Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Having Jesus In Your Heart 9

“And Jesus, walking by the Sea of Galilee, saw two brothers, Simon called Peter, and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea; for they were fishermen. Then He said to them, ‘Follow Me, and I will make you fishers of men.’ They immediately left their nets and followed Him. Going on from there, He saw two other brothers, James the son of Zebedee, and John his brother, in the boat with Zebedee their father, mending their nets. He called them, and immediately they left the boat and their father, and followed Him.

“And Jesus went about all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the gospel of the kingdom, and healing all kinds of sickness and all kinds of disease among the people. Then His fame went throughout all Syria; and they brought to Him all sick people who were afflicted with various diseases and torments, and those who were demon-possessed, epileptics, and paralytics; and He healed them. Great multitudes followed Him from Galilee, and from Decapolis, Jerusalem, Judea, and beyond the Jordan. Matthew 4:18-25

Everybody has a part of their consciousness that is tied intimately and irrevocably to their five senses. I have some confidence, then, when I believe that you are just like me in wanting a miracle to happen. This is especially true when I am afraid. I don’t mean afraid of the unleashed dog in the park. I mean afraid of hell. Now, when I catch myself praying for a miracle of an empty parking space, I easily dismiss it as a light kind of reliance upon the Lord. But when I am anguished with guilt and even shame at what I have done, it is very dangerous to ask the Lord to miraculously take away the mistake and so my guilt. If that happened, my repentance would be empty, my regeneration halted, and my journey to hell unimpeded.

So think about the people Jesus was trying to reach. How would we feel if a small group came along saying they had the answer to all the world’s ills and prophesied that the cure is here! That’s what the newly chosen Apostles were telling people. And Jesus was not only saying it (“Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand”), but also doing miracles that convinced all who saw it or were healed.

We are certainly more spiritually mature than those people before the Glorification and the second coming. So miracles, which impact change only on that lowest, natural part of our being, cannot advance our salvation. But in Jesus’ day, miracles actually made a difference. No wonder there were many church leaders who were very skeptical of Jesus and His followers. Jesus seemed to have an unusually powerful influence on people, getting them to follow Him and then so impressing the ordinary people when they heard Him in a synagogue that they considered Him a celebrity. When it became known that He was reading the Torah in the local synagogue on the Sabbath, and then teaching about it, crowds would come from all around to hear His teaching.

According to this pattern, then, it seems that our best course of action is to get excited when we hear an idea from the Word and believe it despite our feelings. Whenever we are afraid of something, we can go hear the Lord speak. Whenever we feel forced to do something, or catch ourselves doing something we don’t want to do, or are stopped from doing something, we can read the Word looking for the ways the Lord encourages and leads us. The Lord has many helpers in the world still! We can listen to Jesus’ words and allow them to help us ask the Lord for help.

The hells wish to redirect our attention away from the healing the Lord offers. It is significant that Jesus taught before He did miracles. Today, because miracles have limited impact and do not carry us on the journey of salvation, it is vital that we first listen to the Lord through His Word. When His teaching is settled in our lives – when we as it were go to the synagogue for the purpose of hearing Him – and we thus reject the message of the evil spirits, we will experience a miracle, a healing of our spirit.

To test this, I suggest you make a list. First, list the ways you have felt forced to do something you knew wasn’t right. Maybe you lied to cover for a mistake. The hells were then compelling you to lie! Add the times you have caught yourself doing something you knew was wrong, like yelling at your spouse or being selfish. Again, evil spirits love to control you in those moments. And add the times you now realize you could have acted but didn’t, like the time a friend did something wrong, or you didn’t say sorry, or thank you. After making such a list, open the Word in a favorite place - Joshua, the Psalms, a Gospel or Revelation or Heaven and Hell – and spend a few minutes reading, looking for some advice from the Lord.

I have some confidence, since you are a lot like me in this regard, that the natural part of your being that is being attracted by the hells will become quieter than your spirit. Your unhelpful desire for a miracle will be replaced with a renewed power to repent and move on to doing what is good. You then have Jesus in your heart.

Monday, May 03, 2010

Having Jesus In Your Heart 8

Matthew 4:12-17
Now when he heard that John had been arrested, he withdrew into Galilee. And leaving Nazareth he went and lived in Capernaum by the sea, in the territory of Zebulun and Naphtali, so that what was spoken by the prophet Isaiah might be fulfilled:
"The land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali,
the way of the sea, beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles—
the people dwelling in darkness
have seen a great light, and for those dwelling in the region and shadow of death,
on them a light has dawned."
From that time Jesus began to preach, saying, "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand."

If you have ever moved from one city to another likely you would say it was hard work, expensive, frustrating and inevitably something is broken or lost. So people move for a reason. Recently, many people are moving against their will because of the economy. But when we choose to move, we do so for the benefits that will be gained or because we feel called to do what we are going to do and need to be in the new place. And so we go through the trouble and try as hard as we can to make it happen smoothly.

It must not have been a lot of work for Jesus to move. He packed his bag; literally, THE bag, and then walked the twenty miles from Nazareth to Capernaum. It may have been a rough road in spots, but it was a road. And he had to have a reason to move, a mission to fulfill. And we are told why right away. He had to go to Capernaum to preach because there were many more people there than in Nazareth; because he would not be a prophet in his own city; and because it was prophesied that he would do so.

I wonder what the people who were descendants of Zebulun and Naphtali thought about themselves? For hundreds of years they were told that they were cursed with darkness and dread. Maybe it is like the feeling we have from knowing some people who are about to go into battle and may be killed. We are bothered, irritated, defensive, even angry. I know I have spent time living in darkness and dread. And when it gets to be normal, it is like I am accepting my fate, the bad karma that is to be expected in this life.

So I am striving to imagine the feeling the people of Capernaum had when Jesus came along saying he had the light; that the prophesied cure is here! Perhaps this is how I am reacting to Jesus when he says to me through his Word: “Repent! The kingdom of heaven is near! I can heal you!”

That’s what Jesus and his newly chosen disciples were telling people. And Jesus was not only saying it, but doing miracles that convinced all who saw it or were healed themselves.

It seems from this that our best course of action is to get excited when we hear an idea from the Word and take it on as a belief despite our feelings. Whenever we are afraid of something, we can go hear the Lord speak. Whenever we feel forced to do something, or catch ourselves doing something we don’t want to do, or are stopped from doing something we ought to be doing, we can read the Word looking for the ways the Lord heals us. The Lord has many helpers still in the world. We can listen to them and allow them to help us ask the Lord for help.

Jesus Christ invites us to make a move with him. Move from the unconscious, small world of maintaining the status quo. Walk with him to the bustling metropolis seaport of useful activity in a mission of service to others and to the Lord. Only then will you actually learn what repentance is. Here is a hint: it is not sitting in the cold and dark, bemoaning one’s evilness. It is living in the warm sunshine that Jesus Christ provides, being fully aware of the past, and being full engaged in the present. Yes, Jesus tells us what sin is, and that we are guilty. And then he says: move away from there, and live a new life of health and joy!

Saturday, April 03, 2010

Having Jesus In Your Heart 7

The next in a series of articles based on the Gospel of Matthew intended to equip us to be better followers of Jesus Christ.

Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. And after fasting forty days and forty nights, He was hungry. And the tempter came and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.” But He answered, “It is written, ‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’” Then the devil took Him to the holy city and set Him on the pinnacle of the temple and said to Him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down, for it is written, ‘He will command his angels concerning you,’ and ‘On their hands they will bear you up, lest you strike your foot against a stone.’” Jesus said to him, “Again it is written, ‘You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.’” Again, the devil took Him to a very high mountain and showed Him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory. And he said to Him, “All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.” Then Jesus said to him, “Be gone, Satan! For it is written, “‘You shall worship the Lord your God and Him only shall you serve.’” Then the devil left Him, and behold, angels came and were ministering to Him. Matthew 4:1-11 (ESV)

At this point Jesus is about thirty years old. He had been raised in a proper Jewish home. He must have experienced all the phases and stages of life. Likely He made childhood friends, and then lost them. Likely He knew feast and famine being the son of a tradesman. Likely He knew hard work and the satisfaction of a job well done. Perhaps He experienced the oppression and violence of rule by the Romans. Perhaps He watched as the males of his age rebelled against their parents and the church. Likely He saw sin and apostasy among the people of Nazareth. Maybe He felt the shame of being from a second or third class family in a backwater town.

All this means that, like all people, He could be tempted around food and power and glory. And like many men He could react to dares! This is why the Gospel account is to be taken literally at first. Jesus, the mere mortal, while in the midst of a spiritual retreat in an attempt to center Himself in His new role of public healing and preaching, heard the voices of selfishness, materialism and hedonism. Certainly they were the words of Satan. And certainly, He heard them as his own words of rationalization and justification.

One of the aspects of this story that makes it so wonderful is that we all know He is the Christ, the Son of God! We know that He is about to remember this, and feel again the power to advance his purpose! And indeed, His words demonstrate that He knows He is the Son of God. We anticipate with some glee that Satan is about to get his comeuppance.

Satan, His archenemy, knows all this too. So how can Satan think that anything he might do would be too tough for Jesus to handle? Yet He does think that, for he is as short sighted and stupid as all evil spirits are. Satan comes to Jesus at a weak moment–He has been fasting for forty days! So of course making some bread is tempting. We have all experienced the kind of hunger that even a mere suggestion can send us running to the refrigerator or fast food place. So we can imagine that Jesus might be tempted to use His power to turn rocks into bread. And Jesus knows He can do miracles, so we can imagine that He would be tempted just show up this smart aleck Satan and accept His dare to jump. And, finally, Jesus knows His job is to save the whole human race, so we can imagine that He might think that if He was king of the world He could do a better job of it.

Well, Jesus could do all these things. However, and this is the really important point, using His power to show Satan He can do it would not help Him do the job He had to do. In fact, it might slow Him down.

These are real temptations. And it is good to know how He resists the temptations. He could zap Satan right back to hell. He doesn't because the battle is inside Him, not from Satan. So He uses the weapon He has been taught from childhood to use: Scripture. That is how Jesus, God incarnate, defeats Satan. The lesson for us: The Word can bolster our bravery, it has all the information as to right and wrong, and it has the power to drive away evil spirits. Having it as part of our life gives us an incredible amount of power! And if it was what Jesus used to win in temptation’s battle, it is what we should use too.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Having Jesus In Your Heart 6

The next in a series of articles based on the Gospel of Matthew intended to equip us better to be followers of Jesus Christ.

“Then Jesus came from Galilee to John at the Jordan to be baptized by him. And John tried to prevent Him, saying, ‘I need to be baptized by You, and are You coming to me?’ But Jesus answered and said to him, ‘Permit it to be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.’ Then he allowed Him. When He had been baptized, Jesus came up immediately from the water; and behold, the heavens were opened to Him, and He saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting upon Him. And suddenly a voice came from heaven, saying, ‘This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.’ Matthew 3:13-17

Last we heard of Jesus in the Gospel of Matthew, He was a toddler in Nazareth. (The well-known story of His arguing with he priests in the Temple is not told in Matthew). It is generally believed that He was about 30 years old now. We know He has siblings, and His mother is still alive. We know nothing about Joseph. We do know that He is the Son of God, borne by Mary, but without a mortal father. So we know that something special is going to happen.

Perhaps you have already experienced a relationship with someone you anticipated was special. Hopefully, if you are married, your spouse gives you this feeling. Have you ever noticed the difference that makes for the two of you? Perhaps you can compare it to what you expect in an interaction with someone you have a conflict with. Is it not he case that you are on your guard? And you prepare your defenses. You want to be able to counter anything your opponent may toss at you. So, a loving relationship is the opposite. When you are about to interact with someone who is special, your heart opens up. You anticipate words of welcome, encouragement, healing and joy. You expect the loved person to nourish our soul. And you can hardly stand the wait until you get to give that person the gift of your love, approval, unconditional regard, and friendship.

John knows his mission is to prepare for the wonderful reception of the Messiah. He knows that a great healing is going to happen, and he knows it is his job to announce it to the world. Perhaps he is always on the lookout for the “one who is mightier than I.” Perhaps he is looking over his shoulder, so to speak. Perhaps he is motivated to be assertive, pushing himself day after day, reaching out to the reluctant and even the opposition. He has to make his message clear and loud so that it reaches all those who will welcome the Messiah. I can imagine he is always wondering if the Messiah would show up this day, or this afternoon, or this hour. He is opening his heart and the hearts of the people to anticipate the special and healing love that is coming.

And the day comes! Suddenly, Jesus appears on the banks of the Jordan where John is preaching and baptizing. John recognizes Jesus even as He enters the water of the river. Perhaps the Holy Spirit that inspired John inspired his knowing, and he saw the Divine aura surrounding Jesus. John is surprised when Jesus indicates that He wants to be baptized by John. What a huge moment in John’s whole life! That Jesus thought John could baptize Him was too much! John rejected the notion immediately and instead sees this as his chance to fulfill his heart’s greatest desire and be baptized by Jesus, the prophesied High Priest who could wash him of all his sins!

But Jesus insisted that all the rules applied to Him just as to anyone else. This declaration instantly transforms John’s whole attitude, indeed his whole mission, his life. He has found a special relationship, and it is not what he expected. He has found a Savior, who gives John a part to play, a role, a work to do. For John the Baptist, from here on out, nothing of this world, even the threat of death, could deter him from the path of righteousness. John sees his mission in a new light, with a new understanding. He hears a new voice to guide him, urge him on, and strengthen him. He is this first person to have such a relationship with Jesus Christ, and it produces a new life for John.

So this is our first glimpse of our Savior, with whom we must have a relationship of love if we are to be saved. Let us not be sidetracked by what is, on its face, oddly confusing in the story. The “heavens” open to Him (so only Jesus is seeing and hearing this), and Matthew reports (perhaps what Jesus later told him) that the Spirit of God appears “like” a dove, flying gently to Jesus and resting on Him – likely His shoulder, it seems to me. Did anyone else see the dove? It doesn’t matter because we are not told. Then a voice, again “from heaven,” speaks, calling Jesus “My beloved Son.” So where is this “heaven” that Jesus could hear voices from it? And who there is speaking? And what does this say about Jesus’ mission?

There is an appearance here of a trine in God: The Son, Jesus, standing in the water; the Holy Spirit, fluttering and landing on Jesus, like a bird; and the invisible Father, whose voice is audible. This trine describes my Savior in a clear and accessible way. It makes it possible for me to have a relationship with my Savior. I know, hear, obey, and love, one God who is love itself, who is divine AND human.

The New Church teaches that God is one in Essence and Person. This is the only way God can be love itself, indeed pure and infinite love. Yet that Divine Love flows into creation and so looks differently in different circumstances. So it never matters what the situation is in your life at any moment, the Lord comes into your heart and mind according the rules of creation, which He designed. He must obey them. So Jesus had to obey them as He made Himself Divine, symbolized by His being baptized by John.

Let us rejoice the appearing of our Savior in our lives. Let us revel for this time that He is present. Let us anticipate something special. This is how we prepare a way for Him to come into our hearts. We know trial and tribulation are coming. But for now, let us simply be pleased!

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Having Jesus In Your Heart 5

The next in a series of articles based on the Gospel of Matthew intended to equip us better to be followers of Jesus Christ.

“In those days John the Baptist came to the Judean wilderness and began preaching. His message was, ‘Repent of your sins and turn to God, for the Kingdom of Heaven is near.’ The prophet Isaiah was speaking about John when he said, ‘He is a voice shouting in the wilderness, “Prepare the way for the Lord’s coming! Clear the road for him!”’

“John's clothes were woven from coarse camel hair, and he wore a leather belt around his waist. For food he ate locusts and wild honey. People from Jerusalem and from all of Judea and all over the Jordan Valley went out to see and hear John. And when they confessed their sins, he baptized them in the Jordan River….

“‘I baptize with water those who repent of their sins and turn to God. But someone is coming soon who is greater than I am—so much greater that I'm not worthy even to be his slave and carry his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire. He is ready to separate the chaff from the wheat with his winnowing fork. Then he will clean up the threshing area, gathering the wheat into his barn but burning the chaff with never-ending fire.’ Matthew 3:1-12 (NLT)

Picture it: a wild man comes to the major river crossing out of the desert and begins loudly preaching hell fire. He is filled with energy, is relentless, and really well spoken. He does a great job of pointing out how bad things are: corruption, immorality, general meanness; officials are stealing from people, the police are beating people up, and how most people are just negative, worried, and don't help each other.

And many people respond! They even begin to come out from Jerusalem – a day’s walk away – just to check him out! Many come forward, publicly admit they had done wrong and are now sorry. So John takes them into the river and symbolically washes them. The person has a spiritual experience that certainly will impact their living for some time. The religious leaders come out to challenge John, as he is doing a ritual washing that is only supposed to be done by them in the Temple.

Of course, these days we cringe and are suspect of such rebellion, drama and enthusiasm. We favor consensus, rational discourse and calm deliberation. We judge that someone today acting like John is using coercion. Many think that loud advocates are trying to impose their morality on others. It is interesting that people these days do yell imprecations at each other on the radio, television and on Internet chat rooms and videos about law and politics. And a lot of political talk is personal attack. There are so many who enjoy this show of bluster that normal discourse is being impacted. It seems to me that we have perverted the kind of speech that John exemplifies.

But when it comes to religion, we just want to be left alone. We know from the Word that one person cannot tell whether another needs to repent, and it is wrong spiritually as well as bad manners to accuse someone that they do! So there is much confusion in our culture about “imposing morality.” Surely we can all agree that certain behaviors are destructive. The problem is that there are many behaviors that some think are evil and others who don’t. So the whole idea of standing up and trying to convince passersby that they are evil and need to repent is generally rejected. And that has diminished the impact of the teachings of Jesus Christ in many people’s minds.

I thank the Lord that we are now able to discover in the internal sense of the Word a powerful, relevant and current message from the Lord through John the Baptist. And so here it is: It is time to get your heart ready for the presence of Jesus Christ. This is not complicated by personal issues, like shame, wounds, or heredity. The invitation to prepare does not produce defensiveness, for it is not accusative. It is an invitation to consider all the circumstances and influences in your life, and look at them in the context of a relationship of the love for and belief in our Lord Jesus Christ.

On the one hand, John reminds people that their God promised a wonderful life in a beautiful land. And on the other he points out how evil leaders are working against the God’s plan. But he also points out that every individual is responsible for his or her own relationship to God.

So, today, you have before you in the Lord’s Word, a description of a life of satisfaction and joy. You have at hand a manual for coping with sadness, guilt, worry, and whatever negative thought or feeling is ruining your happiness. And when the Word is in your heart, you will be shown clearly and simply what Jesus Christ promises will bring those blessings to you.

What John tells people to do introduces us to the first, easiest step in doing what Jesus Christ tells us to do. When he gets a lot of people's attention by his wonderful speeches, he tells them simply: be honest, fair, and nice to each other! Easily said! And revolutionary! That would, indeed solve everything today. If people in power didn't use their power to abuse people; if we all did what we said and only said what we intended to do; if we all admitted our mistakes; if we didn’t start fights to get our way; and just simply were nice to each other, the world would be a great place to live!

As a thought exercise, I suggest you spend some time designing the perfect earthly society. What will its rules be and how will they be enforced? What will be encouraged, what would be merely tolerated, and what would be banned? What will punishments be? Can you describe the overall feeling in a few sentences?

And then get to the real work: read a bit of one of the Gospels, and then keep thinking and making a list until you come up with one action you will take today to live up to what Jesus Christ has lovingly told you will make your life happy and fulfilled. As you experience blessing, your love for and trust in the Lord Jesus Christ will prepare you for having Him in your heart.