Caught between God and the opinions of people

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27 And they came again to Jerusalem. And as he was walking in the temple, the chief priests and the scribes and the elders came to him, 28and they said to him, “By what authority are you doing these things, or who gave you this authority to do them?” 29Jesus said to them, “I will ask you one question; answer me, and I will tell you by what authority I do these things. 30Was the baptism of John from heaven or from man? Answer me.” 31And they discussed it with one another, saying, “If we say, ‘From heaven,’ he will say, ‘Why then did you not believe him?’ 32But shall we say, ‘From man’?”—they were afraid of the people, for they all held that John really was a prophet. 33So they answered Jesus, “We do not know.” And Jesus said to them, “Neither will I tell you by what authority I do these things.”  Mark 11:27-33

Its easy to miss the moral dilemma here. Its easy to say, “Oh that’s not me!” But, this interaction between Jesus and the authorities of Jerusalem illustrates the mess we are in.

Jesus made a scene in the temple. He made room for the nations in the Court of the Gentiles by stopping “business as usual” for the day. Jesus’ actions aligned Him with our Heavenly Father’s heart. God wanted Israel to be a blessing to the nations. God wanted communion with people.

“And he entered the temple and began to drive out those who sold and those who bought in the temple, and he overturned the tables of the money-changers and the seats of those who sold pigeons. 16And he would not allow anyone to carry anything through the temple. 17And he was teaching them and saying to them, “Is it not written, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer for all the nations’? But you have made it a den of robbers.”  Mark 11:15-17

These leaders were offended and outraged. Jesus kept acting like a person with authority. So they wanted to know who gave Him the right to do and say these things. They weren’t going to like Jesus’ answer, for his authority came from His identity as the Father’s Beloved. But that wasn’t Jesus’ concern.

Jesus’ concern is for the alignment of hearts with God’s heart. So, His question about John’s baptism is designed to draw out the duplicity of their hearts. Truly they were concerned for themselves. They needed the power, position, and prestige granted to them by people. And this kind of authority could only be theirs if they managed the impression that they were really “on God’s side.” But being “on God’s side” would require a humility and a submission to God’s strange work through John and through Jesus.

Yuck! That’s the mess we are in if we are managing the opinions of people. It is possible to be with God and for people. If you doubt this, just take a close look at Jesus’ life. However, when we are doing life for ourselves we are going to end up using both God and people.

Jesus will call us out.

Take care that you do not desire the applause and admiration of people over the applause of God.

Two Questions to Ask Yourself

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Dynamics of a life with God

8And they heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God among the trees of the garden. 9But the Lord God called to the man and said to him, “Where are you?”  Genesis 3:8-9

After the Great Catastrophe Adam and Eve had to learn repentance and belief. It began with God asking a question, “Where are you?”

Two questions we ask when we sense God breaking into to our lives, when He is calling us to pay attention to something in us or in our world:

“What is God saying to me?

“What am I saying to God?”

Repentance and belief. The Apostle Paul expressed the dynamics of Gospel life as repentance and belief.

18And when they came to him, he said to them: “You yourselves know how I lived among you the whole time from the first day that I set foot in Asia, 19serving the Lord with all humility and with tears and with trials that happened to me through the plots of the Jews; 20how I did not shrink from declaring to you anything that was profitable, and teaching you in public and from house to house, 21testifying both to Jews and to Greeks of repentance toward God and of faith in our Lord Jesus Christ. Acts 20:18-21

In repentance I have a confrontation with truth and grace, the realities of God. I have a choice to change my mind, attitudes, and actions.

In belief or faith I make adjustments to keep in step with Jesus.

What is God saying to you?

What are you saying to God?

No Room for Idols

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9For they themselves report concerning us the kind of reception we had among you, and how you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God, 10and to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead, Jesus who delivers us from the wrath to come.  1 Thessalonians 1:9-10

 

Statues are easy. I remember the day my dad threw out an idol. He rocked the boat! It created waves. Was it art or was it an idol?

 

What lodge deep in my heart was the idea that our affection for Jesus did not leave room for idols. But you know statues are easy.

 

What’s not as obvious is how my heart turns many, many, many of God’s good gifts into idols. They take the place of Jesus in my heart. I take hold of their false promise of peace, of joy, of security. Whether its achievement, money, health, children, friends, pleasure, these become idols in my heart when they become ultimate. They cannot bear the weight of my soul. Nor can my soul bear their weight. I will be crushed by them. Like the tragic hoarder in Connecticut I might not ever see the consequence of my misplaced affection until its too late.

 

But here is the grace of God to us in Christ: His grace awakens us to the Living God and we now keep turning from idols to serve the living and true God. Statues are easy for us to see and say “ah, a false view of God.” But please, don’t become smaug, you may be sitting on your idol.

 

So look with Jesus Christ our Lord at your heart. With Him there is no room for idols. Its not time to move furniture around, its time to clean house. Some things must go and some things must be put back in their proper place under Jesus. Then the report will go out about us, “They turned from their idols to serve Jesus, the living God.”

Like you… or not.

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6 “Seek the Lord while he may be found;

call upon him while he is near;

7let the wicked forsake his way,

and the unrighteous man his thoughts;

let him return to the Lord, that he may have compassion on him,

and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon.

8For my thoughts are not your thoughts,

neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord.

9 For as the heavens are higher than the earth,

so are my ways higher than your ways

and my thoughts than your thoughts.”

Isaiah 55:6-9

 Religion

God could be the invention of human need.
And so it is with false religion.
The construction of God in the mind seeks to mediate our brokenness.
And so we have idolatry.

 Seekers

So what do we do with the seeking heart?
The person who is seeking God must believe that God exists and that He rewards those who come to him. (Hebrews 11:6)

 God reveals

When God is doing the revealing we are inevitably confronted with the difference.
His thoughts are not our thoughts.
His ways are not our ways.

And then the seeker may want to run, hide, and settle for a weaker or more distant version of God.

Wait, stop. That’s the time to turn toward Jesus, confess, change your thoughts, change your ways in His power according to His revelation. In His grace. Through Him. Then, you will become… like Him.

Illustrated from Luke 5:1-11

1On one occasion, while the crowd was pressing in on him to hear the word of God, he was standing by the lake of Gennesaret, 2and he saw two boats by the lake, but the fishermen had gone out of them and were washing their nets. 3Getting into one of the boats, which was Simon’s, he asked him to put out a little from the land. And he sat down and taught the people from the boat.

4And when he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, “Put out into the deep and let down your nets for a catch.” 5And Simon answered, “Master, we toiled all night and took nothing! But at your word I will let down the nets.” 6And when they had done this, they enclosed a large number of fish, and their nets were breaking. 7They signaled to their partners in the other boat to come and help them. And they came and filled both the boats, so that they began to sink.

8But when Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus’ knees, saying, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord.” 9For he and all who were with him were astonished at the catch of fish that they had taken, 10and so also were James and John, sons of Zebedee, who were partners with Simon. And Jesus said to Simon, “Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching men.” 11And when they had brought their boats to land, they left everything and followed him.

 

Who is crying now?

Can you imagine what it would be like to grow up without having ever watched the evening news on TV or ever played a video game full of death?  The first time would be shocking.  The absolute abandonment of respect for others would be shocking; Unless of course that is your life and is the reality of the house you live in.  Without calluses toward the shock of violence, rape, murder, anger, theft, lying, we would daily be utterly crushed by the evening news.  Or having viewed it with no tears, we walk away with our self-righteousness intact, glad we are not like those people.

I’m reading Ezekiel with one of my Life Transformation Groups and I have been challenged with the question “Who’s crying now?”  God gave Ezekiel a scroll to eat and on both sides of it were written words of lament and mourning and woe.  And God said to Ezekiel, “Son of man, eat what is before you, eat this scroll I am giving you and fill your stomach with it.”

So I’m wondering whose lament, whose mourning, and whose woe filled those pages?  God’s?  Was it God’s lament for a nation that was incapable of knowing, and loving Him.  Or was it the mourning of victims; Were those pages filled with the cries of those who had received no justice; who had only suffered at the hands people or a system out to steal even their hope?  Or did that scroll give voice to the regret of those who realized the folly of their ways?  Those who wish they could go back and do life over because of the pain their callousness had inflicted upon others?

The scroll was sweet to eat.  However, Ezekiel is totally overwhelmed by his encounter with the glory of God and the assignment from God to go to a people who would not listen.  He writes, “The Spirit then lifted me up and took me away, and I went in bitterness and in anger in my spirit, with the strong hand of the LORD upon me.  I came to the exiles who lived at Tel Abib near the Kebar River.  And there, where they were living, I sat among them for seven days–overwhelmed.”  Ezekiel 3:14-15

The Gospel has a sweet taste but also creates a disturbance.  To respond to the reality of a world that is not as it should be and to our own complicity with rebellion against God is disturbing.  But I do believe the Holy Spirit fortifies us for honesty and promises, “joy in the morning.”  And Jesus promises, “The Truth will set you free.”

James encourages the followers of Jesus to humble themselves before God.  “Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.  Come near to God and he will come near to you.  Wash your hands, you sinners, purify your hearts, you double-minded.  Grieve, mourn, and wail.  Change your laughter to mourning and your joy to gloom.  Humble yourselves before the LORD, and he will life you up.”  James 4:7-10

What does such humility look like?  Perhaps it looks like Ezekiel utterly overwhelmed sitting quietly by the river Kebar for seven days among the very people he was called to serve.