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You intended to harm

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Genesis 50:20 “You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.”

     Just before he forgave them Joseph summed up how his brothers had betrayed him and sold him into slavery in Egypt.  He didn’t thank God for the treacherous double dealing of his brothers.  He did say that in all the bad stuff that happened God worked it out for good not bad.  He also said that it wasn’t his place to judge his brothers;”Don’t be afraid. Am I in the place of God?” (Genesis 50:19)  Matthew Henry describes Joseph’s handling of his brothers as an excellent example; “See what an excellent spirit Joseph was of, and learn of him to render good for evil.”

     Often people will look back over the hard times that they have lived through and thank God for the difficulties, hurts and suffering.  Sometimes I hear people talk about their failures and trials saying; ‘God let this happen to me so I could give testimony about it today!’  Being thankful for getting through a terrible time is good.  However, sometimes people seek to justify their poor and selfish choices by saying that they were all part of God’s plan to make us better people.  But ascribing terrible accidents, disease or misfortune to being part of God’s deliberate plan for your life runs counter to a lot of Scripture.

     Jeremiah (29:11-13) tells us what is in God’s heart for us; “‘For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. Then you will call on me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.'”  This doesn’t sound like God’s plan is allowing bad things to happen to people so they can give testimony about it later – if they survive.

     God’s will for our lives is to heal us – as a people; “If my people, which are called by my name, shall humble themselves, and pray, and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways; then will I hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin, and will heal their land.” (2 Chronicles 7:14) And to save us as individuals;  “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16) This was Jesus’ mission; “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free,  . . .” (Luke 4:18)

     What God allows is free will, even to the point of rejecting Him.  It isn’t His plan that we should perish because of our bad choices or intentions; “The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.” (2 Peter 3:9)  So we cannot put the stamp of  God’s approval on the difficult circumstances we have endured just because we think they made us ‘better’ or on our poor choices as a justification for harm we have brought on ourselves.  Rather we should be grateful that God was patient and faithfully present with us in the living out of our difficulties whether they were self-inflicted or inflicted on us by others or a result of life in a fallen world.

     We can’t blame God or be angry with Him because of the difficulties we have to contend with.  We do live in a fallen world. This was mankind’s choice not God’s.  Moreover we live in a society that prefers darkness rather than His light; “Light has come into the world, but people loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil.” (John 3:19)  In our world bad things happen because of our collective social nature.  We can’t give God the backhanded credit for our trials by saying that God allowed them so that we would become better more compassionate witnesses to His grace.  We can’t blame God  by saying that he doesn’t care or is powerless over bad things.  The life and Person of Jesus Christ proves otherwise!

     When we go through bad times or reflect upon the troubled times of our lives we can be sure of God’s faithfulness; “And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.” (Romans 8:28)   Whatever the difficult situation whether it was brought about by the harmful intent of others or by poor choices on our part we can be sure that God is working in it to bring out the best for us if we love Him and are called to His purpose.

     Joseph, all those years ago, knew that in any circumstance, God is always in it for us if we are in it for God.

     Praise the Lord!

What comes out of the mouth

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Matthew 15:11 “What goes into someone’s mouth does not defile them, but what comes out of their mouth, that is what defiles them.”

     Words come out of the mouth.  But what kind of words?  The Bible says the tongue has the power of life and death; “Death and life are in the power of the tongue: and they that love it shall eat the fruit thereof.” (Proverbs 18:21)  We can speak words of encouragement or we can speak words of condemnation; “With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse human beings, who have been made in God’s likeness. Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this should not be.” (James 3:9,10)

     Jesus made the connection between a man’s tongue and his heart; “But those things which proceed out of the mouth come forth from the heart; and they defile the man. For out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, blasphemies . . . ” (Matthew 15:18,19)   Matthew Henry tells us; “It is the heart that is desperately wicked, Jer 17:9, for there is no sin in word or deed, which was not first in the heart. They all come out of the man, and are fruits of that wickedness which is in the heart, and is wrought there.”

     Years ago, while watching an old western movie I heard Kevin Costner who played a beat up old cowboy say; ‘Eventually, every man will tell you his intentions if you just listen carefully to what he’s saying.’  For some you have to listen very carefully for quite a while.  Others quickly get to the point when they are in an angry rage or frustrated.  Those who curse others and lay heavy burdens of shame, guilt and anxiety on people to manipulate them will eat their own words; “The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole body, sets the whole course of one’s life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell.” (James 3:6)

     When any person claiming to speak for God,  lays a curse on someone or lays a prophesy of doom over them because they are displeased with their choices, that person exposes  himself for what he is – an angry self-righteous little false prophet.  James explains; “Can both fresh water and salt water flow from the same spring? My brothers and sisters, can a fig tree bear olives, or a grapevine bear figs? Neither can a salt spring produce fresh water.” (James 3:11,12)

     Jesus tells us plainly that this kind of vindictive judgement coming out of a person’s mouth  will bring the same on them ; “For in the way you judge, you will be judged; and by your standard of measure, it will be measured to you.” (Matthew 7:2)  What does this say for us?  Listen, listen, listen – to others and to what comes out of your own mouth.  Use your words to build up not break down.

     Jesus calls us to a higher standard; “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.” (Matthew 5:43,44,45)

     If you’re like me, you can only do that through His strength (Philippians  4:13)

     Praise the Lord!

Who is your teacher?

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Matthew 10:24,25  “The student is not above the teacher, nor a servant above his master. It is enough for students to be like their teachers, and servants like their masters.”

     Having been a teacher for thirty years I know that students will pick up attitudes and traits of the teachers they admire.  That’s a tough thing for a teacher to think about because every honest teacher will admit that they have limitations and blind spots.  We don’t want to pass these on to our students. It’s important to hold up a higher standard in the classroom but only an arrogant teacher would want to be that standard.   That’s why honest teachers point to Jesus!  The same with preachers!

     The Bible tells us that God set up the greater covenant with His people, where He would write His standard right onto our hearts; “I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people. No longer will they teach their neighbor,or say to one another, ‘Know the Lord,’ because they will all know me, . . . ” (Jeremiah 31:33,34)  There is no need for a ‘middleman’ anymore.   In the great classroom of life, God, Himself will be our teacher.

     Scripture tells us that with Jesus the need for prophets to speak for God is done; “God, who at sundry times and in divers manners spake in time past unto the fathers by the prophets, Hath in these last days spoken unto us by his Son, whom he hath appointed heir of all things . . .” (Hebrews 1:1,2)  Jesus and His Word gets first and last say in and over our lives; “How shall we escape, if we neglect so great salvation; which at the first began to be spoken by the Lord, and was confirmed unto us by them that heard him . . . ” (Hebrews 2:3)  Any teacher or preacher who points to any standard other than Jesus isn’t doing you any good!

     How will God teach us and lead us in this world?  Jesus lived among us 2000 years ago but He went back up to heaven.  So how does this teaching happen?  Jesus didn’t leave that very important question unanswered.  He told us tough times were coming; “All this I have told you so that you will not fall away. They will put you out of the synagogue; in fact, the time is coming when anyone who kills you will think they are offering a service to God.  They will do such things because they have not known the Father or me. I have told you this, so that when their time comes you will remember that I warned you about them.” (John 16:1-4)

     Jesus tells us that in these times we’ll need a teacher – the best teacher – holding up the only standard that can save us and bring us through these troubled times; “I did not tell you this from the beginning because I was with you, but now I am going to him who sent me. None of you asks me, ‘Where are you going?’ Rather, you are filled with grief because I have said these things. But very truly I tell you, it is for your good that I am going away. Unless I go away, the Advocate will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you.” (John 16: 5-7)  It’s part of God’s plan that we’ve got tough stuff to learn in today’s ‘classroom’ of life.

       The Holy Spirit is our teacher – the only teacher who can help us; “I have much more to say to you, more than you can now bear. But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all the truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come. He will glorify me because it is from me that he will receive what he will make known to you. All that belongs to the Father is mine. That is why I said the Spirit will receive from me what he will make known to you.” (John 16:12-15)  Jesus tells us that the Holy Spirit will teach us what we need to know and learn as we are ready for it.  And the Holy Spirit is only going to teach God’s curriculum – not any worldly crap!

     Don’t you think it’s time for a student-Teacher conference?

     Praise the Lord!

Are you following me around?

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Matthew 8:20 “Foxes have dens and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head.”

     Jesus didn’t feel all that welcome in the world at the time that He was with us in body.  Barnes’ Notes tells us; “The very foxes and birds, says he, have places of repose and shelter, but the Son of man has no home and no pillow. He is a stranger in his own world – a wanderer and an outcast from the homes of people.” Jesus was not well received; “He came unto his own, and his own received him not.” (John 1:11)

     Like many at that time, we would like to follow Jesus as long as He doesn’t follow us home or to where we make our living.  Jesus tells us he’s ready to come for a visit; “Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with that person, and they with me.” (Revelation 3:20)  Better to just visit Jesus once a week in church and bring the kids along for a visitation.

     Sometimes we do hear Him, in a particularly rousing message by a pastor we like or as attendees of a concert where a big name Christian performer stirs up the crowd with wonderful songs.  Then we impulsively declare in our hearts – ‘We’ll follow You anywhere.”  We never think that Jesus hears what we say in our hearts, loud and clear, all the way up to His throne in Heaven.  He’s heard it all!

     When we hear Him calling to us, all too often we respond like the ‘thorny ground’ in His parable of the sower; “The seed that fell among the thorns represents those who hear God’s word, but all too quickly the message is crowded out by the worries of this life and the lure of wealth, so no fruit is produced.” (Matthew 13:20)  Thankfully, He understands our frailties and selfishness even if we don’t.

     Everybody wants to make the BIG COMMITMENT.  How about starting small – try being kind to your neighbour.  Try doing to others what you would like others to do to you – start with your spouse and kids. Take a good look at yourself in the mirror and pray for the mess; “And the publican, standing afar off, would not lift up so much as his eyes unto heaven, but smote upon his breast, saying, God be merciful to me a sinner.” (Luke 18:13)

     Don’t worry about being seen with Jesus in public.  Start meeting Him at home when nobody is around. Or take a few quiet moments with Him at work during your coffee break  If you do that you may find He’ll start showing up just when you’re ready to really blast someone either at home or at work.  He may start telling you to not take that beer ’cause you got to drive yourself home.  He may just start telling you when  to ‘shut up’ or ‘speak up’ when you think you should be doing the opposite.

     Practicing the small stuff on a regular basis, leaving the BIG COMMITMENT to the ‘big shots’, will over time build you up.  Before you know it you’ll be running after Jesus.  You life will become a testimony to His Word; “. . .  we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.”  (Hebrews 12:1,2)

     You’ll stop half living in the sidelines and start living with your eye on Jesus, your coach.

     Praise the Lord.

Who let him in!

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Genesis 14:18,19,20 “Then Melchizedek king of Salem brought out bread and wine. He was priest of God Most High, and he blessed Abram, saying, Blessed be Abram by God Most High, Creator of heaven and earth. And praise be to God Most High, who delivered your enemies into your hand.”

     Clearly Melchizedek wasn’t in Abram’s tribe.  He was an outsider, albeit a king.  Not only did he know about God, he worshiped Him as the ‘God Most High’.  How could an outsider have so much knowledge and love of God?  Sometimes we can be shocked when we come across an outsider who seems so connected to what we believe is our own special relationship. I struggle with with this, thinking – It shouldn’t be that way.  It’s tough to share grace with outsiders!

     Who was this ‘outsider’?  Wikipedia claims that according to Josephus (an ancient historian) Melchizedek was a Canaanite chief and a priest.   Herbert W. Armstrong argued to the contrary; “He could not have been a Canaanite, for they were steeped in pagan customs.” A concern about a person’s pedigree was the basis of Nathaniel’s initial skepticism of Jesus Himself; “Can any good thing come out of Nazareth?” (John 1:46)  The Forerunner Commentary states that Melchizedek was the ‘pre-incarnate Jesus Christ’.  To me, the most important point is that Melchizedek was an ‘outsider’.

     The Bible says that Jesus is the High Priest after the order of Melchizedek (Psalm 110:4) and; “The Lord has sworn and will not change his mind,‘You are a priest forever.’ This makes Jesus the guarantor of a better covenant.” (Hebrews 7:21) This was a tough one for the religious establishment of Jesus’ day to swallow as their claim to authority drew on the Levitical priesthood; “Now if perfection had been attainable through the Levitical priesthood (for under it the people received the law), what further need would there have been for another priest to arise after the order of Melchizedek, rather than one named after the order of Aaron?” (Hebrews 7:11)

     Jesus has a heart for ‘outsiders’.  His parable of the Good Samaritan  (Luke 10:25-37) is a powerful case in point.  What does Jesus stress?  Mercy!  How we treat those we feel are not of our tribe is something that God pays very close attention to; “’Which of these three [priest, Levite, Samaritan] do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?’ The expert in the law replied, ‘The one who had mercy on him.’ Jesus told him, ‘Go and do likewise.'” (Luke 10: 36,37)

     For those of us who have been outsiders, never quite fitting in anywhere and carrying the wounds of rejection the message of the Gospel has a poignancy and power that draws us in.  When churches lose touch with ‘outsiders’ because they have for generations been steeped in God’s Grace and comforts the power of the Gospel is emptied out of their ministry by the same extent.  This is a hard thing to say to good people who are believers.  But isn’t this the very message of Jesus’ parable of the Good Samaritan.

     Cannot a person with a pagan origin and sensibilities come to hunger and thirst for righteousness as well?  Cannot a person who is ‘red in tooth and claw’ feel pain and need mercy as well?  Do not those who are  broken and bereft by their own sin, need comfort as well? In this day, we don’t need go far beyond our church walls to find such as these.  Perhaps they will come to us if we go to them.

     Jesus did; “It is not those who are healthy who need a physician, but those who are sick. ‘But go and learn what this means: ‘I DESIRE COMPASSION, AND NOT SACRIFICE,’ for I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners.” (Matthew 9:12,13)

    Praise the Lord!

Discounted

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Matthew 4:8,9 “Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed Him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor. ‘All this I will give you,’ he said, ‘if you will bow down and worship me.'”

     The devil offered Jesus all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor if He would just bow down and worship him.  How sad it is that the devil pulls this terrible trick off with many of us with far less.  You see the devil was offering to Jesus what was already His.  What a trick – to offer a what isn’t yours and temporary in trade for something  of priceless eternal value.

     Satan doesn’t ‘own’ the earth although he has temporary control over it; “Now is the time for judgment on this world; now the prince of this world will be driven out.” (John 12:31) God hurled him down to the earth.  Jesus was there when it happened; “I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven.” (Luke 10:18)   Satan’s control is for a short time; “But woe to the earth and the sea, because the devil has gone down to you! He is filled with fury, because he knows that his time is short.” (Revelation 12:12)

     God didn’t give the world to the devil, we give control to the devil by our decisions and intent.  Like Adam and Eve, when we buy into his lies we give him control over us.  Jesus saw through the devil’s tricks; “Away from me, Satan! For it is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only.'” (Matthew 4:10)  Matthew Henry cautions us; “Satan tempted Christ to idolatry with the offer of the kingdoms of the world, and the glory of them. The glory of the world is the most charming temptation to the unthinking and unwary; by that men are most easily imposed upon.”

     False preachers tell people that as ‘good’ Christians they should live in affluence, peace and permanent good health.  If they don’t always prosper and live in good health  their faith is too weak and their vision to mean.  This is known as the prosperity Gospel; “One of the key underlying beliefs of the prosperity gospel is that ‘total victory’ can be achieved in this lifetime as a result of the believers’ giving of offering and/or faithful confession.” (Unwrapping the Prosperity Gospel (pt 2): The Lie of Total Victory)  This isn’t what Jesus tells us: “In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33)  It’s His victory not ours that carries us through tough times.

     Like Esau we can be tempted to give up our birth-right for a ‘bowl of stew’ so we don’t have to suffer; “I am about to die; of what use is a birthright to me?” (Genesis 29:32)  Jesus tells us; “For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it; but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it.” (Matthew 16:25)  A bowl of stew falls far short of being offered ‘all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor’.  How cheaply we trade away what Jesus paid such a high price for.  The devil knows our weakness.  The devil is a cheater!

       Yet the reality is that the ‘good life’ of worldly prosperity is an empty life filled with empty promises and shallow happiness.  It is the best the world has to offer – the best that Satan has to offer on a very temporary basis.  It is a devious counterfeit of what God offers for  eternity to those who choose a life in Jesus Christ.  Jesus warns us; “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.” (John 10:10)

     Don’t fall for the devil’s tricks and discount your life and Jesus’ sacrifice by living for what you can get because the riches of the world have become your idol.  Jesus tells us; “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” (Matthew 6:19-21)

     Keep your eye on Jesus.  Don’t fall for tricksters who offer you what really is nothing in exhange for your heart.   Let us stay away from idols (1 John 5:21).

     Praise the Lord!

What is the truth?

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What is the truth?  Can we know it?

Some may argue that these are very important questions.  I wonder.  Why? Is the truth all that important in our world where image is more important than substance?  The economy of our world isn’t based on any kind of truth?  Survival does’t go to the fittest but rather the fattest.  Wealth isn’t based on investment but rather on debt.  Life in our affluent bubble reality has no sharp cutting edges or deep chasms that the unwary can fall into.  There is no pressing reason to know the truth – so why bother to seek it..  The school of life has been put on permanent recess.

The Free Dictionary defines truth as; “conformity with fact or reality.”   Yet Kat McGowan writing for Psychology Today tells us; “In recent years, cognitive psychologists have gathered bountiful evidence that self-deception is a basic feature of the human mind. There are many advantages to deceiving ourselves, including appearing confident and winning the favor of others. Our minds are a jumble of conscious and unconscious elements that allow us to be both deceiver and deceived, although we may differ in the degree to which we are onto our own tricks.”  Even the high priests of social science will admit that mankind is not temperamentally suited for the truth.

Yet, the truth does exist even though we may not be avid fans of it.  Would we  be able to acquire any sort of knowledge of it even with the most rigorous methods of science or philosophy?  To say the truth exists is to say reality exists.  But this is quite a different thing from saying that we can completely know either by purely human methods.  Claiming that the truth can be known involves a paradox; “Fitch’s paradox of knowability is one of the fundamental puzzles of epistemic logic. It provides a challenge to the knowability thesis, which states that any truth is, in principle, knowable. The paradox is that this assumption implies the omniscience principle, which asserts that any truth is known. Essentially, Fitch’s paradox asserts that the existence of an unknown truth is unknowable. So if all truths were knowable, it would follow that all truths are in fact known.”

The problem with human’ knowability’ of the truth can be described in another way; “If you, dear reader, could theoretically know anything which is true (even if it required you live forever), then, in fact, you already do know everything which is true, that is, you are omniscient. (If you don’t believe yourself to be omniscient, you are forced to conclude there is some truth you cannot possibly know.  . . . )” (Sam Alexander in Fitch’s Paradox of Knowability)  It is human pride that inclines us to the belief that there isn’t anything we as a species cannot know or come to know.  Yet, this prideful claim has obvious logical flaws.

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We desire to be like God and know everything – to be omniscient.  This is an age-old flaw in the human character; “For God knows that in the day you eat from it [the Tree of Knowledge] your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” (Genesis 3:5)  We deceive ourselves and are partial to being deceived by others especially if flattery is involved.   The notion that some truths we cannot know or come to know by ourselves goes against our pride.  It’s bad enough to deal with the idea that facts are slippery, partial, context laden and sometimes discovered to be wrong.  For many it is intolerable to be asked to consider the possibility that human reason and ingenuity cannot uncover every truth in existence.  They would rather believe a lie than admit to a limitation.

The postmodern mindset prefers to kill the idea of absolute truth rather than admit to man’s inability to know all that is absolute truth.  Indeed to say there are no absolute truths is to make an absolute claim – to commit the very crime being condemned.  If we let go of our prideful desire to be like god(s), a whole different category of truth becomes available to us.  This category of truth is revelation.  Sadly, revealed knowledge is often too revealing for our ego.  In a society where facts are relative and truth is only accepted if convenient  there is little interest in revealed knowledge.

The truth like freedom isn’t desired if it doesn’t come at room temperature and pleasing to the eye.  Why bother with it?

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