Jesus and Release

Musings after spending two out of the past three weekends on Great Banquet prison teams:

"When He came to the village of Nazareth, His boyhood home, Jesus went as usual to the synagogue on the Sabbath and stood up to read the Scriptures.  The scroll of Isaiah the prophet was handed to Him.  He unrolled the scroll and found the place where this was written:

'The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, for He has annointed me to bring Good News to the poor.  He has sent me to proclaim that captives will be released, that the blind will see. that the opressed will be set free, and that the time of the Lord's favor has come.'  He rolled up the scroll, handed it back to the attendant, and sat down.  All eyes in the synagogue looked at Him intently.  Then He began to speak to them.  'The Scripture you've just heard has been fulfilled this very day!'"  (Luke 4:16-21)

So, from the very beginning of His ministry, here is Jesus' agenda.  I'm guessing you could have heard a pin drop.  He was declaring Himself to be the One the prophets spoke of, but also reminded the people of the Savior's purpose in coming.  His agenda in part was to deal with very real physical issues (the poor, the blind, the opressed).  But, beyond that, Jesus' agenda would include the poor in spirit, the spiritually blind, and the spiritually opressed.

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Everybody Wants to be Somebody

“I always wished I would grow up to be somebody.  Maybe I should have been a little more specific.”  Lily Tomlin

Everybody wants to be somebody, but how do we know who that somebody is?  The influences of the world are happy to answer that for us…and then sell us what we need to make it happen.  No mystery at all, according to the modern western world – your identity is almost always determined by what you look like, what you do, what you have, and/or who you know.  And every time we buy into this value system, our life is a bit more focused on “I have to have…,” “I ought to…,” and “How do I get people to like me?”  To the degree we play their game, it becomes a cycle that can only give temporary results.  It really is too bad, when you think about it.

Jesus has offered us a much better option.  Rather than basing our identity on what we have, how we perform, or the people we know, Jesus has called us into the mystery of the ages – that we might experience the terrific realization that our true identity is only found in Him (not in ourselves).  Remember Paul’s description of this powerful mystery?  “To them (believers in Christ), God has chosen to make known among the Gentiles the glorious riches of this mystery, which is, Christ in you, the hope of glory” (Colossians 1:27).

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The Resurrection of Relationships

“Your dead will live; their corpses will rise.  You who lie in the dust, awake and shout for joy!”  (Isaiah 26:19)

"Angels called out to the women, 'Why do you look for the living among the dead?  He is not here; He has risen!'”  (Luke 24:5-6)  Very much joyful news, but it must have caught the ladies off guard, don’t you think?  After all, they were there at Jesus’ tomb with burial spices to anoint the body of a Man they saw die.  From their experience, a dead person on Friday is not alive on Sunday.  But, here is what no one had ever experienced – dazzling angels keeping watch next to an empty tomb, telling them Jesus is alive.  By defeating death, Jesus is all about life.  But, it has to do with recognizing that real life, true life, rises above and over the things that we have only associated with death and dying.

As we celebrate Easter, have you considered what parts of your life God might want to resurrect – to give life to something that seems to be dying, or is already dead?  Maybe it’s strained family relationships.  Do you pray for the family member who has dissed you or just seems distant to you?  Are you willing to open your heart to start loving him or her the way God loves you?  “Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.”  (1 Cor. 13:7)

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"But God"

During this season of Lent, as we wait again for Easter, it’s really difficult to not be dragged down by the ugliness and evil present in our world today.  I’m writing this a day after Valentine’s Day, a day set aside for showing and sharing love, right?  Maybe at one level, but it also is the day after the senseless murder of people who thought they were simply finishing their school day in Parkland, Florida.  Unfortunately, the exact opposite of showing and sharing love happened.  As I was going about the business of preparing for our Ash Wednesday worship, I heard the tragic news of another school shooting.  I was literally typing words that would be used as Rob and I would mark the church family’s foreheads, “Out of ashes, comes our salvation in Christ Jesus.”

As the lines came forward to receive the ashes in a form of a cross, and as each person heard those words that remind us of Christ’s purpose for dying and His promise of new life, the reality struck at a significant level.  What typically is a serious moment for each person as they receive the ashes, was last night for many a moment of grief and tears.  Less than four hours earlier, the lives of many were snuffed out in a way that placed evil at center stage – or so Satan would hope.

But God (what a wonderful phrase) reminded us all last night that the ugliness and evil present in our world today is not the last word.  Every person present last night heard of the reality of sin, and yet in the same sentence, heard the promise of God, “Out of ashes, comes our salvation in Christ Jesus.”

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God is Still Here

“I am not moved by what I see.  I am not moved by what I feel.  I am moved only by what I believe.”  Smith Wigglesworth

What we believe matters.  It matters every second of every day.

  • A flood of negative circumstances is batting you down.  The existence of a good God begins to seem questionable to you.  Where do you turn?
  • Two nicely dressed young men knock on your door wanting to teach you about their religion.  The things they are teaching sound good, yet in your heart you know they are not being completely honest in what they say.  Where do you turn?
  • You’re at a point in life where much of what you’ve thought and have worked for don’t seem to be worth the effort.  And now, there are choices ahead – choices that will determine the rest of your life.  Where do you turn?
  • After years of faithful prayer and worship, this “God experience” is drying up and you are emotionally sapped.  Where do you turn?
  • Maybe you are standing on the edge of a compromise you thought you’d never make.  The moral crossroads in front of you are huge.  Where do you turn?

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Behold! There is STILL Good News!

Before we get on with the new year celebrations, can I say just one more thing about the end of 2017 and the Christmas we celebrated in the midst of a lot of grief in the world?  Seems like I ran into a lot of people who just couldn’t quite get excited about fa-la-las with so much sadness and negativity - even evil out there.

Before we move on, I want us to consider one thing that helps bring light to the shadows: Think what it would be like if Jesus had never been born.  All the glitter and hype would be a hoax and nothing more than a cruel joke.  There would be no hope, no peace, no forgiveness, no eternal life, no Holy Spirit to comfort and guide us, no knowledge of God, and no possibility of change (at least not for the better).  One last time in this winter of emotion, focus on Jesus.  It really did happen.  The virgin birth, the angels, the shepherds - all true.  As true as the piles of new socks and stacks of fruitcake that appear under our trees.

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God Left Nothing to Chance

None of what happened in the birth story of Baby Jesus was coincidental.  This was a God-orchestrated event that fulfilled the prophesies God had given centuries before through men like Isaiah and Micah.

Everything that happened, from the time the census was ordered, to everyone returning to their own city to be registered, to the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem - all of it was orchestrated by God.  And out of tiny Bethlehem, came the Messiah.

We celebrate this as the beginning of something incredible.  Jesus, the Christ, left His throne in glory and took on human form just to reconcile us to our Father.  He came into the world, miraculously conceived, and yet born as we all are.  He was a baby, a toddler, then a young boy who became a man.  Jesus experienced humanity at all levels; He truly can identify with all people at all stages of life.

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