At It's Finest

Do you feel like you’re in the middle - emotionally, financially, relationally? Your situation is better than it used to be, but you’re not where you know you’re supposed to be. In James 1:2-4, James tells us “Count it all joy when you fall into various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience. But let patience have its perfect work, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing.” For some background, the book of James is one of the oldest New Testament writings. James was a prayer warrior. He was also known as “Camel Knees” because his knees showed evidence of much time in prayer. He died a martyr. He was pushed from a building but didn’t die, so was beaten to death. He prayed the whole time he was being beaten. Most significantly, he was Jesus’ half-brother. Even though he grew up with Jesus, he questioned the idea of Jesus being the messiah until after he had seen miracles and the resurrection. In his book, he never refers to Jesus as his brother, but as Lord and Savior. I believe his words carry some weight.

James starts this passage with “count it all joy when”. WHEN. Not IF. We are going to face trials and they will come in all different types. Don’t be surprised when they come. It’s good to note that James is writing to converted and Jewish Christian’s who have been dispersed because of persecution. But he tells them to count it all joy!Trials are part of life but, we tend to ask “why” when we’re going through trials.  Know this, your trial could be divine. God is not trying to take you out. He has a purpose. The goal is not to quit in the trial but to go through it. Trials are different from temptation. Temptation lures you away from faith. Divinely purposed trials are like gold in a fire. The impurities rise to the top and the dross is skimmed off…and then the gold is put back in the fire. Trials perfect our faith. In trials we look for when it’s going to stop. We wait for God to intervene. We say “When” but James says to say “Win”. Stay with it. Go through it. Get the victory. Realize the truth that we are more than conquerors through Him. What are we winning - God’s purpose for our life fulfilled. How do we get through the trial? We have a choice. When you’re being hit from all sides, count it all joy. Joy is different from happiness. Joy conditions and sets the environment. Joy is the unrelenting thankful trust in God in spite of circumstances. Have feelings but don’t let feelings have you. Working on your mind, what you listen to and watch, helps you command the feelings. Don’t go by what you see. Go by faith in God. Faith is stepping out when you’re not sure, knowing God’s got you.

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Don't be a "Gracist"

So, what made Jesus mad? I've been processing this the last few weeks in my series “Angry Jesus.” I saw a church sign the other day. It said, “We love hurting people.” I realized as I read it that if you accent different words in the sentence, you get a different message. The truth of the matter is, I have heard so many stories over the last few weeks, and of course over 30 years of ministry, of how the church has hurt people. Ironically, that's what was going on back in Jesus' day. Today I want to focus on John 8, my favorite story. It's about a woman caught in the act of adultery. We do not know who she was, but for today, I’m calling her “Janice”.

“The religious scholars and Pharisees led in a woman who had been caught in an act of adultery. They stood her in plain sight of everyone and said, “Teacher, this woman was caught red-handed in the act of adultery. Moses, in the Law, gives orders to stone such persons. What do you say?” (John 8:3-5).This story has inspired a new word, "gracism." It's just as dumb as racism, but it's not about the color of a person’s skin or where they come from. It's based on the color of the sin they are guilty of. If I'm going to look down on you because of something that you've done, disregarding what I’ve done, this is what I call “gracism” Your sin is not any different than my sin. There are no different levels of sin. Lying seems worse than gluttony and murder seems worse than adultery. I get that thinking. But I have no right to stand and gloat because I think my sin is less than someone else’s sin. That makes me a “gracist”.

Here's the truth: "All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God." A later, scripture says, "And the wages of sin is death." What does that mean? All sin is mortal - murder and adultery, gluttony and lying.  Jesus grew up with a mom who felt like Janice, right? People called Jesus an illegitimate child. Mary was pregnant with Jesus out of wedlock. Whether it was her fiancé or someone else, it was against the law. And I believe that childhood experience of growing up with a mom who He knew was holy and loved by God, but who people judged and condemned, gave Him a deeper level of compassion as He dealt with the people He encountered.

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Indifference to The Least of These

On this Mother’s Day, regardless of what this day means to you, we can agree that children are important to Jesus.

Throughout history, people have attempted to paint the perfect portrait of Jesus. Sometimes, He's smiling. Sometimes, He's crying or praying. We all have our gentle, sweet image of Jesus, but that picture isn't complete. If we're really going to understand the Savior of the Bible, it's time to take a fresh look. For years, Christians have asked, "What would Jesus do?" But what if we asked a more illuminating question, "What made Jesus mad?"

The theme verse through this series is from Matthew 23:13, "You shut the door of the kingdom of heaven in people's faces." The three times that the Bible says Jesus was mad is in the temple when religious activity blocked access for the Gentiles to get to God (He had a “temple tantrum” there), the Sabbath healing where He was grieved by the hardness of their hearts (they cared more about the rules than people getting to God) and the woman caught in adultery (stay tuned). His people, church people, missed the point - people's needs. 

People need access to God and they need care. God's first commandment is love God. The second commandment is love your neighbor. Who's your neighbor? It's God's kid. We can't make God happy when we’re blocking His children from a healthy relationship with Him or neglecting real needs. The Pharisees were busy counting out their dill seeds for their tithe and straining gnats from their drinks so they didn’t eat anything unkosher. But, all the while, God’s kids were in need all around them. They just didn't care, or didn’t take time to look up from their religion to notice. The point is not to focus on following religious rules in order to please God, but to love God and love your neighbor. By the way, you can't do one without the other. 

Today, my focus is the case of Jesus’ own disciples. "People were bringing little children to Jesus for him to place his hands on them, but the disciples rebuked them." They're like, "No kids right now. Jesus is busy." When Jesus saw this, He was indignant. What made Jesus mad? His disciples were blocking the children from coming to Him. I always imagined Jesus saying “Let the kids come to me” in a soft, gentle voice. But, this is in His mad voice, “You knuckleheads, it's not about all the important adult stuff. These are the people that need to get to God.” I know the disciples had good intentions, but this made Jesus mad. As a matter of fact, He followed it up with the craziest statement Jesus ever made, “If anyone causes one of these little ones—those who believe in me—to stumble, it would be better for them to have a large millstone hung around their neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea” (Matthew 18:6 NIV). This sounds like Tony Soprano, not how I imagined Jesus speaking based on my Sunday school pictures.

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Live Dangerously

Today, I continue with a message on things that made Jesus mad. Anytime there's blocked access to God, it makes Jesus mad. If you haven’t seen my message on Jesus’ temple-tantrum from last week, please go back and read/listen.

So, legalism… I hate it. If you've got a stupid rule, I'm going to want to challenge it. I want to know why the rule is there and if it makes sense! Rules are never going to be able to cover every scenario we could come up with and an effort to try to make rules that do so results in stupid rules.  Do you realize your behavior, your judgment, your rules, may be keeping people out of Heaven?? Jesus said it this way in Matthew 23:13 (NIV), “Woe to you …You shut the door of the kingdom of heaven in people’s faces. You yourselves do not enter, nor will you let those enter who are trying to.” Earlier in Matthew 23, Jesus spoke to the crowds and said, “Do not do what they do, for they do not practice what they preach. They tie up heavy, burdensome loads and lay them on men’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to lift a finger to move them.”  To quote a modern icon, Homer Simpson answered Bart’s question about what religion they were, “You know, the one with all the well-meaning rules that don't work out in real life ... Christianity.” What happens if Homer's statement is true? Well-meaning rules that don't work in real life create a huge unnecessary barrier and this makes Jesus mad.

So, do we not need rules? Of course, we need rules. I know we need rules. I know society needs governance. God gave us rules because He loves us. That's the difference. He loves us so He gave us rules. Think about the Ten Commandments for a second. They're all for our benefit. They provide a foundation for a relationship with our loving Father and for our general well-being, individually and socially. Here's the thing, the problem is when our interpretation of the laws of God hinder people getting to God. At that point they are our laws and our rules. If we don't understand God’s laws but we’re expecting others to follow those interpretations, it creates a barrier for people to get to God. This makes Jesus mad. In Mark 3:1-6, Jesus decided that it was time for the Pharisees to learn a lesson about forcing people to go through well-meaning rules that don't work in real life. And so, He broke one of them. “Once again Jesus entered the synagogue, and a man with a withered hand was there. In order to accuse Jesus, they were watching to see if He would heal on the Sabbath. Then Jesus said to the man with the withered hand, ‘Stand up among us.’ And He asked them, ‘Which is lawful on the Sabbath: to do good or to do evil, to save life or to destroy it?’ But they were silent. Jesus looked around at them with anger and sorrow at their hardness of heart. Then He said to the man, ‘Stretch out your hand.’ So he stretched it out, and it was restored. At this, the Pharisees went out and began plotting with the Herodians how they might kill Jesus.

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Are We Making Jesus Mad?

Everybody loves Jesus, right? I've never ever had a conversation with anyone who thought he was a jerk. He healed people, loved people, and cared for the outcast. He died a horrible death because he believed that he could save our souls. Even if someone doesn't believe the story at all, you can't not like Jesus. So what's the problem? The problem is a lot of people love Jesus, they just don't want to follow Him, and they're not interested in Him. Why is that? It's because they're not getting Jesus represented to them well. Jesus loves us and He died for us, but for a few weeks, I'd like to look at the side of Jesus that should make the church pause and pay attention, ANGRY JESUS Just to be clear, anger is not a sin. Paul said, “In your anger do not sin.” And Jesus, that everybody loves, one time made a whip, went into the temple, and drove out the money changers and overturned tables. This Jesus told people it would be better for them to have a rope tied around their neck with a two-ton rock attached and thrown into the sea. This Jesus called people names like “brood of vipers”, “unmarked graves”, and “sons of hell”.

Jesus definitely said, “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” He said, "Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. I am gentle and humble in heart." I think the world's idea that Jesus was nice is correct, so what do you do with “you snakes”, “you brood of vipers” and “how will you escape being condemned to hell”? This is Jesus too. Sometimes Jesus' words were sharp and biting.When the son of God gets mad, we should pay attention because we can learn a lot about a person from the things they don't like. So, who was He mad at? Well, that's the kicker. I always knew Jesus was mad at the Pharisees, Sadducees, and teachers of the law. Then one day I realized the Pharisees and the Sadducees and the teachers of the law were the church leaders of their day, and Jesus was a part of that church. As a matter of fact, this was the church that God set up. They were the people appointed by God for the purpose of enacting God's system of religion. When that realization hit me like a ton of bricks, I began to wonder if there was anything that caused Jesus to be mad at His church back in the day, that might be my issue as a current church leader. I discovered four basic attitudes that were the problem: legalism, judgmentalism, hypocrisy, and indifference to suffering. Those were the four things that flipped Jesus’ switch. In fact, we still have problems with those things today. 

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It's Time To Wake Up!

I’ve been abused but you won’t see any scars, used but you won’t see the wear and tear, lonely when surrounded by my closest friends and blackmailed but I will not negotiate with terrorists. We must wake up to the fact that the enemy is at war with us. Everything that happens in the natural is impacted by things in the spiritual. It is time to wake up in the spirit. In Revelation 3, the Apostle John wrote to the church of Sardis. His words are sobering. He told them they had a reputation of being alive but that they were dead. He told them their deeds were not complete in the sight of God.Sardis was a huge city. It was highly advanced. It was near a river that brought life to the city and it was protected on all sides. It was a destination city. On the outside the city of Sardis looked really good but their insides were dying. The city of Sardis influenced the church of Sardis, they looked good but were almost dead.

This is the church we’re talking about today. Have you ever seen the movie, “Princess Bride”? There is a line in the movie regarding the lead character “He’s only mostly dead.” Are we mostly dead or are we spiritually awake? I hope we are full of the life Jesus paid for us to have. The church of Sardis was mostly dead. The Church is God's plan for redemption. We are the hope of the world to bring the gospel of Jesus to people who need to hear and we have got to wake up! We do not want to miss it. We do not want to miss the voice of God and we do not want to miss the opportunity to partner with Him in the plan for people. We need to go back to what we heard and believed at first; hold to it firmly. Repent and turn to Jesus again. Jesus told the church of Sardis, “If you don’t wake up, I will come to you suddenly, as unexpected as a thief.”There are a couple of instances in Scripture when Jesus “wakes” someone up, meaning actually that He raised them from the dead. Jesus is Resurrection and Life. In the case of Lazarus, Lazarus’ sister, Martha, even though she believed,  almost got in the way of what Jesus was about to do. Don’t allow your misunderstanding to get in the way of another person's miracle. She needed to step aside so Jesus could move. Wake up Martha! Don’t think naturally. Think spiritually! It was as if Jesus said to Martha, “Are you kidding me right now! Your brother is going to be alive and you’re worried about how much his body stinks!” Jesus not only came to wake up Lazarus (raising him from death) but He woke up everyone else that day who was there to witness the event and would believe.

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Spiritual Warfare

There is a war going on and a lot of Christians are just simply not engaged in the fight. The Bible has a lot to say about this. Ephesians 6:10 teaches us, “Be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on all of God’s armor so that you will be able to stand firm against all strategies of the devil.” Picture this, the devil is at the drawing board trying to come up with a way to trip you up, or mess you up, or destroy your life (John 10:10). Sometimes I think the devil is working harder to destroy us than we are working to keep it from happening. 

What are we to do? How do we face this? “Put on every piece of God’s armor (you are in a battle and you need to dress for it)  so you will be able to resist the enemy in the time of evil. (This is not “if “ the day or the time comes but “when” it comes) Then after the battle you will still be standing firm” (Ephesians 6:10-13 NLT). Today. I'm going to expose the devil for who he is.  

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