A warning to religious hypocrites

THE STORY OF JESUS: Matthew 23:29-36
“You snakes! You brood of vipers! How will you escape being condemned to hell?” (Matthew 23:33)
Jesus uses the Jewish word ‘gehenna’ (here translated as hell) to describe the final judgment.
The valley of Hinnon (ge’hinnon) near Jerusalem was used in the past for child sacrifice (2 Kings 23:10).
Jeremiah named it ‘the valley of slaughter’ (Jeremiah 7:30-33).
In Jesus time the valley was used as a burial place for criminals and for burning garbage.
Worms ate the decomposing waste, and there was always smoldering fire there (Mark 9:48).
To be told your body was going there was to be relegated to the worst of human beings.
Jesus is condemning these leaders as offspring of Satan, the worst of criminals.
We may find this harsh, but think for a moment how leaders with power abuse their power.
Think of all the verbal, physical and sexual abuses committed, also by religious leaders.
These were not innocent seminary professors or harmless church deacons.
They wielded their power with cruelty, but then cloaked their crimes with sanctity and piety.
The question ‘how will you escape’ has the same answer for them as for everyone else: REPENT.
Nicodemus was a religious leader, but his heart was changed (John 3:1-21, John 19:38-42).
God condemns hypocrisy, but any hypocrite, any child of Satan, can find mercy, if they repent.
What do you sense the Lord saying to you?
Lord, the church is full of hypocrites, and I’m one of them. Help me to see my sin as a serious concern, and to hate it for what it is. Help me not to cover it up with fake piety and sanctity.

Troubled times!?

“My times are in your hands!” (Psalm 31:15)
‘We live in troubled times’, according to the lyrics of this Green Day song.
As I write this, the world is adjusting to the Trump presidency and its implications.
What will it mean for the economy, for race relations, for the environment, for world peace?
Because I majored in history, I realize the world is always facing troubled times.
If we look to our circumstances for peace of mind, we will never find peace.
As long as human depravity holds sway, we will always experience troubled times.
As Christians, we should not be surprised by these things… Jesus warned us.
“In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33)
This is where we find hope, and like the psalmist this is where we should entrust our times.
I do believe that we will see more troubles in the coming decades, history proves it.
But as He has through all the previous centuries, Jesus will continue to overcome the world.
He holds my times in His hands, and “no one will snatch them out of my hand.” (John 10:28)
Jesus committed His Spirit into God’s hands (Psalm 31:5, Luke 23:46), and He came out on top.
In the midst of all our troubles and uncertainty, let us do the same!
What do you sense the Lord saying to you?
Lord, I commit this day to You, and I will trust for You to provide and to guide me through my times.

Holding on to mystery!

THE STORY OF JESUS: Joshua 10-13
“The sun stopped in the middle of the sky and delayed going down about a full day.” (Joshua 10:13)
When you ask me what actually happened on this day, my answer is ‘I don’t know!’
How can the sun stop… when it is the earth that rotates around the sun?
And the catastrophic global implications of the earth stopping in its orbit…
Is it enough to simply say that it was a miracle… ‘I don’t know!’
Once again these chapters contain a lot of violence and death, what we call genocide today.
How can God command this, how can this view of God be reconciled with Jesus, and His view of God?
‘I don’t know’ hardly seems a worthy answer – in Latin its translated ignoreo (ie ignorant).
I don’t know a lot of things, but I do know one thing – God cannot be put in a box!
“How unsearchable his judgments, and his paths beyond tracing out!” (Romans 11:33)
God is “able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine.” (Ephesians 3:20)
When I have my doubts, I will give God the benefit of my doubt, and assume that somehow it makes sense.
Human depravity has created a horrible mess; is it any wonder God has to intervene radically to save us?
We judge God because His ways don’t make sense to us; uh, do our ways make any more sense?
‘I don’t know’, but God knows; I’ll take my chances with God’s mysteries rather than human depravities.
What do you sense the Lord saying to you?
Lord, forgive me for thinking my mind is able to pick apart the mysteries of God and the universe, when I can’t even figure out why I do the stupid things I do.

Only grace can eradicate evil!

“They devoted the city to the Lord and destroyed with the sword every living thing in it…” (Joshua 6:21)
I do not enjoy reading these stories, so much violence and death.
The only way I can think of these horrors is through the horror of the cross.
Our world is under a curse, violence and death are ‘normal’ in our sin-messed world.
Death, violence, torture, murder, abuse, these are all EVIL and need to be eradicated.
The people of Jericho were trapped within a deadly, life and soul destroying culture.
God does not end this evil by destroying it; all that He does is establish a foothold.
And through that foothold, He eventually steps in through Jesus to destroy evil.
Through Jesus God crucifies the curse, and sets its prisoners free.
These scenes from Canaan are stages in the unfolding plan of God, where grace triumphs over evil.
God through Jesus enters the violence in order to overcome evil with good.
Jesus has broken the curse, and has liberated us from Satan, sin, death and hell.
Jericho teaches us how serious sin is; Jesus teaches us how to overcome that sin… with grace!
Jesus does not call us to use violence to end violence; it didn’t work then, it won’t work now!
By defeating Satan for us, we can now join in His grace campaign to overcome evil with good!
What do you sense the Lord saying to you?
Lord, history is filled with violence; nothing seems to stop it. You have shown us what can: grace, mercy, peace, love, compassion, kindness. May the walls of sin and suffering crumble before us as we join You on this path!

A heart for what matters!

THE STORY OF JESUS: Matthew 23:23-28
“You have neglected the more important matters of the law—justice, mercy and faithfulness.” (Matthew 23:23)
There are many times when I think we Christians lose sight of what really matters.
Do we really think that how or when we do baptism really matters in the big scheme of things?
Do we really think that our particular formulation of a certain doctrine is such a big deal?
Do we really think that getting all the details right is essential for salvation?
Having systems of belief or codes of behaviour can be helpful to point us in the right direction.
And there can be serious consequences related to having wrong beliefs or practices.
But God’s grace always trumps our imperfections and inconsistencies, when our heart is right.
I think of David and his issue with polygamy (among others); that’s a pretty big issue don’t you think?
And yet somehow God sees David as a man after His own heart (1 Samuel 13:14).
What matters here is the heart, and the heart of the law – justice, mercy, faithfulness!
God is not measuring our outward performance for technical accuracy, He looks to the heart.
Do you genuinely want to love Him, and people, and do what is right, good, just, merciful?
Are you humble and sincere, open to correction and honest about your weaknesses?
The Lord looks through our religious beliefs and practices into our hearts… what does He see?
What do you sense the Lord saying to you?
Lord, if not for Your mercy, I’d be toast. I admit that I am weak in things that matter, but in my heart I want them. I cannot clean the inside of my cup… but You can! I want to be clean!

Multiplying mini-Jesuses!

THE STORY OF JESUS: Matthew 23:13-22
“You make them twice as much a child of hell as you are.” (Matthew 23:15)
I’ve never watched ‘Austin Powers’, but I have heard of Dr. Evil and his mini Me.
His protege is a mini version of himself, a clone of his evil ways.
Discipleship is the process of making a duplicate of yourself in someone else.
They watch you, mimic you, want to be like you, and soon reflect you – good or bad.
Over time, adults begin to recognize how much they are like their dad or mom.
But are the traits they’ve learned positive ones?
Jesus is harsh on the religious leaders in this passage, but for good reason.
They are cloning their evil ways, their hypocrisy, arrogance and greed.
Jesus does not hold back, “twice as much a child of hell as you are!”
Called to make disciples, we need to be sure that we are cloning the right stuff.
Our goal should not be to make people like us, but to make them like Jesus.
But we are the ‘Jesus’ that many of them see, so how are we doing as mini-Jesuses?
The better we know Jesus, the more we reflect on Him, the better we will reflect Him.
As we do, we can help others become twice as much a child of heaven as we are!
What do you sense the Lord saying to you?
Lord, today’s reading has me wondering what I’ve been reflecting in myself – Your strengths or my weaknesses? May my life draw more attention to You than to me, and entice others to want to be more like You!

Just plain Norm is fine!

THE STORY OF JESUS: Matthew 23-1-12
“The greatest among you will be your servant.” (Matthew 23:11)
I am not a fan of people giving me titles, like pastor, or reverent, or worst of all dominee.
This last one is a practice in my dutch tradition; the word origin is ‘lord’.
The argument given for these titles is ‘respect’, but I consider them hugely disrespectful.
Jesus plainly warns against using such titles, they go against who we really are.
I have a role, but my role is not to draw attention to myself with titles and privileges.
My position is like John the Baptist, “He must become greater; I must become less.” (John 3:30).
If it was good enough for Paul to be simply “Paul, servant of Jesus”, can I demand more?
Sadly, church leaders have too often welcomed this ‘leader worship’.
The church through history has imitated the world’s definitions of respect.
Bowing to church leaders, giving them titles and privileges, kissing their rings.
And church leaders have welcomed it, receiving such titles and honours, and dressing like worldly royalty.
“For those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.” (Matthew 23:12)
Please don’t respect me with titles I do not deserve or want, please respect Jesus!
If I am not helping you respect Jesus more, then I’m not doing my job!
What do you sense the Lord saying to you?
Lord, forgive me for the subtle ways I draw attention away from You to myself. And protect me from the ego boost when people recognize and respect me for my roles. You must become greater, I must become less!

Humbled before the Lord!

THE STORY OF JESUS: Matthew 22:41-46
“No one could say a word in reply… no one dared to ask him any more questions.” (Matthew 22:46)
Have you ever had a discussion with someone who strongly rejected God, Jesus, religion, etc.?
They had their arsenal of arguments ready to attack, to expose it all as hogwash.
‘What do you have to say about this’, hoping to disarm us with their tricky questions.
And I admit it, I do not have answers to many tough question.
I’ve decided its best not to argue or try to win a debate with them.
Honestly, they’re not really looking for answers, they already ‘know’ what they think.
And who am I to judge, I have my own ideas that I’m convinced are right too.
But this story challenges us to take our debates and challenges to Jesus.
One day we will all have a chance to stand before Him and debate Him, and we will all be silenced.
Whether it be religious leaders, or great political heroes like David, we will all be humbled.
“Where is the wise person? Where is the teacher of the law? Where is the philosopher of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world?” (1 Corinthians 1:20)
Our best response is to start being humble now, accepting that we don’t know it all afterall.
When we claim to be wise, we actually reveal how foolish we are (Romans 1:22).
What do you sense the Lord saying to you?
Lord, sometimes we think we’re so smart, we have it all figured out. How little we actually know. How fragile our systems and theologies are. Like David, we too will one day acknowledge that You are Lord… not us!

Does your face know?

“You clothed me with joy that my heart may sing your praises and not be silent.” (Psalm 30:11-12)
There’s someone at the coffee shop who is very spiritual, but not a Christian.
As a Jesus follower, I should want him to be like me, right?
Thing is, at least outwardly he is a positive, encouraging – even joyful person.
What about me, how does my spirituality make me, am I a positive, encouraging – even joyful person?
I am not saying that he does not need to know Jesus.
But I am wondering how well I know Jesus, if it is not resulting in a deeper love, joy, peace, etc.
The psalmist describes being CLOTHED with joy, covered from head to toe with it.
This means it is not just filling him, it is showing on him, it is visible to those around.
If I know the Lord, and the joy of the Lord is my strength… does my face know?
Who Jesus is, what Jesus has done, how Jesus changes me, this WILL be life-changing.
It does not produce just an outward joy, the kind that anyone can put on for a while.
It produces a deep joy that leads to visible joy, the kind that others will see, others will desire.
No one needed to TELL the healed lame man to praise the Lord and not be silent (Acts 3:8).
So why do I need to be reminded to praise the Lord and not be silent?
What do you sense the Lord saying to you?
Lord, I want to have deep joy, the kind that will make my friend at the coffee shop notice in me. Open my eyes to see the my reasons for joy; open my mouth to share my reasons for joy!

God is on Jesus’ side!

“‘Are you for us or for our enemies?’ ‘Neither, but as commander of the army of the Lord.'” (Joshua 5:14)
Many religious people believe that God is on their side.
From the Nazi conviction that God was with them, to Westboro Baptists confident in God’s support of them.
God’s angel was not there for the Israelites, nor was he there against the Canaanites.
God is working out His kingdom purpose FOR all people, Jew and Gentile.
In the moment, it may seem that God favors one over the other.
Through history, different tribes have risen to the top… for a time.
But this is not a sign of God’s loyalty to them, but to His kingdom purpose.
God has chosen to work through humanity, and humanity though corrupt, is still how God works.
He establishes Israel not for Israel’s sake, but for the sake of the coming Messiah.
He removes the Canaanites, raises up the Philistines, the Assyrians, the Romans… for the same reason.
Some Christians give the impression that God is on their side, working for their happiness, safety, success.
God is for His kingdom, not for our kingdom; He calls us to sacrifice our kingdoms for His!
God is for Jesus, the first righteous human since Adam, who is working for God’s kingdom, not His own.
God is for Jesus, and for everyone who surrenders themselves and their lives to His kingdom purpose!
What do you sense the Lord saying to you?
Lord, You are not so much on my side, as I am on Your side… or should be. I find salvation and hope by stepping into Your kingdom purpose, by surrendering to You and all that You represent. You are mine, but am I Yours?