Thursday, June 27, 2013

Our Comforter

Jorge Rodriguez was a Mexican bank robber who operated along the Texas border around the turn of the century. He was so successful in his forays that the Texas Rangers assigned an extra posse to the Rio Grande to stop him. Late one afternoon, one of the special Rangers saw Jorge slipping stealthily across the river, and he trailed him at a discreet distance as he returned to his home village. He watched as Jorge first mingled with the people in the square around the town well and then went into his favorite cantina to relax. The Ranger slipped into the cantina as well and managed to get the drop on Jorge. With a pistol at Jorge’s head, he said, “I know who you are, Jorge Rodriguez, and I have come to get back all the money you have stolen from the banks of Texas. Unless you give it to me, I am going to pull the trigger.” But there was a problem—Jorge did not speak English, and the Texas Ranger did not know Spanish. The two adults were at a verbal impasse.

About that time, an enterprising villager said, “I am bilingual. Do you want me to act as a translator?” The Ranger nodded, and the villager proceeded to put the words of the Ranger into terms Jorge could understand. Nervously, Jorge answered, “Tell the big Texas Ranger that I have not spent a cent of the money. If he will go to the town well, face north, and count down five stones, he will find a loose one there. Pull it out, and all the money is behind it. Please tell him quickly.” The little translator assumed a solemn look and said to the Ranger in perfect English,” Jorge Rodriguez is a brave man. He says he is ready to die!” What we do not know most assuredly does hurt us!

We need a reliable interpreter in life to tell us what is really going on. Jesus said that person was the Holy Spirit. He promised his disciples he would not leave them as orphans but would send the Holy Spirit to help them (John 14:17-18). This Counselor would remind them of everything he had taught them (John 14:26). In short, he would be everything Jesus had been to them.

After Jesus’ resurrection, he told his disciples to rely not on themselves but on the Spirit to live the Christian life. They had just hit bottom and had failed miserably and were ready to depend on God. They were ready to seek God because they recognized their inability to meet life’s challenges and the demands of ministry. Their ineffectiveness to do spiritual warfare with carnal weapons was obvious—they now needed power from above.

Jesus instructed them how to receive the power, “Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift my Father promised, which you have heard me speak about…you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:4-8).

The disciples were transformed by this power, as was illustrated by Peter’s boldness. Peter was truly turned from shifting sand to solid rock. We see him standing confident, filled with the power of the Holy Spirit as he faces the multitude and boldly proclaims the gospel of Jesus Christ. Peter proclaimed, “God has raised this Jesus to life, and we are all witnesses of the fact. Exalted to the right hand of God, he has received from the Father the promised Holy Spirit and has poured out what you now see and hear,” (Acts 2:32-33).

To the people, Peter gave two commands and a promise, "Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit,” (Acts 2:38). This Spirit Baptism occurred all through the book of Acts, first in Jerusalem, then in Samaria, then Caesarea, followed by Damascus and finally Ephesus. It is still going on all over the world where there are people who believe the promise of the Father is for them. Peter assured everyone on the day of Pentecost that this promise was for all time, “The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off — for all whom the Lord our God will call," (Acts 2:39).

Friday, June 21, 2013

Men of Courage

Some time ago I saw an advertisement of a dad who was spoon-feeding his baby. The child wouldn’t eat, so he pretended the spoon was an airplane that was bringing tasty food to his baby’s mouth. Then the dad got the smart idea to taste the food so he could better convince the child it was good. He tasted the food and just about gaged to death. Toro finished the ad by saying, “Don’t count on it.” Don’t count on a job being easy. That is especially true with it comes to fatherhood.

Today, Fathers are portrayed on TV and the media as dunces and idiots. Some fathers have abandoned their children, but most have not. The media perpetuates the idea that fathers are no longer needed. Children can grow up just as well without them. That is simply not true, and a simple survey of research shows that when fathers are absent, the children suffer.  Fathers fulfill an essential role in the child’s life that cannot be fulfilled otherwise.

Men need encouragement to be courageous and brave in their task of being a father. Their sons and daughters need them in their lives. When you make a connection—an emotional and spiritual connection, the shared experiences impact their lives forever.

Micah is one of the Minor Prophets located right in the center of the twelve Minor Prophets in the Bible. His name means “Who is like Jehovah.” His name and ministry were a message to people about becoming like God in character. Micah asks an important question of fathers, “What is needed to please God?” Then he answers it like this:

“With what shall I come before the Lord and bow down before the exalted God? Shall I come before him with burnt offerings, with calves a year old? Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams, with ten thousand rivers of oil? Shall I offer my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?” (Micah 6:6-7)

Micah speaks to the erroneous ideas of the people. He tells us what it takes to please God. The people have missed it. He starts from a small thing and moves to the greatest sacrifice—one could possibly ever give by their own efforts—one’s own child. The people are ready to buy God’s favor in hopes he would overlook their sins and transgressions. They are a self-righteous people, and their idea of God is that he is a God like the pagans who could be pacified with petty human gifts. To refute this erroneous idea, Micah forcefully tells us what it really takes to please God.

Micah took the teachings of Amos, Hosea and Isaiah and put them in one succinct paragraph and answered the question of what is needed to please God. Amos expresses the urgent need of justice,
“But let justice roll on like a river, righteousness like a never-failing stream!” (Amos 5:24). Hosea talks about God’s love, “…I will show my love to the one I called 'Not my loved one.'” Hosea (2:23). Isaiah expressed humility in these words, “…I will walk humbly all my years” (Isaiah 38:15). The prophet Micah brings these all together in his statement:

“He has showed you, O man, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God,” (Micah 6:8).

Men, if we take this simple plan of doing what is right with an attitude of mercy and humility, our kids will be drawn to us. This is the kind of life God will bless.

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

God’s Promise

The other day I was watching a court case. The judge said to the defendant, “You quit paying the loan in the same month the divorce was final.” The defendant remarked, “What a coincidence!” The judge replied, “This is not coincidence.”

My response to the many things that are connected in the Bible is “This is not a coincidence.” For example, take the place where Jesus was crucified outside of Jerusalem. It just happens to be the same place that Abraham placed his son Isaac on the altar to sacrifice him in obedience to God’s command. Just at the moment of ultimate testing, God provided a ram in Isaac’s place. It also just happens to be the same spot where David offered a sacrifice to ask God for mercy for his people. He refused to accept Araunah’s threshing floor without paying for it so that his sacrifice was meaningful. There is a connection between all three events. The first two were illustrations of the last. The Bible is full of such connections that are not coincidence.

Take for example the day that Moses inaugurated the Tabernacle in the wilderness; it happens to be one year to the day of the exodus from Egypt. God is a God of order and design, “Then the Lord said to Moses: "Set up the tabernacle, the Tent of Meeting, on the first day of the first month” (Exodus 40:1-2).  The incident is not a coincidence but a culmination of God’s work in the lives of Israelites to this point.

On this day Moses set the tent up and placed each piece of furniture in the tent. He initiated each piece as to its function. For example, he placed the Ten Commandments in the Ark. He placed the bread on the table; he lit the lamp; he burned incense and offered a sacrifice on the altar. When everything was done, they waited for God to respond, and God did respond, “Then the cloud covered the Tent of Meeting, and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle” (Exodus 40:34).

Moses and the people stared at the tabernacle in disbelief. The whole thing radiated with God’s presence and the full weight of his glory. It was as if the tent pulsated with the radiation of God’s power. The Tabernacle glowed with God’s glory, so much so that Moses could not enter.

It is interesting that the book of Exodus ends with these words:

“In all the travels of the Israelites, whenever the cloud lifted from above the tabernacle, they would set out; but if the cloud did not lift, they did not set out — until the day it lifted. So the cloud of the Lord was over the tabernacle by day, and fire was in the cloud by night, in the sight of all the house of Israel during all their travels” (Exodus 40:36-38).

God was both transcendent and immanent. He was both unapproachable, and yet he was accessible through his priests and sacrifices. Most importantly, God promised to be with his people. God didn’t deliver the people from Egypt to leave them stranded in the wilderness. He wanted a relationship with them. In all their travels God would be with them every step of the way. Jesus has made that same promise to each of us who have received him as our savior:

“and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age" (Matthew 28:20). No matter what you are going through this week, remember that Jesus is with you even to the end of the world.