, thinking that all is well and out of reach  of the consequences of retribution and accountability.

But God does see!  He sees it all that He might take it into His hands.  No one nor any thing abides alone beyond the gazing eye of YHWH.  Solitude does not exist in His creation.  God is not blind or asleep or distant.  He is vigilant, observant, and responsive.  To the Psalmist the Lord is “Forever and ever.”  That is, He occupies all space and time.  Nothing is hidden from His sight.

Consequently those without a paycheck can trust because they are not alone. Those that steal are caught by His anger.  He is the Helper to the fatherless and latch-key child. He hears the desire of the afflicted and oppressed in Mali, Haiti, Iran and our inner cities in America, while those who oppress them find no escape from His reach.  His justice will prevail so that the evil man can strike terror no more.

Actions have consequences and God guarantees the connection between them, because He sees all. That is a sobering statement that should awaken us to responsibility.

Another shocking statement, “Solitude simple does not exist!”

 

JW III


10:1 Why, O Lord, do you stand far away?
Why do you hide yourself in times of trouble?

In arrogance the wicked hotly pursue the poor;
let them be caught in the schemes that they have devised.
For the wicked boasts of the desires of his soul,
and the one greedy for gain curses and renounces the Lord.
In the pride of his face the wicked does not seek him;
all his thoughts are, “There is no God.”
His ways prosper at all times;
your judgments are on high, out of his sight;
as for all his foes, he puffs at them.
He says in his heart, “I shall not be moved;
throughout all generations I shall not meet adversity.”
His mouth is filled with cursing and deceit and oppression;
under his tongue are mischief and iniquity.
He sits in ambush in the villages;
in hiding places he murders the innocent.
His eyes stealthily watch for the helpless;
he lurks in ambush like a lion in his thicket;
he lurks that he may seize the poor;
he seizes the poor when he draws him into his net.
10 The helpless are crushed, sink down,
and fall by his might.
11 He says in his heart, “God has forgotten,
he has hidden his face, he will never see it.”

12 Arise, O Lord; O God, lift up your hand;
forget not the afflicted.
13 Why does the wicked renounce God
and say in his heart, “You will not call to account”?
14 But you do see, for you note mischief and vexation,
that you may take it into your hands;
to you the helpless commits himself;
you have been the helper of the fatherless.
15 Break the arm of the wicked and evildoer;
call his wickedness to account till you find none.

16 The Lord is king forever and ever;
the nations perish from his land.
17 O Lord, you hear the desire of the afflicted;
you will strengthen their heart; you will incline your ear
18 to do justice to the fatherless and the oppressed,
so that man who is of the earth may strike terror no more. (ESV)


17 O Lord, you hear the desire of the afflicted;
you will strengthen their heart; you will incline your ear (ESV)


11 He says in his heart, “God has forgotten,
he has hidden his face, he will never see it.” (ESV)


11 He says in his heart, “God has forgotten,
he has hidden his face, he will never see it.” (ESV)


13 Why does the wicked renounce God
and say in his heart, “You will not call to account”? (ESV)

Who is in charge?

Recently I was in a church where a well known minister was invited to speak. His arrival was anticipated with much eagerness and enthusiasm. Causally dressed with a mild manner and penetrating insight, in the course of his first night’s message he made a disturbing comment.  At the moment precisely chosen he said “God is not in control of this world, the devil is.”  I have never heard such a robust round of “Amens” given to the power of the devil in a church. I sat in amazement.  Of course in the context of his message as he attempted to explain the reason for evil and our response to it, such a comment made sense.  His point was to stress the idea of our involvement in the reclamation of what was lost at Eden. But it doesn’t answer the question why evil is so prevalent. As a matter of fact it accentuates the problem.

I do not purpose to have the answer as many of my readers may be quick to respond with. For me the question is far more complex and beyond the reductionist answers we hear all to often, yet I would like to present two sides of the issue and then explain which one I think is correct and why I think that.

Two views are commonly expressed when touching this subject because of not coming to terms with what is penultimate and what is ultimate.  One view is that (as the speaker stated) God is not in control of the affairs of the world. I respect this angle widely held by many very mature and serious Christian, but for me this view presents a   huge problem.  Control is the expression of authority when considering God. His power only extends to the circumference of His authority.   In the world control may be utilized outside legitimate, legal authority but not with God. His authority and power to exercise that authority are on equal playing terms and abide in complete harmony with one another. Hence, to state that he is not in control is to say he is limited in his authority.  Furthermore if God is not in control of everything, then one must ask where is the line draw between his control and lack of it?  Where does God retreat? For me this would be most disconcerting and erode the strength of faith. One would always be guessing if God had things in His control or not.  I would contend that God is in control of all things or He is in control of nothing.   To be impotent and limited is not consistent with the nature of YHWH.  To believe so is to not understand His nature.

The other view takes the opposite position.  It sees God in complete control of all things,  weather, famine, rain, disease, life, death and satan.  Everything in this view, is subject to His all-encompassing authority and power. Some would think this gives rise to the idea that God is cruel but one cannot disregard the fact that satan had to ask permission to afflict a righteous man named Job.

This question has been debated for centuries and both sides are very dogmatic about their stance. The penultimate authority of satan has been confused with the ultimate authority of YHWH.  For my part if I should have to choose I would chose the latter.  I think it would be far more appropriate to consider God in absolute control with ultimate authority over all things, over the good and the bad and confess that there are decisions He makes in His providence which I do not understand. I can embrace a God beyond my understanding far better than a devil with unbridled dominion.   I can handle the mystery of wisdom easier than considering satan equally as powerful as God and having freedom to do as he wishes. This view does not release us from engaging with the powers of darkness through faith in those times when  the fight is necessary  but it does put that struggle in the context of His absolute sovereignty of the Divine Crown.  However I do not base this choice solely on personal preference but rather on what I see is the great shift of authority that took place at Jesus’ resurrection.  Let me explain.

In Jesus is tempted by the devil and He hears the evil one wheeze out these words. “… To you I will give all this authority and their glory, for it has been delivered to me…” .  His words were no idle commendation of self-importance. They were true. He had been given penultimate authority over the kingdoms.   But Jesus, after His resurrection, contested that claim by boldly announcing, “All authority in heaven and in earth has been given unto me.”  This legitimate penultimate authority with all of its power had been  given to satan by the fall of man but was reclaimed and annulled by the One who conquered death and who now sits as King of kings and Lord of lords over all the universe with ALL ULTIMATE AUTHORITY.  Yes there are kings and there are lords but there is only One King and One Lord that merits a capital letter and His name is Jesus.

I have no doubt that the question “Who is in charge ,” will continue with increasing crescendo as we approach the day of His  revealing but until then… I’ll put my money on THE ULTIMATE and stand in awe of the mystery of His will.

One more thought. That which is penultimate is always second place to the ultimate. That’s  a good thing to know!


4:1 And Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the wilderness for forty days, being tempted by the devil. And he ate nothing during those days. And when they were ended, he was hungry. The devil said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command this stone to become bread.” And Jesus answered him, “It is written, ‘Man shall not live by bread alone.’” And the devil took him up and showed him all the kingdoms of the world in a moment of time, and said to him, “To you I will give all this authority and their glory, for it has been delivered to me, and I give it to whom I will. If you, then, will worship me, it will all be yours.” And Jesus answered him, “It is written,

“‘You shall worship the Lord your God,
and him only shall you serve.’”

And he took him to Jerusalem and set him on the pinnacle of the temple and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down from here, 10 for it is written,

“‘He will command his angels concerning you,
to guard you,’

11 and

“‘On their hands they will bear you up,
lest you strike your foot against a stone.’”

12 And Jesus answered him, “It is said, ‘You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.’” 13 And when the devil had ended every temptation, he departed from him until an opportune time.

14 And Jesus returned in the power of the Spirit to Galilee, and a report about him went out through all the surrounding country. 15 And he taught in their synagogues, being glorified by all.

16 And he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up. And as was his custom, he went to the synagogue on the Sabbath day, and he stood up to read. 17 And the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written,

18 “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives
and recovering of sight to the blind,
to set at liberty those who are oppressed,

19 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

20 And he rolled up the scroll and gave it back to the attendant and sat down. And the eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. 21 And he began to say to them, “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” 22 And all spoke well of him and marveled at the gracious words that were coming from his mouth. And they said, “Is not this Joseph’s son?” 23 And he said to them, “Doubtless you will quote to me this proverb, ‘Physician, heal yourself.’ What we have heard you did at Capernaum, do here in your hometown as well.” 24 And he said, “Truly, I say to you, no prophet is acceptable in his hometown. 25 But in truth, I tell you, there were many widows in Israel in the days of Elijah, when the heavens were shut up three years and six months, and a great famine came over all the land, 26 and Elijah was sent to none of them but only to Zarephath, in the land of Sidon, to a woman who was a widow. 27 And there were many lepers in Israel in the time of the prophet Elisha, and none of them was cleansed, but only Naaman the Syrian.” 28 When they heard these things, all in the synagogue were filled with wrath. 29 And they rose up and drove him out of the town and brought him to the brow of the hill on which their town was built, so that they could throw him down the cliff. 30 But passing through their midst, he went away.

31 And he went down to Capernaum, a city of Galilee. And he was teaching them on the Sabbath, 32 and they were astonished at his teaching, for his word possessed authority. 33 And in the synagogue there was a man who had the spirit of an unclean demon, and he cried out with a loud voice, 34 “Ha! What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are—the Holy One of God.” 35 But Jesus rebuked him, saying, “Be silent and come out of him!” And when the demon had thrown him down in their midst, he came out of him, having done him no harm. 36 And they were all amazed and said to one another, “What is this word? For with authority and power he commands the unclean spirits, and they come out!” 37 And reports about him went out into every place in the surrounding region.

38 And he arose and left the synagogue and entered Simon’s house. Now Simon’s mother-in-law was ill with a high fever, and they appealed to him on her behalf. 39 And he stood over her and rebuked the fever, and it left her, and immediately she rose and began to serve them.

40 Now when the sun was setting, all those who had any who were sick with various diseases brought them to him, and he laid his hands on every one of them and healed them. 41 And demons also came out of many, crying, “You are the Son of God!” But he rebuked them and would not allow them to speak, because they knew that he was the Christ.

42 And when it was day, he departed and went into a desolate place. And the people sought him and came to him, and would have kept him from leaving them, 43 but he said to them, “I must preach the good news of the kingdom of God to the other towns as well; for I was sent for this purpose.” 44 And he was preaching in the synagogues of Judea. (ESV)

He Died Too Young

Josiah was a young boy when he began to reign in Judah.  As a matter of fact he was only eight and he sat on the throne for thirty-one years in Jerusalem.  His life was one of adventure and challenge but his heart was pure and God allowed him to see one of the most powerful revivals in the history of Israel.  Yet despite his achievements Josiah died too young!

The revival in Israel had been monumental, life changing and empire strengthening.  The author of says,

 

“The Passover had not been observed like this in Israel since the days of the prophet Samuel; and none of the kings of Israel had ever celebrated such a Passover as did Josiah, with the priests, the Levites and all Judah and Israel who were there with the people of Jerusalem.”

 

The celebration was replete with abundant sacrifice, abundant laborers, abundant priests, and abundant joy.  However shortly afterwards the scene changes.  King Neco of Egypt threatens Josiah’s northern front and the city of Carchemish situated on the Euphrates River owned by the Hittites is under attack. Josiah feels compelled to enter the fray.

Upon arriving to the battlefront the Egyptian King sends a messenger to Josiah telling him to go home. His words are quite striking especially coming from a pagan king.  “ … I am not coming against you this day but against the house with which I am at war.  And God has commanded me to hurry. Cease opposing God who is with me, lest He destroy you.” Emphasis mine.

But Josiah did not heed this warning and foolishly entered into the battle, being mortally wounded by a random archer where he later died.   A young man, with a tender and courageous heart, died prematurely.

The question we are often faced with is why do bad things happen to those who seemingly do not deserve it?  This article is woefully inadequate to answer that question however it is an attempt to put Josiah’s death in perspective with the hope that we may see something beyond the present.

Keep in mind that in the previous chapter a prophetess named Hulda accurately prophesied that Josiah would die in peace and not see the impending doom headed for Jerusalem.  Her prophecy was alarmingly accurate. His death would shield him from the heart-breaking scene of a destroyed Jerusalem not too many years in the future.  But now we touch on the dynamics of how this prophecy unfolded.  The primary trigger that unleashed these chains of events was the unwillingness of Josiah to heed the word of the Lord given not by a prophet but by an enemy of the throne.

We must face the question,  “Why did Josiah ignore the words of the Egyptian king? “  I can think of at least three possible reasons.

Following the great revival in 2 Cron. 35:1-19 he may have felt invincible. He could do no wrong.  His attitude may have been “God is on my side” and therefore he mistook that as permission to do what ever he wanted.  How many times have we seen a similar scenario among leaders who are greatly used in revival only to come to a disastrous conclusion of which they never recover?  Certainly the revival is not the cause but rather that inflated sense of ego that arises to the top and is never dealt with but given license to do what ever it chooses.  Josiah may have very well been overly presumptuous in the matter.

 

Neco the king of Egypt had clearly laid his case before Josiah.  He in no uncertain terms stated that God had told him to do this and to back off or God would destroy him.  I can imagine the thoughts running through Josiah’s mind.  “Who is this uncircumcised Philistine telling me what the will of God is?” The source of this statement, a pagan king, undoubtedly had a tremendous impact on Josiah’s ability to believe it.  Certainly his opposition to Israel disqualified him from being a spokesman of God after all Yahweh was the exclusive property of Israel.

 

Finally we may consider one more reason.  Perhaps Josiah saw a need to protect his northern front thus providing a buffer zone between Israel and her enemies. 

 These three possibilities are mere conjecture but possible reasons for why Josiah rushed headlong into his demise.

 Don’t make the same mistake.

 The scripture is more than a story.  It is something that speaks to us today.  Paul put it like this in I Corinthians, 10:6,  “ Now these things took place as examples for us that we might not desire evil as they did.”  So in view of this one may draw certain conclusions that can intersect with our contemporary living.  Let’s consider just three.

First, revival does not give license or freedom to the flesh to perform what ever it desires under the guise of God’s will.  Nor is revival an endorsement for whatever action we want to commit.  As a matter of fact a genuine encounter with the all-consuming presence of the living God will render one “senseless” to the world and it’s lusts.  The fires of revival purify and offend the thirst for carnal domination and public renown.  Don’t walk out of revival thinking your are God’s man of the hour.  Such arrogance will lead one to a tragic downfall.

Secondly understand there will be some battles that just aren’t yours. You are not the “Savior of Carchemish”.  This is especially hard for those who are our “peacemakers”.   They will often intervene where their compassion and wisdom are rejected and leave with deep wounds.  The point here is don’t get into another’s fight unless you are led by the Holy Spirit. Concentrate on your own. This does not mean to become cold and indifferent to the struggles of your brother, but rather to have a firm Biblical reason for entering the fray with him before you do.

Finally, Don’t limit God in how He can speak to you.  Of course His principle method is through the text but is He limited to only this?  I think not.  God is capable and often does speak through a variety of modes, the stars, His creation angels, dreams, visions, individuals, kings, maidens, prisoners and donkeys, all are within the possibility of being an instrument of message. However, we face a critical danger here of going to such an extreme that we become silly. We are inclined to begin to look for some hidden message, some mysterious sign to guide us more so than through His principle method which is the Bible. Gnosticism is as active today as it was eighteen centuries ago.  So we see the vast importance of having discernment in all things, for as we have seen, God can even speak through His enemies.  He spoke to Josiah like this and he ignored it to his peril.

Does walking in humility, staying focus on your sphere of responsibility and walking in discernment guarantee a long life?  It is hard to say but one thing is certain, rejecting these principles may reduce your years and rob you from the ability to say, “ I live to fight another day!”

Josiah died too young.  But you, live long, live wise, live full, and live for Him!


18 No Passover like it had been kept in Israel since the days of Samuel the prophet. None of the kings of Israel had kept such a Passover as was kept by Josiah, and the priests and the Levites, and all Judah and Israel who were present, and the inhabitants of Jerusalem. (ESV)