Thursday, February 11, 2016

The Gospel Confronts WINNERS and LOSERS

this is part of the series " The Gospel Confrontation".....


They got a name for the winners in the worldAnd I want a name when I loseThey call Alabama the Crimson TideCall me Deacon Blues 
(Steely Dan 'Deacon Blues')

There are some people in the world where it just all goes according to plan. They were born into the right family, at the right time, with all the right stuff and life seems to be one grand charm after another.

Sure, there are setbacks for everyone- but these folks just walk on through and seem to have it all go their way.

Stereotypically, there is a body type- personality- intellect- and social status attached to what the mainstream culture yearns for.

And there are segments of the world who don't like them for that as well......

Who comes to mind when I describe that person? If it is a male- you think of someone 6'2- fit- a bright smile and perfect hair- eyes that put on the charm- a magnetic personality- spot on fashion- Mr. Persona with a flair for leadership- charismatic and magnetic.

The female? Goddess like features- the cover of a magazine- the right social circles- and the perfect tastes in colors and clothing. The subject of conversations. Strong and desirable- but always in control.

Do those people really exist? Well- no and YES!

Though the images we are presented in media are photoshopped and iconic caricatures- there are those people who come close enough to these arbitrary standards that they pass for the 'fortunate ones'- they won the races- they are in the right circles- they have spun a positive world of winning momentum- their life is more yes that no.

What does the gospel say to this 'winner'?

Mark 10:17 As Jesus started on his way, a man ran up to him and fell on his knees before him. “Good teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”   18 “Why do you call me good?” Jesus answered. “No one is good—except God alone. 19 You know the commandments: ‘You shall not murder, you shall not commit adultery, you shall not steal, you shall not give false testimony, you shall not defraud, honor your father and mother.’” 20 “Teacher,” he declared, “all these I have kept since I was a boy.” 21 Jesus looked at him and loved him. “One thing you lack,” he said. “Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” 22 At this the man’s face fell. He went away sad, because he had great wealth. 23 Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, “How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God!” 24 The disciples were amazed at his words. But Jesus said again, “Children, how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God!25 It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.” 26 The disciples were even more amazed, and said to each other, “Who then can be saved?” 27 Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but not with God; all things are possible with God.” 28 Then Peter spoke up, “We have left everything to follow you!”   29 “Truly I tell you,” Jesus replied, “no one who has left home or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields for me and the gospel 30 will fail to receive a hundred times as much in this present age: homes, brothers, sisters, mothers, children and fields—along with persecutions—and in the age to come eternal life. 31 But many who are first will be last, and the last first.”

There was a sign on a teacher's room that said: "What is popular may not be right- and what is right may not be popular".

The above passage has always intrigued me.... does it teach a salvation by works? What is meant by 'a camel through eye of a needle'? And what does this say to us?

This man (Luke 18 calls him a 'ruler'- Matthew 19 calls him 'young')  initiates the conversation and even 'falls on his knees'- what do we make of this passage?

Here is what the conversation says to those who seem to have it all......

Worldly success and adulation can be enough of a distraction to cause ultimate demise. If you have been blessed with wealth, or looks, or talent-- oh, you are in a tough circumstance spiritually.

Paul wrote to Timothy in I Timothy 6:17 Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment.

This young man approached Jesus thinking he had won- "I have done all these things from my youth up- I AM A SUCCESS- (I even guess he saw his riches as proof of God's approval).

So Jesus explores this... 'So you have kept al the law..Hmmm Law 1 says that Love God first above all else- so I am asking you to sell all of your possessions and give them to the poor.'

And the young man walked away...'grieved (Matt 19)- very sad (Luke 18).

Jesus replies to the remaining audience "How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of heaven"- "it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle"- now I have had Bible teachers explain for years that this is a reference to a gate in the wall of Jerusalem where the camel could still fit- and that may be true- but the idiom is still a reference to a small hole and a big camel.

This shocked the observers "Who can be saved?" and the VERY IMPORTANT response "With men it is IMPOSSIBLE, but not with God; for all things are possible with God."

The gospel confronts the 'winner' by telling him- you are losing and will lose the most important area- you cannot please God with your record of success. You are as much of a failure in the area of righteousness as the gutter ridden sinner. Compared to God's holy standard of true heart holiness.. you are not a winner.... you are Deacon Blues.

Now, why is this good news?

Well- as an American, I am rich. You can look at my net worth and wonder what I am talking about- but I live better that all of the Kings of the ancient world and enjoy comforts that most of the world can't even imagine. My material status does create spiritual dullness - Proverbs tells us that to the man who is full even honey seems bitter. If I am depending on my spiritual zeal to usher me into usher me into the heavenly hall of fame.. I am in trouble. I don't feel guilty for my lot in life- I am so grateful fro God's grace.

But here is a 2nd point- and this is the most important one. There is a trap that the 'winners' fall into.Compared to others in our society, I am not rich, or handsome, or famous, or talented- but to those who are- you have to beware of a terrible trap.

The trap is that you use the social status as an apparatus. You don't have IT..IT has you. You are in a grip of acceptance and luxury that has no end of the appetite and no compassion for the rejects. You never feel secure- all of the mounds of gain offer not even an ounce of security or love.

Some of the wealthiest people in the world are also some of the saddest- the stuff doesn't love you back and it doesn't really satisfy. The famous French writer Guy De Maupassant's sad quote- "I have coveted everything and taken pleasure in nothing."

The the good news of Christ can save this person. I believe it begins with a true repentance which produces a fruit of gratitude. Grace causes a fruit of giving. The fragrance of both causes a warmth for people of all kinds.. even the destitute.

It is a freeing message. The rich young ruler was sad to think of losing his possessions- and the sad irony is that they were going to go away eventually. Rust or theft or old age will take it all away.

The born again person will remain joyous even if everything is taken away.

As I close- click on the link here to meditate on the Johnny Cash version of "Hurt'- it is a long view of wealth and what is important in life.

If you a person with persona, don't get to enthralled with your power or status. The smallest package in the world is a man all wrapped up in himself.

now for the rest of us..........


The difficulty in all of these posts is that we are dealing in stereotypes and archetypes- whereas real life is always a mangled middle. In the real world, life is fragmented and complicated, messy and menial.

That is why I love the Books of Psalms/Proverbs/Ecclesiastes- the books of literature- where real depictions of the human heart are presented in living color. The 'songs' are cries of celebration and pain. The cries of the heart are energetic at times and depressed at others. We find real doubt, anger, hurt, and confusion.

So what does the gospel say to us when we feel rejected or abandoned? Where do we find answers for our loneliness and depression?

A particular Psalm I run to in times of wandering/wondering is Psalm 73.

 1 Surely God is good to Israel,
   to those who are pure in heart.

The writer here is commonly referred to as Asaph- a rather unknown figure except to refer to a priestly choir director of the post-exile Jews. Whenever I read verse 1 of Psalm 73, I feel it is the 'lip service' things we always say in our faith. Those of us who walk with God for any length of time can relate to how we learn all the jargon and phrases. When I feel wounded or betrayed it is easy to say "God is good" on the outside, but on the inside there is deep questioning and digging doubt.

 2 But as for me, my feet had almost slipped;
   I had nearly lost my foothold.
3 For I envied the arrogant
   when I saw the prosperity of the wicked.
 4 They have no struggles;
   their bodies are healthy and strong.

In a world of 'compare and compete'- life can beat you down in a hurry. It seems like no one else is hurting the way you are. It seems like your struggles are unique and no one else is suffering. This is all an illusion, but our twisted hearts magnify our troubles and deepen our woundedness.

5 They are free from common human burdens;
   they are not plagued by human ills.
6 Therefore pride is their necklace;
   they clothe themselves with violence.
7 From their callous hearts comes iniquity;
   their evil imaginations have no limits.
8 They scoff, and speak with malice;
   with arrogance they threaten oppression.
9 Their mouths lay claim to heaven,
   and their tongues take possession of the earth. 

10 Therefore their people turn to them
   and drink up waters in abundance.
11 They say, “How would God know?
   Does the Most High know anything?”
 12 This is what the wicked are like—
   always free of care, they go on amassing wealth.

It isn't enough to see others carefree, but it is particularly painful to see the wicked seem to get by scot free. Skeptics sell tickets, liars get promotions, the right way is harder and slower and it seems like we are getting left behind by holding to 'silly' rules. Our desire to live according to the rules is looked at as 'archaic' or 'naive'. I highlighted verse 9 because it is the most painful of all- there are some who use all the jargon of faith- but see no struggle with sin or compromise. As they move up and get applause without consequences, it makes you want to punt it all away (I believe this was the so called 'sin of the Nicolaitans' in the Book of Revelation'- those who played it both ways- words of faith and lifestyle of world and never seeming to get in trouble).

13 Surely in vain I have kept my heart pure
   and have washed my hands in innocence.
14 All day long I have been afflicted,
   and every morning brings new punishments.
 15 If I had spoken out like that,
   I would have betrayed your children.
16 When I tried to understand all this,
   it troubled me deeply 

So it gets to this... a little pity party. I have been here enough to know how pathetic a position it is. Thankless, prayerless, overly sensitive and critical.

Let me say that there is proper anger and pain that shouldn't be confused with this attitude of 'permanent victimhood'- but I see more improper reactions than appropriate ones. In fact, our culture has a huge epidemic of victim-itis- we know how to WHINE.

NOW- verse 17 indicates a huge shift... and it can easily be mis-understood. So let's experience this shift- a gospel awakening....

17 till I entered the sanctuary of God;
   then I understood their final destiny.

I CAN HEAR THE SKEPTICS NOW..... Oh Sure, nice answer- a mean God who crushes the mean people and you are supposed to feel better? This totally misses the point.

The change begins with WORSHIP- a lost art and experience in our culture today. Arch Bishop of Canterbury, William Temple defines it this way:

“Worship is the submission of all of our nature to God.It is the quickening of conscience by His holiness, nourishment of mind by His truth, purifying of imagination by His beauty, opening of the heart to His love, and submission of will to His purpose.And all this gathered up in adoration is the greatest of human expressions of which we are capable.” 

It has been said that without worship...we shrink. It is suggested that if we never learn to worship-even God will disappoint us. Sadly, we think of worship as sitting on a hard pew and watching a B grade concert, singing monotonous and repetitious choruses, begrudgingly putting money in a brass plate, eating stale crackers, licking a thimble of warm grape juice, and hoping the thing ends before the lunch crowd hits the restaurants.

We think that we are the audience, the ministers direct, and the preachers/musicians are the participants.A worship service is where WE are the participants and GOD is the audience.
We come in His sanctuary not to be entertained, what we can get... but it should be what we can give to HIM.

As we meditate on what He has done- as we bless Him for who He is- as we mutually confess our sin and rejoice in His generous salvation, our eyes are cleared, the dust settles, and we realize we are on a journey to a great wedding feast- aliens in a broken world- and our present sufferings are nothing in comparison to the coming glory (Rom 8:18).

If we never see this... then we are in danger of what is coming for the rebels, the earth dwellers.....

 18 Surely you place them on slippery ground;
   you cast them down to ruin.
19 How suddenly are they destroyed,
   completely swept away by terrors! 

I never rejoice when it happens- but we see it all the time. The one's we thought were living the life are swept away in tragedy.....

20 They are like a dream when one awakes; 
   when you arise, Lord, 
   you will despise them as fantasies.

Again- the ones who betray and rob and bully and persecute God's people are going to get the wrath of the Father. Those who pierce His son will see Daddy coming in a cloud of wrath.

21 When my heart was grieved

   and my spirit embittered,
22 I was senseless and ignorant;
   I was a brute beast before you.
 23 Yet I am always with you;
   you hold me by my right hand.
24 You guide me with your counsel,
   and afterward you will take me into glory. 

Every time I get to this section I can't help but think of Keith Green's song "Your Love Broke Through"
This is gospel beginning- it is evidence of repentance... "God, please forgive me, I was wasting away in a pity party of victimhood- tired of being kicked around by the wicked world- but You love me and the gospel says that You forgive me- Your love has broken through!"

25 Whom have I in heaven but you?
   And earth has nothing I desire besides you.
26 My flesh and my heart may fail,
   but God is the strength of my heart
   and my portion forever.
 27 Those who are far from you will perish;
   you destroy all who are unfaithful to you. 
28 But as for me, it is good to be near God. 
   I have made the Sovereign LORD my refuge;
   I will tell of all your deeds.

 As I close- it would be helpful to say one more thing- LIFE WOUNDS- there is no way to get around that- THE PAIN IS REAL- and the questions are heartfelt. It may help to meditate not on WHY? instead the Bible gives the answer as a person.. a WHO?

The Cross of Christ, by John R.W. Stott:
At the end of time, billions of people were scattered on a great plain before Gods throne. 
Most shrank back from the brilliant light before them. But some groups near the front talked heatedly - not with cringing shame, but with belligerence.
'Can God judge us? How can he know about suffering?' snapped a pert young brunette. She ripped open a sleeve to reveal a tattooed number from a Nazi concentration camp. 'We endured terror ... beatings ... torture ... death!'
In another group a Negro boy lowered his collar. 'What about this?' he demanded, showing an ugly rope burn . 'Lynches ... for no crime but being black!'
In another crowd, a pregnant schoolgirl with sullen eyes. "Why should I suffer' she murmured, 'It wasn't my fault.'
Far out across the plain there were hundreds of such groups. Each had a complaint against God for the evil and suffering he permitted in this world. How lucky God was to live in heaven where all was sweetness and light, where there was no weeping or fear, no hunger or hatred. What did God know of all that man had been forced to endure in this world? For God leads a pretty sheltered life, they said.
So each of the groups sent forth their leader, chosen because he had suffered the most. A Jew, a Negro, a person from Hiroshima, a horribly deformed arthritic, a thalidomide child. In the centre of the plain they consulted with each other.  At last they were ready to present their case. It was rather clever.
Before God could be qualified to be their judge, he must endure what they have endured. Their decision was that God should be sentenced to live on earth - as a man!
'Let him be born a Jew. Let the legitimacy of his birth be doubted. Give him a work so difficult that even his family will think him out of his mind when he tries to do it. Let him be betrayed by his closest friends. Let him face false charges, be tried by a prejudiced jury and convicted by a cowardly judge. Let him be tortured.
'At the last, let him see what it means to be terribly alone. Then let him die. Let him die so that there can be no doubt that he died. Let there be a great host of witnesses to verify it.'
As each leader announced his portion of the sentence, loud murmurs of approval went up from the throng of people assembled.
And when the last had finished pronouncing sentence, there was a long silence. No-one uttered another word. No-one was moved. For suddenly all knew God had already served his sentence. (End)

As for me- I'm so thankful there is a gospel for losers- It means there is room at the cross for me.....

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