SINKING

Everyone who hears my teaching and applies it to his life can be compared to a wise man who built his house on an unshakable foundation. When the rains fell and the flood came, with fierce winds beating upon his house, it stood firm because of its strong foundation. [Matthew 7:24-15 (TPT)]

Mt. Hayden - Grand CanyonWhile summer is hurricane season here in Florida, early spring is “sinkhole season.” For most property owners, a sinkhole is little more than a headache but, for some, it means the loss of their homes and possibly their lives. Seven weeks ago, two families north of here lost their homes and belongings as the earth collapsed beneath them, leaving a chasm at least 40-feet wide and 60-feet long. Back in 2013, a man went to sleep and literally disappeared as he, his bed and then his entire bedroom vanished into the earth; his body was never recovered.

Here in the “Sunshine State,” our homes are built on limestone that dissolves easily in rainwater; as a result, the underground becomes honeycombed with cavities. Sometimes, a cavity becomes too big to support its ceiling and collapses, leaving a gaping hole at the surface. Too much or too little water can trigger these sinkholes. Although cavities filled with rainwater can support their ceiling, when drought causes them to empty out, they can’t. On the other hand, in a heavy rain, the sudden flood of groundwater rushing into a cavity combined with the weight of pooled water on the surface also can lead to the ground’s collapse.

When purchasing our house of poured concrete, I knew it was hurricane resistant but I never gave any thought to the strength of the ground beneath it. Many of us build our lives in much the same way. Attention is given to looking good on the surface but our lives are not built on God’s bedrock. Instead of a drought or torrential rains jeopardizing our stability, it’s things like job loss, illness, miscarriage, divorce, addiction, mental illness, teenage rebellion, betrayal, depression, boredom, and loss that threaten our weak foundation.

As a carpenter, Jesus knew all about the building of houses when He spoke about foundations at the end of His Sermon on the Mount. Two houses experience the same challenges but only the house built on rock can endure life’s storms. In case his listeners didn’t understand His point, Jesus clearly explained it: a life built upon His teaching was built on a foundation of bedrock and wouldn’t fail.

Since most sinkholes occur in the central part of our state and only a few small ones have occurred near us, I’m not worried about them. Nevertheless, we do look for signs of trouble such as leaks or structural cracks in our floors or walls. Sinkholes can be prevented if geotechnical experts are called in time and the necessary repairs or remediation are done. Those houses I mentioned didn’t have to disappear into an abyss and neither do our lives. Lives built on shaky foundations can be saved. The salvage expert to be consulted is Jesus who will shore up our lives with His living word. Moreover, unlike that man who disappeared into the ground, nobody can fall so far into the abyss that Jesus can’t lift them out. Let us all build our lives on the bedrock of Jesus Christ!

But everyone who hears my teaching and does not apply it to his life can be compared to a foolish man who built his house on sand. When it rained and rained and the flood came, with wind and waves beating upon his house, it collapsed and was swept away. [Matthew 7:26-27 (TPT)]

Could there be any other god like you? You are the only God to be worshiped, for there is not a more secure foundation to build my life upon than you. [Psalm 18:31 (TPT)]

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NEVER THE EASY WAY

No one who is tempted should ever be confused and say that God is testing him. The One who created us is free from evil and can’t be tempted, so He doesn’t tempt anyone. [James 1:13 (VOICE)]

When the Apostle James tells us that God can’t be tempted by evil, we wonder how Jesus could be tempted to sin while in the wilderness. Christians agree that Jesus never sinned but some question whether He actually could. They hold the “impeccability” position: because Jesus was God, sin was impossible and He couldn’t have been tempted. Others hold the “peccability” position: because Jesus was a man, he could sin and was tempted. Still others, recognizing His dual nature, say that, as a man, Jesus could be tempted to sin but, as a divinity, He couldn’t.

Jesus was both God and man in one person. Rather than ceasing to be God while on earth, He added humanity to His being. At the same time, He was both divine and mortal, impeccable and peccable, immortal and mortal, infinite and finite. He didn’t have a multiple personality disorder with dueling personas; His fully divine nature was united in perfect harmony with his fully human one. While Jesus’ human nature was tempted by evil, His divine nature was not. Nevertheless, the temptation was real!

When in the wilderness, Satan tempted the hungry Jesus to make bread from stones. As the One who later fed a multitude with a boy’s lunch, we know Jesus could easily have done it; but He didn’t. Satan then tempted Jesus to prove himself by jumping off the highest point of the Temple. We know that the One who walked on water and passed unseen through an angry mob didn’t need angels to bring Him to safety. Jesus could have transported Himself safely to the ground effortlessly; but He didn’t. Finally, Satan tempted Jesus by offering Him kingdoms and glory if only He’d worship the enemy. We know the One who returned the dead to life, healed the sick, and turned water into wine didn’t need Satan to give Him kingdoms and glory. With a snap of His fingers, the One who was there at creation was capable of performing such an extraordinary spectacle that all of Jerusalem would have knelt immediately in worship; but He didn’t. When I look at those temptations, I see Satan tempting the Jesus to use His divine power to take the easy way out of the struggle and suffering that lay in His future as a man.

Satan left Jesus after that but his departure was temporary. He lay in wait for the next opportunity and I suspect he frequently tempted Jesus to take the easy way. As God, Jesus could be anywhere He wanted but, as a man, He had to walk to get there. God never gets tired, hungry, or thirsty but Jesus the man did When we look at the miracles done by Jesus, there was a unique purpose to each one and, while they helped to establish His identity, none were done to make His life easier. He deliberately chose to meet the challenges of life as a vulnerable human not an invincible God. Jesus never took a shortcut as God!

Satan is merely a fallen angel and was no match for the divine nature of Jesus. Satan, however, can overpower man and it was as a man that Jesus had to defeat him! Satan wanted to prove that no man could be obedient to God’s will but, by living as a man and resisting temptation, Jesus did just that. Out of love for us, Jesus defeated Satan by living sinlessly as a man and by dying as a man at Calvary.

Though He was in the form of God, He chose not to cling to equality with God; But He poured Himself out to fill a vessel brand new; a servant in form and a man indeed. The very likeness of humanity, He humbled Himself, obedient to death—a merciless death on the cross! [Philippians 2:6-8 (VOICE)]

For Jesus is not some high priest who has no sympathy for our weaknesses and flaws. He has already been tested in every way that we are tested; but He emerged victorious, without failing God. [Hebrews 4:15 (VOICE)]

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FORTY DAYS

Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted there by the devil. For forty days and forty nights he fasted and became very hungry. [Matthew 4:1-2 (NLT)]

Moses Fountain - Bern SwitzerlandIn Scripture, the number forty often appeared in the context of preparation, judgment, or testing. The rain poured down upon Noah for forty days and nights. After spending forty years in Egypt and another forty as a shepherd, Moses twice spent forty days with the Lord on Mt. Sinai. The Israelite scouts spent forty days exploring the land of Canaan and, because the people lost heart and rebelled at their report, they spent an extra forty years wandering the wilderness (one year for each day the men explored). Jonah warned Nineveh their destruction would take place in forty days, Ezekiel lay on his right side for forty days because of Judah’s sins and, before being slain by David, Goliath taunted Saul’s army for forty days.

The number forty has significance in the life of Jesus, as well. After His baptism by John, the Spirit led Jesus into the wilderness for forty days of testing and, after His resurrection, Jesus remained on earth for forty days. Just because the number forty frequently appears in the context of trials, however, does not mean that forty is merely symbolic. Remembering that God is the One who chose the time, forty days probably means forty days.

Although people like David, John the Baptist, and Moses spent a time of testing in the wilderness, we wonder why Jesus, the son of God, would have to undergo a period of testing before beginning His ministry. Moreover, we wonder how Jesus, being God in flesh, could be tempted. Although both wholly God and wholly man, it was Jesus the man who grew, walked, talked, and was crucified for our sins, and it was Jesus the man who demonstrated His humanity by undergoing temptation. Obedience really isn’t obedience if disobedience is impossible and it’s impossible for our good God to sin. As God, Jesus couldn’t be tempted to sin but, as a man, He could. The sinless Lamb of God had to remain sinless, not as God, but as man and out of obedience to God the Father.

It’s how Jesus resisted temptation that is most telling. As God, he easily could have rebuked Satan and sent him scampering with a wave of His hand. As a man, however, Jesus relied on Scripture to defeat the evil one. God has provided us with His word as a way to withstand temptation. Of course, we have to know His word before we can use it against the enemy! I suppose we could spend the next forty days doing just that!

Yes, Adam’s one sin brings condemnation for everyone, but Christ’s one act of righteousness brings a right relationship with God and new life for everyone. Because one person disobeyed God, many became sinners. But because one other person obeyed God, many will be made righteous. [Romans 5:18-19 (NLT)]

If you think you are standing strong, be careful not to fall. The temptations in your life are no different from what others experience. And God is faithful. He will not allow the temptation to be more than you can stand. When you are tempted, he will show you a way out so that you can endure. [1 Corinthians 10:12-13 (NLT)]

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DUST TO DUST – ASH WEDNESDAY

I take back everything I said, and I sit in dust and ashes to show my repentance. [Job 42:6 (NLT)]

Matterhorn Memorial - ZermattToday is Ash Wednesday and the beginning of the Lenten season. Marking the forty days Jesus spent fasting in the wilderness before beginning His ministry, Lent is a time many believers intentionally reflect on the life of Jesus: his ministry, sacrifice, death, and resurrection. For some Christians, today also starts a season of repentance, fasting, and self-examination.

Although many evangelical Christians do not observe Lent, it is one of the oldest traditions of the Church. A letter written by Irenaus of Lyons (c. 130-200) describes a pre-Easter fast that originated “in the time of our forefathers.” Originally lasting only a few days, in 325 AD the Council of Nicaea wrote about the occurrence of a 40-day season of fasting, penitence and self-examination. While it originally may have been a time for new Christians to prepare for Baptism, the whole Church soon joined in observing the Lenten season.

Although Lent is 40-days long, a look at the calendar tells us there are 46 days until Easter. Since those other six days are Sundays, they aren’t considered Lent. The disciples and most of the first followers of Jesus were Jews who had observed the seventh day (Saturday) as the Sabbath. Because Jesus rose from the dead on Sunday, however, the early apostles changed their Sabbath day of rest and worship to the first day of the week as a continued celebration of His resurrection. When the early church began to observe the season of Lent, Sundays (being mini-celebrations of the risen Christ) were exempt from fasting and other forms of self-denial.

Most Roman Catholics and some Protestants will observe this day with the imposition of ashes on their foreheads. Made by burning palms from the previous year’s Palm Sunday and mixing the residue with anointing oil, the ashes are a visible reminder of mankind’s mortality—God made us by breathing life into dust and it is to dust that our bodies shall return. [Genesis 3:19] The ashes also represent penance. Putting dust or ashes on the head was an ancient gesture of mourning and penitence; when people repented of their sins, they would dress in uncomfortable sackcloth and cover themselves with ashes. Today, some worshipers may leave church with the ash cross still on their foreheads as a way of carrying the cross into the world while, in other churches, worshipers will wash off the smudge as a sign that they’ve been cleansed of their sins.

Neither Ash Wednesday nor Lent is Biblically ordained and whether we observe either is a matter between us and God. We must keep in mind that observing any religious ritual or rite is not a way to earn salvation; we are saved by God’s grace through faith alone. Moreover, if we choose to observe Lent, Jesus made it clear that fasting and abstinence should be done humbly, sincerely, and discreetly. [Matthew 6:16-18] While it is okay to be seen fasting, it is not okay to fast so to be seen. Finally, let us remember that there is no specific season for repentance; we should repent of our sins all year long!

I have come to call not those who think they are righteous, but those who know they are sinners and need to repent. [Luke 5:32 (NLT)]

Now repent of your sins and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped away. [Acts 3:19 (NLT)]

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BEYOND REPROACH

Elders must be blameless, the husband of only one wife. Their children must be believers, and must not be open to the accusation of loose living, or being rebellious. This is because an overseer, as one of God’s household managers, must be blameless. [Titus 1:6-7 (NTE)]

yellow-crowned night heronIn my granddaughter’s ethics class, the question was posed, “Should elected officials be held to a higher standard than the population that elected them?” She maintained that everyone should be held to the same high standard and I agreed. We have no right to hold anyone to a higher standard than the one we keep. I added, however, that having taken on the public’s trust, elected officials have an obligation to hold themselves to the highest standards possible.

In Jesus’ day, every community had a group of adult men known for wisdom and maturity called elders who gathered as a kind of village council. When Christian churches came into being, they borrowed this leadership model and elders were appointed for each congregation. Sometimes referred to as bishops or overseers, their duties were to teach and preach, direct the affairs of the church, shepherd the flock, and guard the church from error. The other church office was that of deacon. The deacons assisted the elders which enabled them to give their full attention to prayer and ministry. The qualifications for both elders and deacons were much the same.

Paul gave both Timothy and Titus a list of the qualities necessary for elders and deacons. It’s interesting that Paul wasn’t concerned with their skill sets, talents, or spiritual gifts. Whether they were competent writers, brilliant speakers, accomplished musicians, or wealthy businessmen wasn’t his concern; their personal character was!

The principal requirement was that an elder be anenklētos, often translated as blameless, not accused, above reproach, of unquestionable integrity, or of unimpeachable virtue. For the sake of the church’s good name, the elder’s impeccable reputation was as important as his good character. Perhaps this seems unfair but the early church was a minority and already misunderstood by many. It could easily be smeared by even the hint of a scandal. Those who represented it had to be irreproachable.

Paul then spelled out the characteristics necessary for an elder. In his personal life, the elder was to be discrete, self-controlled, clear-headed, fair-minded, and not arrogant, argumentative, violent, or quick-tempered. In their homes, elders were to have a well-ordered household and healthy family relationships. As for the elder’s social life—he was to be hospitable. This was an important aspect of his calling since churches often met in homes and travelling evangelists and teachers were housed and fed by members of the church. Moreover, an elder was not to indulge in riotous living. Financially, the elder was to be a good steward of God’s gifts, trustworthy with money, and not greedy. Spiritually, elders were to be mature in their faith, virtuous, and knowledgeable in the Word of God. Their lives were to be an example for others to follow.

These requirements bring me back to a slightly rephrased version of the question posed in my grand’s ethics class: should we hold those in authority (such as elected officials, pastors or church council members) to a higher standard than our own? Are our own standards as high as those Paul purposed for the elders and deacons of the early church? They should be. As representative of Jesus, we all should strive to be the sort of people Paul would want to serve as elders and deacons: people above reproach! Let us remember that public perception of Christ’s followers and the church is as important today as it was in the 1st century!

Since I recently was appointed to our church board, I also return to my addendum to the grand’s answer. As a board member and a representative of our church, I must hold myself to the highest possible standard. It is only through the power of the Holy Spirit that any of us can be the kind of people described by Paul: people who shine like stars in this dark and troubled world!

There must be no grumbling and disputing in anything you do. That way, nobody will be able to fault you, and you’ll be pure and spotless children of God in the middle of a twisted and depraved generation. You are to shine among them like lights in the world, clinging on to the word of life. [Philippians 2:14-16a (NTE)]

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LET IT GO! (Part 1)

But if we freely admit that we have sinned, we find God utterly reliable and straightforward—he forgives our sins and makes us thoroughly clean from all that is evil. [1 John 1:9 (PHILLIPS)]

I’ve undertaken a series of “Abundance” exercises, the purpose of which is to take Jesus up on His promise of an abundant life. While my first assignment was to notice God’s abundance in His creation, the second was to let go of any guilt that I might be holding by asking God to forgive me (and believing that He truly has).

“Forgive yourself and let it go!” is easier said than done and this second exercise was more challenging than the first. Asking God for His forgiveness is less difficult than actually believing we’re forgiven and forgiving ourselves can be hardest of all. Sadly, the underlying guilt and self-reproach when we can’t let go of the past robs us of an abundant life.

I thought of Peter’s many failures that last night of Jesus’ earthly ministry. He protested Jesus’ washing of his feet, bickered with the disciples about their Kingdom status, boasted that he’d never desert the Lord, fell asleep in the garden, and then denied knowing Jesus! The lowest point of Peter’s life must have been when the Lord looked into his eyes after that third denial. By disavowing the man he loved, Peter did exactly what he promised he’d never do and, weeping bitterly, he left the courtyard. Peter’s despair and shame must have grown the following day when Jesus died after hours of suffering on the cross. Did guilt for his betrayal fill Peter’s heart?

Several months earlier, Peter had asked Jesus if forgiving someone seven times was enough. Jesus’ answer of seventy times seven meant there is no limit to forgiveness. While Luke tells us that the risen Jesus appeared to Peter, we don’t know how that first reunion went and what words were spoken. We do know that, when Jesus appeared on the lakeshore and told the men to cast their nets on the other side of the boat, Peter was so anxious to see Him that he jumped into the water and swam ashore. I can imagine Peter’s tears at their soggy embrace.

That morning, as the men stood around the charcoal fire while the fish cooked, did Peter remember warming himself by another charcoal fire when he denied Jesus the third time? We know that Jesus asked Peter three times if he loved Him and that Peter answered in the affirmative each time. Although we never read of Jesus explicitly forgiving Peter, we know that man who preached unlimited forgiveness certainly practiced it! That He told the apostle to take care of and feed his sheep certainly implies the Lord’s forgiveness. Indeed, Peter shepherded His flock and became the Rock of His church.

While Peter probably remembered that Thursday night with regret, he also knew there was nothing he could do to change it; his words of denial couldn’t be unsaid. Yet, if he’d chosen to hold onto his guilt, he would never have been able to speak of forgiveness and lead 3,000 to Jesus on Pentecost! Fraught with guilt and shame, he may even have taken his life as did Judas. Instead of holding onto the past, Peter sought God’s mercy and forgiveness and reaffirmed his devotion to the Lord. Believing in Jesus’ power to cleanse him from his sins, he accepted God’s forgiveness and lived the abundant life promised by Jesus. Peter forgave himself and let it go; let us do the same!

If we live like this, we shall know that we are children of the truth and can reassure ourselves in the sight of God, even if our own hearts make us feel guilty. For God is infinitely greater than our hearts, and he knows everything. And if, dear friends of mine, when we realise this our hearts no longer accuse us, we may have the utmost confidence in God’s presence. [1 John 3:19-21 (PHILLIPS)]

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