Thursday, March 4, 2021

Giving People Exactly WhatThey Deserve

Suggested Reading: Matthew 5:38-48

Not long after Clark Kent's dad died in season 5 of Smallville, he encountered a young woman who was seeking her own mother's murderer. When she finally found him, Clark wasn't going to let her kill him even though she argued, "He doesn't deserve to live!" But from Clark's perspective as a budding superhero, people should be saved whether they deserve it or not, whether they're a good guy or a bad guy. Everybody should be saved, not because they deserve it but because it is the right thing to do.

The episode reminds me of a passage from the Sermon on the Mount. Jesus, having just preached against revenge, goes on to say, "But I say, love your enemies! Pray for those who persecute you. In that way, you will be acting as true children of your Father in heaven. For he gives his sunlight to both the evil and the good, and he sends rain on the just and the unjust alike. If you love only those who love you, what reward is there for that?" (Matthew 5:44-46, NLT).

Living as we do in a society where people are rewarded or penalized based on merit (in theory, at least), we can sometimes forget that while we allow people to reap the consequences of their own actions, we should also treat people well whether they deserve it or not. Politicians use words we believe are inflammatory and so we begin speaking about them with inflammatory words. People disregard us and treat us with disrespect and so we begin treating them with disrespect. People lie to us and so we begin to treat them with mocking and contempt. Do they all deserve it? Perhaps, but that does not mean we should give them what they deserve.

Jesus reminded us that God extends some blessings to everyone, whether they deserve it or not. Sun and rain are given to everyone, whether they are good or evil, whether they are just or unjust, and then he says we are to love people the same way. We are to treat people well whether they deserve it or not. We should speak respectfully and with courtesy, whether they deserve it or not. We should extend kindness and compassion, even when they are mean and cruel. 

Treating somebody exactly as they deserve doesn't mean we are dispensing justice, it means we are shaming our Father in Heaven, the one who sends blessings on both the just and the unjust.

Wednesday, March 3, 2021

Answering Doctor Who's Prayer

Suggested Reading: Luke 18:1-8

There was an episode of Doctor Who where the Doctor was trapped in a place he'd been sent to via transporter, a place where, each day, everything in the room (including himself) reset to the way it was wen he arrived. Being the doctor, he was able to figure out that this had happened every day for approximately 4,000,000,000 years. But he didn't let that stop him from continuing the same routine every day as he slowly made progress toward escaping. He continued doing the same thing over and over again because he believed it would eventually work and it did.

In Luke 18, we see Jesus tell the Parable of the Persistent Widow. This widow, who desperately needed the judge to grant her justice, came to the judge day after day after day. So, even though this judge as a man who "neither feared God nor cared about people," (Luke 18:2, NLT)  he eventually gave in and granted her justice just so she would stop pestering him. Jesus concluded the parable by asking, "So don't you think God will surely give justice to his chosen people who cry out to him day and night? Will he keep putting them off? I tell you, he will grant justice to them quickly! But when the Son of Man returns, how many will he find on the earth who have faith?" (Luke 18:7-8, NLT). Jesus was addressing those whose prayers for justice (and perhaps other things) seem to go unanswered. That's why he said, "Will [God] keep putting them off?" Their prayers haven't been answered yet. The passage seems to imply that by the time Jesus returns, many of those prayers will still not have been answered and that those who keep praying are those whom "he will find on the earth who have faith."

What if the Doctor had gotten to the place where he finally decided that nothing was ever going to change and simply gave up? What if he stopped believing that doing the same thing day after day was eventually going to work and he just stopped? Sometimes, that is how we treat prayer. Sometimes, we stop praying for a particular person to be saved or healed because we stop believing it can ever happen. Sometimes we let our prayers go unsaid because, somewhere inside, we've stopped believing that they make a difference. So, rather than be faced with the disappointment of possibly unanswered prayers, we just stop praying. Or sometimes it is just easier not to think about that need than to continue yearning for something that is taking too long (in our opinions) to happen.

Yes, sometimes, the things we pray for take a long time to happen. And sometimes we stop praying for them. But have we stopped praying about it because we completely trust God to make it happen and have left it in God's hands? Or have we stopped praying about it because we've stopped believing anything will ever change? You are the only one who knows why you've stopped. So tell me, when the Son of Man returns, how many will he find on earth who have faith?

Tuesday, March 2, 2021

Pestering God About Mr Gatti's

Suggested Reading: Matthew 6:5-15

When my kids were younger and I was occasionally home with them during the summer, I tried to take them somewhere fun on Fridays if they had been good all week long. Before our local one closed down, Mr. Gatti's was their favorite destination. Each Friday morning,  the questions would begin. "Daddy, are we going to Mr. Gatti's?" "When are we going?" "Are we really going to Mr. Gatti's?" "Do we get to go?" "Please, can we go to Mr. Gatti's?" "Are we going?" Sometimes, I would finally respond, "If you ask one more time, we're staying home!" It drove me crazy, especially because they asked from a sense of insecurity, from lack of trust in me. Or at least that is the way it felt.

Sometimes, though, we treat God the same way my kids treated me. We think if we ask God over and over again we will get what we want, as if repeating it a bunch of times will get God to do something God doesn't want to do. But Jesus told us, “When you pray, don’t babble on and on as people of other religions do. They think their prayers are answered merely by repeating their words again and again." (Matthew 6:7, NLT). When Jesus warns us against simply repeating our prayers over and over, I believe he is saying two things: 1) Give God more credit than that and 2) Trust God more than that.

Do we really want a God who changes infinitely grand plans just because we bother him until we drive him crazy? Do we really think God's patience is so small that it works that way? God is loving enough to respond to our requests but God is not so small we can change God's mind by being annoying. Beyond that, we must trust God more than that. We must trust God enough that when we present a need, we know God will meet that need in the manner which is best for us and will bring Him the most glory.

Being consistent in prayer is one thing. Pestering God because we think we can force his hand or because we don't really trust him is another.

Monday, March 1, 2021

Being Satisfied With your Doe

Suggested Reading: Matthew 5:21-32 and/or Proverbs 5:1-23

The other day I was reading the Sermon on the Mount when Jesus said, "But I say, anyone who even looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart" (Matthew 5:28, NLT) and without thinking about it, I said to myself, "I guess we can't watch prime time TV." I mean, prime time television is designed to make men lust after women and women after men. The system is designed to have people commit adultery in their hearts.

But then I had the random thought, What does that mean about the fidelity of men who view pornography? How many times do they commit adultery per webpage? But photographs of women are not the only kind of pornography and men are not the only ones who use it.  Erotic stories and novels like some recent bestsellers are also a form of pornography. After all, is there really much difference between lusting after the form of someone on your screen or monitor and lusting after the form of someone described in words on a page?

Proverbs 5:18-19 advises us, "Let your wife be a fountain of blessing for you. Rejoice in the wife of your youth. She is a loving deer, a graceful doe. Let her breasts satisfy you always. May you always be captivated by her love" (NLT) and I think we can safely reverse that as well, warning women to be satisfied with the forms of their husbands. But can we ever rejoice in the love of our lives, can we really be captivated by the love of our spouse (or our future spouse) when our heads and hearts are filled with unrealistic, air-brushed and word-brushed pictures of other people? Do our spouses ever have a chance when we are enthralled with these make-believe fantasies, designed by people whose goal is to hook us and keep us coming back for more, to lead us into committing adultery in our hearts over and over again just so they can make a buck? How are our spouses ever to be satisfied with us if we are responding to them as if they don't measure up to unrealistic fantasies?

Maintaining purity is about more than avoiding certain physical acts or just staying away from particular kinds of photographs, videos, or books. Purity and fidelity are about maintaining a heart that seeks God and yearns only for your spouse (or future spouse).  Anything we feed our minds and hearts that draws us toward someone or something else undermines that.

Thursday, February 25, 2021

Being Roasted Alive For Risking Romance

Suggested Reading: Daniel 3:1-18 (or read the whole story here)

In the 90's television series, Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman, a driving force for the show was the question of when Lois and Clark would finally get together. As the moment approached and Lois and Clark began emerging as a couple, Lois got very scared and considered pulling out because she didn't want to risk losing Clark as her best friend. As they talked Clark admitted that he was also scared, but the possibility of what they could be motivated him to move forward. Eventually Lois agreed and they continued with their romantic relationship.

But the idea of deciding between the possibility of pain or the potential of adventure and its rewards is not a new one. In the book of Daniel three young men faced that choice themselves when Nebuchadnezzar ordered everyone to bow down and worship the idol he had set up or be tossed into a fiery furnace. Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego had to choose between being guided by the possibility of pain and death if they obeyed God's law or the potential adventure and rewards if they were faithful and God chose to rescue them. When given one final chance to choose, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego replied, “O Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to defend ourselves before you. If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God whom we serve is able to save us. He will rescue us from your power, Your Majesty. But even if he doesn’t, we want to make it clear to you, Your Majesty, that we will never serve your gods or worship the gold statue you have set up" (Daniel 3:16-18, NLT).

In very clear terms, these men stated the choice between the "certainty" of death and the possibility of rescue. Knowing God could deliver them was enough to motivate them, but they acknowledged the real possibility that God might not choose to do so. For these three men, obeying God's commands was not something fear could keep them from because the potential to see God rescue them was worth any risk.

What about you? When facing a decision, especially when obeying God might cost you, are you motivated by potential or held back by fear? Is knowing that God can good enough for you or does the possibility that God won't hold you back? God is able to deliver. Will you give God the chance or will you miss out because of fear?

Wednesday, February 24, 2021

Mutants, Servants and Life-Style Choices

Suggested Reading: Genesis 24:1-15 (or read the whole story here)

A few years ago the SYFY channel ran a show called ALPHAS. The show was essentially a toned down version of X-Men, focused on people with advanced mutations that give them special abilities. One of these Alphas was a woman named Kat whose ability enabled her to learn any skill by watching it once. She could watch it on tv or witness it live in person but if she saw it just once, she could learn and reproduce it.

While there are people who have very good memories and learning skills, in reality, all of us learn by watching other people. In the book of Genesis, we are given a very illustrative example of someone learning by watching. One of Abraham's trusted servants, an older gentlemen who had watched Abraham's relationship with God played out through the years, was sent on a quest to find a wife for Abraham's son Isaac. When the servant arrived at the place where Abraham had instructed, he stopped and prayed. “O  Lord, God of my master, Abraham, please give me success today, and show unfailing love to my master, Abraham. See, I am standing here beside this spring, and the young women of the town are coming out to draw water. This is my request. I will ask one of them, ‘Please give me a drink from your jug. ’ If she says, ‘Yes, have a drink, and I will water your camels, too! ’—let her be the one you have selected as Isaac’s wife. This is how I will know that you have shown unfailing love to my master.” (Genesis 24:12-14, NLT).

Now, several things stand out about the servant's prayer. For one, most eastern peoples of the day believed that gods were stationary, territorial beings who only had power within a very specific and limited area. Second, they tended to believe that the gods could control certain things, like the weather or fertility or a roll of the dice, but they didn't tend to believe the gods could control people's actions. But here was this servant, hundreds of miles from where the Lord was normally worshiped, asking him to control both fate and people by bringing the girl the Lord had chosen at just the right time to do exactly the right thing. Where did he learn that? Most likely from watching Abraham's  relationship with God.

People watch us all the time, whether we realize it or not, and they are learning about our God from us. What do we show them? Do we show them a God who is loving and patient, who is in control of the future? Or do we show them a god who is so pathetic and weak that we have to worry, cheat and plot to move forward in life?  Do we show them a God who inspires integrity in His people or a god who doesn't mind Christian symbols plastered on the back of a car going 15 over the speed-limit? Do we show them a God who cares about the insignificant and the poor or a god who only cares about those powerful enough to attract attention to themselves? Maybe, we show them a god who plays favorites rather a God who sent his Son so that no one would perish.

What are you showing people with your life? Most people will only learn what they see in you. 

Tuesday, February 23, 2021

When Moses Killed a Resurrected Fly

Suggested Reading: Exodus 18:9-26 (or read the whole story here)

When I was in college, I was part of a drama ministry group that did a skit called "The Fly Skit." It started off with a guy on stage who is minding his own business, reading a magazine, when a fly starts buzzing around and annoying him. After swatting the fly away several times, he reaches out in anger and catches the fly in his hand. Amazed by his luck, he shakes his hand and can hear the fly buzzing around. Quickly, he is joined on stage by another person who suggests they play catch with the fly. They proceed to throw the fly back and forth between each other, accompanied with the appropriate buzzing as the fly travels from one person's hand to the other's until, finally, having been thrown around so much, the fly ends up on the ground, seemingly dead. In desperation, the two begin applying CPR to the dead fly and manage to bring him back to life. They begin jumping around and celebrating and then, these two people who have been so good with the fly that they could toss it back and forth, catching it without any difficulty at all, high five each other. As their hands meet, the buzzing of the newly resurrected fly abruptly stops. These expert fly handlers accidentally kill their beloved fly. (Add the tagline, "The Lord giveth and the Lord taketh away," and you have yourself a nice ice-breaker skit for Christian venues.)

In Exodus 18, we have an interesting account where Moses' father-in-law, Jethro travels into the wilderness to visit Moses and bring Moses' wife and children to him. When Jethro arrives, he hears all about the incredible miracles God has done through Moses. He hears about the plagues and the parting of the Red Sea and the destruction of Pharaoh's army at God's hands, all through Moses. Jethro is duly impressed by all of this news and  praises God for all that has occurred. But the next day, Moses sits down to judge the people, who have formed a line so long that many of them wait from morning until evening to have their cases heard. Suddenly, Jethro, this man who was so impressed with all of the things Moses had done in freeing the Israelites from their slavery in Egypt, becomes critical of Moses and says. "What you are doing is not good. You will certainly wear out both yourself and these people who are with you, because this task is too heavy for you. You can't do it alone" (Exodus 18:17-18, HCSB). Jethro then suggests a plan that will help Moses accomplish the task without wearing out both himself and the people.

Sometimes, when we are flush with the success of some major venture, we can easily begin to think that we have it all together, or that we are successful at other unrelated things as well. Having led a successful business, we think we are experts on management. Having succeeded in an acting career, we think we are experts at politics. Having successfully started a camp fire we begin thinking we know everything about pyrotechnics. And inevitably, reality hits us in the face in a way that reminds us that being successful in one or more areas doesn't mean we know everything. For Moses, that day was the day his father-in-law came to visit and saw him judging the people's cases in a very counterproductive way and called him out.

In that moment, when someone calls us on our bad strategy, our hubris, or simply the overestimation of our own skills, we have a choice to make. We can, like some people, insist that we know what we are doing and continue to bluff our way through until we end up in total failure; we can realize the truth of the warning but refuse to change because our pride refuses to let us back down; or we can choose to accept good council and change our approach like Moses, who "listened to his father-in-law and did everything he said" (Exodus 18:24, HCSB). We have the ability to recognize that good advice can come from unexpected places and that we are never so big and knowledgeable that we will never make mistakes.

When you accidentally kill the fly you have just resurrected, when your moment of success is quickly followed by a false-step, how will you react? Will your pride keep you from changing course? Will you decide that you don't have to listen to someone who doesn't have as much experience as you? Or will you demonstrate wisdom by following the sensible course, no matter who happens to present it? The fact that you've succeeded doesn't mean you can't fail.

Giving People Exactly WhatThey Deserve

Suggested Reading: Matthew 5:38-48 Not long after Clark Kent's dad died in season 5 of Smallville , he encountered a young woman who wa...