TLP Living: July 16, 2018

A Little Reflection

It’s Monday again; what better day for a little reflection?

Has God been filling your life with blessings?  Has He given you peace in a tough situation?

Well, you see what I mean by reflection…

We spend so much time and energy running ourselves ragged these days, and so much of our lives just rushes by in a sort of blur; so it’s time to seize the moment.  Let’s give thanks to God for all He is doing in our lives, let’s thank Him for all of the ways He’s blessed us.  Let’s recall the great things He has done, like sending His Son to die for our sins.  Let’s take a minute to give Him the praise that is His due for all He is doing in His Body, the Church.  Let’s praise Him for all of those who have come to know Him recently, and for those who continue to grow in their faith, stepping up to lead His people forward to accomplish His purpose.

Let’s take another minute or two to ask Him for the gospel to continue to move forward, that hearts and minds everywhere would be changed, that lives would be given over to Him.

Most of all, let’s take a few moments to sit by His side and ask Him to give us continued strength to go forward in our walk with Him.  Let’s be refreshed in His presence and be renewed in His love.

Hey!  I’m thinking this is going to be an awesome Monday!

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TLP Inspiration: July 16, 2018

A Man About Town

Good Monday from the Heartland.

What exactly is “a man about town?”

I’m not quite sure but I think he’s kind of a cool guy…

There are a lot of ways to describe the attributes of a “cool guy” I suppose, and they would surely start with one’s own idea of what “cool” is.  Of course, this takes us back to the original idea for this blog: “references”

Our individual frames of reference will determine for us what is “cool.”  If our past experiences tell us that dressing well is a really good thing, then we might say that a guy who dresses well is “cool.” If a cocky attitude and under-spoken confidence are good, then a guy who dresses well, is a bit cocky and who has a sense of under-spoken confidence might be a “man about town.”

If we took a view like this, we would be taking a view that is directed by our culture.

Let’s try a view formed by frames of reference other than those provided by our culture… just for fun.

What attributes might a godly man or woman possess?  Humility, faith, kindness and consideration for others might fit the bill.  As you might imagine, a person who has godly attributes may not exactly have the same attributes as our culture would dictate, but then if we were to add things like dressing well and a quiet confidence we might find that we are describing a person who is godly… and who has an appeal to people in our culture who are not yet Christians.  Why, it might just be that we have stumbled upon someone who might have a little bit of influence with those outside of Christ.

Now let’s just try to imagine one more step.  If by exchanging our old frames of reference with some new ones that come from Scripture and then adding a little bit of class to our walk around town we can develop some influence, isn’t it more likely that we might be able to reach more people for Christ?  Now before you accuse me of advocating being a phony, please consider that what I’m suggesting here is simply that we behave well.  Behaving well is an admirable quality that is not fake, but rather encouraged by Scripture.  As Ambassadors for Christ, we each are His representatives in this world and maybe  we can do a better job of acting like it.

Maybe all of us should become a man or woman about town.

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Sunday Sermon Notes: July 15, 2018

Title: Sabbath, Controversy and More Followers

Text: Mark 3:1-20

Mark 3:1-6

Parallel Texts: Matthew 12:9-14; Luke 6:6-11

After the scene in the last section where Jesus announces that He is the Lord of the Sabbath, Mark recounts another Sabbath scene, this time in a synagogue, where Jesus heals a man with an injured hand. It seems that there were some present who were interested in causing problems, and Jesus, no doubt being aware of this, asked the injured man to step forward:

Then Jesus asked them, “Which is lawful on the Sabbath: to do good or to do evil, to save life or to kill?” But they remained silent.

Mark 3:4

I’m guessing they also remained hopeful…

Jesus healed the man.  Mark tells us in verse 5 that Jesus was angry and distressed at the hard hearts of those who sought an excuse to act against Him… and afterwards, they began to plot to kill Him. Mark tells us that the group consisted of Pharisees and Herodians, who were of the party of Herod, the Vassal king of Judea, son of the guy who slaughtered the infants in Bethlehem.

Mark 3:7-12

Parallel Text: Matthew 12:13-21

With the plot to kill Him underway, Jesus and His disciples go to the Sea of Galilee, followed by ever-growing crowds of people. Many, maybe hundreds pushed to be close to Him, hoping to be healed, and security became an issue with the pressing of bodies and precautions had to be taken, so great was the rush of the crowds.

People possessed by impure spirits became a problem, as the spirits within them cried out that He was the Son of God, and Jesus silenced them. Can it be any wonder that both the Pharisees and Herodians wanted Jesus out of the way? Neither Herod nor his partisans wanted him deposed and replaced by a legitimate king. The Pharisees, pose another interesting question for us to consider.

It has long been my view, that the Pharisees, of all people should have known exactly who and what they were dealing with in Jesus of Nazareth. As I’ve mentioned before, they knew the prophecies and they knew the timing; they saw the prophecies playing out with Jesus, and though it may sound odd to point this out, they not only had the testimony of John, but that of the impure spirits regarding His identity.

It seems apparent to me, however, that they did not see the Messiah they wanted in Jesus, for they could care less about redemption, they wanted power. Jesus was not the king who would defeat the Romans and rule a powerful and influential Israel with the Pharisees being the center of Jewish life. No sir, they saw a Kingdom that was not an earthly one developing before them, one that would undermine their position instead of strengthening it, so it had to be stopped at all costs.

We all might be well advised to carefully consider what lessons God has for us today in all of this…

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Nakedness, Tough Guys and False Expectations

The tough guys never bothered me in Junior High School; that is something you should understand right from the first. Yet even though they didn’t bother me, they bothered everyone else, unless you were one of my friends. I was what one of my teachers called “an early bloomer” which I took to be a reference to the fact that when I was 12 years old, I was six feet tall and under my mother’s strict orders to shave every day.

That particular year was the year that my classmates and I went from Elementary School to Junior High School, and we had been told by everyone that bad things happen in Junior High School. In Junior High School, you went from being the oldest in the school to the youngest, and the oldest in the school, the ninth-graders loved to pick on the seventh-graders. We would be bullied, badgered, thrown into trash cans and beat up periodically, and the girls would laugh at us. We would be required to take PE (physical education) and in PE everybody was required to shower together before you could leave. Oh yes, and all of the classes would be harder and move faster, and you might not be smart enough to make it through.

Yet these are the horror stories we heard from teachers; the ones we heard from older kids were truly terrifying. If the truth were to be told, I wasn’t all that concerned about the ninth-graders; I knew that I was bigger and stronger than most (all as it turned out) and that I was an excellent athlete, so I figured I could probably handle any eventuality in dealing with the tough guys. I wasn’t worried about the classes being harder; after all I was often teased for being a “brainiac”. Being laughed at by girls was something I was used to… except in dodgeball where they begged for mercy, which was almost always granted. The only thing that really concerned me about going to Junior High School was the showering part; that would be very awkward for me.

The funny thing about that is that I used to skinny dip with my friends quite often in our old neighborhood, but two years previously we had moved to a new neighborhood, to a house that had no pool, on a street that had no kids my age. This was a new development in that I was, at the time, isolated to a certain extent; I had to ride a bus to school, and I had no friends near my house, so no skinny dipping for over two years now. Yet the real problem was that everything about me had changed since then, and while I would never had admitted it at the time, I felt like something of a freak. I wondered if I was the only one. Some of my classmates’ voices were beginning to change, but I had finished with all of that over a year ago, and none of my friends were even thinking about shaving… was I going to have to beat people up in the showers for making smart remarks about… changes? Talk about awkward!

Let’s remember friends that these are the thoughts and insecurities of a 13-year-old…

As it turned out, when school started that September, I was right about some things, and wrong about others: I was right about the ninth-graders; not one of them ever gave me any trouble, and I actually became quite accepted in their midst. I was right about the classes; easy peasy. I was also right about the tough guys in general; no problems with them. In fact, they ended up being quite friendly. The girls still laughed, and since there was no dodgeball after Elementary School, I had no way to keep it under control, so I had to endure their peculiar form of torment and torture. My mother told that they did it because they liked me, and that’s when I knew that she had lost all semblance of rational thought.

The showering part however, I was completely wrong about. On the very first day, I noticed something very interesting: There were no tough guys in the showers. They might have been what toady is called “bullies” before the shower, and after the shower, but never in the shower, for in the shower they didn’t have their tough guy pants, and their tough guy boots and shirts; no, there they were just like everyone else. Oh yes, it turned out that I wasn’t that much of a freak after all, I was just the tallest. What had seemed so uncomfortable, so awkward, was not nearly as scary as I had thought it would be.

Junior High School was a cakewalk.

The more I think about it, the more I must conclude that nakedness is the most brilliant metaphor of all time, for it so richly illustrates what we go through in building relationships; with friends and co-workers, family, spouses and most of all with God Himself. More to the point, it illustrates the process of growing in community with other believers.

I fully realize that like moving on to Junior High School, this seems difficult, but also like Junior High School, it isn’t as difficult as we might expect. Oh, I know that there are church communities in which many are waiting for the chance to point fingers of accusation at others, as they hide behind their attractive masks of phony righteousness; I’ve had plenty of people tell me that they find themselves in such a location. Each time I hear such things I can’t help but wonder why they would remain there, if it is all that bad.

Of course, if we are in the habit of being naked before God, being naked before God in community really isn’t as much of a challenge as it might sound when you really think about it, for deep down, I think we all know that even though new things can be awkward, they really aren’t as tough as they might sound at first.

Next time, I’ll continue along this line of thinking; see you then!

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Hosea Continues the Pattern

We’ve seen Hosea’s pattern: Israel slips more and more into sin and away from God, then into idolatry. After that sin multiples dramatically. God sees all of this and sends messengers of warning to the people, who scoff at them; they aren’t all that interested in returning to God. Then God tells them that He will execute judgment against them and shows us that the reason for the judgment is to bring the people back into relationship with Him so that they may be saved from their own wickedness, ending up with a message that points us to Christ Himself.

In our brief study thus far, we’ve seen the pattern more than once already.

A few people have asked me why I don’t write about the books of prophecy more often, and this is why− they tend to repeat, and I find myself having to repeat the same things over and over each time. Of course, I could always approach them differently. I could forget about context and try to force them into thrilling end of the world narratives, you know, make a good story out them. While that would probably make for more entertaining reading, it would be at best, unethical, and at worst, a sin against God to do so knowingly.

Hosea continued through the end of chapter 7 with his pattern, and then began again in chapter 8 and went through chapter 13, this time in some extra detail, yet the same message: Israel has run out of time, it is going to face Judgment very shortly, and it may interest you to know that the Assyrian campaign actually began while Hosea was still writing.

Yet not every last person there was unfaithful, there were still a few who, like Hosea, remained true to their God. I can’t help but wonder if those last few were the ones to whom chapter 14 was written, for it contains a final appeal for repentance, confession and trust in God’s mercy. In our next and final edition of our Hosea study, let’s take a look at the ending of the book, and see how this message of hope was delivered. See you then.

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Naked Before God: In Community

Up to this point we have been discussing being naked before God in our own personal worship, individually; just God and you. This can and should be a wonderful time, regularly observed. Yet it is not the end of matter by a long stretch; rather, it is the beginning. God made humanity for community, and His purpose and will is that this community would be in fellowship with Him, thus becoming His very expression of who and what He is; we saw quite clearly in our examination of His image a couple of years ago, that this was His intention from the very beginning.

For most of us however, it is one thing to be naked before God in privacy and safety, but it is quite another thing to be naked before one another in any sense of the term. Certainly, in the literal physical sense of the term, the notion of baring all in front of others is simply outside the scope of what is even thinkable or acceptable for most people, and you will no doubt be relieved to learn that I have no intention of going there, for that is entirely too simplistic and hardly scratches the surface.  You see, this isn’t a matter of simply baring body; it’s a matter of baring soul, of being real, genuine and letting people see who we really are. It is about trusting, caring and loving others in a way that allows us to put their interests ahead of our own, not just in word, but in deed.

We could say that in this whole discussion, that “naked” actually means “relationship”, and that would be a very wise and insightful observation, for that is what it really comes down to. Yet it isn’t just relationship, it goes deeper, to the quality of the relationship. Recall that for us to be naked before God means that our relationships with Him are intimate, open, no holds barred, with everything out in the open. There is no holding back, no attempts to deceive and no barriers of any kind. To be naked before God in community with other believers is that there is the same level of openness between us and the others as there is between us and God, and obviously, such a human community requires that there be many who have matured enough in their relationships with God to be able to handle this level of intimacy with other people.

This dear reader is what it means to make disciples; it begins with godly love.

Far too many Christians are under the mistaken impression that making disciples is little more than making “converts”, but nothing could be further from the truth. Making disciples is really the ultimate act of love in action wherein we lovingly guide another into the kind of maturity that will enable them to become makers of disciples themselves. One who “makes” disciples is a mentor, a teacher, a trainer, and most of all, an example. He or she is one who can share the love of God and love of others in a way that brings their younger brother or sister into a deeper relationship with Jesus Christ. That person is one who loves, shares and leads others, he or she is one who lets their guard down, who respects, who trusts, who sets ego aside for the benefit of others and who lives in such a level of transparency before both Man and God, that they inspire the legitimate trust of others; they are naked before God and in community with others.

To be honest with you, most of us haven’t quite attained the ideal we’ve been talking about here. Most of our churches are not doing as well as we’d like, many are shrinking, others may even be on life support. Many people have left “church” behind and are happy to share a litany of complaints about churches they used to attend. We can come up with a long list of possible causes for this sort of thing, yet most of our lists, while accurate, don’t really tell the story. They will speak of over reliance on traditions, forms and details, but these are only the symptoms; the causes of the problems run much deeper than that. If I might be so bold, the biggest problem in American (and I suspect other) churches today is that there are not enough people who are really naked before God, needless to say, there are even fewer who are “naked” in community. I’m not sure about you, but I think this is worth getting into next time.

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Judgment is at Hand

Hosea 5

“Hear this, you priests!
Pay attention, you Israelites!
Listen, royal house!
This judgment is against you:
You have been a snare at Mizpah,
a net spread out on Tabor.
The rebels are knee-deep in slaughter.
I will discipline all of them.
I know all about Ephraim;
Israel is not hidden from me.
Ephraim, you have now turned to prostitution;
Israel is corrupt. (5:1-3)

God’s indictment of Israel is found in chapter 4, and His judgment is pronounced beginning in chapter 5. Notice that it begins with God judging the leaders of the people, for He is holding them responsible for leading the people into their state of general rebellion against Him. As we saw in the last chapter, there was violence abroad in the land, along with every sort of corruption both in the halls of power and in the lives of the people themselves: They have turned to idolatry, and away from God and His ways.

If you notice verse 3 there are two Hebrew parallelisms:

I know all about Ephraim;
Israel is not hidden from me.
Ephraim, you have now turned to prostitution;
Israel is corrupt.

You may recall other times when I have pointed this out− the two statements separated in English by a semicolon. Each side is parallel to the other, meaning that they mean the same thing. When you put it all together, it is clear that Israel is not hiding anything from God; He knows all of their secrets and has seen that Israel is utterly and completely corrupt.

As we continue on through verse 14 God makes it abundantly clear that He will act against them, for they are so utterly corrupted in their hearts that they will never turn back to Him in repentance unless He takes drastic action to get their attention: They will pay a heavy price for what they have done. That’s when we arrive at verse 15:

Then I will return to my lair
until they have borne their guilt
and seek my face—
in their misery
they will earnestly seek me.

The action that God will shortly take against Israel, and Judah also it would seem, is to get their attention, to break their habit of corruption and debauchery so that they, in their despair, will turn back to Him. Contrary to what many think, and others have even taught, God isn’t just getting even with them, He isn’t acting out of spite or just being nasty; He has a plan to actually save them as a people.

Sadly, I can’t tell you how many times I have heard people talk about God in the Old Testament as though He were some kind of a monster, just sitting around waiting for a chance to smite somebody, hoping that someone would mess up so that He could smash them. Yet as we have seen, and will continue to see, God was never like that. Instead He has been amazingly patient with the people, warning them, instructing them, working with them, forgiving them… and yet every time the people might repent for a while and then they would return to evil, getting worse and worse as they went until a time came when God recognized that if they didn’t get hurt, they would never stop.

15 years ago, I had 4 teenagers in the house. They were all good kids, but like all of us at that age, they thought that they pretty much had a handle on things, they wanted to try new things and were at a point in life where they had become, well let’s just say, a bit overconfident about their experience and knowledge of life in general. As a parent, I could see trouble ahead, and I warned, instructed and tried to protect them as much as possible, yet the day came when I knew that I would have to take a step back from time-to-time and let them learn certain lessons the hard way. I can only speak for myself of course, but for me, that was the most difficult part of parenting by far, because I knew that they would get hurt in the process, but such is the arrogance of youth that they actually thought they knew more about life than their parents. At one point I had a 15-year-old actually tell me that I didn’t know anything about how the world works!

What can you say to that kind of logic?

I managed not to laugh; that was a good first step I thought. I wanted to save her from herself, but I had to admit that there was only one way she was going to learn and as hard as it was to do, I let her get burned…

As I read these passages, I simply can’t help recalling these episodes from the past… and thinking to myself that being God can’t be as easy as it might seem at first.

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