Thursday, June 30, 2016

Unpardonable or Unpardoning

On Sunday, I preached from the passage on the unpardonable sin from Mark 3. One usual focus is to help people determine whether they have committed it. Well, the truth is that if it was a one time ordeal, many more would be in trouble. But that is not the depiction in the text. The issue is blasphemy, and specifically, blasphemy of the Holy Spirit. But it is not simply blasphemy that is the issue, it is to blaspheme and continually blaspheme, that is, the word (in the Greek) is in the form where the action is continual, not a one-time action. (The unpardonable nature was also meant for a people and a nation, not us today, but the principle carries forward to today. Click here for full context.)

In the context, the sin was that the religious leaders were crediting the work of God to Satan. Jesus provides a logical defense and even appeals to their own beliefs (the coming Messiah could heal the mute, see Matthew 12.22 for this detail), yet the opposition against Him would only intensify despite the continued miracles and the teachings of a coming Kingdom. Thus many (if not all) who were guilty of blasphemy on that day did continue to commit that sin.

The issue really was that these people were becoming unpardonable in part because they were unwilling to pardon. Of course, simply pardoning Jesus is not sufficient, one must have faith, but in their case it would have been a place to start. They had observed Jesus doing great things, but because of when He did them (some were on the Sabbath), or what He said ("your sins are forgiven") they believed Jesus was guilty of blasphemy and thus were unwilling to listen and become fruitful (Mark 4.8).

Today, we live in a world that has a great deal of evil. I awoke this morning to the news of the attack at the airport in Istanbul, for instance. And while the true identity and motive of the attackers is not yet known, the early speculation is that the attack likely had stemmed from radically religious people.

But the problem is not being radically religious (Jesus was), but in how it is made manifest. The truth is that Jesus stirred the pot hard for those who were not interested in what He was doing and teaching (again, the leaders of the day expected EXACTLY what He was doing, just not so much in the way He did it (or taught it). And thus, He was at odds with the establishment of the day for serving and loving people.

In our day, many face the same tribulation. It is certainly true that Christians are being forced to bow to the pressures of the day, and when they don't they find themselves being figuratively burned (like Sharach, Meshach, and Abednego were supposed to be), eaten alive (like Daniel was supposed to be), or crucified (like our Lord was). But some who profess to be Christian are often no better in their actions toward others. Jesus called us to love God, love others, and love one another (the latter applying to fellow believers). And loving others requires forgiving, or pardoning.

Make no mistake, loving does require the need to judge, but not to pronounce judgement. Matthew 7.1 is often quoted as "Do not judge!" But that is not what the passage means. In verse 5, Jesus says that we must make sure we are able to see clearly BEFORE helping others, but WE ARE to help others which requires knowing what help to provide which requires a measure of judging.

But to judge, does not mean that we do not pardon. That is the very essence of the first verses of Matthew 7. We are to seek the kingdom of God and His righteousness (which includes confessing our sin (the log in our eye), before we can see to remove the speck from another's eye. (Our sin against God is far greater than any grievance we may have with another). And when we do not pardon, we are permitting God not to forgive us (Matthew 6.14-15), and prove that we are not truly seeking God and His righteousness.

To not pardon others (i.e. to be "unpardoning") is to become unpardonable. To not forgive is to remain unforgiven. Ultimately, that sin is to reject the Holy Spirit, which in our day, means to not respond to what He is doing around us, in part, to get us to respond to God. But because the Holy Spirit brings regeneration and leads us into all truth (John 14.26), if we don't respond to His guidance, then we choose to be unpardonable. Jesus, by His choice, died for all sin. For those who choose not to believe, then judgement is already fixed (John 3.17-18).

But this brings us full circle. The scribes, Pharisees, and other leaders were warned that continued blasphemy was the issue. Jesus issued a warning (which requires judging between good and bad, or in that case, evil), and any who repented would be forgiven. It is amazing to think that some of those same people may have been a part of the 3000 who were in the crowd in Jerusalem for Pentecost as recorded in Acts 2 (see v. 41). As Peter would later say, they were responsible for killing the author of life (Acts 3.15), yet God pardoned them when they turned to Him.

The world definitely is filled with many challenges, but Jesus promised that the Kingdom was near. That was true then, and it is true today. I don't know how long we must wait until the "already, but not yet" of the Kingdom will dissipate into a full realization of the Kingdom, but God does. In the meantime, I can trust that the Kingdom was fully procured by Jesus at the cross and became fully secured by His resurrection. And it is offered to those who are pardoned, in part, because they are willing to pardon others as well.

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Tough Choices

Would you choose someone to join you to carry out an important project if you knew that the person would work to seemingly undo everything the rest of the group was building? Of course not! Well, Jesus did. And that is hard to fathom. Having spent some time at the Garden of Gethsemane earlier this year, I was able to better picture the scene of Jesus’ betrayal at that hands (literally, the kiss) of Judas. Just before the moment of betrayal, Jesus was praying and said the words most have heard mentioned at some time, “Not my will, but yours, be done” (Luke 22.42). Over the next few hours, the betrayal occurred, the arrest was made, the trials commenced, the punishment inflicted, and the crucifixion ordered. Of course, the crucifixion was not the end of the story, but that piece must wait.

As we read the various accounts of the Gospels, most people already know the outcome. We know Jesus died, and we know the betrayal of Judas is a part of the story. Thus, we read the beginning of the story already knowing the end. And the writers of the gospel accounts wrote knowing the end as well. We see this very clearly in passages like the calling of the Twelve (Matthew 10.1-4; Mark 3.16-19; and Luke 6.13-16), where Judas is always listed last and with an editorial note that he was the one who betrayed Jesus. But if we back up to before Jesus calls His disciples, we find a critical component of the calling.

Before we get to this critical moment, we need to realize that Jesus knew who would betray Him. We know this because Jesus told Judas to go and quickly do what had to be done (John 13.27). What we do not know, specifically, is when Jesus knew this. Was it known before He left heaven? Did He know at the time He called His disciples? We do not know. But we do know how Jesus prepared for calling – He prayed. That is the critical component. Let me explain.

Jesus had challenged the religious leaders and then withdrawn to the sea (Mark 3.7). The crowd followed to the point that Jesus had to get on a boat and talk back toward the shore. From the sea, Jesus went up a mountain (Mark 3.13). In one sense this was to get away from the crowd. But in the fullness of truth, it was to pray – in order to know whom He should call (Luke 6.12). The choice of the twelve was critical because it was these men who would carry on His work after He ascended to the Father. Many others were following Him, and some continued to the end, but when the circumstances and the teachings became more challenging, many would abandon Him (see John 6.66-71).

Looking back on the story today, I wonder if Jesus knew about Judas on the night He prayed before calling the disciples. The Bible does not give us this detail, and I do not want to suggest that the following did happen, but I offer that it could have. If Jesus did know His ultimate outcome at this point (He almost certainly did, though He had not mentioned it yet), and if He knew that Judas would be the one who betrayed Him (as mentioned earlier, Scripture does not reveal this here), then it is quite possible that Jesus may have said here, “Not my will, but yours, be done” just as He did in Gethsemane. Again, this is speculation, but it is possible. Again, if He had any idea of what would come, regardless of what He may have specifically prayed, this decision must have been painful in its own way.

In our world today, many like to think of Jesus as a good teacher, one who promoted love, and sought the goodwill of others. But Jesus also said that He was God, demanded that others leave their sins behind, and commanded people to love those who were different than themselves. The reality is that many people will follow Jesus when it is convenient. But Jesus chose Judas though it wouldn’t be.

Jesus set an example for us by showing that having a better future often requires difficult decisions in the present. The betrayal by Judas led to a horrible set of events for Jesus, but without His death, the resurrection would not be possible. Without the resurrection of Jesus, we could not have life after death. And without life after death, this life is virtually meaningless.

For you and I, we will never face a decision that impacts every person to walk on this earth – past, present, or future. But each of us do face decisions daily. Some are important while others are not. But some have consequences that go beyond the moment and deserve to be considered for any future implications. Whether these decisions relate to our faith, our health, our finances, our interactions with others, or something else, we can take a queue from Jesus, who knows the temptation to take the easy way out (Hebrews 4.15).

I still struggle to think of giving someone a key role in ministry if I knew that their real intentions were to undermine what was being built. My gut reaction is that I hope I am able to discern such an intent long before it occurs. However, my faith tells me that God can use such a situation for His glory if He wants, just as He did with Judas, because we cannot thwart God’s plans. So while I must be diligent, I must also learn to say, “not my will, but yours” even, and especially, when facing the tough choices of life.

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Finding Joy in Digging Deeply

It has been more than a year ago that I first sensed that my current sermon series would focus on the life of Jesus. At the time, I did not know which of the four authors I would use for my source, although I was fairly certain it would be one of the synoptic accounts. (If you want to know why I chose Mark’s account, read here.) But all along, knowing that I would be taking a trip to Israel before this series began, I knew that the series must look beyond our usual glimpse into what Jesus did. This series had to be in part, “Why did He do what He did?”

The simple answers to that question have been given in Sunday School and sermons for years. I know, I have done that. But, for this series, I was compelled to reach deeper. Now, I am not suggesting, in any way, that I am capable of fully realizing who Jesus is, or why He did what He did in full, or any other sort of preposterous nonsense. Jesus, as both fully God and fully man, is beyond my comprehension, but that does not mean that I am not to simply take a passive wave at Scripture and glean from the leftovers of the field. No, God has gifted me to discern certain truths as one who should attempt to harvest the deeper truths. By no means am I perfect at this – in approach or in understanding – but that truth should only compel me to dig deeper yet like an archaeologist who discovers a hint of something on the surface that makes s/he want to dig deeper.

That is what this series has become. It is not about accepting the Jesus I have come to know, but learning more about Him in ways I never did. (Yes, I know that Yancey has written such a book. No, I have not read it – at least not yet.) But in learning so much more about the customs of Jesus day, of better realizing why the Pharisees were who they were, and, perhaps most importantly coming to better realize that Jesus didn’t come to die for our salvation, but rather to inaugurate God’s kingdom to a people still in exile in order that God’s will would be done on earth as it is in heaven. Of course, He knew He had to die to make this happen, but dying was part of the process, not the entirety of His purpose.

A part of my process of learning intensified this past week as I prepared to share about the Feast of Shavuot. Seeing the ties, both biblically and through Jewish tradition, from Acts 2 (what we call Pentecost) to Leviticus 23 and even Exodus 32 (what the Israelites and then Jews call Shavuot) made certain biblical truths come to life. Furthermore, my experience in attempting to understand this feast has whetted the appetite to go even deeper in understanding the others. This is not about Judaism, but rather understanding why God implemented these feasts in the first place (Leviticus 23) and how Christ has, or will, perfectly fulfill each one of them. Again it goes back to not only knowing what Jesus did, but why as well.

I have greatly enjoyed the first two months of this journey. It continues to make my understanding so much clearer than it has been before. As I have often said, “To stop learning is to start dying.” That is one of the top principles in my life and to share my learning with others is a part of the grace of God. For those that read this blog or the church’s blog, I thank you for letting me share a bit of what I learn with you each week. God has also graciously given me opportunities to invest in other current and future ministers in classrooms as well as many other opportunities to share His message, His truth, and His love as well. I pray I will never take this responsibility for granted. And I pray I will learn to dig even deeper to gain an even better understanding, so that those God entrusts to learn from me can supplement their own studies by gleaning from what spills out of me. The purpose: not just so that we might know more. Rather, the purpose is that we might partner together to make God’s kingdom a reality on earth as it is in heaven by following in His footsteps and continuing the work that He called His followers – both then and now – to do, until He returns again.

Thursday, June 9, 2016

Convenience or Conviction

In last week’s postI talked about my need for restoration. Like many who may read this, my schedule is busy. Thankfully, in the next two weeks, I will have two items off my plate. I have enjoyed both, but having some extra time is important right now, especially with another round of online instruction forthcoming. I also have a writing project which is nearly finished, but then must prepare for a children’s camp, and then training pastors and telling Bible stories for an upcoming mission trip. All the while, my primary responsibility is to pastor. I share this simply to say that like most of you, I am busy, and while I would trade none of these tasks, I wonder how many are good, yet are keeping me from doing the great. My desire is to follow Jesus, and Jesus was one who did the great.

Of course Jesus was great. But a part of His greatness is that He did great. I am not great, and that won’t change even if I do great, but should I not do greater things. In fact, William Carey once said that we should “expect great things from God; attempt great things for God.” What am I attempting that is great?

The main reason I recently changed the focus of this blog is to share my thoughts on the past week’s message. A slightly modified version of my sermon is now posted on the church’s blog (, with this blog providing more of a chance to reflect a bit (on the message or otherwise). One thing that hit me from this past week, is how often I wait to do certain tasks. This is a fine line, but I am not talking about procrastination here. I am talking about meeting a need. Jesus was always ready and yet the demands on His time and life were greater than anything I can imagine. Yet, I look at my color-coded calendar and try to move A, so I can accommodate B, without affecting C. And in that light, I taught this last week on Jesus healing a man with a withered hand in the synagogue – on the Sabbath! See Mark 3.1-6.

After five confrontations with various leaders from Mark 2.1 through Mark 3.6, two groups began to plot to kill Jesus. Why? Not because Jesus healed a man, but because of when He did it. He didn’t wait until it fit everyone’s schedule. He didn’t wait until the lawmakers said it was ok. He did it on the Sabbath, when it was considered illegal, instead of waiting just a short time when it would have been alright. The Bible doesn’t say exactly what time of day it was, but Jesus wasn’t worried about the position of the sun in the sky, He had a point to make, and a man to help.

This thought has weighed heavily on me this week. Again, I have been asked to participate in a lot of good things lately – developing Bible studies, writing Bible articles, teaching Bible stories, teach seminary classes, etc. Frankly, I love to study the Bible, but to teach it, or other content, well takes time. Unfortunately, these tasks have kept me from leading our church where I believe God wants us to go. These tasks have prevented us from implementing the Ministry Action Plan (MAP) Team that
was developed earlier this year. I have been waiting for a better time – for me, and for others. It has been easier to wait, not just from a scheduling perspective personally, but from knowing that pushing through some barriers will take time and persistence as well.

On that Sabbath Day, some 2000 years ago, Jesus didn’t wait a few hours until it was convenient and the pressure would be removed. No, He did what needed to be done to help show that He, indeed, was Lord of the Sabbath (Mark 2.28). I am not lord of anything, but if I am to follow my Lord in making a difference, and partner with Him in building His church, then my schedule must better reflect His. It must be more about conviction that convenience. I must make time to realize opportunities. I must make time to lead. But most importantly, I must make time for Him not only to restore me, but also to lead and mold me according to His image and plans, not mine. Only then, can I truly lead others to fulfill their calling as well.

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

In Search of Restoration

This past Sunday I preached from the first portions of Mark 2. The first pericope consists of some unexpected happenings while Jesus is teaching at a home in Capernaum. First, the roof starts to open as bits of mud, sticks, and the like fall on those below. Then a man is lowered on a mat through the new hole. And finally, the most unexpected moment of all – Jesus doesn’t heal him. No, instead he forgives his sins. Now this is a profound moment and one that is far more important than actually healing the man’s paralysis, but it is not what the man, his friends, or anyone else expected.

However long later, Jesus is walking along the shore of the Sea of Galilee where He finds Levi collecting customs taxes from those who have come to sell their goods. The four men Jesus has called to “Follow Me” thus far (Andrew, Simon, James, John) would have likely had many dealings with Levi and most may have been unfavorable as they would have tried to sell their fish. And now Jesus does the unexpected and invites (really it is more of a command) to “Follow Me.” I am sure this is a tense moment for the, now, five guys following along. And to make matters worse, Matthew invites several friends who also join for a meal together – all of which is a slap in the face to religious-minded leaders of the day. (For a more complete write-up, check the church blog, Bread Crumbs, here.)

Jesus restored those who had physical challenges, emotional challenges, and most of all those who were spiritually challenged. Indeed, He was a physician to those who realized their need (Mark 2.17).

But sometimes we choose to ignore our needs. Sometimes we determine to push through thinking it will get better, only to realize months, or even years later, that we still need something, and we still haven’t found it. That something, I believe, is restoration.

Like those in the first portion of Mark 2, and throughout the Bible, we have physical needs and emotional needs. But most of all we have spiritual needs. But we tend to brush aside our spiritual needs because of the demands of the day. Then, in some obscure moment, perhaps we encounter Jesus in some way. At that moment He offers us an unexpected healing – like He did with the paralytic – and we look at Him and say, “That’s not what I really expected. And I am not sure it is needed.” But He looks back and says, “That’s exactly what is needed. You just can’t see it yet.”

Jesus did eventually (moments later) heal the paralytic physically, but Jesus offered something greater, something deeper than anyone expected – forgiveness. Jesus offered a healing that was beyond recognition, but that was more crucial than the man, his friends, or those around could comprehend in that moment.

Amazingly, Jesus offers the same kind of healing to you and I. He offers more than what we ask, yet we refuse to take what He has offered. However, we are to ask (Matthew 7.7), and we are to do so with faith (James 1.5-8, particularly related to wisdom). However, in our anticipation, and even expectation, of His response we must be ready for Him to offer something different. Something that He knows we need, even if we can’t see the need for ourselves.

As for me? I have the spiritual healing necessary to stand before Him one day, but I still need restoration. I still need for Him to find me, to call me, to heal me, especially in those times when I don’t think I have time for Him. I need Him to rescue me from my own ambitions and my own schedule no matter how much I feel they might be serving my wife, my family, my church, or most importantly Him. It is not my thoughts and feelings that matter. It is His. He is the one that must say, “Well done good and faithful servant.” I cannot say those words to myself with any sense of meaning.

But to serve, and to have the strength to do so, I need restoration. I need Him to help me see more clearly the path that I am running and how to run it better. I need Him to provide the direction just as He has already defined my purpose. Yes, I need restoration. I am in search of restoration. And I will find it not be seeking my perceived need (rest), but by seeking Him, that is, Jesus, instead.

My encouragement is found in Jesus. I encourage you to seek your restoration in Him as well. (See Matthew 11.28-30; James 4.7.)