What TWO Can DO L4L.19

Eggistentialism 1.5 or Three of a Perfect Pair

Image by bitzcelt via Flickr

The WORD

‘The Pharisees replied, “You are making those claims about yourself! Such testimony is not valid.” Jesus told them, “These claims are valid even though I make them about myself. For I know where I came from and where I am going, but you don’t know this about me. You judge me by human standards, but I do not judge anyone. And if I did, my judgment would be correct in every respect because I am not alone. The Father who sent me is with me. Your own law says that if two people agree about something, their witness is accepted as fact. I am one witness, and my Father who sent me is the other.”’ John 8:13-18 (New Living Translation)

This challenge from the Pharisees comes on the heels of Jesus’ failure to pass judgment on the woman caught in adultery (“Let he who is without sin cast the first stone”). Seems that these leaders of the faith were more apt to buy into a messiah figure who would wield his weapons of war on the battlefield of works and moral judgment  than one whose failure to condemn the clearly guilty left them feeling uncomfortably unjustified.

‘The Pharisees objected, “All we have is your word on this. We need more than this to go on.” Jesus replied, “You’re right that you only have my word. But you can depend on it being true. I know where I’ve come from and where I go next. You don’t know where I’m from or where I’m headed. You decide according to what you can see and touch. I don’t make judgments like that. But even if I did, my judgment would be true because I wouldn’t make it out of the narrowness of my experience but in the largeness of the One who sent me, the Father. That fulfills the conditions set down in God’s Law: that you can count on the testimony of two witnesses. And that is what you have. You have my word and you have the word of the Father who sent me.”’ (The Message)

As He often did, Jesus demonstrated His knowledge and understanding of Jewish Law by quoting from Deuteronomy (17:6 and 19:15), which had to make the Pharisees more than a little bit hot beneath the collar. In both of these Old Testament verses, the point made is that no man should be found guilty of a crime on the say-so of only one witness; the testimony of two or more is required.

Funny how Jesus managed to turn the Jewish leaders’ demand for proof of Jesus’ claims into His own method of defense. They demanded that Jesus bring a sound witness forward, to prove He was telling the truth. Jesus insinuates that what they’re really trying to do is find Him guilty of a crime, to which He offers the testimony of His Father; the Word of God Himself.

The APP

How many times have you found yourself in a situation where your words and witness fell short of being convincing? I was in this very place years ago, when I found myself working for a leader whose behind-the-scenes manipulation had become a grotesque art form. No matter what this person said or did to exercise control over me or to try to put me in my ‘place’, no one else was ever around when it happened. I was the only one who knew about the fiery darts that routinely pierced my sensitive skin and left me wounded and doubting my abilities, my intentions and my calling.

These circumstances ended up being an eye-opening experience, illustrating the need for the testimony of two; if there had been another witness, I don’t think I would have been the one to leave that workplace. But as it was, it would have been my word against his; not an ideal situation no matter how you frame it.

Jesus’ words acknowledge God’s Law in this confrontation with the Pharisees because Jesus knew that they wouldn’t listen to Him alone. Many times our squabbles in the faith arise from a “he said, she said” exchange, where you tell me what you think and I counter with my own words, to which you add your arguments and consequently pour fuel on my fire…

Jesus didn’t take this approach.

Jesus provided the testimony of two when He chose to let God speak on the subject, by letting God’s Word speak for Himself.

Now, you might argue that Christians do this all the time. Who hasn’t been the victim of scripture quoted for the purpose of proving that someone else is wrong so that I can be right? We can subtly (or blatantly) insert scripture into our conversations in order to throw more weight around than we actually have, and we can do this for our own selfish gain while furthering our own self-serving agendas.

This is not what Jesus did, nor is it what He is teaching us to do. Instead, He was aligning Himself with the powerful witness of One whose Word could validate Jesus’ own words and actions.

Jesus chose the testimony of two – He and His Father’s Word – so that He might be successful in the mission He was on.

Ecclesiastes 4:9-12 speaks about our very real need for the testimony of two:  

“Two people are better off than one, for they can help each other succeed. If one person falls, the other can reach out and help. But someone who falls alone is in real trouble. Likewise, two people lying close together can keep each other warm. But how can one be warm alone? A person standing alone can be attacked and defeated, but two can stand back-to-back and conquer. Three are even better, for a triple-braided cord is not easily broken.”

Quite literally, Jesus knew what two could do, and He chose to stand unified with the Father when confronted by those who would attack Him with their words, with their anger, and finally with their weapon of death on a cross.

You and I could choose today to walk the narrow road alone, but why would we when we know what two can do?

Two can help one another succeed.

Two can pick each other up when they fall.

Two can huddle together for warmth in this cold world.

Two can stand back-to-back and conquer any enemy that comes their way.

Jesus knew what two can do, and He chose to stand back-to-back with His Father, conquering death and sin so that you and I might be brought into unbroken fellowship with the powerful witness of One whose Word can validate our own words and actions.

You know that Christ comes with His Father’s testimony. Align yourself with Christ!

You know that there are people in your life who are witnesses of God’s work in you. Align yourself with them!

Where two or more are gathered together in the Name of Jesus, THERE HE IS among you!

It’s time to be Literal 4 Lent, my friend.

It’s time to see just what two can do!

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Consider Yourself WARNED L4L.23

Attention yellow2

The WORD

“All this I have told you so that you will not go astray. They will put you out of the synagogue; in fact, a time is coming when anyone who kills you will think he is offering a service to God. They will do such things because they have not known the Father or me. I have told you this, so that when the time comes you will remember that I warned you.” John 16:1-4a (New International Version)

Excerpted from Jesus’ parting words to His disciples, these words of warning are unavoidably unsettling. A taste of what’s to come. An attempt to prepare His followers for the realities of their commitment to the Kingdom.

“I’ve told you these things to prepare you for rough times ahead. They are going to throw you out of the meeting places. There will even come a time when anyone who kills you will think he’s doing God a favor. They will do these things because they never really understood the Father. I’ve told you these things so that when the time comes and they start in on you, you’ll be well-warned and ready for them.” (The Message)

Before we can process these distressing words of warning, it’s crucial that we understand exactly who they are…

The APP

The passage that comes before this one in John is subtitled “Hated by the World” in The Message. It’s reasonable to assume that, because our text flows out of this ‘world’ talk, that the they in this warning refers to the godless world outside of our believing circles. Jesus could certainly have been cautioning His followers to watch out for the world that views the Gospel message with attitudes ranging from animosity to skepticism (at best).

We’ve all experienced some of this, haven’t we?

People whose threshold for tolerance has been tampered with by having had a few too many evangelists show up on their doorstep over the years.

People who are so consumed with self that the idea of faith in something bigger than themselves just doesn’t compute.

People who were raised under the oppressive religiosity of works-driven theology, only to slingshot as far away as humanly possible from the church the moment they were emancipated from childhood.

People who have so bought into the wisdom of the systems of man that the mere suggestion of the spiritual elicits scorn and contempt.

Jesus’ reminder in John 15:18 deals specifically with a world filled with hate toward those who will follow in the Messiah’s footsteps:

“If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first.” (NIV)

Just in case you’re thinking that you can handle the haters in the world outside of the faith, there is something even more disconcerting to consider in this Literal 4 Lent text today, and it is found in John 16:2.

“They will put you out of the synagogue.”

“They are going to throw you out of the meeting places.”

The they in this sentence doesn’t seem to be referring to the people outside of the church. Why would that they care whether we attend church or not? No, this they appears to be those people who are inside the church walls with us.

People whose presence in the worshiping community might be deceiving.

People who have never really understood the Father and the way He operates.

People whose spiritual eyes have been blinded, failing to recognize the embodiment of Christ in the imperfect people through whom He lives and moves and works today.

Jesus is warning us that, as we grow into our God-ordained, Spirit-enabled callings, not everyone is going to applaud.

The world that hates the Light is going to spew its loathsome venom in our direction in an attempt to silence the Good News. Be ready.

The institution of church is going to attempt to consume the living Body of Christ, and if you’re one of His holy organs, you’d better be prepared.

Jealousy will rear its ugly head and seek to put you (and the attractive presence of the Spirit in you) out on the street, where you’re less of a threat and distraction to the well-oiled machine that is the church. Consider yourself warned.

There is no rejection like that of your family and friends.

Jesus doesn’t just say this might happen… He says when.

“When the time comes and they start in on you, you’ll be well-warned and ready for them.”

As Holy Week approaches and as our experiment in being Literal 4 Lent comes to an end, consider yourself WARNED, my friend.

Warned so that you can get ready for whatever is coming next.

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No Vacancy L4L.21

Full House (Painted Ladies)

The WORD

“When an evil spirit comes out of a person, it travels through dry places, looking for a place to rest. But when it finds no place, it says, ‘I will go back to the house I left.’ And when it comes back, it finds that house swept clean and made neat. Then the evil spirit goes out and brings seven other spirits more evil than it is, and they go in and live there. So the person has even more trouble than before.” Luke 11:24-26 (New Century Version)

Are you noticing, as I am, that Jesus really didn’t stick to fluffy, benign topics when He taught? Hear these words again, from The Message paraphrase of the Scriptures:

“When a corrupting spirit is expelled from someone, it drifts along through the desert looking for an oasis, some unsuspecting soul it can be-devil. When it doesn’t find anyone, it says, ‘I’ll go back to my old haunt.’ On return, it finds the person swept and dusted, but vacant. It then runs out and rounds up seven other spirits dirtier than itself and they all move in, whooping it up. That person ends up far worse than if he’d never gotten cleaned up in the first place.”

Jesus did a lot of exorcisms in His day, sending the demons packing who were camped out inside the lives of tortured people. It happened everywhere He went. He was known for it! People would seek Him out for the express purpose of having a demon cast out of a loved one.

There must have been great rejoicing every time one of these spirits of evil left the life of a God-created individual!

The APP

With some notable exceptions, we don’t really talk much in terms of ‘demons’ and ‘possession’ in our day, do we? We just don’t go there very often. In our world of scientific and medical explanations for just about everything, our need for a supernatural perspective is regularly quenched by a preference for ‘Just the FACTS, Ma’am.Only the facts.

Yet, if we look long and hard at our personal issues and struggles, we might find some demons residing within. Demons with names like ‘addiction,’ ‘anger,’ and ‘greed.’ Demons with friends known as ‘materialism,’ ‘lust,’ and ‘pride.’ Demons who are likely to become quite comfortable in their human homes unless we take the work of Jesus seriously and seek His participation in our emancipation from the claims they’ve staked in our territory.

And once we’ve been set free – as many of us have – from the tendrils of sin and death, what’s next?

Our celebrations of healing and recovery last only so long before those same addictions and temptations find their way back to us. And, if what they find when they return home is a neat and tidy EMPTY nest, well, Jesus told us what would happen.

When we do the hard work of cleaning house and making room in our lives for MORE, we must remember that it is absolutely necessary for that space inside to be filled with God-given housewarming gifts. Otherwise, it will be returned to its original squatter (and he won’t be coming back alone).

Some of us are nodding our heads, having seen or experienced this very thing in lives that are close to our own.

We master that addiction.

We get our anger under control.

We overcome our greedy ways.

We shed the harmful habits and behaviors, but we fail to adopt the ongoing healing and restorative process offered by God through faith in Christ.

We gut out the old and decaying interior, but fail to give the Contractor access for the remodel.

Maybe the urgency just isn’t there to do things differently.

Maybe the anticipated cost of renovation is much higher than we originally thought.

Maybe the starkness of a life without the negative influences is enough for now. Why rush out and buy the farm when we can just rent for awhile, right?

Letting down our guard in the aftermath of healing is exactly what the enemy would love to have us do. He knows that we’re tired of fighting. He knows that we’re finally breathing easily and seeing the light at the end of the tunnel. But what he also knows is that, unless that LIGHT is ushered INTO our lives, the darkness has a foothold and can always slip back in. Possibly undetected. Probably in the company of like-minded companions. Either way, as Jesus tells us, we’re worse off than we ever were before.

The solution? Let Jesus move in!

Let’s pray that the real presence of the Spirit of God would inhabit our lives from this day forward.

Let’s choose to hang a hefty ‘No Vacancy’ sign on the door to our hearts, notifying all prior inhabitants that LOVE HAS COME to reside within us!

Or, as in the immortal words of TobyMac:

“Love is in the house and the house is packed, so much soul I left the back door cracked. Mama always said it’s a matter of fact, when love is in the house, the house is packed.”

Amen! Come, Lord Jesus!

Listen to Love Is In The House here:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PMOj2sqnzDs

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