Twenty-eight Days With Jesus, Day 16

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Disintegrating the Big Lie

Adolf Hitler and his Reich Minister of Propaganda, Joseph Goebbels are credited with exploring and defining the “Big Lie”—a propaganda tool for harnessing public support of Nazi Germany’s war effort. The Big Lie said, “Make the lie big, make it simple, keep saying it, and eventually they will believe it.” By the time World War II ended sixty million people—3% of the 1940 world population—had died as a direct result of that tool. But don’t be deceived into thinking that was the first or even the last time the Big Lie has been used.

“Be careful,” Jesus warned His disciples. “Be on your guard against the yeast of the Pharisees and Sadducees” (Matthew 16:6). This wasn’t about bread. It wasn’t about diet, culture or even religion. It was a warning about deceptive power; it was a caution about a sham, a strategy as old as earth itself of misleading hapless individuals into bondage. Jesus used the term yeast as a metaphor for the Big Lie, to help people like us understand what we are up against—something that spreads insidiously and overtakes everything it touches.

The Pharisees and Sadducees were Jewish sects that sought to rule the people through a well-developed religion-masked dictatorship. They used their form of the Big Lie to build lives of power for themselves at the expense of others.

There are other forms of the Lie: life is a Clockwork Universe set in motion by a benevolent force (Deism); life is defined by the visible and the reasonable (Naturalism); life is realizing oneself as the centre of the universe (New Age spirituality); and life is not about truth but about finding meaning (Postmodernism).

The Big Lie is what destroys the paradise of communion between each of us and our Creator by telling us we can be fulfilled without Him. The Big Lie is what keeps each of us in a bondage that wrecks our relationships, hinders our peace of mind, corrupts good intentions, and cripples our ability to be in right relationship with God.

But Jesus had come to earth for one express purpose: to disintegrate the Big Lie. Taking His disciples aside Jesus asked them two questions: “Who do people say the Son of Man is?” and “Who do you say I am?” To the first question they gave a list of responses they had heard people surmising Jesus’ identity to be—essentially a good man, even a prophet, a charismatic leader with a charismatic message. To the second question came one bold response from the plucky but sometimes impetuous disciple Peter: “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” In other words, You are God in the flesh; You are the One promised who would destroy the Big Lie and its attending curse upon humanity.

“Blessed are you (!)” Jesus rejoices upon hearing Peter’s answer. The timeless truth of Peter’s confession—a truth more solid than any weapon—sent a fatal blow to the foundations of the Big Lie. “(T)his was not revealed to you by man, but by my Father in heaven” explained Jesus “…and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it” (Matthew 16:17,18).

Truth—solid, unflinching, rational, God-indwelling truth—is the ultimate victor. The Big Lie is on the way out. Its days are numbered. It has been measured by the One who knows the beginning from the end, and it has been found wanting. Jesus, God incarnate, the way, the truth and the life created us for so much more than lies.

“The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy”—this is what the Big Lie does to us; let’s not be deceived. Lies can mask themselves to appear as we want them to, but they ultimately only destroy us. “I have come,” continues Jesus, “that they may have life, and have it to the full” (John 10:10). That is the purpose of truth, to give us more life than we could conceivably imagine.

Today, we are faced with this day’s challenge: to remain under the deadly influence of the Big Lie in all its chameleon-like expressions, or to listen to God revealing the rock of Truth to us through His Word, the Bible, and through the invincible life of Jesus Christ. To experience truth’s life-transforming power is to be changed by it.

…or is it just easier to believe the Big Lie?…

 

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Twenty-eight Days With Jesus, Day 7

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Instructions for House-building.

Jesus is bringing His famous ‘Sermon on the Mount’ to its conclusion. Endings of sermons, speeches and stories are epic; they are key to understanding everything the speaker intends. They summarize the main point—they reiterate the heart of the issue. If our attention wanders or our focus wanes anywhere, it is best that it not happen during the conclusion. We don’t want to miss the wrap-up.

Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech is like that. It rises and falls in cycles of proposals and warnings. His conclusion brings his ideas to the apex. “Free at last!” he sings out, casting his vision for a unified country, a people no longer in bondage to racial injustice.

The conclusion of Jesus’ sermon is even more powerful. Its impact strikes the responsive listener with hurricane-like force. His words cut to the foundations of each of our lives.

“Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock. But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash” (Matthew 7:24-27).

Jesus sketches for us an image of two lives. He compares and contrasts these two people, describes their common experience and their differing responses. Those who live their lives by the often-challenging ethical demands of Jesus’ teachings are building under difficult conditions. The craggy foundation is high and there is much effort in climbing its heights each day to lift another post and lay another beam on its footing. The footprint from which they must rise has a definite shape and they must conform to it. Building a house on a rock takes everything they have and more.

Meanwhile, those who live their lives as they please, choosing to believe their own inner voice is rather to be followed than the words of God, are building on something that is attractive at the time. Sand is malleable and will take whatever shape the house-builder chooses. There are no hard edges that require the builder to adjust plans. There are no high and unyielding standards to which they must conform. What could be better than a beachfront villa with an ocean view—metaphorically speaking, of course?

Then comes the storm. Tornado-like winds drive pellets of rain against all sides of the two houses and torrents of floodwaters rise from below, thrashing both buildings mercilessly. When the storm subsides the results become visible. The house on the rock stands unscathed, while the house on the sand is nothing more than a splintered wreckage of debris.

What does it all mean? The storm is death. The houses are our lives. We each are given the freedom to ‘build’ our lives as we please. But each of us will eventually leave this world; each of us will experience death—there is no escaping it. What God gives us is the opportunity to prepare for the life hereafter in such a way that the experience of death will not harm us. That, says God in numerous ways throughout Scripture, is wisdom.

Here, at the end of Jesus’ famous ‘Sermon on the Mount’ Jesus gets specific about how to build our lives wisely. He explains that the wise put His words into practice. Jesus will many times during His life and ministry explain that every word He speaks completely conforms to the Father’s words and will. He is God in the flesh. When people like you and me practice what He preached we express our faith in Him. At times that faith is painfully stretched because practicing Jesus’ commands is hard work. But that, Jesus is saying, is what building on ‘the rock’ involves.

Our life choices matter for eternity; they reflect either obedience to Jesus’ words or careless disobedience. There is no middle ground. Hearing a sermon or podcast, scanning a blog explaining Scriptural truths, even reading the Bible is not enough if we don’t put Jesus’ words into practice in our lives. On the other hand, the simplest life lived in obedience to His words is able to build an indestructible edifice for eternity.

That’s good news and it is accessible to all. Now the challenge is to take advantage of it. We need to go back and take another look at the words recorded in Jesus’ sermon (Matthew, chapters 5-7), find His commands, and start doing them. There is enough in there to keep us busy for a while. It’s hard work, but it will be worth it, because there’s a storm coming.

(Photo Credit: Jose, M.B. [[File:Wave santander 2014 001.jpg|thumb|Wave santander 2014 001]])

Who Are You, Really? (Part 1)

 

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http://www.flickr.com/photos/vatobob/

 The Child in You.

Sooner or later we all must face our identity. Simplistically speaking, identity describes who we are, but if we delve a little deeper we may discover that identity actually controls and governs how we think, speak and even act. When identity is manipulated or twisted by outside forces, individuals suffer great angst and confusion.

The era of the residential schools in Canada for first nation children illustrates the phenomenon. Instituted in order to aid the assimilation and integration of aboriginal culture into the growing Euro-Canadian dominating culture, residential schools were an identity experiment. The Canadian government was hoping that education would make future generations of aboriginal youth think like Euro-Canadians, become economically self-sufficient, and weigh less of a burden on the public purse. The experiment proved to be a dismal failure. Disruption of the family and lack of cultural anchoring left individuals deeply wounded. Recent governmental compensation for survivors of the residential schools experiment raises awareness of the complex nature of identity.

The Apostle Peter seems to be intrigued by identity. Perhaps his interest was first piqued when the extraordinary man named Jesus, whom he had come to follow, changed his name from ‘Simon’ (hears/listens) to ‘Peter’ (little stone). As a result of embracing this new identity, Peter began to recognize references to Christ in ancient prophecies where Christ is called the ‘stone’ (lithos), ‘cornerstone’ (gonia + kephale) and ‘massive rock’ (petra) (Isaiah 28:16; 8:14). Peter was beginning to see his identity in terms of following the Rock of Ages incarnated before him.

Thirty years after Jesus’ death and resurrection, Peter used a letter we call ‘First Peter’ to write to people scattered throughout the Roman Empire. Much of what he describes is about identity. In portions of the first and second chapter he will observe four elements of identity followers of Christ begin to develop as they become more ‘Christ-like’. Peter begins by calling followers of Christ to think of themselves as children.

“As obedient children,” Peter explains, “do not conform to the evil desires you had when you lived in ignorance. But just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do; for it is written: ‘Be holy, because I am holy.’”

True followers of Christ have been given a fresh start in God’s eyes, called the “new birth”; they are to be “obedient children” in relationship to this Heavenly Father with whom they are now connected by family ties. In fact, they are called to exercise their new God-given ability to be “holy”, pictured in the fresh innocence of a newborn infant. Peter instructs, “Like newborn babies, crave pure spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow up in your salvation, now that you have tasted that the Lord is good.” Pure spiritual milk is the truth of God found in the Scriptures that feeds our souls and helps us mature into Christlike children of God.

Unlike external identities imposed on us by the agendas of culture around us, the identity of child of God is internal and integral to our being. It is what we were created by God to be. It not only defines who we are, it establishes whose we are. We belong to a loving, compassionate Father who has gifted us with an amazing inheritance: His own godly characteristics implanted within us. It is His nature in us that allows us to develop faith in Him, goodness from Him, knowledge of Him, self-control by Him, perseverance through Him, godliness like Him, brotherly kindness to those created by Him, and love for Him.

There is no angst or confusion in this identity. There is no moral law that is broken by this identity. To be God’s child is the beginning of an eternity of growth and development, of usefulness and challenge, of knowing we are the beloved of the Father. Join with me in thanking the Father that we can leave all other identities behind when we become children again—children of God.

(Photo Credit:http://www.flickr.com/photos/vatobob/)

CROSSROADS, Part 9

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Boulder Matters

We arrived at dusk and set up our tent in the semi-darkness. There was a deep blackness on the far side of us, which we took to be the cliff; we knew that it rose several hundred feet from the floor of the river valley on which we camped. We sensed rather than saw its massive presence. Awaking the next morning we peered sleepy-eyed out of our tent and saw something else. There beside us perched a huge boulder, some five metres in diameter and ten tonnes in weight. When had this megalith landed here? With dawning realization we began to understand our delicate position: we were either beautifully safe, protected by the huge sentinel that shadowed us from other harm, or we were in desperate danger, lounging in avalanche territory.

The Apostle Paul describes another boulder of dual impact. He quotes the ancient prophet Isaiah who describes God saying, “See, I lay in Zion a stone that causes men to stumble and a rock that makes them fall, and the one who trusts in him will never be put to shame.”

This megalith is Jesus. He holds a unique and controversial position as a result of His arrival among us. He was a Jew, defined by His heritage as one who kept Moses’ law, but He up-ended the system by His work on the cross. He nullified the natural inheritability of being considered ‘children of God’ by birth, rather making relationship with God available only by faith.

“In other words,” explains the transformed Jew, Paul, “it is not the natural children who are God’s children, but it is the children of the promise who are regarded as Abraham’s offspring.” He continues to explain that those who pursue moral or spiritual merit by works, pride or ignorance will not attain it. Only those who simply entrust their future to the finished work of Jesus are considered right with God.

Jesus becomes a stumbling block to the one, and a Rock of Ages to the other.

This is why Jesus is so controversial here on earth. People seem to despise, discount, or dishonour Him, or they find Him to be their sole hope and protection. It comes down to how we embrace Him.

So here again we find ourselves at a crossroads. This time there is a huge boulder in the middle of the path. We cannot go over, under, around or through it. We must place ourselves under its shadow, in deference to its power, or stumble as a result of it. We make the choice every day in innumerable ways.

When we awake, we choose to honour and praise Jesus for our opportunity of life, or we ignore Him and plug into the world’s messages for counsel. When we do our daily tasks, we consciously seek to please Jesus by living with integrity and loving those around us, or we insist on seeing the world as our plaything. When we have leisure time, we choose to invest in our relationship with God and others, or we invest in our own pleasure. We make these choices every day.

The Cornerstone is not going away. His influence is here to stay and we can either be strengthened by Him, or stumble over Him.

“For who is God besides the LORD? And who is the Rock except our God?” (Psalm 18:31).

(Photo Credit: Wikimedia COmmons; MinuHiiumaa [[File:Majakivi 2014.jpg|thumb|Majakivi 2014]]