Thursday, March 8, 2012

Bring them to Me!

I was just reading about "The Feeding of the Five Thousand", a story I remember not liking as a kid.  I think I did not know how the appreciate the subtleties in it.  To set the stage, John the Baptist, Jesus's cousin and the only family member of His generation who believed in Him, has just been beheaded by King Herod.  Jesus hears the news and takes a boat to the other side of the Lake, to a "deserted place".  Apparently Jesus wants some alone time.  He is dealing with the emotions of the death of his close friend!  Pause.  The God of the Universe, YHWH, who knows all about eternity, is so much a man of flesh and bone that the death of his close relative grieves Him.  His answer to that grief: solitude, time with His Heavenly Father in prayer.

He must have had some time to be alone, because Matthew 14:13 says that the crowds followed Him on foot. They seem to have gathered around the general area where Jesus was praying and when Jesus is done He "comes out" (maybe a cave, maybe a secluded place on the mountain, maybe just stepping around a corner) and sees the multitude.  And what is written next just grips my heart:  Jesus was moved with compassion for them and healed their sick.  Wow!  In the middle of His grief He has found a way to still minister and give of Himself.  Of course, He's spent time in prayer - and that's the key!  Without that time of solitude and deep fellowship with His Father I doubt ministry on the scale of this multitude would have been possible.  It is important to realize that Jesus ministers out of the overflow of His time with YHWH, not because He's avoiding the pain!  He models this to us: deal with your pain in the Secret Place of the Most High God, only then can you move past your own pain and minister to others.  Don't allow ministry to be the escape from pain!

Jesus heals their sick all day long.  In the evening his disciples come to him.  They are probably hungry and tired and feel it's necessary to tell Jesus that it's dinner time.  Apparently they did not prepare for a long day in a secluded place, for they had not brought any food.  I'm not sure what sending the crowds away would have done for them other than avoiding a riot.  Jesus simply tells them, "You feed them."  What?  Was Jesus so distracted by His ministry that He did not know the disciples had no food, and certainly not enough for such a crowd?  I'm sure that's what went through the disciples' minds.  They were looking at each other in amazement, shrugging and asking, "What did He say?  Did I hear Him right?  He wants us to feed them?  Surely He said something else and I misunderstood him.  What did He say?"
Jesus knew.
Jesus knew what the disciples did not know.
This is how I imagine it might have gone:
"You feed them."
      "I'm sorry Jesus... after you told us to feed them we had a look around.  We didn't bring any food, you know, because you didn't mention anything about staying out past dinner.  We thought we'd be back in town by now and, yeah, so we don't have anything ourselves.  And so we looked around and found this kid who's mom packed him a lunch.  But we can't take a kid's dinner, Jesus.  Bad publicity.  So, we're back to square one.  So, say again, what do you want us to do?"
"You feed them."
      The disciples stare at Jesus, probably trying to process what He just said.
     "You misunderstood me, Jesus.  We have nothing to give them!"
I think this is what Jesus wanted them to get.  We have nothing to give them.  It matters not how talented we are, how often we've read the Bible, how eloquent or funny our sermons or teachings, how passionate our appeal... WE HAVE NOTHING TO GIVE THEM!!!

The answer was so simple:
"Bring them here to Me."

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Does He Know Me?

Speaking of Rocky Terrain... Here are some verses that I think all of us would prefer to ignore rather than wrestle with:  

Matthew 7:15-23
15 “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravenous wolves. 16 You will know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes from thornbushes or figs from thistles? 17 Even so, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. 18 A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a bad tree bear good fruit. 19 Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. 20 Therefore by their fruits you will know them.21 “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven. 22 Many will say to Me in that day, ‘Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name?’23 And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!’

Wow and Ouch!  These are people IN THE CHURCH!  These are people who think they are serving Christ, but, in fact, they are serving lawlessness.  The Spirit of Lawlessness (see Thessalonians) is a spirit that moves boundary markers.  God takes the moving of boundary stones in the OT very seriously.
  1. Deuteronomy 19:14
    “You must not move your neighbor’s boundary marker, established at the start in the inheritance you will receive in the land the LORD your God is giving you to possess.
  2. Deuteronomy 27:17
    ‘The one who moves his neighbor’s boundary marker is cursed.’ And all the people will say, ‘Amen!’
Curses were also not taken lightly.  A person cursed was outside of all the covenant blessings of YHWH.  Going back up to Matthew, the covenant blessing we have through Jesus is everlasting life in the Kingdom of God (among other things).  So, workers of lawlessness are movers of boundary markers and thereby they are cursed.

How are they movers of boundary markers?  Well, it's easy to see how those who preach licentiousness (a disregard for strict rules or moral correctness) would fall under boundary movers; but consider those who, like the Pharisees and the Scribes, made the boundaries tighter, so as never to come close to God's boundary and thereby not overstepping it.  Apart from the fact that that is fear motivated, they are still moving boundaries and teaching those false boundaries to others.  Both types elevate the boundary mover above the boundary maker.  God calls both types "lawlessness". 

Now, back up to Matthew: these are people in the church!  How uncomfortable is that?  To me: very.

A few days later (yesterday actually) I read the following parable in Matthew 13 and the same thing hits me:

24 Another parable He put forth to them, saying: “The kingdom of heaven is like a man who sowed good seed in his field; 25 but while men slept, his enemy came and sowed tares among the wheat and went his way. 26 But when the grain had sprouted and produced a crop, then the tares also appeared. 27 So the servants of the owner came and said to him, ‘Sir, did you not sow good seed in your field? How then does it have tares?’ 28 He said to them, ‘An enemy has done this.’ The servants said to him, ‘Do you want us then to go and gather them up?’ 29 But he said, ‘No, lest while you gather up the tares you also uproot the wheat with them. 30 Let both grow together until the harvest, and at the time of harvest I will say to the reapers, “First gather together the tares and bind them in bundles to burn them, but gather the wheat into my barn.”’”

You can find Jesus's interpretation of this parable in vv.36-43.  

What strikes me is these tares are in the Kingdom.  They are not outside the Kingdom.  They are not the "Lost", the ones who reject Jesus!  These are ones that are growing up in the church.  And while they are yet young they even look like the good seed.  Not until they mature does their true identity become evident.  

So how can we know them and how can we make sure we are not one of them?

A huge clue Jesus gives us (Mt.7:16) is studying the fruit of those we listen to.  A good tree will bear good fruit, likewise a bad tree will bear bad fruit.  The fruit of the Spirit is what we are looking for.  Is the tree patient and kind toward the people around them or are they demanding and harsh, condescending or rude?  Does the "tree" lay down their life for others or demand the lives of others?  Is it joyful, peaceful, loving, patient, kind, full of faith, goodness, gentleness and self-control?  By the fruit we shall know them.  And by the fruit they shall know us!

How do we make sure we are a tree that bears good fruit, one whom the LORD knows?  By spending time with  Him?  Ever notice how best friends share mannerisms, phrases and sometimes even grow to look more alike?  They spend time with each other!  The more time spent with a person, the more we become like them.  That is why hanging with the bad crowd is such a trap.  We might think we'll be an example to them and make them see Jesus in us, but the more time we spend with them, the more like them we become.  Who are we spending time with?  If I want to be more like Jesus, I must must must spend more time with Him.

Hosea 6:3 puts it this way:

"Let us know; 
Let us pursue the knowledge of the LORD."

The word "know" is Strong's #3044 "yaddah" and means to ascertain by seeing. The word "pursue" is Strong's #7290 and means to pursue, chase, persecute, hunt.  So this reads "Let us know the LORD by gazing upon Him.  Let us seek out by hunting down the knowledge of the LORD."  This is what pressing in means.  This is what a God-Chaser does.

Those of us who are only along for the ride but don't seek the Lord may find themselves looking at Him saying, "but we did all these things in your name..." and He won't know them.  I guess saying the prayer of salvation without getting to know Jesus is like the Word falling on stony soil: it withers before it can go deep and change a life. What is it they say, "Going to church does not make you a Christian any more than sitting in a garage makes you a car."  That goes for our Charismatic and non-denominational churches too.

The questions I'm asking myself are: 

1. Am I willing to gaze at Jesus and chase down the knowledge of God?

2. Am I willing to grow the fruit that will mark me as His tree?

Lord, let you grace be sufficient for me today.  Be the strong one in my weakness.  I am willing.

I'd like to add this thought: the reapers are the angels (according to Jesus's own words).  It is NOT OUR JOB to start a witch hunt and find all the tears to get rid of them!  Let us simply be wise in whom we follow, who disciples us, and let us, above all else, press in after Jesus, so that we look more like Him.  

And this thought: Our salvation is solely dependent upon believing with our heart and confessing with our mouth that Jesus is LORD.  However, that must be a daily thing.  We really have one choice every day: His way or our way.  Is He Lord or am i lord?  Do I continually believe and confess that Jesus is Lord or have I essentially turned my back on that a long time ago?  We do not work our way into heaven, but apparently we can say the right things and still not be known.  Jesus says "by the fruit we shall know".