Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Judas Iscariot and Joseph of Arimathea

Approximately 2,000 years ago, Jesus Christ walked this earth. He was God's Son, and what He accomplished during his brief 33 years is and always will be the most significant events in history. He impacted every life with whom He came in contact, and time itself was divided by His birth. He spread love, healing and deliverance to everyone He met. His words and actions to people are still studied, discussed and respected by Christians and non-Christians alike. However, the purpose of this post is not to talk about what Jesus did, but rather, it is to talk about how He was treated by two people who played very different roles in His earthly life.

One of these people is very well known. His name has become synonymous with betrayal and scandal. Judas Iscariot was one of Jesus' closest followers. He accompanied Jesus throughout His earthly ministry. He was there when Jesus fed five thousand men, along with their wives and children. He witnessed Jesus heal and deliver an epileptic boy and watched as Jesus called Lazarus from his grave. Judas heard the Sermon on the Mount, and he was present when Jesus privately explained the parable of the sower. He saw Jesus walk on water and joined Him for His last meal. For three and a half years, he traveled with Jesus all over the nation of Israel, but in the end, He chose to betray Jesus for thirty pieces of silver. Judas' time with Jesus, although there were probably some great moments, will forever be remembered for his selfishness and greed in the end. 

Joseph of Arimathea is not as well known as Judas. The Bible does not even record a single conversation that he and Jesus had. We don't know if He ever witnessed a single miracle or how many times, if any, he heard Jesus preach. He may have never heard Jesus rebuke the Pharisees or see Him bless the children. For all we know, he may have only heard about Jesus or seen Him from a distance, but in the end, he gave up his own personal burial tomb and allowed Jesus' body to be placed there. Joseph of Arimathea's time with Jesus, as brief and fleeting as it might have been, may be a detail that many pass over as they read the story of Jesus life, but it was significant enough that it was foretold more than six hundred years before it happened. 

The prophet Isaiah prophesied about Joseph of Arimathea and what he would do many generations before he was born. In what is unquestionably one of the most beautiful and precious Old Testament prophecies about Jesus as the Messiah, Isaiah said:

   He had done no wrong and had never deceived anyone. But He was buried like a criminal; he was put in a rich man's grave (Isaiah 53:9 NLT, emphasis mine).

Joseph of Arimathea was this rich man, and the body of Jesus was laid to rest in his grave.

Judas had such little esteem for Jesus that he was willing to betray Him to His death, even after spending so much time with Him. Joseph, on the other hand, so highly esteemed even the bruised and beaten body of Jesus that He offered His own grave to a man he probably barely knew. 

Now, let us fast forward about two thousand years. Jesus has ascended back to the Father, Judas took his own life and Joseph has also passed away. The natural body of Jesus is no longer present on this earth, but His people make up His body now. We are his representatives to a world that is dying and needs His healing touch. However, we are far from perfect. We all have shortcomings and weaknesses. None of us is a perfect representation of Jesus on an individual level, and collectively, we have made some serious mistakes that have been some of the worst travesties in history. Nonetheless, we are the body of Christ today. 

The man sitting beside you at church is a part of Jesus' body. You may be aware of sin in his life, but he is still a part of Jesus' body. The pregnant teen who is afraid to come back to church is also a part of His body. The single father and the homeless man who sits in the back are both a part of His body. The family who left the church upset and the church across town that just split because they couldn't agree on the volume of the music are a part of His body. Indeed, His body is still broken and bruised, but who will we be, Judas Iscariot, or Joseph of Arimathea? 

Will we betray one another, or will we sacrifice for one another? Will we pass judgement on the body of Christ today, or will we embrace His body, in spite of the damage that may seem to be beyond repair? Will we sit in the pew with our jaw clinched in disdain, or will we roll up our sleeves and get our hands dirty? Will we criticize, or will we walk with our neighbors through the messes and ugly sides of their lives? Will we choose to look down on them, or will we commit to pray for them every step of their journey? Will we betray those around us, or will we lay our own lives down for them?

Who will we be, Judas Iscariot, or Joseph of Arimathea?

Saturday, February 23, 2013

America and the Sin of Sodom

There are probably few people today who are not familiar with the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah. Just the mention of these names brings to mind images of fire and brimstone and Lot’s wife being turned into a pillar of salt (see Genesis 19:26). Believers and non-believers alike know at least some of what took place and that the evil in those cities became so great that the Lord was finally forced to destroy them. Although many are familiar with Sodom and Gomorrah, most probably misunderstand their primary sin.

We all know that perversion had become very rampant in Sodom. Undoubtedly, it was some of the worst the world has ever seen. The people there had become so depraved that they even desired to have a sexual encounter with two angels (see Genesis 19:1-5). However, this horrible perversion was just one of a handful of sins that led to Sodom’s ultimate destruction.

More than a thousand years after the demise of Sodom, the Lord spoke through the prophet Ezekiel and shed light on the reality of what went on there. In Ezekiel 16:49-50, the Lord said:

Sodom’s sins were pride, gluttony, and laziness, while the poor and needy suffered outside her door.
She was proud and committed detestable sins, so I wiped her out, as you have seen (NLT).

Along with the obvious detestable sins, the Lord also listed pride, gluttony, laziness and a disregard for the poor and needy as the sins that led Him to destroy Sodom. He was just as offended by Sodom’s pride, idle misuse of their abundance and lack of care for the poor as He was their depravity.

A Startling Comparison

We do not have to consider these sins very long to recognize that they are also common in present day America. By God’s grace and mercy, America’s best days can be ahead of us, but we need to make some major changes. Right now politicians are laying out their plans for our nation and changes they plan to implement. However, we need to understand that far more important are the changes that need to be made in the hearts and lives of America’s citizens. We need to understand the sins that grieved the Lord’s heart in Sodom and determine to rid our own hearts and nation of them.


The Bible has much to say about pride. Let us consider just a few of the scriptures that deal with this common sin:


When pride comes, then comes dishonor . . . (Proverbs 11:2a)

Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before stumbling (Proverbs 16:18).

Pride separates us from God and brings dishonor and destruction to our lives. The Lord is not able to tolerate pride, and to whatever degree an individual or a nation is prideful, they are separated from the Lord. Sodom’s pride separated them from the Lord and eventually helped lead to their destruction.

The dangers of this sin are clear, but what is pride exactly? Most people tend to equate pride with arrogance. We think of someone as proud if they think they are better than others and boast about their appearance, social status, possessions, etc. We might think about the cocky star athlete in high school who wouldn’t give most of us a second look in the hallway. Maybe we remember the lady who drove by in her Mercedes with a smirk when our car was being towed. These are some of the more obvious examples of pride, but this sin also manifests itself in far more subtle ways. It has been said that pride is not only thinking more of ourselves than we should, but it is also thinking of ourselves more than we should. It is easy to understand pride in the context of a person bragging about their jobs or flaunting their fancy cars, but another aspect of pride is simply when we think about ourselves too often. It is when we are the first people that come to mind. This kind of pride doesn’t allow us to see past ourselves to see anyone else.

This type of pride was rampant in Sodom, and it fostered their other sins, as well. Unfortunately, it is hard to deny that this pride has also become very common in America. Many Americans have very little, if any, understanding of how much of the rest of the world lives. Now, some may have no context for the way of life in a developing nation because they have simply never been told. In this case, their lack of understanding is rooted in ignorance. However, there are some that choose not to think about people being hungry just a few blocks away because of indifference.

Many Americans know more about the dysfunctional lives of popular “reality television” stars than they do the genocide that has taken place over the past several years in Congo and the Sudan, or the civil war that is claiming the lives of thousands in Syria at the time of this writing. This deliberate indifference is rooted in a base from of pride. It drives us to focus on ourselves all the while we ignore the suffering of others. This kind of pride has become normal for many Americans, and if it is allowed to continue, it will separate us from the Lord.


The second sin the Lord listed that helped lead to Sodom’s demise was the sin of gluttony. This particular sin is not mentioned very often in America’s pulpits, but the Bible has much more to say about this commonly overlooked sin. Proverbs 23:21 says:

For the heavy drinker and the glutton will come to poverty, and drowsiness will clothe one with rags.

Proverbs 28:7 tells us that:

He who keeps the law is a discerning son, but He who is a companion of gluttons humiliates his father.

These scriptures reveal not only the dangers of gluttony, but they also show us the different mentality that people in the Bible times had toward this sin. Even Jesus was accused of being a glutton:

“The Son of Man has come eating and drinking; and you say, ‘Behold, a gluttonous man, and a drunkard, a friend of tax-gathers and sinners!’ (Luke 7:34)

Although these accusations leveled against Jesus were false, considering that gluttony was listed among being a drunkard and a friend of tax collectors and sinners, it is clear that it was once considered to be a big deal. I wonder what someone from this time in history would think if they took a stroll through many of our restaurants today. It is not uncommon for some of us to consume more food at one meal than a person from another part of the world consumes in an entire day! This is not only because much of the world is in poverty – it is also because many of us have swung too far the other way and regularly misuse our abundance! Of the seven billion people alive today, one billion of them live on less than a dollar a day. By these standards, even some of the poorest Americans eat a feast on a daily basis.


Like its next of kin, gluttony, laziness is not always addressed in our pulpits, but it is mentioned frequently in the Bible. Proverbs 15:19a says:

The way of the lazy is a hedge of thorns . . .

Proverbs 19:15 tells us that:

Laziness casts into a deep sleep, and an idle man will suffer hunger.

Similarly, the apostle Paul exhorted the Thessalonians that if anyone will not work, neither let him eat (see II Thessalonians 3:10). I understand that due to unemployment or legitimate disabilities, there are some who truly cannot work, and we must keep that in perspective. I am thankful for the assistance that is available for people in those circumstances, but many in America have figured out that they can lazily live off of everyone else’s hard work and not have to contribute to society.

Even prior to the fall of man, God intended that we work. After God created Adam, he gave him a job to do. Genesis 2:15 tells us:

Then the Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to cultivate it and keep it.

Work was originally a part of God’s plan for us, and that has not changed. He wants us to work, and He considers laziness a sin.

What Was The Result?

As the sins of pride, gluttony and laziness ran rampant in Sodom, her citizens indulged themselves while the poor and needy suffered outside her door (see Ezekiel 16:49b). The people of Sodom became so complacent and comfortable that they were unable to recognize the poor and needy who were in their midst. I am afraid that this has become the same for many in America.

Now, I want to be clear that there is nothing wrong with having an abundance, and in many cases, the abundances we enjoy are gifts from God. However, the problem develops when we allow our blessings and comforts to cause us to be self-centered, proud and self-indulgent. When our eyes are focused on ourselves, we cannot see those around us that God wants to use us to bless. Instead of properly stewarding our abundant resources to reach out to the poor and needy, many of us have succumb to a culture of waste.

These sins grieved God’s heart and eventually led to His judgment being released and Sodom being destroyed. We cannot afford to deceive ourselves into believing that the same cannot happen to us. The names Sodom and Gomorrah have become synonymous with judgment and destruction, but that is really not appropriate. Jesus lived in Capernaum, and let us consider His words to that city:

“And to you, Capernaum, will not be exalted to heaven, will you? You shall descend to Hades; for if the miracles had occurred in Sodom which have occurred in you, it would have remained to this day.
Nevertheless I say to you that it shall be more tolerable for the land of Sodom in the day of judgment, than for you” Matthew 11:23-24).

These verses show us that the Lord’s judgment is not solely determined by the sin, but by how much of His light a person or nation has rejected. Sodom had become depraved, but Capernaum rejected the very Son of God. Capernaum received a far greater light than Sodom, so Capernaum’s judgment will be more severe. How much light has America received? Look at all God has given us, and then look at how we so often waste it. He has put unprecedented resources at our disposal and has given us the ability to reach our beyond ourselves and make a difference. How are we choosing to use those resources?

Where Do We Go From Here?

Sadly, for Sodom and Gomorrah, it is too late. However, it is not too late for America. God told Abraham that he would spare Sodom if He could just find ten righteous men there (see Genesis 18:32). Unfortunately, He could not find even ten. How many righteous men and women are in America today? There are many more than ten! I do not believe that it’s God’s will that America fails. The Lord has richly blessed us and there is a reason He has done so.

History has shown us in the example of Sodom what can happen to a nation bound in the sins of pride, gluttony, laziness and disregard for the poor. Let us learn this lesson now and determine that our fate will not be the same! Ours is a land of destiny and purpose. Let us stand firm until the tide has turned and America has become all that God intends for us to be. This starts as we humble ourselves and receive His grace to live differently. Let us pray for His perspective and for His leading as we seek to become a different kind of people! It starts in our hearts as individuals, but it can spread from there until it consumes churches, neighborhoods and finally our nation. Let us determine that this will happen in our day and that history will reflect that America rightly stewarded all our blessings and embraced the God from Whom they came!

Saturday, January 26, 2013

The New Perfect

We all know the old saying "nobody's perfect." Most of us have said it to console someone (or ourselves) when they made a mistake. We all seem to understand that we're only human, and humans aren't perfect, but I am amazed at how often we strive to be perfect and stress ourselves out when we fall short.

Now, there are certainly cases when wanting everything to be "perfect" is understandable. Nobody faults the bride who insists that everything is just right on her wedding day, when she has dreamed of it for years. Then there is the young man who carefully planned his proposal to her a year earlier - he wanted that to be perfect. In a couple of years they will host his parents for Thanksgiving, and of course, they will want the meal to be a success.  All these examples make sense, and there is definitely nothing wrong with trying our best and giving everything our best shot. However, if we take an honest look around us, even at our own lives, we can see the pressure that many feel to be flawless, or at least put up a perfect facade that goes further than just trying our best.

This pressure to never fall short can come from many places. Some parents expect perfection from their children, so as they grow, many of them can never really break free from this unrealistic expectation. This is not intended as any criticism of the parents - many of them probably felt a similar pressure to be perfect. However, as the children reach adulthood, they are driven in every aspect of their lives to be perfect, and they will likely be parents that require the same of their children.

There are many young people who see perfection portrayed in the media, and that becomes the goal they strive to attain. The young girl sees "perfection" in all the television shows, Facebook ads and magazine articles, so that image, however unattainable, shapes her perception of what is normal. After all, the cutest guys go for the thinnest girls with the clearest skin, right? To become one of these girls, they will often do whatever it takes, including starving themselves or working out tirelessly.

It is the same for young boys. They grow up with the action figure who has six-pack abs and bulging biceps, so they feel that they must have the same. The hottest girls go for the guys with the fastest cars, the slickest suits and the best hairlines, right? They begin to believe this and that pressure helps shape their lives, as well.

Because we all have to deal with the pressure to be perfect, it is important that we understand the Lord's perspective on perfection. In Revelation 2, Jesus sent a letter to church in Thyatira, and what He told them can help us understand how he feels about this:

   "And to the angel of the church in Thyatira write:
   ... I know your deeds, and your love and faith and service and perseverance, and that your deeds of late are greater than at first ... (Revelation 2:18a, 19).

Jesus' words to the people of Thyatira were very encouraging. He knew they weren't perfect, but He knew they were improving all the time. He saw their good works, and He saw that they were doing a better job now than when they first started. This is a very comforting look into the heart of God and into how he sees us. He understands that we are not perfect, but He is pleased when we are constantly improving.

On a side note, we need to bear in mind that this does not pertain to salvation. Ephesians 2:8-9 tells us:

   For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God;
   not as a result of works, so that no one may boast.

Salvation is a free gift of God - it is not anything we can obtain by working. In regard to salvation, Jesus makes us perfect, but in every other area of life, He is pleased by our improvement. What matters is that we are moving forward!

He sees that we are doing better today than we were yesterday. Maybe yesterday we struggled with doubt, but today we have learned to trust Him more. Maybe last year we had a foul mouth, but this year, by His grace, we haven't spoken a profane word in six months. Perhaps our credit card statements reflect a past of financial mismanagement, but now we have determined to start being responsible with our money. If today we are not happy with our physical condition, let us make plans to make changes going forward, or perhaps learn to think differently about ourselves going forward. Last year our communication with our spouses may have left much to be desired, but this year we are scheduling time each week to be alone and talk about our lives. All of this is improvement! Our deeds of late are greater than at first.

By the grace of God we have been saved. We are not perfect, but also by His grace we are improving, and improvement is the new perfect!

Monday, November 19, 2012

Jeremiah 29:11 and America, 2012

One of the most popular verses in the western world these days is Jeremiah 29:11. It is on many t-shirts, bumper stickers, refrigerators and is probably highlighted in most of our Bibles. Many of us can say it from memory, and we remind ourselves of it whenever the future seems uncertain. It has become a major source of comfort for many believers, and rightfully so, as it contains very encouraging words directly from the Lord's mouth:

   "For I know the plans that I have for you," declares the Lord, "plans for welfare and not for calamity to give you a future and a hope" (NASB.)

This verse is definitely a great reminder of the Lord's goodness, and I think it is worth a closer look. To gain the best understanding of any verse of Scripture, it is important to understand its context. Researching the context can give us a much better appreciation of what a verse truly says. As many are aware, there was a time in Judah's history when the Lord's people were taken captive by Babylon. They spent seventy years in captivity, and this period has become known as the "Babylonian Exile."

When the Lord spoke through Jeremiah and told His people that He had good plans for them, Jerusalem had just been besieged and they had been taken into exile. He was reminding them of His goodness and that the plans He had for them were good plans, but from their perspective, they still had 70 years to go! Many of the people who were hearing this promise from the Lord would die in exile and never even see their children and grandchildren return to their homeland.

What happened to those "good plans?" They were about to spend 7 decades in captivity under a Babylonian ruler who required people to bow down to a golden statue of himself. He also threatened to kill his advisors if they couldn't tell him what he dreamed and what that dream meant! Before the people were allowed to return to Jerusalem, this leader, Nebuchadnezzar, would pass from the scene, his successor would be lose the kingdom and Babylon would be divided and ruled by the Medes and the Persians. As I mentioned, many would die while in captivity, and the ones who lived to return to Jerusalem would return to rebuild a city that lay in ruins. I think most people would tend to wonder about those "good plans."

So, what are we to make of this? Was the Lord mistaken? What He lying about His plans? We know that, unlike us, God is not capable of lying, so that wasn't the case (see Numbers 23:19). We also know that the Lord's ways are perfect, so He didn't make a mistake (see Psalm 18:30). Even though what transpired in the lives of the Lord's people during the Babylonian exile may not have seemed good at the time, the Lord worked everything together for their good. The Bible tells us that He will do the same for us (see Romans 8:28).

So, as we consider this common verse in light of its historical context, I believe we can draw from it some encouragement for America today. Thankfully, we have not been taken captive by a foreign leader who has burned our cities and put many of us under sentence of death for not bowing to his image - so, it could be worse. However, we have seen our great nation take some very big steps away from the Lord and from what He intends for us. Our nation was founded by God fearing men and women who acknowledged Him at every turn. Now, our children are not allowed to pray in school or, in some recent cases, even thank Jesus in their valedictorian acceptance speeches. Some of our leaders have announced to the world that America is no longer a Christian nation. Many of the freedoms that have been fundamentally interwoven in the fabric of our nation are now being compromised.

Our challenges may be different from those of the Jewish people who were held captive in Babylon more than 2,500 years ago,  but the battle we face, I believe, may be equally as important to our survival and prosperity in the days that lie ahead. The Jewish people have a special purpose in the plans of God. This has always been the case, and He was careful to watch over His word during their time of captivity. While they were in Babylon, the Lord anointed and raised up Godly, uncompromising men like Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-nego. These men helped alter the course of history, not just for the Jewish people, but also for the entire world! These men shined as lights in the midst of a great darkness.

I believe the Lord also has a special plan for America, but we are currently witnessing a great darkness growing in our nation. Where are our Daniels? Where are the men and women who will be trusted to influence secular leaders? Where are the men and women who will refuse to compromise and, thus, alter the course of history? Those people can be found in our mirrors! We are the ones who must rise up and fight the battles that are right now facing our generation. Daniel never asked for the battles he faced. Neither did Joseph, Esther or Deborah. You and I may have not asked for the battles that are being waged all around us now, but just as the heros that have gone before us, we must stand and fight!

America's best days can still be yet to come. Our future can be greater than our past, and I believe the Lord intends for this to be the case. I also believe that it is up to us. Our victory in the Kingdom is guaranteed, but our victory as Americans may be up for grabs. We are in a moment when we cannot afford to compromise or give up any ground. We need to heed the battle call and fight. We must shine as lights in this darkness and lay hold of the good plans and bright future that can still be ours. Now is not the time to retreat, but it is the time to dig in our heels and be the victorious generation God has called us to be. The Lord knows the plans He has for us, and by His grace, we will live to see those plans become reality.    


Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Jesus Was There

I found myself wandering down a dimly lit street. Other footprints covered my path, for many had been in search of what I longed to find. I did not know for sure where this road would lead, or whom I might meet along the way. I passed by houses, churches, schools, train stations and airports.

Further along I traveled until I came upon a hospital room. The room was dark except for the flicker of the television that was mounted in one corner. In the bed was a man who was left alone with his labored breaths. As he counted his last days, he thought back over his life and wondered why no one was there. He was alone, but by his bed, Jesus was there.

I journeyed further down the road and found myself standing before the window of a small apartment. The walls were plain and the space was scarcely filled. On an old, stained couch sat a mother cradling her young son. His trusting eyes couldn’t conceive what her sad eyes sought to conceal. Through birth she had passed to him a virus that would claim both their lives. Who infected her, she did not know. Most that passed her door looked away in scorn, but in her cold home, Jesus was there.

I continued my walk and stumbled upon a courtroom. I stepped in just in time to hear the gavel strike and attorneys close their brief cases. On opposite sides of the aisle stood a man and woman. Only a short while ago, they vowed to remain together until death did them part, but now they were preparing to leave the court in separate directions. They are both angry and hurt, and they refuse to look at the other. He blames her, she blames him and they both blame themselves. Watching them pass through the door, and wanting to hold them both, Jesus was there.

The road before me stretched on and in the distance the sound of laughter filled my ears. I followed the sound and was delighted to discover that it came from children playing in a schoolyard. They laughed and ran, swung and climbed. Each one had a friend, except for one. Sitting alone under the slide was a boy who couldn’t seem to make any friends. He loved to play, but he couldn’t understand the other children’s games. He needed special attention, but his parents could not afford a special teacher for him. So, he was in school with the other children. Each day he sat alone, but not alone. Deep in his heart, Jesus was there.

I stayed on my path until it led me to a little girl. Her skin was fair and her hair dark. Her forehead bore a mark on its center that identified her race and nationality. She seemed to be about eight years old, but her face carried burdens of one much older. She had been born to parents that could not afford to care for her, so they betrothed her to a man from a neighboring village. He took her and married her in the night. Now, she sits alone facing a life she does not understand. She was far from her mother and father, but Jesus was there.

I pressed on and found myself having come seemingly full circle, as I stood once again in a hospital. This time I stood in a room without a television. Lying alone on a bed was a young woman who was riddled with regret for the decision she had just made. When she awoke that morning, there was a life inside her. Now, that life has been taken. She cried out for someone to take the pain away, but her cries went unanswered. Except for the receptionist who collected her payment, there was no one around, but Jesus was there.

As I continued to travel, my mind replayed all that I had seen. I passed by many more people, and I witnessed many more things. Time would fail me to share them all, but in each place, Jesus was there. I know there is a place for me, a place where I can do what I have been destined to do. If I keep pressing on, I will find that place . . . or wait! Perhaps, I have already found it . . . Jesus was there!