How Deep Does the Rabbit Hole Go? Matthew 5-7, God’s Red Pill

“Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness: for they shall be filled.”  Matthew 5:6

“But seek you first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added to you.”  Matthew 6:33

morpheus_neo2A few weeks ago, I wrote in this blog about the Kingdom of God and it’s primary importance.  My text was Matthew 6:33.  (If you haven’t had a chance to read that post, I hope you might find the time to do so.)  I think, a lot of times,  this text of Scripture gets misunderstood.  I’ll just speak for my own misunderstandings.  You probably have your own.  I admit, openly, that at times I’ve viewed Jesus’ words in this verse backwards.  No matter how many times I would read this verse, somehow, my heart would pull my attention down to  “all these things shall be yours” part.  I did not want to be bothered with the stuff about “seeking” or “Kingdom” or, much less “righteousness!”  This was a verse I would turn to when I really needed God to do something.  “You promised to add all of these things God!”  The truth is that I had very little understanding concerning “kingdom”, “righteousness”, or even what it meant to “seek after it.”  But it’s also true, that in my pain and desperation for answers or provision – I didn’t WANT to know much about those things that preceded the promise! But doesn’t it make sense that we cannot, and probably will not, seek after or desire something that we don’t understand or recognize for that matter?

I spent sometime in my previous post, “The Primary Importance of the Kingdom of God”, looking into the meaning of Kingdom and how Jesus understood the term “Kingdom of God.”  And what about “righteousness?”  How does Kingdom relate to Righteousness? And why would I want to seek THAT?

(Again, open confession time, that word always made me a bit nervous, “righteousness” – it brought some negative, scary images to mind – and angry God – scary scenes from the movie The Ten Commandments.  I was intimidated. But it doesn’t scare me so much anymore, and I will explain why.)

When we seek to understand a passage of Scripture like Matthew 6:33, it is always a really good thing to be very familiarized with the surrounding verses and chapters.  What came before?  What comes after?  In this case, Jesus began to teach “a large crowd” (4:25) as Matthew records and begins a long discourse “one day”  in Chapter 5 verse 1, and He continues speaking to the same crowd all the way through to Chapter 7 verse 28.  This extended teaching is known as the “Sermon on the Mount.”  Bible scholars tell us that there is a connection between “Kingdom” and “Righteousness” in the context – basically, there is what language scholars define as a “parallelism.”  In a sense, the terms are interchangeable here.   We have understood “Kingdom of God”  to refer to the dynamic activity of God, His constant, relentless agenda to save humanity – in essence, what He is doing to extend His rule and reign so that one day, His “glory will cover the whole earth.”  God’s Righteousness then, refer to His wisdom, His “right-ness” in carrying out this Kingdom Agenda.  This is important to understand because, sometimes, a lot of times, it appears to us as if God is somehow, way off track.  Like He forgot about how things really work.  But there is a RIGHTNESS in the way God is managing human history.  His plan is the right plan.

So, o.k., we got this far.  Bear with me.  We are to seek after God’s Kingdom and God’s Kingdom in this case, His righteousness, is directly connected with a five part body of teaching that begins in Chapter 5 and ends in Chapter 7.  In these blocks of teaching Jesus is laying out God’s instruction for how the disciples are to act so as to be in sync with God’s way.  And these people Jesus speaks to in Chapters 5-7 really needed some truth – because they’ve been fed a steady diet of “unrighteousness.”   Over and over he refers to Old Testament Scriptures by saying  “you have heard it said…” and so forth.  Then Jesus adds, “but I say to you.”  This is amazing.  Who would dare to “rephrase” God’s words?  I guess anyone is welcome to try!  And many have.  But only Jesus, as the true Son of God is authorized and qualified to do so.  Jesus isn’t changing the Law, He is restoring it to God’s original intention.  Revealing what God desired to communicate and which men have obscured due to our blindness, selfishness, and self-centeredness.

God’s righteousness…God’s standards…God’s way of doing things…what God really values – this is what we are to seek.  This “chunk” of Scripture should bring us to our knees asking, “God, how should I be living?  What should I be doing?  How should I be reacting to the world around me?  To the people?  To the news of the day?  It’s kind of strange, but as Jesus begins to speak in Chapter 5 verse 1 – He turns everything upside down it seems that what God calls “blessed” (Greek adjective translated ” blessed” (macarioi) word can also mean “happy”) – and what I consider to be blessed are, most of the time, not the same.  You might come away from reading 5:1-12 asking yourself a lot of questions.  That’s good.

Read verses 1 through 12 again.  Basically Jesus is challenging the way we view reality.  He is challenging our feelings, our emotions, what we value, who we call a “winner” or a “loser.”  He is also challenging our expectations about the future.  Over and over in this these verses, He says something that’s really topsy-turvy and then adds, “they shall, they shall, they shall.”  As if to say, “you’ll see”, I may sound crazy, but “you’ll see.”  And, incredibly, in the first and last beatitude, He states something about the poor in spirit and those who are being persecuted for the sake of righteousness, and says, “their’s IS the Kingdom of Heaven.  In other words, some of those you see as crushed under the boot of oppression, the spiritually depressed who look like absolute losers, those people are “in” – they “own the Kingdom!”  What?!

Actually, when you read this chapter, you might feel a lot like Neo in The Matrix.  You’re sitting in front of Morpheus and he’s telling you this bizarre story about the Matrix.  You find it really hard to believe, but he extends his hands and offers you proof.  If you want it.  Take it, don’t just take my word for it.  Here it is.  Jesus is doing the same with the disciples.  Don’t just take my word for it.  Take the pill.  I dare you to pray and seek, and knock.  Or just walk away.  Take the blue pill, the story ends, walk away from Matthew 5,6, and 7, and “believe what ever you want to believe.”  Take the red pill; and you stay with Jesus in the Kingdom, wonderland, and He will show you how deep the rabbit hole goes.  It gets a lot deeper.

In a way, these beatitudes and the verses that follow represent God’s Red pill – God’s truth about the world.  This is the essence of “God’s Righteousness” – and the amazing thing is that when we believe what Jesus is saying, and seek after it, and knock, and ask, and open, we are allowed to begin to see the world as God sees it.  And we also can look peek behind the eschatological curtain into the future and see where it’s all headed.  Here’s why.  When we begin to think like Jesus about things, then the Kingdom, which was previously hidden (like the Matrix was hidden from Neo)  comes alive right in front of our faces.  All of a sudden we start to view life, and the “now” differently.  We get a huge paradigm shift.  This is what Jesus’ wants the disciples to get.  The Beatitudes give us a new set of lenses with which we can view the world around us.  They allow us to see how God is working (His Kingdom Agenda) and we get a “peek” at where it’s all going.

Hunger and thirst for these lenses.  Hunger and thirst for God’s “moral goodness” as Matthew Henry puts it.  This is the only thing that satisfies.  When you get righteousness, you also get the Kingdom…and when you are in that place, and only in that place – then you are filled – you are satisfied.

Later on in the New Testament the Apostle Paul speaks about God’s righteousness.

I love this book….and these two verses – they have probably changed more lives any other in the Bible!  Some scholars say that the whole Book of Romans builds on these two verses. The rest of the letter unfolds from here:

“For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, “BUT THE RIGHTEOUS man SHALL LIVE BY FAITH.”

The Gospel.  The Good News of Jesus Christ.  Jesus the King has come with a great message – a very hopeful message.  “The world isn’t what you think it is.”  It isn’t for the proud, the rich, the powerful, the aggressor.  It’s for the meek, the humble, the poor in Spirit (I’ve seen many poor in material goods who are not poor in spirit at all!) God’s way of doing things is revealed when we believe what Jesus is saying.  In general, everything He says, and in particular, what He is saying in Matthew 5 through 7.

So, God’s Kingdom, which has been inaugurated in Jesus’ First Coming to earth, will one day be consummated when He returns at His Second Coming.  The heart and soul of God’s Kingdom Values are revealed by His Son Jesus in Chapter 5, verses 3 to 10.  What is commonly known as the Beatitudes.  There can be no Kingdom without a King, and no King without subjects, right.  That’s what we are.  And when we are living the heart and soul of Jesus’ teaching – His own heart and soul – God’s Kingdom is revealed and extended – take the Matthew 5-7 Red Pill!

Don’t lose heart!  See things the way Jesus sees them!  Put on His Kingdom Glasses!  Read Matthew 5 through 7, over and over, pray, seek, knock, thirst, yearn – THEN – “all of those things will be added unto you!”

More on the word “righteousness” –   This is a very important word to understand!

“Our English word was originally rightwiseness, from the Anglo-Saxon justice, right, and to know; and thus the righteous man was a person who was allowed to understand the claims of justice and right, and who, knowing them, acted according to their dictates. Such a person is thoroughly wise; he/she aims at the attainment of the best end by the use of the best means. This is a true definition of wisdom, and the righteous man is he/she that knows most and acts best. The Hebrew צדק tsadak, in its ideal meaning, contains the notion of a beam or scales in equipoise, what we call even balance; and it is well known that in all the personifications of Justice, both ancient and modern, she is represented as a beautiful female with a bandage on her eyes, and a beam and scales in her hand, so perfectly poised that neither end preponderates.” (from http://www.godvine.com comments on Romans 1:17.)

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PRIMARY IMPORTANCE

PRIMARY IMPORTANCE
31“So don’t worry about these things, saying, ‘What will we eat? What will we drink? What will we wear?’ 32These things dominate the thoughts of unbelievers, but your heavenly Father already knows all your needs. 33Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and live righteously, and he will give you everything you need.

We moved to Los Angeles in late February (I’ll tell you why at the end of this post.)  Recently, as I “knock, seek, and ask” for God to open other doors, I’ve been driving for Uber, the largest of the new “disrupt economy” ride share companies. It’s been an interesting experience, mildly put. From Pastor to Taxi Cab Driver in 30 days – driving the maze of Los Angeles streets and freeways has been, well, “muy interesante.”

But there are bills to pay and mouths to feed. The upside is that I’ve had to opportunity to meet and talk pray with and pray for a couple of hundred people from all walks of life. (I’ve learned not to always volunteer outright that I am a pastor. That seems to throw a wet towel on the conversation. Kaput. Over. I guess pastors can be scary to people.) Some of my passengers don’t want to talk at all. Others are happy to chat and share about their day, their lives, their goals, dreams, and aspirations. Some are happy, some are sad…some are really stressed out.
Over the course of the various conversations, at times, it becomes clear to me what they’re “all about.” For some it’s money. For others, significance or meaning. Others are literally “looking for love in all the wrong places.” But almost always, there is a main thing – a primary concern. Something that they are seeking after – that they value above everything else.

What is your primary concern today – right now – his very moment?

This verse of Scripture, Matthew 6:33, was one of the very first – if not THE very first – I memorized as a believer. We’d sing this chorus over and over in our campus Bible study at UCLA – the old Maranatha chorus. So the idea of the verse, and the words were ingrained in my thinking early on. Over the past 37 years, I have gradually gained understanding into these words of Jesus. There is so much there. As with most Scriptures – there is always more than “meets the eye.”

I love the way the NLT translates the Greek word epizetouzin – “to seek after” – some versions render it to “eagerly seek.” This word and its simpler form in verse 33 frame the core of Jesus’ teaching. Our concern for the Kingdom – what GOD is DOING – what GOD wants to do in any particular setting or situation – should be our PRIMARY concern. What should we be seeking? We should be seeking the higher priority of the Kingdom of God. The Kingdom is something that demands seeking….REQUIRES seeking – it is something to be discovered.

That’s fine. That’s clear. Meyer points out that this word could be translated “striving” – so how do we “strive” for the Kingdom of God? It’s always important, when studying Scripture to consider context. What have been the dominant words and themes in Matthew 6? Kingdom…Prayer…Seeking. In this very chapter Jesus teaches us to pray, “Thy Kingdom Come…” We cannot separate the Kingdom from the King. The King brings the Kingdom because the Kingdom is the extent of the King’s ruling authority. And the way that we discover the desire of the King is by communicating with the King. Our place is to stand before the throne and await His orders. This is who He rules – by the exercise of His authority. We must be present and accounted for. Waiting on Him. Waiting to hear. At the end of this book Jesus does something amazing – he passes on His authority to His disciples – His followers – to you and to me!

This is the main thing. Our primary concern – or it should be. This is what we are to value above everything else. His Kingdom Rule, Reign, and Authority. What is the thing you value most today? What thought dominates your thinking? Whatever it is – here’s what it should be – “God, please let your agenda overtake mine. Let it become my passion. Let it become what I love and desire. What is it I should be doing? Who are the people you are concerned with right now? What should I say? How should I respond? How should I behave? I know what I want – but what do YOU want? What are the right words? The right attitude? The Right ANSWER?
Kingdom. Righteousness. Seeking. The answers come from the Father. Which is why prayer is necessary….it is how we talk to the Father. When we do this under the power of the Holy Spirit, we are welcomed into the Throne Room of the Universe – it is here in this place that the Father reveals His plan for the moment. He won’t give us the whole blueprint – it would overwhelm us. But at any given moment, He is willing to give us as much as we need to carry out all that He desires we do.
Rest in that. Kingdom authority will always flow in the context of loving relationship. Father, Son, and Spirit – we are invited into this eternal dance of Love, Honor, and Glory that they share. Amazing isn’t it?

Why are we living in Los Angeles today and not Miami?  Why move here after 20 years?  Simply put, it was God’s Kingdom Purpose for us.  Cathy and I began to pray about this three years ago.  We began by letting God know that we desired His desire.  We really did.  Really do.  This is one of the benefits of growing older with Jesus – learning that His will is the “righteous thing.”  We have not only put on Christ’s righteousness….but as we grow in Him, we also increasingly desire His be done – “on the Earth as it is in Heaven.” After years of prayer, God began to confirm His will though other means – conversations, prophecy, promptings, open doors, closing doors too.  When the desire of His heart becomes the desire of our heart, we can rest assured that “our Heavenly Father cares for us….and will freely give us all things.”

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The Primary Importance of the Kingdom of God

“FIRST THINGS FIRST”
THE PRIMARY IMPORTANCE OF THE KINGDOM OF GOD
31“So don’t worry about these things, saying, ‘What will we eat? What will we drink? What will we wear?’ 32These things dominate the thoughts of unbelievers, but your heavenly Father already knows all your needs. 33Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and live righteously, and he will give you everything you need.

We moved to Los Angeles in late February. Recently, as I “SEEK, KNOCK, and ASK” for God to open new doors, I’ve been driving for Uber, the largest of the new “disrupt economy” ride share companies. It’s been an interesting experience, mildly put. From Pastor to Taxi Cab Driver in 30 days – driving the maze of Los Angeles streets and freeways has been, well, “muy interesante.”
But there are bills to pay and mouths to feed – “you gotta do what you gotta do” – right? The upside is that I’ve had to opportunity to meet, talk, and pray for a couple of hundred people from all walks of life. (I’ve learned not to always volunteer outright that I am a pastor. That seems to throw a wet towel on the conversation. Kaput. Over. I guess pastors can be scary or intimidating to people. Who me?)
Some of my passengers don’t want to talk at all. Others are happy to chat and share about their day, their lives, their goals, dreams, and aspirations. Some are happy, some are sad…some are really stressed out.
Over the course of the various conversations, at times, it becomes really clear to me what they’re “all about.” For some it’s money. For others, fame, significance, or meaning. Others are literally “looking for love in all the wrong places.” On young art student asked me for advice on winning over a girl he had a crush on. That was interesting. But sometimes, as conversations deepen, there is a “main thing” – a primary concern. What they are seeking after – what they value above everything else – comes into focus.

What is your primary concern today – right now – his very moment?

This verse of Scripture, Matthew 6:33, was one of the very first – if not THE very first – I memorized as a believer. We’d sing this chorus over and over in our campus Bible study at UCLA – the old Maranatha chorus “Seek ye first the Kingdom of God, and His righteousness, and all these things will be added unto you…halelu, halleluiah.” So the idea of the verse, and the words were ingrained in my thinking early on. But I never understood the term “Kingdom of God” well enough to really benefit. What was the Kingdom of God? Heaven? Was it out there somewhere? And how do I seek it? Over the past 37 years, largely as a result of being in the Vineyard movement and hearing the teachings of folks like John Wimber, Don Williams, Derek Morphew, and others, I have gradually gained understanding into these words of Jesus. There is so much there. As with most Scriptures – there is always more than “meets the eye.”
I learned that the term Kingdom of God (and Kingdom of Heaven) in the understanding of Jesus and the Apostles, is the realm of God’s rule. The projection of His authority. I learned that it was not limited to a geographical place – and that it transcends boundaries, cultural, sociological, and political.

But how to find it?

I love the way the NLT translates the Greek word epizetouzin – “to seek after” – some versions render it to “eagerly seek.” This word and its simpler form in verse 33 frame the core of Jesus’ teaching. Our concern for the Kingdom – what GOD is DOING – what GOD wants to do in any particular setting or situation – should be our PRIMARY concern. What should we be seeking? We should be seeking the higher priority of the Kingdom of God. The Kingdom is something that demands seeking….REQUIRES seeking – it is something to be discovered.
That’s fine. That’s clear. Meyer points out that this word could be translated “striving” – so how do we “strive” for the Kingdom of God? It’s always important, when studying Scripture to consider context. What have been the dominant words and themes in this chapter – Matthew 6? Kingdom…Prayer…Seeking. In this very chapter Jesus teaches us to pray, “Thy Kingdom Come…” We cannot separate the Kingdom from the King. The King brings the Kingdom because the Kingdom is the extent of the King’s ruling authority – and the way that we discover the desire of the King is by communicating with the King. Our place is to stand before the throne and await His orders. This is how He rules – by the exercise of His authority.  But we must be “present and accounted for.”  God wants to  in reveal His will – but He wants to do it, understandably, in a meaningful way.  As in any relationship – communication – co-munication – is vital.  There are two sides – two individuals involved.  And, as in any meaningful relationship – friendship and the development of trust takes time.  This is what it means to “wait on God.” Waiting to hear, but also, wanting to hear.  At the end of this book Jesus does something amazing – he passes on His authority to His disciples – His followers – and this is available also to you and to me!

This is the main thing. Our primary concern – or so it should be.

This is what we are to value above everything else. His Kingdom Rule, Reign, and Authority. What is the thing you value most today? What thought dominates your thinking? Whatever it is – here’s what it should be – “God, please let your agenda overtake mine. Let it become my passion. Let it become what I love and desire. What is it I should be doing in order to see your RIGHT TO RULE MANIFEST IN THE PLACE YOU HAVE PLACED ME? How can I make my surrounding a little more like heaven? Who are the people you are concerned with right now? What should I say? How should I respond? How should I behave? I know what I want – but what do YOU want? What are the right words? The right attitude? The Right ANSWER?
Kingdom. Righteousness. Seeking. The answers come from the Father. Which is why prayer is necessary….it is how we talk to the Father. When we do this under the power of the Holy Spirit, we are welcomed into the Throne Room of the Universe – it is here in this place that the Father reveals His plan for the moment. He won’t give us the whole blueprint – it would overwhelm us. But at any given moment, He is willing to give us as much as we need to carry out all that He desires we do.
Rest in that. Kingdom authority will always flow in the context of loving relationship. Father, Son, and Spirit – we are invited into this eternal dance of Love, Honor, and Glory that they share. Amazing isn’t it?

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“That Which Costs Me Nothing…”

“And the king said unto Araunah, Nay; but I will surely buy it from you at a price: neither will I offer burnt offerings unto the LORD my God of that which does cost me nothing. So David bought the threshing floor and the oxen for fifty shekels of silver.” (2 Samuel 24:24)

To begin, I wish to inform the reader as to why I am writing this.  It is not my intention to teach, correct, or, as often is the case with me, vent  “ministerial wrath” or frustration on a Monday morning.   None of that today.  This morning as I read “The Enduement With Power” by Oswald Smith, God spoke to me clearly concerning a particular sin in my life – specifically – my need at times – and even the compulsion – to teach something and bring change in others –  the moment I discover it – before it’s even had time to simmer in my own soul and become part of my own life.  It’s sort of like saying, “I will feel better about you the moment you begin to do what I recognize as good – but have not begun to do myself.”  In other, simpler words – “don’t do as I do – do as I say.”  Not exactly in line with Peter’s words in 1 Peter 2:21 – “To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps.” 

It struck me that my devotional life has been way too closely – even dysfunctionally connected with my sermon preparation.

The verse quoted above is often used by preachers in sermons having to do with generous giving – and well it should be.  It’s a story about David offering to pay for a plot of land where he planned to offer a sacrifice to the Lord.  The King – Araunah wanted to give it to him for free. But David did not want it cheap.

In my case, the Spirit brought the passage to mind as I pondered Smith’s words in the very first chapter of the book – which I will enthusiastically recommend, but only after reading the entire book!  (Another one of my particular character faults needing repentance and grace.)  I was “giving” things that had cost me nothing.  Good words – but cheap words because I myself did not believe them enough to apply them faithfully and consistently.

In this passage David pays for a plot of land that would eventually become an altar unto God – and eventually, Solomon’s Temple!  God blessed his heart for sacrificial giving. When I am living out the Words of Christ – that is, the Word Christ has spoken to me –  in obedience, the costliness of the act produces a great harvest in my life and the lives of those around me.

I confess and renounce this need to change others when I myself had not changed in a particular area of my walk with Christ. May God help me to obey what the Spirit is saying to me – to apply it personally –  before it becomes something I preach from a pulpit.  Please forgive me.

Grace and Peace in Jesus,

Pastor Ralph

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Monday Morning Blues Breaker Returns!

Last night, Matt Redman won a Grammy for his song “10,000 Reasons.”  We’ve sung this at church many times – but this morning the words and music really “struck a cord.”  I had awakened, in typical Monday morning pastoral fashion, with this low-grade depressive cloud hanging over me, and absolutely no desire to pray or study Scripture.  But when my curiosity led me to search for Matt’s Grammy winning song on YouTube – my Monday morning “blues” didn’t stand a chance!  Here’s how it all went down.

I went here – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9jYLTn4fKYQ – played the song – which comes with lyrics on the subtitle.  As I began to sing those words – which are based on Psalm 103, speaking to my soul – calling it to “bless the Lord” – something “shifted” inside me.  I went from earth to heaven in 10 seconds flat!  I also discovered something in the process, that, though my “flesh” is weak and unwilling,  my soul actually craves worship and once it is prodded and motivated by praise music, it comes alive toward God.  You see, it’s like that old law of physics that you learned about in High School – every body at rest tends to remain at rest.  This is called inertia – A tendency of a body of mass to do nothing or to remain unchanged.  (There are all kinds of inertia.  Physical, spiritual, political, bureaucratic, etc.)  So, I sang and sang, and after the 5 minutes were up, I turned to Psalm 103 and read David’s words….I was now, as John writes in Revelation 1:10 “in the spirit” and these words made more sense to me than ever:

A Psalm Of David. Praise the LORD, O my soul; all my inmost being, praise his holy name. Praise the LORD, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits–who forgives all your sins and heals all your diseases, who redeems your life from the pit and crowns you with love and compassion, who satisfies your desires with good things so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s. The LORD works righteousness and justice for all the oppressed. He made known his ways to Moses, his deeds to the people of Israel: The LORD is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in love. He will not always accuse, nor will he harbor his anger forever; he does not treat us as our sins deserve or repay us according to our iniquities. For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his love for those who fear him; as far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us. As a father has compassion on his children, so the LORD has compassion on those who fear him;

for he knows how we are formed, he remembers that we are dust.

(Psalms 103:1-14 NIV)

As my soul had been “blessing the Lord” – I now began to experience all the things –  which David mentions in the first 14 verses – HIS BENEFITS – v2!

1. I experienced the One who “forgives all my sins” – not just some!

2. Who heals “all my diseases!” – not just some.  (Have you ever thanked God for your immune system which is constantly at work to fight disease 24/7?  You see God is healing us moment by moment as He guides every molecule of our system engaging the millions of pathogens that come against us!  There is another way to look at this statement – “He heals all my diseases” – in Christ, we have been fully healed – not just spiritually BUT ALSO PHYSICALLY!  You might be thinking the obvious.  Why do believers get sick then?  Let me answer by asking this question.  Do you believe that when the consummation of the Kingdom of God comes at the End of the Age that you will stand before Him disease free?  Well let’s take this a step further.  Ephesians 1:3 tells us that God has “blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ.”  Past tense – “blessed.”  How about blessing God for what will be a full reality in the future! As we do this, a little of the inbreaking future Kingdom might just break into the present and bless us!)

3. v4 – “who redeems your life for the pit and crowns you with love and compassion” – I actually felt that this morning!  I felt, as I began to “bless the Lord” with all my soul that He was lifting me up from a pit!  Try it!

4. v5. “who satisfies your desires with good things so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s” – the benefits of “blessing God” continue and now begin to affect our bodies – bringing refreshment, rest, and renewal!

There is more…keep moving down these verses!  Start your day with worship.  You can find almost every song on YouTube – with the words now!  So get your over to your desktop, laptop, table,  or smartphone – and start blessing God!

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IT IS TIME TO SEEK THE LORD

Seek the Lord Until He Comes

What I Did Not Say On Sunday

Elijah goes to Horeb in desperation.  He is in fear, wandering, lost.  One of the most drastic turnabouts in the  entire Bible.  One moment he is riding high – defeating false prophets, causing the rain to stop for 3 1/2 years, raising the dead,  getting fed by ravens miraculously.  He was flying high until Jezebel threatens his life.  The great prophet of Israel is now reduced to a mass of quivering flesh, he wants to die.

In chapter 19 of 1 Kings verse 4 he comes and lays down under a broom tree!   If he wanted shelter, he picked the wrong tree!  The broom trees is sparse – it was no break from the beating, relentless sun of the Judean desert.  This is a picture of us, running from our calling, running from our destiny in Christ and settling for way less than what God has.

I’ve thought long and hard over the past several days about Elijah and his decision to run to Horeb.  Why Horeb? That was the place where God appeared to Moses 400 years before. Maybe he thought he would encounter the power and presence of God in the way Moses did.  After all, it worked for Moses – why shouldn’t it work for him?  So he sets out on this journey which should have taken about 7 days.  It takes him 40.   Sound familiar? Round and round Elijah goes, where he stops nobody knows.  So many times before he had just asked God and God has given him “the word.”  But, when we seek experience, when we are running in fear, we might settle for anything other than the beautiful face of God in Jesus Christ.  Our walk of faith can become a fruitless striving for something which will not satisfy.  We will wander aimlessly in the desert.  And God will let us.   He will let us come to the end of ourselves, because, in His great love He knows what we need and how to restore our souls, body, and spirit.

He goes to the same place, perhaps the same “cleft in the rock” – it worked for Moses!  And then, he even experiences the same powerful manifestations that are recorded in Moses’ Exodus experience.  But God wasn’t in them. Some of us get frustrated and weary at times.  We want  what others have – what worked for them.

This struck me.  It hit me very personally.  When finally I surrendered my life to Jesus many years ago, in my college apartment, in my desperation and depression, God came to me in waves of power that I can only describe as “liquid, living, love.”  For several minutes, the power and presence of the living God flowed through my body until I asked him to stop for fear that I would die.  I have never again felt something like that – of that magnitude.  Many times over the past 35 years, I’ve asked for it.  Thinking that I knew what I needed for myself.   I wanted my old experience back.  Not Jesus, but that feeling, that power – I wanted that more.  I had forgotten what I had cried out to God for – I knew nothing of charismatic manifestations in the winter of 1977.  I had never read or heard of such encounters.  What I wanted back then, and what I asked for was for God to come and help me in a moment of deep despair and sadness.  And God came.  On many occasions I’ve asked God to come like he did then on Friday, the 4th of February, 1977.  But we cannot make a formula of these things.

For Elijah, at this moment, God came in a “low whisper” (1 Kings 19:12 ESV) He came in a still small voice. God will always come, but he may not come the same way.  We cannot “put him in a box.”  We cannot seek the past experience, we must not seek the past experience- because what we are seeking is “to stand before the Lord” verse 11.  This is always God’s desire to stand in His presence.  He will come.

I want to share something that I think will help you “stand before the Lord.”  I got my laptop and went to YouTube.  I searched for prophetic soaking music by Kimberly and Alberto Rivera.  I got a lot of stuff – but chose this one – http://youtu.be/bLEvKV_ndck.  I let the music take me into His presence.  After a few minutes, I raised my hands and “looked” into His face – with the eyes of my spirit.  Then I began to pray simply asking Jesus to teach me.  To help my seek Him.  I asked Him to speak.  Then, as the beautiful, anointed music played, I began to hear what he was saying TO ME.  Not to my wife or my family or my church – but to me.  He said some great things – good things, specific things.  As with Elijah, He told me to “go, and return in my way.”  And He put me on a path – for that day.

A moment in His presence, the briefest taste of heaven, a glimpse of His glorious face is what we need.  We don’t need “broom trees” – there are many “shelters” that life can provide – but only “He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High will rest in the shadow of the Almighty.”  (Psalm 91:1 NIV)

It’s time to seek His face.

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Strange Ideas About Money, Faith, and Giving

I’ve wanted to write on this subject for a very long time.  Not just to get it out of my “system”, but because, in times past, due to my own ignorance and hardness of heart,  I’ve fallen prey to these strange ideas myself.   As they say, “been there, done that, got the t-shirt in all the colors.”  I also feel eminently qualified to speak on these matters having walked through the “valley of the shadow of Church” in many different capacities.

I’ve been a volunteer, a bi-vocational pastor, a full-time pastor, and a part-time paid pastor who worked full time hours for part-time pay!  So, I am not speaking as someone who hasn’t “walked a mile” in just about everyone’s shoes.

Recently, I’ve had occasion to hear from some dear friends, believers (none in our own church, of course! wink, wink) that hold to certain ideas and theologies about giving to the local church – or better said, not giving.  Among these ideas are the notion that one can “tithe their time” or give to whomever they please thereby bypassing the church’s “general fund.”

Yes, you heard that correctly.  “I don’t tithe, or give regularly, or give proportionately (as clearly taught in both testaments) but I give my time.” At first, like most other “strange Christian Ideas About Money, Faith, and Giving” it sounds somewhat spiritual doesn’t it?  And certainly, it is understood that if a person is not earning a pay check, that there are other valid ways to bless the local church – but I specifically refer now to those who earn a good, steady pay check – and yet, never give to the local church.  “I tithe my time” they say.

You know, when I think about it – that’s actually a pretty good exercise in “mental gymnastics!” It makes us feel better. You know, I’m going to have to ask our bank, Wells Fargo to reprint their deposit slips to add a little space for “donated church member time” And then let them know how much cash this “time tithe or offering”  corresponds to. What multiplier should we ask Wells Fargo to use to monetize your “time?” Ten dollars and hour?  Twenty?  Thirty?

I suppose we’ll have to come up with a new translation of the Bible.  We might begin by rewriting Malachi 3:10 – ”bring your full time card into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house..”  Perhaps when God opens the “windows of heaven” to reciprocate this generosity, He might “pour out lots of His own time cards back at us!”

And what about the many in the church body who give thousands of hours a year in volunteer time and also tithe consistently so that everything else the church does can happen?

I honestly know people who do not come on Sundays because they know that an offering will be taken.  Or they come late for that reason too.   This is a sad statement.  It’s as if they believe that if they could just escape the pastor’s words on giving, that somehow, they are “ok” before God!   Who came up with the idea of giving to the local church?  Did pastors invent tithing or proportional, generous giving? I don’t think so – but you knew that already.

Friends, the Scriptures call us to give, and to serve with our time.  It is not an “either/or” proposition.  It is, “both/and.”

I am also always amazed at another strange Christian phenomena under the sun – those who lavish offerings on visiting prophets and speakers- yet never give a penny to the Church!  Interesting.  I believe that it is wonderful that people give to visiting prophets, teachers, and evangelists! But never give to the local church? Is it because they think the Church doesn’t need the money?  Maybe we might help folks to see it a different way.  It might be useful to “monetize” all of the things that happen on weekends, Sundays, and throughout the week.  Who should pay for all these costs? The cost of the chairs we sit on, or the rental cost of the square footage + plus the air-conditioned air we breathing, or the coffee, bagel, we had in the lobby?  What about the paper napkins and paper towels, and paper…let’s not go there. What about the FPL bill for the light they need to see the screen with the words to “This Is The Air I Breathe.”  (I wonder if some would like that “air they are breathing” at 85 degrees with 79% humidity!)

Enough on this for now….because I want to address another “strange idea”, a false understanding of what “living by faith” entails, which many hold near and dear.

Let me begin with some truth statements.  There is a difference between faith and presumption.  Just about always, Jesus’ own experience is the perfect illustration of this.  While in the wilderness temptation, Satan comes to Jesus to try to fool Him into a false idea of faith.   You know the story….“change these rocks into Einstein Everything Bagels”, “jump off of that there cliff with your angelic bungee cord,” or just say the word and Las Vegas is yours.”   It was all very tempting, and all very Biblical sounding.  (Read it for yourself – in Luke Chapter 4)  Since the ploy wasn’t working very well, the Devil even tries his hand at quoting Scripture in 4:10!  Now, here’s the important part.  Each time, Jesus resists the Devil and instead – quoted Scriptural truth – but in context.  Why?  Because, there is a point at which our “faith” can cross over into “tempting” God.

Jesus’ response was simple, powerful, and very relevant to the argument I am making – “Yeah, those are nice verses Mr. Fiendish-Bible-Man, but the Bible also says ‘You must not put God to the test.’”  A.T. Robertson (our Greek Scholar Homeboy – in his “Word Pictures in the New Testament” commenting on this verse, quotes another Bible scholar and hits the exegetical nail on the proverbial head – “Jesus points out to the Devil that testing God is not trusting God.”

Testing God is not the same as trusting God.  There are times when we as believers cross the line from Faith into Presumption.  One of the most common ways we see this happening in the Body of Christ is in the way that people view work.  I have heard this now too often to not comment on it as a pastor.  The fallacy goes something like this:  “I’m going to quit my job and trust God.”  I can just see the well intentioned faith-filled follower of Jesus standing as Jesus stood, at the “highest point of the temple” – if you are the Son of God,” “throw yourself down from here.”  We all wonder what would have happened,  right?  But Jesus did not jump.  He doesn’t “force God’s hand.”

Friends, work, legitimate work, is not evil.  Work, for the believer, is a good thing, a blessing.  Most often, remaining at your job requires more faith than quitting the job.  What if God has you there to be a positive influence in someone’s life? Who else has access to your non-Christian co-workers? And what would happen to Churches and Missionary Organizations, and Ministries of all sorts if all of us decided to “trust” God and quit our jobs?

I remember hearing this “maxim” all the time as I was growing up – that work is a “necessary evil,” and that leisure and amusement should be our supreme goal.  My old boss used to say, “He with the most toys at the end of his life wins!”  He worked only for the pleasures that the money brought.  We sing songs about  “working for the weekend”, and then, Monday comes along. Yuk. Monday for most Americans has become synonymous with grief, joylessness, and striving – for the most part.

Work is not evil, it is a blessing. God gave work to Adam and Eve.  They tended the Garden of Eden.  As they pulled weeds, they joyfully sang “When I’m Sixty Four”  – in perfect pitch! They took care of God’s Green Earth.  It was work – good work that came before the Fall!  Work is not a curse!

False ideas about Heaven aren’t much help.  Hollywood mostly depicts Heaven as a place with large, fluffy, Tempur-pedic clouds of fluffy white memory foam.  And no one is really doing much of anything.  But the Bible never describes heaven as a sort of celestial “Leisure World” – a nice place for retirees, or hedonists to just lay around, play golf, or eat all grapes from silver platters.  In Heaven, the true Biblical picture is that we are going to be active – there will be lots to do, and it will all be good – for the rest of eternity.

This is not to say that God doesn’t call people to walk away sometimes.  He sure does.  There are very valid reasons to quit jobs.  But I’ve noted something characteristic over the years about those who make wrong decisions in this regards – they typically most often never ask their mature Christian friends or pastors about it.  (And the reason is clear – deep down inside, they question their own motives.) It’s almost always a decision made without the input of other believers. Almost always, the decision is something that seems “right in his or her own eyes.”  Proverbs 12:15.  “God told me.”  Humm…ok…what can I say to that?  I love it when people come to me and play the “God told me card.”  Well, what about the Bible?  Isn’t that a real big “God told me” sort of Book?  That same verse in Proverbs tells us that God speaks and confirms decisions like this through others also – it tells us that “…whoever listens to counsel is wise.”

“Do all your work in love.” (1 Corinthians 16:14 GNB)

Here’s a “hard word” to hear..but it’s the Word of God!

“We did not accept anyone’s support without paying for it. Instead, we worked and toiled; we kept working day and night so as not to be an expense to any of you. We did this, not because we do not have the right to demand our support; we did it to be an example for you to follow. While we were with you, we used to tell you, “Whoever refuses to work is not allowed to eat.” We say this because we hear that there are some people among you who live lazy lives and who do nothing except meddle in other people’s business. In the name of the Lord Jesus Christ we command these people and warn them to lead orderly lives and work to earn their own living. But you, friends, must not become tired of doing good.  (2 Thessalonians 3:8-14 GNB)

To work a secular job is NOT against faith.  Most often those who quit “in faith” are really dependent on those who continue to work.  The point is that the money to live and pay bills is coming from the private sector anyway.  It’s always the fruit of someone else’s secular labor that funds spiritual endeavors – right?  So who has more faith?  The businessman who plans, dreams, envisions, and invests capital – risks his savings, builds a company – and gives generously to missions and tithes to churches – or the hard working school teacher that puts in a 60 hour week (when you consider grading the papers) or the “man of God” who decides to walk away from a secular full time job.  Where do the finances come from? Isn’t the working businessman as much a “man” or “woman of God?”

In my own pastoral experience, I worked a full time job, transitioned to part time secular and part time church, and then finally, when I could no longer do both, and when the door opened to be on staff at a church full time, I quit the full time secular job.  But only after praying with my wife, making sure that she was in agreement, and going to friends and pastors whose wise counsel I trusted.  To have done it any sooner would have been to presume upon God, my family, my church, and my friends.

All the best to you in Jesus’ love and mercy!

Pastor Ralph Gomez


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Millennialism and the Kingdom of God

Not that it matters as much to me anymore, but is it possible to have a modified, “progressive” premillenial eschatological position and still be able to hold and “already, but not yet” view of the Kingdom of God?  In other words, can you have a  literal view of the “thousand years”  of Revelation 20 – and still have an inaugurated eschatological interpretation of the Kingdom?

Me personally, I don’t see why not.  What prevents it, other than a particular theology that we might choose to read into the text.  Are there contradictions I’m not seeing?

I was recently challenged on this by one of our denominational leaders, and so, I’ve given it a lot of thought. To clarify, let me first state what I believe about the Kingdom of God. I hold to an “inaugurated” eschatology – meaning that I believe the Kingdom of God was initiated with the first coming of the Messiah, Jesus Christ.   Some significant “eschatological” or End Times events have already been fulfilled – like Jesus’ victory over sin, death, and Satan.  Also, I believe that the Kingdom is both present and future – that the Millennial Reign, as Amillenialists believe,  is happening now, but I also believe that it will be fully consummated in the future at the return of the King.  I believe that Jesus is reigning now. He is not waiting to reign. I also believe that His reign will be consummated at the Second Coming, and that He will sit on the Davidic throne, as a Jewish King in a Jewish nation – for a thousand years (as Revelation 20 repeats 6 times.   Why not?  This is exactly what the O.T. prophets spoke to the people in exile.

I differ with my Vineyard Amillenialist  friends to some degree  because I believe that there is room in the New Testament for future literal thousand year millennial reign of Christ on the Earth which during which all of the unfulfilled promises to Israel will be all fulfilled prior to the initiation of the Eternal State described in Revelation 21 and 22.  I mean think about it.  You’re Jeremiah or Isaiah, 500 to 700 years B.C.,  and you’ve just told the people of Judah that they’re going to be punished, carried off into captivity, but, not to worry, God will one day bring your children back to the Land and restore the Temple and give them peace and security.  But suddenly, as these prophets are waxing at their most eloquent, behold, a 21st century replacement theologian with a lot of letters after his last name, and so darn smart that he only needs initials for his first and middle name, gets up on a rock a little higher than the old prophet – and says something like this:

“Look people of Jerusalem, Jeremiah and Isaiah are right,  things are not going to go too well for you short term, but, not to worry,I have some great news for you, about 700 hundred years or so from now, this collection of goyim called “The Church”  will come along and get everything that’s been promised to you!”

I ask, didn’t the ancient Jewish remnant believe the words of the prophets would be for them – for national, ethnic Jews?  Weren’t the promises given to them?  This is deep and complex to be sure.   And while I also believe that the Church is “one new man” in Christ – a Body consisting of Jews and Gentiles- God’s word cannot fall to the ground and remain fruitless- so the Millennial Reign on the earth must be the time when all the promises of refreshing, restoration, and glory will be fulfilled literally for Israel.

All of this said, I am in process with all of this – there is much to still read and study on the subject.  And I’m not sure that I need to hold to the literal 1,000 year interpretation.  That number can simply represent a very long period of time.

In the meantime, “even so, come Lord Jesus!”

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False Dichotomies in an Age of Superficiality

This morning I posted a reply to a friend’s Facebook update. I have to admit, I hadn’t felt that stirred up over a Facebook post in quite a while, not since, the heady days leading up to the ’08 Presidential elections.

But here’s what happened. I wake up, rub away the cobwebs from my aging eyes (it now takes me about 5 minutes to be able to read anything smaller than 16 point type), begin to sip Cathy’s Navy Brew Coffee (wondering how strong it might be had she actually served in the US Navy) and log onto to Facebook for the usual dose of “Like” this and so forth…then I read this from a good friend’s page: (I should say, I really admire this young man  – he is a wonderful friend and follower of Jesus)

“I’m all for politics, but make sure you dont get so deep into them you stop loving your fellow Americans and seeing them the way God does. Dont know why im saying this, just felt it I guess.”

I thought about it for a few moments, and wondered, as the coffee cut through the Brain Fog, why it troubled me so.

After a few minutes, it came to me and I wrote this response:

“Pardon my vervocity here, but I need to address this. The problem with statements like this is that it assumes that when you go political you also go “heartless” or “unloving.” The fallacy lies in the creation of a false dichotomy – the presentation of two choices, when there are more than two choices. In other words – those of us who have strong polical views are of necessity unloving or unable to quote “see people as God does.” In the first case, NO-ONE sees ANYONE as God does – let’s just establish that right off. God is omniscient and we are not. And in the second case – I CAN and DO love people with whom I disagree politically. As evidence, I present my nuclear family. I don’t demand from them political reciprocation in exchange for love – or their daily ration of Cheerios for that matter.

It concerns me because this generation is basically handing over the politcal realm all in the name of what “love?” How “loving” is it to allow the continual degradation of this Nation? And where is this idea that believers should somehow be apolitical? The left loves this and they use it as a tool to (attempt) to silence the voice of pastors and believers. I can hardly make a political statement nowadays without someone effectively censoring me by reminding me that I am a pastor (as if I could simply blot that out of my mind for a nanosecond!) This nation, in essense, forged by men who were passionate believers, in many cases, pastors, who refused to be silenced.

Joshua, I can love you and simultaneously disagree with you right? And I can go downtown to Overtown and feed people and clothe them all the while retaining my strong political perspectives – and see them, at least to some degree as “God does.” (while, simultanesouly, disagreeing with their politics – deeply)

I say, in conclusion, by all means, go deep. What is the alternative to going deep with political convictions? Being politically shallow? So we need to be “shallow” or timid in order to be loving? Don’t buy that ever! It is simply an intellectual, and I should say, also, spiritual emasculation.
Go deep in politics, go deep in faith, go deep in love – it isn’t an “either or proposition.”
It is ENTIRELY possible to genuinely love your fellow man, respect, and honor him or her, and simultaneously disagree with them – whether politically, philosophically, or religiously. Deep political convictions do not invalidate anyone’s faith or integrity.
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Revelation for Today

I am beginning to write a book on the Book of Revelation – a sort of practical commentary that focuses on the value of the book for today.  From time to time I might dabble in some speculation about future meanings of the prophecies and visions in the book, but, for the most part, I am going to stick to what this amazing book means to a believer in Jesus Christ today.  This, in fact, was the reason why the Revelation was given to John in the first place – the Revelation was meant to “bless” Christians, real Christians, living in first-century Asia Minor, who were in need of encouragement, edification, and correction.  God’s gift to those beleaguered Christians was a Revelation – but specifically a Revelation of Jesus Christ the King, and His coming Kingdom.  This is why the “angels” of the churches (messengers) are instructed to read the book out loud – and, to heed the things written in it.  The word for “read” speaks of a public reading.  Robertson, in his “Word Pictures in the New Testament” says this about the phrase “he who reads”:

“(ho anaginōskōn). Present active singular articular participle of anaginōskō (as in Luke 4:16). Christians in their public worship followed the Jewish custom of public reading of the Scriptures (2 Cor. 3:14.). The church reader (anagnōstēs, lector) gradually acquired an official position. John expects this book to be read in each of the seven churches mentioned (Revelation 1:4) and elsewhere. Today the public reading of the Bible is an important part of worship that is often poorly done.”

But this is more than a casual reading or even hearing, Spiros Zodhiates, the late Greek American Bible Scholar and author of the very useful Key Study Bible, gives this insight into the word “read:”

(it means) To perceive accurately. Later it came to mean to recognize.

And “to heed” – as interpreted by the NIV means to “take to heart.”  The Book of Revelation is not a curious add-on to the New Testament.  It is a vital, urgent, and desperately needed message to anyone who awaits the return of the King and the establishment of the fullness of His Kingdom.

So we are to read it together, to understand and perceive it accurately in order to be blessed by it.  The Revelation is not just for the individual – it is for the entire assembly of the local church – not something to be speculated about for the purpose of entertainment or escapist fantasy, but so a group of believers, a local church awaiting the fullness of the Kingdom would not lose heart, but instead, persevere in the Kingdom persecution and tribulation which are ours in Christ Jesus (Rev. 1:9)

It’s sort of like saying, “don’t give up, and don’t just hang in there – overcome!  Because things aren’t the way they seem – here’s what’s really happening!”

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