Tag Archives: Gospel

If Nobody is Home

Exorcism can be dangerous, Jesus said, because it can leave you worse off.

“When an evil spirit comes out of a man, it goes through arid places seeking rest and does not find it.  Then it says, ‘I will return to the house I left.’ When it arrives, it finds the house unoccupied, swept clean and put in order.  Then it goes and takes with it seven other spirits more wicked than itself, and they go in and live there. And the final condition of that man is worse than the first. That is how it will be with this wicked generation.” –  (Matthew 12:43–45)

The problem in this scenario is that the soul of the exorcised person is not filled with another and better spirit.  It is merely “swept clean.”  It may be “put in order,” temporarily following a set of rules for moral living.  But it is vulnerable to spiritual attack.  This is the condition of so many who attempt to become morally good by following rules and strict discipline.  In Jesus’ day, it was the Pharisees who followed that path.  In our day it is frequently those raised in a legalistic church who find themselves in this kind of peril.  His or her “house” is “swept clean” but it is “unoccupied.”  Take that person out of their childhood environment and plunk them down, unsupervised on, say, a college campus and some very strange and sad things tend to happen.

However, when a person trusts Jesus, He sends His Spirit to live in their soul to guide them and empower them in truth.

And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Counselor to be with you forever—  the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you.  –  (John 14:16–17)

But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all truth. –  (John 16:13a)

This is an essential difference.  Their “house,” their soul, is no longer “unoccupied.”  It is the reason why the message of Jesus is not merely another religion, doomed to failure, but is genuine, Good News!  He gives the Holy Spirit Who lives in our souls and overpowers the forces of evil.

Quotes: The Holy Bible: New International Version. (1984). (Mt 12:43–45). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

Plus Nothing

The man was beat up badly for telling people about Jesus.  And then thrown in prison.  You might think he’d have taken a break and used the time to rest up.  But not Paul.  He said:

“I want you to know how much I am struggling for you and for those at Laodicea, and for all who have not met me personally.” (Colossians 2:1)

Struggling?  The word he used gives us our word for agonizing.  In jail?  Doing what?  Praying.  Not just “Now I lay me down…”  but agonizing over these folks in prayer – people he had never met!  Why?  What was so important that, even though he couldn’t be there personally, he worked hard in prayer for them?

Turns out, the problem was human ideas were creeping into their understanding.  People who loved to be in positions of authority and control over others were teaching them a bunch of nonsense.  Religious nonsense.  It sounded good.  But it was leading them farther and farther away from what they really needed to know.

“My purpose is that they may be encouraged in heart and united in love, so that they may have the full riches of complete understanding, in order that they may know the mystery of God, namely, Christ, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.” (Colossians 2:2-3)

Think about the simple but reverent lifestyle and teaching of Jesus.  Compare that simplicity to what the various forms of Christianity have become!  What has changed?  Human ideas have been added, ones that seem good because they sound religious, but which dilute and pollute the essence of what it means to follow Jesus.  Think of the lavish architecture, the costumes, the ritual and the extravagance.  Think of all the rules and regulations that have been layered on the simple message of Jesus.  This distortion in the name of Jesus has been going on from the very earliest days of the church.  Paul couldn’t be there to rail against it, so he agonized in prayer for them.  And he wrote to them:

“I tell you this so that no one may deceive you by fine-sounding arguments.” (Colossians 2:4)

God loves you.  Your sins have separated you from Him.  He wants to forgive you and reconcile you to Himself.  He has paid the penalty for your sin, on your behalf, by the crucifixion of His Son, Jesus.  Stop trying to fix yourself and trust Jesus instead.  Surrender to Him and He will come and live in your soul by His Spirit.  In Him you have “all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.”  If you have His life in you, that’s all you need.  Plus nothing.

 

Quotes: The Holy Bible : New International Version. 1996, c1984 (electronic ed.). Grand Rapids: Zondervan.

Say What?

He knew English from textbooks when he got here as an exchange student, but his first exposure to how English was actually spoken was in my college fraternity house.  It was startling but not surprising, therefore, when he was invited to a friend’s house for Thanksgiving dinner and asked for someone to pass him the @#$%*^ potatoes.  After a moment of shocked silence, the friend’s mother said, “Well, you heard him, pass the @#$%*^ potatoes!”

If you don’t know the slang expressions and idioms, you can easily get the wrong idea.  Why do we say, “What’s up?”  Here is some potential confusion from Paul’s letter to the Colossians:

” Now I rejoice in what was suffered for you, and I fill up in my flesh what is still lacking in regard to Christ’s afflictions, for the sake of his body, which is the church.” (Colossians 1:24, NIV)

Huh?  Christ didn’t quite suffer enough?  Paul had to help Him out?  No. Jesus did everything necessary to completely and permanently pay for all the sins of anyone who is willing to accept His gift.  He has prepaid for you to receive complete forgiveness forever.  So why did Paul say there was something lacking in His suffering?  He used a common idiom to say, “I’m glad to do whatever is necessary to help the church, even if it means I will suffer for it like Jesus did.”

Jesus delegated the work of spreading His good news to His followers, who had discovered personally how wonderful it is.  He knew the assignment would come with suffering.  For whatever reason, people frequently get angry when you tell them about Jesus.  Go figure.  That’s why Jesus prayed for His followers, saying:

“I have brought you glory on earth by completing the work you gave me to do.” (John 17:4 – His atoning sacrifice was complete.)

“I have given them your word and the world has hated them, for they are not of the world any more than I am of the world.” (John 17:14 – They would suffer)

“As you sent me into the world, I have sent them into the world.” (John 17:18 – Nevertheless, the plan is for them to tell people about Jesus)

Paul understood these realities, and that followers of Jesus would be witnesses to Him.  His attitude was, “Whatever it takes, I’m glad to do it.”  But it wasn’t that Paul was a masochist.  It was how amazing the message was, and how cool it was to see people catch on.   There is something about Jesus that most people have missed, something mind-blowing!  Knowing that, whatever it takes, even suffering, was worth it.  But what is that nugget?  What part of the message made it so worthwhile?

Stay tuned; we’ll get to that next time.

 

Quotes: The Holy Bible : New International Version. 1996, c1984 (electronic ed.). Grand Rapids: Zondervan.

An Old Tool

Old tools fascinate me.  Looking at the areas worn bare from use, I  try to imagine who used it, what he was making.  Sometimes I’m more curious to know what it was used for.  Tool magazines frequently post pictures, asking, does anyone know what this is?

Words are tools. As they are used less, they get left in the toolbox. In time, people may not understand how they were used. Like the word, redemption.  In biblical times, it was not uncommon for someone to sell himself into slavery, to cover a debt.  Someone else, usually a close family member, could pay the slave’s owner a fee to purchase his (or her) freedom. He purchased redemption.  The former slave was now free.

Imagine how that felt, waking, the next morning to suddenly remember that everything that happens next is now a choice, not a command.  More profound for someone born into slavery, who had never known freedom. Such a person might not have realized he had been in bondage, nor the full implications of now being free.

When Jesus taught about how He could redeem us, some asked Him:

…“We … have never been slaves of anyone. How can you say that we shall be set free?”
     Jesus replied, “Very truly I tell you, everyone who sins is a slave to sin.  Now a slave has no permanent place in the family, but a son belongs to it forever.   So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.  –  (John 8:33 excerpt-36)

Perhaps the word, redemption, has suffered disuse because most of us, like Jesus’ listeners, don’t truly understand our condition of slavery.  But even those who were born into slavery can be redeemed, set free, and given a full and permanent place in God’s family.  If The Son sets us free, which He freely does for all who will trust Him, we have redemption, we are free indeed. 

Freed slaves eventually get it; they notice.  They rub their formerly bound wrists, look around in astonishment and gulp in fresh draughts of freedom.  Life is more than better, it begins!  Which is why Paul was so excited to say:

” …  For He (God, through Jesus) has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves,  in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.
–  (Colossians 1:13-14)

Sometimes, when I learn how an old tool was used, I discover it works better than anything more recently made.  The word, redemption, is one of those.

There’s More

“But wait, there’s more!” Those words, made famous by infomercial hucksters, were given full measure by Ty Pennington on Extreme Makeover, Home Edition.  After walking each flabbergasted, tearful family through their newly built super-home, he’d say, “But wait, there’s more…” and then surprise them with another lavish gift, perhaps a fully paid off mortgage. 

The lavishness of the generosity, the “but wait, there’s more” attitude, is what made that show. It would have been enough if they had fixed their house and cleaned it up. But instead, anything they could imagine and accomplish to bless the family was piled on, with joy and enthusiasm. “But wait, there’s more…!”

That’s the feeling Paul must have had as he told his friends why he was so excited and happy for them as new believers. They had become recipients of the lavish, “but wait there’s more,” generosity of God. Look at his short list:

“… giving joyful thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of his holy people in the kingdom of light.  For he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves,  in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.” –  Colossians (1:12-14)

Imagine the excitement experienced by each Extreme Makeover family when they first heard they qualified for an extreme makeover. God qualifies the new believer for full rights as an heir in His Kingdom. I once visited a mansion of an heir to a breakfast cereal fortune. Impressive, but not even close to the riches awaiting those who share in the inheritance of the Kingdom of God. It’s a wealth that cannot be measured with money.

Paul calls it the Kingdom of Light, and says, God has “rescued us from the dominion of darkness.” Ever met a meth addict? Most are pretty vivid examples of how the promise of fun quickly turns into dominion by very dark forces. Many worldly pleasures and treasures take control of us in a similar, if more subtle, way. But God rescues us, redeems us, forgives us and welcomes us home into the Kingdom of His Son.

Some of the most enthusiastic, happy people I know have been rescued from a very dark place and brought into His light. But they haven’t seen anything yet. To say it another way, “But wait, there’s more…

Watch Out for the Lyrics

In the gathering dusk, the harmonies settled in, comfortable, tight and mysterious.  The guitar was soft, rich and deep, a confident, rock-steady downbeat.  A few hands clapped in light, syncopated rhythm. They sang:

“Keep your lantern trimmed and burning, 
Keep your lantern trimmed and burning”…

Moments like that are rare and precious, they sweep you up and pull you in. Maybe you love singing that old Gospel song and have memories like that. 

But watch out for what it says!  It’s a dangerous message.  There is no way a oil lamp or kerosene lantern can keep itself burning.  It must be cleaned and adjusted.  Most importantly, it must be filled.  The song tells “you” to keep yourself trimmed and burning.  It implies you can do it if you will just try hard enough and persevere.  Nothing could be further from the truth.

Jesus said, “You are the light of the world,” going on to illustrate His imagery with an oil lamp.  But He also said, 

“I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. –  (John 15:5)

We who follow Him are but branches through which His life grows, lanterns through which the oil of His Spirit is transformed into light.  Only by His power, life and light, are we able to keep burning.

Somehow, David understood that Who keeps the light lit.  3000 years ago, he wrote:

“You, LORD, keep my lamp burning;
my God turns my darkness into light.” –  (Psalm 18:28)

You are Invited

You have been invited by God.  Doesn’t matter what family or faith you have come from.  Makes no difference what trouble you have fallen into, or how unworthy you feel.  You are invited, which means you cannot buy a ticket or use any good works to bribe your way in.  God says, “Y’all come!”

“Come, all you who are thirsty, come to the waters; and you who have no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without cost. …Give ear and come to me; hear me, that your soul may live….” (Isaiah 55:1 & 3a)

Jesus renewed that invitation:

“On the last and greatest day of the Feast, Jesus stood and said in a loud voice, “If anyone is thirsty, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, streams of living water will flow from within him.” (John 7:37-38)

Notice the lack of fine print.  “All you” are invited.  “Whoever is thirsty” is on the guest list.  Jesus does not say, if you are good enough, or, if you were born into the right family or faith.  He does not discriminate between liberal and conservative, rich or poor, Jew or Gentile, or any racial lines.  He says,

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.” (Matthew 11:28)

The invitation is for way more than rest:

“I tell you the truth, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be condemned; he has crossed over from death to life.” (John 5:24)

And, you are invited.  We humans use a four-letter word to exclude one another, the word “them.”  God and Jesus use a four-letter word to include us all, the word “come.”

Quotes: The Holy Bible : New International Version. 1996, c1984 (electronic ed.). Grand Rapids: Zondervan.