Set Apart

You adulterous people, don’t you know that friendship with the world is hatred toward God? Anyone who chooses to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God. Or do you think Scripture says without reason that the spirit he caused to live in us envies intensely? But he gives us more grace. James 4: 4 – 6

John the Baptist would never get hired today. No church would touch him. He was a public relations disaster. He “wore clothes made from camel’s hair, had a leather belt around his waist, and ate locusts and wild honey” (Mark 1:6). Who would want to look at a guy like that every Sunday?
His message was as rough as his dress: a no-nonsense, bare-fisted challenge to repent and be baptized because God was on his way.
John the Baptist set himself apart for one task, to be a voice of Christ. Everything about John centered on his purpose. His dress. His diet. His actions. His demands.
You don’t have to be like the world to have an impact on the world. You don’t have to be like the crowd to change the crowd. You don’t have to lower yourself down to their level to lift them up to your level. Holiness doesn’t seek to be odd. Holiness seeks to be like God.

In a 1987 commencement address at Duke University, Ted Koppel, the news anchor for ABC’s Nightline said, “We have reconstructed the Tower of Babel and it is a television antenna, a thousand voices producing a daily parody of democracy in which everyone’s opinion is afforded equal weight regardless of substance or merit. Indeed, it can even be argued that opinions of real weight tend to sink with barely a trace in television’s ocean of banalities.”

The Branch and the Vine

Remain in me, and I will remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. John 15: 4 – 5

God wants to be as close to us as a branch is to a vine. One is an extension of the other. It’s impossible to tell where one starts and the other ends. The branch isn’t connected only at the moment of bearing fruit. The gardener doesn’t keep the branches in a box and then, on the day he wants grapes, glue them to the vine. No, the branch constantly draws nutrition from the vine. . . .

God also uses the temple to depict the intimacy he desires. “Do you not know,” Paul writes, “that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God?” (1 Cor. 6:19) Think with me about the temple for a moment. . . . God didn’t come and go, appear and disappear. He was and is a permanent presence, always available.

What incredibly good news for us! We are NEVER away from God!

Getting Our Attention

“Even now,” declares the Lord, “return to me with all your heart, with fasting and weeping and mourning.” Rend your heart and not your garments. Return to the Lord your God, for he is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in love, and he relents from sending calamity. Who knows? He may turn and have pity and leave behind a blessing. Joel 2: 12 – 14

How far do you want God to go in getting your attention? If God has to choose between your eternal safety and your earthly comfort, which do you hope he chooses?
What if he moved you to another land? (As he did Abraham.) What if he called you out of retirement? (Remember Moses?) How about the voice of an angel or the bowel of a fish? (A la Gideon and Jonah.) How about a promotion like Daniel’s or a demotion like Samson’s?
God does what it takes to get our attention. Isn’t that the message of the Bible? The relentless pursuit of God. God on the hunt. God in the search. Peeking under the bed for hiding kids, stirring the bushes for lost sheep.

( From ‘A Gentle Thunder’ by Max Lucado )

Has God been allowing America to get a wake-up call? Has he gotten our attention? Has he gotten your attention?

Behold the Lamb!

The next day John was there again with two of his disciples. When he saw Jesus passing by, he said, “Look, the Lamb of God!” John 1: 35 – 36

John the Baptist stood at the turn of the ages. So it is not surprising that he would say something that forces us to look both backward, into the remote past, and forward to the climax of history. In calling Jesus the “Lamb of God” he did both these things. For that title, more than any other, evokes the primordial memory of Abraham’s obedience, of the sacrifices of Moses and of the coming renewal of the whole world. Abraham, commanded to offer his “only son” Isaac in sacrifice, obeyed God with the confidence that “God himself” would provide the true Sacrifice. Isaac was spared by God but Abraham’s faith was rewarded when God himself did what he had asked of Abraham: he offered his only Son. Likewise, Moses was commanded to offer a spotless lamb in sacrifice for Passover. Christ, our true Passover, offered himself as both priest and victim. And now at each Sunday service, the Church celebrates, as we worship the Lamb of God in union with all the citizens of heaven in the book of Revelation who sing forever, “Worthy is the Lamb that was slain!” Today take some time to behold the Lamb of God, present with us in holy communion, which is our participation in the Marriage Feast of the Lamb.

The Full Armor

Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. Eph. 6: 13

The devil, being fundamentally uncreative, can make nothing. He can only exploit weaknesses. His first strategy is to look for where we may be hurt or blinded, and hit us there as hard as he can. If we are well defended, his next strategy is to sucker us into emphasizing some things at the expense of others.
And so, he goads us to emphasize truth over love or love over truth, faith over obedience, or truth over hope or some other imbalance. The goal here is to get us to neglect some piece of our armor. We may have the breastplate of righteousness in place, but not the belt of truth around our waist; or holding the shield of faith, but not the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. If he can snooker us into taking less than the whole armor of God, he’s got us where he wants us.

Today, take the whole armor that God wants to give you, not just the bits you prefer. He will protect you from the wiles of the enemy.

The Lord’s Prayer

This, then, is how you should pray: ‘Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Give us today our daily bread. Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one. Matthew 6: 9 – 13

One of the things we seldom notice is the way in which Jesus structured the Lord’s Prayer. The purpose of the prayer is to teach as well as to give us a vehicle for asking for things and speaking our minds. And notably, the Prayer gives a distinct back seat to all the petitionary clauses that we are usually so eager to start our prayer life.
Long before we ever get to “Give us today our daily bread” or “Deliver us from the evil one”, we are urged to take a good long look at God for who He is, rather than to start with what we think and say and need. When we do that, we find Our Father is hallowed. He is more important than anything else.
It is His kingdom, not our wish list, which matters. It is His will that must be done, not ours. And so, in learning the Lord’s Prayer, we learn the right order of things and are taught a bit about how not to be fools.
Today, as you pray, put God first. Praise Him, ask for His will to be done and seek His face. There’s plenty of time for our petitions, understanding and opinions. But they aren’t the most important things. He is.

See With Divine Eyes!

I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” Revelation 21: 3 – 4

When Jesus stood in front of people and spoke, the only thing some people could see was a somewhat scruffy manual laborer with a bit of Galilean twang in his speech. He ate, drank, slept, and washed just like the rest of us. He was, to say the least, ordinary.

When Peter looked, and then looked again, and kept looking more deeply, he saw inside and through that ordinariness, “the Christ, the Son of the living God” (Matthew 16:16). Peter received divine insight from the Father himself and realized that, standing in front of him, against all likelihood or hope, was the very power that hurled the Andromeda galaxy, led Israel from bondage, and created all that is seen and unseen.

It is with that same divine dual vision that John sees the church in today’s verse. Where you and I might see double-chins, a squabbling leadership, a minister with lousy taste in music, or a bad youth program, John reminds us to look again, keep looking more deeply and recognize what the truth is: here is the bride of Christ, adorned for her husband.

And there, on that ordinary altar at that ordinary Sunday morning worship, is the divine Lamb of God, offering himself in the Marriage Feast of the Lamb and dwelling with us. Already, death has been defeated. It’s been dead for 2,000 years. Already, the worst thing that can ever happen has happened. Already, Christ has turned it into the best thing that will ever be. Behind the thin veil of the ordinary, the awesome divine fire of the Trinity is burning at the heart of the church, right there on that altar.

Today, see the Church with John’s vision and rejoice, for the former things have passed away!

As someone who is guilty, at times, of not being completely focused on what others are saying, I can relate to the frustration of a flight attendant caused by people like me. Annoyed by passenger inattentiveness during her what-to-do-in-an-emergency talk, she changed the wording. This is what she actually said: “When the mask drops down in front of you, place it over your navel and continue to breathe normally.” Not a single passenger noticed.

Still, that’s not as bad as this story from the days of FDR. President: “Franklin D. Roosevelt got tired of smiling that big smile and saying the usual things at all those White House receptions. So, one evening he decided to find out whether anybody was paying attention to what he was saying. As each person came up to him with extended hand, he flashed that big smile and said; ‘I murdered my grandmother this morning.’ People would automatically respond with comments such as ‘How lovely!’ or ‘Just continue with your great work!’ Nobody listened to what he was saying, except one foreign diplomat. When the president said, ‘I murdered my grandmother this morning,’ the diplomat responded softly, ‘I’m sure she had it coming to her.’”

One might think that everyone would be listening closely to what the President of the United States would be saying. He’s mighty important! But there’s certainly no comparison to the importance that we should be placing on the very words of God Almighty. In speaking of the Lord’s message of salvation, the writer of Hebrews 2:1 tells us, “We must pay the most careful attention, therefore, to what we have heard, so that we do not drift away.” Without question, this command ultimately applies to all of God’s Word.

But there are many in danger of not listening closely to it, especially over time. Even scriptural truth we have held to in the past may be up for debate with some as they allow their opinions to be influenced by the world around them. Or with others, they may “drift away” in their relationship with the Lord because they choose to ignore the principles they once followed as it’s not convenient with the life they’re wanting to live or they somehow think, “That doesn’t apply to me.” For yet others, they’re lack of attentiveness to God’s Word corresponds directly to a lack of time spent with God’s people, the Church.

Regardless of what may have caused this communication breakdown, we need to truly open our ears, set aside what we prematurely think scripture is saying and then really let God’s message soak into our minds and hearts. Paying close attention is a must. What’s at stake is even more important than FDR’s dead grandma.

In His Service,
Jim

To Suffer and Die With Him!

He (Jesus) said to them: “It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” Acts 1: 7 – 8

On April 27, 1999, sixteen-year-old Cassie Bernall was reading her Bible in the library at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado. It had been two years since she had given her life completely to Jesus Christ. Her fellow students knew well how Christ had changed her life, but on this day the whole world would know. Young Cassie was asked at gunpoint by a confused and angry classmate, “Do you believe in God?” She answered, “Yes, I believe.” And then she was murdered. At baptism we received the Holy Spirit, who empowers us to be witnesses. Our earthly life may not end like Cassie’s, but as witnesses of Jesus Christ we should make sure that everything we say and do today cries out, “Yes, I believe.” Today, we would like to share with you a poem Cassie wrote before she was martyred.

“Now I have given up on everything else
I have found it to be the only way
To really know Christ and to experience
The mighty power that brought
Him back to life again,
and to find out what it means
to suffer and to die with Him.
So, whatever it takes
I will be one who lives in the fresh
Newness of life of those who are
Alive from the dead.”

Behold the Lamb!

The next day John was there again with two of his disciples. When he saw Jesus passing by, he said, “Look, the Lamb of God!” John 1: 35 – 36

John the Baptist stood at the turn of the ages. So it is not surprising that he would say something that forces us to look both backward, into the remote past, and forward to the climax of history. In calling Jesus the “Lamb of God” he did both these things. For that title, more than any other, evokes the primordial memory of Abraham’s obedience, of the sacrifices of Moses and of the coming renewal of the whole world. Abraham, commanded to offer his “only son” Isaac in sacrifice, obeyed God with the confidence that “God himself” would provide the true Sacrifice. Isaac was spared by God but Abraham’s faith was rewarded when God himself did what he had asked of Abraham: he offered his only Son. Likewise, Moses was commanded to offer a spotless lamb in sacrifice for Passover. Christ, our true Passover, offered himself as both priest and victim. And now at each Sunday service, the Church celebrates, as we worship the Lamb of God in union with all the citizens of heaven in the book of Revelation who sing forever, “Worthy is the Lamb that was slain!” Today take some time to behold the Lamb of God, present with us in holy communion, which is our participation in the Marriage Feast of the Lamb.