Wednesday, April 25, 2012

What do you see when you look at another person?

A few days ago I wrote about the very difficult exchange Jesus and his disciples had with the Gentile woman of Matthew 15: 21-28.

On the surface, the way Jesus responded, or at times, did not respond to the woman's plea for help, is an example of how not to show Christian compassion.But this is not the point of the story.

The woman was told two things:
1. The ministry of Jesus had a Jewish focus and would not expand beyond Israel (Matthew 15:24)
2. Jesus will not take the children's bread(Israel) and give it to dogs (Gentiles). Matthew 15: 26

The language and attitudes seem incredibly harsh, especially when spoken by the same Jesus who earlier welcomed the faith of the Gentile centurion as a pointer to Gentiles sharing in future blessings of Israel (see Matthew 8: 5-13).

I think the words in cold print conceals an element of irony, even a sense of playfulness in Jesus' tone which is hard to hear from this reading. If we could be there we would see the twinkle in his eye as he spoke to her!

At any rate, Jesus is confronting her with the language a Gentile expects to hear from a Jew and yet her faith remained resolute. She recognizes the priority of Jesus' mission to the house of Israel, but she also seems acutely aware of the promise of God to Abraham (Genesis 12: 1-3). She knew in due time that God's plan would stretch beyond the borders of Israel to include the families of the earth. For this faith she was richly rewarded.

Let me say one more thing: racism is still a factor in our world. We are still prone to judge people by the way they look, or by their history. If anything, this story helps us remember the power of God's mercy and grace to redefine what it means to be a person worthy of full acceptance. After all, we are made in the image of God.

Don't you think the tragic death of Trayvon Martin might have been averted if this young man was seen as another human being instead of a potential law breaker?

Monday, April 23, 2012

A case of racial insensitivity?

Whenever I read of Jesus' encounter with the Syrophonecian woman in Matthew 15: 21-28, I often wince.

Here's a woman whose daughter was severely oppressed by a demon. She could have gone to Eshmun, a pagan god of healing, whose temple was just 3 miles northeast of Sidon, but she heard of Jesus and goes to him instead.

She is described not just as a Gentile, but as a “Canaanite” which means a non-Jewish pagan person living in that region.

Almost all of Jesus’ ministry took place within the traditional borders of Israel in areas dominated by Jews. But this time, maybe to get away from the “maddening crowds,” Jesus traveled to the seacoast regions of Tyre and Sidon. These regions are pagan to the core. This is where he meets this troubled mother seeking help.

I often wince at this story because Jesus gave her two excuses why he couldn’t heal her and then, I am equally troubled by the disciple’s lack of compassion and hospitality.

When she heard that Jesus was in her neighborhood, she came out and was crying, “Have mercy on me, O Lord, Son of David. She had total respect for Jesus. But he did not answer her a word. And his disciples came and begged him, saying, “Send her away, for she is crying out after us.”(Matthew 15:23)

Can’t she take a hint? Jesus didn’t want to talk to her and the disciples were ready to kick her to the curb.

Excuse #1
Jesus:  “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of
Israel.” (Matthew 15:24)

Troubled Mother’s response: Persistence
But she came and knelt before him, saying, “Lord, help me.”(Matthew 15:25)

Excuse #2
Jesus: It is not right to take the children's bread and throw it to the dogs.” (Matthew 15:26)
He didn’t just say that! Jesus called her a dog? Why would he refer to her as a dog? This is so unlike the Jesus we know.

Trouble Mother’s response: Knowledge of Abraham’s Covenant
 “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters' table.” (Matthew 15:27)
In other words, she knew the promises of God to bless all the families of the earth through Abraham. She was not Jewish but she was walking by the same faith of Father Abraham.

This is the reason why Jesus said: “O woman, great is your faith! Be it done for you as you desire.” And her daughter was healed instantly. (Matthew 15:28)

Was this a cat and mouse game? Was Jesus being insensitive to this woman, her race, her plight? I don’t think so. I have some reasons why I am saying no, but I want to hear from you before I suggest my answers. 

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Would you go to this church?

The church in Antioch was truly a diverse, multi-cultural church, led by the Holy Spirit. What was unique about them?

·  They had diverse gifts/offices: prophets and teachers (see Acts 13:1)
-Prophets proclaimed the word
      -Teachers skillfully taught the word of God
  • They had diverse leaders (also Acts 13:1)
    -Barnabas: Wealthy, Jewish follower of Jesus who generously gave his time, his resources to encourage the early church. He was called the Son of Encouragement (Acts 4:36)

    -Simeon, also called Niger. Niger is Latin for “black,” indicating he likely came from Africa.

    -Lucius of Cyrene. Cyrene was the capital city of Cyrene [sometimes called Cyrenaica], a Roman province in Libya, on the north coast of Africa; see Acts 2:10

    -Manaen, a life long friend of Herod the Tetrach. Herod the tetrarch is Herod Antipas, who is mentioned frequently in the Gospels and who reigned in Galilee during Jesus’ ministry (Matt. 14:1; Luke 3:1; 23:8; Acts 4:27) from 4 b.c. to AD 39. He was the son of Herod the Great (Matthew 2:1), and his nephew Herod Agrippa I, grandson of Herod the Great, reigned as king in Judea, AD 41-44 (Acts 12:1-23).
Lifelong friend translated Greek syntrophos, means that Manaen was a close friend of Herod Antipas and had been brought up with him from childhood. So Manaen, one of the prophets and teachers of the church was closely associated with a family that tried to kill Jesus. God has a sense of humor!

-Saul: A former Jewish Pharisee who once persecuted those who openly confessed Jesus as the Christ; but was now a committed follower of Jesus (See Acts 9).

But even though they were so racially and ethnically diverse, they were unified around the same things:
·        Worship
·        Fasting and Praying
·        Listening to the Holy Spirit
·        Seeking to obey the voice of the Holy Spirit
·        A shared concern for those who were lost and without Christ
·        A commitment to sending people into God’s work

A diverse church works best when the Holy Spirit moves through the people in such a way that race, former way of life, culture are all surrendered in repentance to Jesus Christ. 

It was not their diversity that was highlighted, but their relationship to each other and to the Lord. Another way to say this, what mattered most was their vertical relationship to Christ shaping and redefining their horizontal relationships.

How are we doing as the people of God at First Pres. Evanston? What do people see when gather in our fellowship?

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

A Praying Church listens to God

I recently spent significant time talking with one of the faithful intercessors of our church. This woman reminds me of Samuel's mother, Hannah, who poured out her heart in prayer before God for a child (I Samuel 1:15).

She intercedes night and day for our church, asking God that many spiritual children will be birthed through the ministry of First Pres.

Her conversation so inspired me, I went home and re-read portions Richard Lovelace's Dynamics of Spiritual Life. I commend this book to you as a way to understand how spiritual renewal comes to God's people.

"In much of the church's life...the place of prayer has become limited and almost vestigial. The proportion of horizontal communication that goes on in the church (in planning, arguing and expounding) is overwhelmingly greater than that which is vertical (in worship, thanksgiving, confession, and intercession). Critically important committee meetings are begun and ended with formulary prayers; which are ritual obligations and not genuine expressions of dependence--when problems and arguments ensue, they are seldom resolved by further prayer but are wrangled out on the battlefield of human discourse. The old midweek prayer meetings for revival have vanished from the programs of most churches or have been transformed into bible studies ending with minimal prayer."

He then asks, "Why has this come about?"

 Lovelace believes, "It stems partly from the deficient teaching and emphasis on God himself throughout the church and partly from the man-centeredness of much religious activity. Deficiency in prayer both reflects and reinforces inattention toward God."

Finally, "Minimal prayer accompanying many projects in the church may indicate that what is being undertaken is simply what human beings can accomplish pretty well by themselves."

What do you think about Lovelace's view on prayer or lack of prayer in the church?

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Even a cup of cold water makes a difference

What do you make of these words?
Whoever receives you receives me, and whoever receives me receives him who sent me. Matthew 10: 40.

Main point of Matthew 10
Read Matthew 10 from start to finish. The theme centers on Jesus sending his followers into the world as evangelists but the world’s reaction to their ministry is mixed. Some welcomed them and listened, while others rejected and mistreated them (Matthew 10:16-24).

Who is rejecting whom?
However, there is a great blessing in store for those who receive God’s servants. In fact, Jesus presents an unbreakable link between the messenger, Jesus and God. To receive the ministry of His servant is equal to receiving Jesus and also receiving the One who sent Jesus.

I would imagine that the opposite is also true: to reject the messenger of Jesus is to reject Jesus and to reject God who sent Jesus. This is very scary stuff, but it makes sense. The messenger is like an ambassador who goes to a foreign country to represent the interests and wishes of his King. Should that ambassador be rejected, imprisoned and killed, the King who sent the ambassador would be outraged. This would be an offense against the King and his kingdom.

Be encouraged!
Jesus promises to reward anyone who welcomes his prophets, his righteous servants or even the least of his disciples. And whoever gives one of these little ones even a cup of cold water because he is a disciple, will by no means lose his reward! Matthew 10: 40-42

If you are called by Jesus to serve take comfort in his words. Some will accept you; embrace your message, your leadership and your teaching. But remember, some will do the opposite: they will reject you. But remember what Jesus says, it is not you they are rejecting; don’t take this rejection personally. They are really rejecting God and Jesus who sent you.

Be faithful in all the ways God has called you. You are working for the Lord and he will greatly reward you when your work is done!

I also think this is a word of encouragement to those of you who support and pray for Christian leaders. God has a special reward for you. As you pray, give, support, encourage and minister to God's servants your reward will be great. 

What do you think? Is this how you read this section?

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

The only fear Jesus recognizes

Wouldn't it be nice to think that as Jesus sends his disciples as missionaries and evangelists into the world they are welcomed with a warm reception? But this is not the case (See Matthew 10: 14)

Expect Opposition
According to Matthew 10: 5-8, as Jesus sends his disciples into the world he gives them authority to drive out unclean spirits, to heal diseases and afflictions and to proclaim the good news.

Every good deed should be rewarded, right? The reader expects that the missionary’s good deeds are well received with thanksgiving and praise. 

Instead, Jesus warns that the opposite will happen. They will deliver you over to courts and flog you in their synagogues. When they persecute you in one town flee to the next. Matthew 10: 17, 23).

But don’t be alarmed that you suffer for His name. A disciple is not above his teacher, nor a servant above his master. If they called the master of the house Beezebul (Lord of the demons), how much more will they malign those of his household. Matthew 10: 24-25

Do not fear
Four times Jesus told his disciples do not fear. You will face great pain and loss for going in my name but do not fear.

  1. Do not fear them. Nothing is covered that will not be revealed. God knows every secret and hidden agenda and God will reveal those hidden plans made against his servants. Matthew 10: 26-27
  2. Do not fear those kill the body because they cannot kill the soul. Matthew 10: 28
  3. Only fear God who can kill both body and soul in hell. Matthew 10: 28
  4. Do not fear for your daily needs. Are not two sparrows sold for a penny and not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father? Even the hairs on your head are all numbered. Matthew 10: 29-31
 The only fear to have, is fear of God. God is greater than all the enemies of the faith. God is greater than all the powers of evil. God is greater than anything or anyone in the world. God is creator all that is. Fear God and treat others as your equal.

As you go in Jesus’ name, remember, you are blessed to be a blessing to others. Expect opposition to come as you go. Have no fear of those who oppose you. Only fear God. 

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Nothing Else Matters!

Nothing else matters

If Christ is risen, nothing else matters. And if Christ is not risen— nothing else matters. 
— Jaroslav Pelikan(1, 923-2006)

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Do it anyway!

People are often unreasonable, irrational, and self-centered.  
Forgive them anyway.

If you are kind, people may accuse you of selfish, ulterior motives. 
Be kind anyway.

If you are successful, you will win some unfaithful friends and some genuine enemies.  
Succeed anyway.

If you are honest and sincere people may deceive you. 
Be honest and sincere anyway.

What you spend years creating, others could destroy overnight. 
Create anyway.

If you find serenity and happiness, some may be jealous. 
Be happy anyway.

The good you do today, will often be forgotten. 
Do good anyway.

Give the best you have, and it will never be enough. 
Give your best anyway.

In the final analysis, it is between you and God.  It was never between you and them anyway.
-this version is credited to Mother Teresa

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Evangelism in a Time of Decline

Writer, Sarah Howell, provides us with an insightful article regarding the ongoing sickness and decline of mainline religion in America. She says: 

"What we need is not a call to action. What we need is a call to holiness.
Last summer, I heard Marcia McFee speak at the Indiana Annual Conference. She offered a workshop on worship design and made a point that I will never forget. When people resist change in worship, she said, they are actually expressing fear. Fear around changes in worship reflects an unarticulated fear of losing God. If someone has always connected with God through hymns accompanied by an organ, it is no wonder that they worry about not finding that connection through praise choruses sung to a guitar. It seems to me that this fear is part of changes in church and society at large, not just in worship. The world is changing and the church along with it, and we are afraid that those changes will cause us to lose God."

To read more click here

Do you agree with her?