Acorns From Oakes

Seeing With Our Father's Eyes

Christ’s Undertakers

Would they have thought how often His spike-pierced feet had traveled the dusty streets of Palestine, not on holiday, not for personal reasons or for a political agenda, but only to seek and save helplessly lost people? Would they have gazed on those wounded hands and thought how they had worked so hard in the carpenter’s shop to provide for His own or how, in these last few years, they had only moved in selfless love to lift some traveler’s load, to touch one of society’s outcasts or to take up some child for the blessing? Would they have looked upon His face, now barely recognizable, and thought how often He had smiled upon other sufferers and how that smile took all their sorrows away? Would they have looked upon His chest and back, mangled by the fierce scourging and wondered how it could have come to this for the strong and wise young Rabbi? Would they have looked at the spear wound and thought how completely vulnerable He had made Himself, never more so than here, completely exposed at Golgotha? Would they have been amazed at His pale appearance due to the incredible blood loss as the thirsty ground drank every drop that fell to it? Would they have remembered how the Old Law taught that the life is in the blood (Leviticus 17:11)? Would their minds have reeled as they tried to understand it? As they carried His body to Joseph’s tomb were their senses shocked at the sheer injustice of this death? Were they embarrassed and so shamed by what their “spiritual” leaders, in league with Rome, had brought about? Did they regret being part of a society which could choose Barabbas and condemn Jesus? As they rolled the large stone into its groove and it rocked into place, did they feel that something within them had also died and was buried with Him in there? Did they…could they…imagine that life would ever be the same again? How does one adjust after the Event at Calvary? What could ever make things right? This unholy execution caused Joseph and Nicodemus to expose themselves as they undertook the last service they could offer Christ in caring for His earthly remains. As the life and ministry of Jesus of Nazareth gave birth and nourishment to goodness in the souls of so many, so the death of Jesus did for these two men on that Friday evening long ago. All their questions hung about them awaiting, yes, demanding answers. And though it may have seemed like an eternity to them, those answers would come heralded by a powerful earthquake only hours away.

 

Getting To Know God

 

Think of a very good and close friendship you have. Ask yourself how it came to be. It’s not as simple as just having come to know the person is it? It’s not just that you spent time with them. It’s not only that you had some things in common, for we have lots in common with lots of people that we aren’t particularly close to, don’t we? So, it’s not just knowing, spending time with or having things in common with a person. Those elements have their place but there’s something more. Isn’t it true that we somehow see that which we admire in a person and it draws us to them? The way they, in turn, accept us and allow us into their lives blesses us. This is a gift of trust. We spend more time together as we are able. That leads to many more experiences with them in many more circumstances…good ones and tough ones. We have times together alone and times together with others. We pick up on their values and aims. We share some of those in common…maybe many of those in common. We watch how they handle trouble. We feel comfortable and accepted when we are with them. We get to work together, and we see how they carry their share. We see the way they take responsibility. The relationship grows as we interact in daily life.

Now let me ask, how is your relationship with your Father God? Maybe you think it could definitely be better. Maybe you even want it to be better. But just as a friendship doesn’t happen magically, a growing relationship with God doesn’t either. The only way we get to know one another better is through experiencing the phases of life together.

I am not speaking simply of reading the Bible, though that is foundational. We wouldn’t know anything about our God had He not told us in His Book. Of course we cannot see or touch God directly. So that sort of gives us pause, don’t you think? How can we have a relationship with an invisible Someone? But the Apostle Peter explains that we definitely can have such a relationship. Have a read of 1 Peter 1:8-9. Without having seen Jesus in the flesh ourselves, we can consider the sheer volume of evidence we have been given concerning Him. We then are able to love Him, believe in Him, rejoice in Him and continue receiving salvation from Him! We are in relationship with Him. The Proverb writer tells us to “acknowledge Him” (3:6). What does that mean? Well, what does it mean to acknowledge a friend? We speak with them. We share good and tough news. When we are happy we can’t wait to bring them in on it, can we? We honor them. We make plans with them in mind. We make decisions based on our friendship. If they need us, we do whatever we can to get there for them. We help each other. It’s not magic. It’s friendship! Does it make sense then that we approach our relationship with our God in some similar ways? I don’t want to experience my life without my God! And the more I acknowledge Him in everything the closer I grow to Him. Make sense?

 

 

 

 

HOLIER THAN THOU?

In His amazing mountain sermon, Jesus says this, “…unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the Kingdom of Heaven.” (Matthew 5:20) Does that statement grab you like it does me? Is Jesus urging us to a “holier than thou” attitude? Are we supposed to get in to some sort of religious contest in which we attempt to outdo others?

The Bible is on record as to God’s view of those who feel they are better than others. In Isaiah, chapter sixty-five, God says He is provoked by people “who say, ‘Keep away; don’t come near me, for I am too sacred for you!’” (verse 5) God regards such people as smoke in His nostrils, i.e., He finds them irritating. I’m certainly not God, but I also find it irritating when we humans display such an attitude. And doesn’t  Paul, the evangelist, warn us against comparing ourselves to others and drawing conclusions about our spiritual status from the comparisons? (2 Corinthians 10:12) It’s always easy to find someone who hasn’t had the advantages or opportunities we have had, and to come off looking pretty good by contrast. The problem with that approach is that it’s not honest, fair or balanced. There are so many other people with whom we would not favorably compare. We would just as soon not go there. Seeking to justify ourselves through human comparisons is just flat wrong. It’s fine to compare ourselves with others in order to learn and to improve ourselves.

So Jesus isn’t saying that we should be holier than the Pharisees. Is He saying that we should outwork the Pharisees? If we go that route, we need to consider that the Pharisees were very scrupulous about their religion. They had all kinds of rituals and traditions that they taught. There were sincere Pharisees, like Saul of Tarsus (Philippians 3:4-6), who strictly followed these traditions. If our entrance into the Kingdom of Heaven is based on the number of properly performed rituals we put up, we will be laboring under a very heavy and impossible yoke all through our lives.

So…what did Jesus mean when He said our righteousness must exceed that of the Pharisees? Jesus’ main slam against the bulk of the Pharisees (there were some sincere among them) was that they were hypocrites (Matthew 23:13,15,23,25,27,29). It’s not just that they sometimes did hypocritical things, as we all do. They were dyed-in-the-wool hypocrites. They were religious from the teeth outward. It never touched their hearts. They argued a great case. And when all was said and done, much more had been said than had been done. Imagine this scenario, somehow in the great stream of religious duties the Pharisees had produced, they had completely lost touch with God. Isn’t that so sad? The religion of the Pharisees did not include a relationship with their God! I am so glad that could never happen to us, aren’t you? The fact is we must take care that we do not lose our God in the trappings we invent within our religion.

When Jesus said that the righteousness of a citizen of the Kingdom must exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, He wasn’t discussing quantity. He was speaking of quality. The Pharisees’ righteousness was outward, ours must involve our hearts also. It must be inward, outward and upward. Theirs was showy, ours must be real. Theirs sacrificed the most important upon the altar of details, ours must reveal Christ’s priorities of love, justice and mercy while being honest all the way down to the details. Theirs was often verbal and theoretical, ours must be vital and practical. Theirs was based on the number of correctly practiced rituals, ours is based on faith by the grace of God. Theirs is actually powerless. Ours connects us with the One Who does all things well. How can anyone who loves Jesus and keeps their eyes on Him imagine themselves to be holier than anyone else? Seek His exceeding righteousness!

A Child, Born…A Son, Given Isaiah 9:6

The Prophet’s words were to give hope to a nation (and to the entire world) which was to come under judgment of God. He comforts them by saying, “To us a Child is born…” Very well, but children were born everyday weren’t they? But this Child …though He was similar in many respects to other children…was also very different.

A Child is born. Children are proof that God hasn’t completely given up on the world. Children represent promise. They offer a chance…a chance to love…to be unselfish…to sacrifice…to train…to teach…to learn…to serve…to be tender…a chance to do better.

Children are joy-bringers. They major in joy. They inspire it and delight in it. When Jesus was born there was great praise offered. There was  angelic  singing. Joy and peace were the score upon which the music of hope was written. Lowly shepherds worshiped. People who lived in darkness saw a Great Light. A star marked the way to Him. A mother who had said, “Yes!” to God, knew that something special was underway. A stepfather, watching, felt a pride well up in him…for such a wife…for such a Son. The Heavenly Father delighted in the scene for which the ages had waited. And with it all, He was very well pleased.

The Child born soon became the Son given…born for us…given for us. Given to loneliness…given to hardship…given to weariness…given to hunger…given to thirst…given to temptations…given to criticism…given to poverty…given to misunderstanding …given to tears… given to sufferings…BUT…given also to love…given to service…given to helping…given to healing…given to fellowship…given to teaching…given to believing in others and helping them believe also in His belief in them…given to listening…given to prayer…given to fasting…given to truth…given to loyalty…given to God’s righteousness…given for our saving…given to cruel death…given to the tomb…given to life again…and given again to each soul who will receive Him as Savior.

For to us a Child is born…God’s promise of joy to the world, peace on earth, and good will to mankind. For to us a Son is given…God’s proof…of love to one and all…of how much He wants us home with Him…of the sacrificial lengths to which He has gone for you…for me…for all.

The Child Who was born and the Son Who was given brought life to a dead world, light to a dark world and real hope to a despairing world.

Merry Christmas!

 

BETTER THINGS

Read just the first nine verses of Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians. (Go ahead…look it up and read it, please.) Now tell me what you think about the church of God at Corinth? He says of them that they are sanctified…called to be holy…recipients of grace…enriched in every way…that the testimony about Christ was confirmed in them…that they didn’t lack any spiritual gift…and that God would keep them strong to the end. Who wants to become a member of that congregation? I do. Don’t you? Yes, indeed. Can’t wait!

But do wait, just a bit! At least until you read further into the letter.  In verse ten Paul moves on from the faithfulness of God and Christ…and the privileged position the Corinthians had been given in Christ…to the first of a long and deeply troubling list of problems, sins and doctrinal discrepancies that were plaguing the church of God in Corinth.

Now put the shoe on the other foot. Pretend, as you read the rest of the First Corinthian letter…pretend you had never read the first nine verses of chapter one. Could you even begin to regard those folks in the way Paul does at the very beginning of the letter? I don’t think I could. Who wants to be a member of that congregation now? Not me…not no way…no how! They were dividing over human teachers and even dared to include Christ in such a list. They were tolerating sin in their midst of a kind that even society’s outcasts wouldn’t tolerate! They were taking each other to public courts. They were abusing each other at times when they should have been unselfishly sharing and this led to their celebration of the Lord’s Supper being an absolute sham. Their worship services were more like a competition. There was confusion and a misunderstanding of proper roles and procedures. On and on the list of problems goes.

And yet…and yet…Paul calls them God’s church at Corinth…and the sanctified recipients of grace. Did he mean it? Was he speaking truth? What are we to make of this?

Well, he did mean it, didn’t he? The Holy Spirit was inspiring Paul to pen these things. So they were true. How can God regard the struggling, in-fighting, immature Corinthian believers as His people of faith and grace? Listen there are sinners and there are sinners. There’s a difference between sinners saved by grace and sinners who wish to continue in their rebellion. There’s a difference between those who are penitent over their sins and those who aren’t. God is patient with immature believers…more patient than we humans are likely to be. I said that He is patient, not that He compromised with evil. And His patience must not to be confused with weakness. He is able to see into the hearts of Christians. He knows what they would be, if they could be that. He knows what they really want. And He is able to credit them, when it is true, that their spirits are willing even when their flesh is weak. God knows when it is true that more time and more teaching will bring a soul along to closer likeness to Christ. He also knows when that is not happening. And in each case He will always do what is right. There’s a time to deal swiftly and severely with evil (see 1 Corinthians 5). There’s also a time to show patience…to forbear…and to plead with another that we might do better.

It’s my opinion that one of the greatest tests of faith for Christians is to keep believing in and expecting better things of their fellow Christians. This is what our Lord does, isn’t it? It’s so tough when we are bitterly disappointed in others. But if we cherish the patient love our Lord shows to us, mustn’t we also grant Him the same right to show it to others? And shouldn’t we be glad about it? I didn’t say it was easy…but it is right! It is likeness to our Lord Jesus Christ!

THE SANDS HAVE BEEN WASHED…

One of my favorite hymns is an oldie entitled, “The Sands Have Been Washed.” The words came from a schoolteacher named Harriet Cole Nickerson who became too ill to teach, but produced a book of poems in the  mid-1800s. Charles Tilman found this one and set the words to music in 1895. The melody speaks to my heart, and the words speak for my heart. My imagination runs with the first line of the song, “The sands have been washed in the footprints of the Stranger on Galilee’s shore…” I am over and over struck with the thought that our Lord once lived here on our planet. But He didn’t come simply as a visitor, He came as one of us. He was one of the children who played on the dusty streets of Nazareth. He was a regular in the synagogue on the Sabbath. And His interest in the Old Testament scrolls would have been noticed with gladness and pride by the older worshipers there. They watched Him grow in wisdom as well as in body and in favor with Jehovah and with them also. No doubt some of them had to visit the carpenter’s shop where Jesus learned those skills from His father. They perhaps had to have something made or something repaired. The young carpenter did that kind of thing. But even though they knew Him, they were unprepared for the kind of graceful words He spoke to them. They knew Him, but they didn’t really know Him. There was an unknown quantity in Him that surprised and even angered them (Luke 4:22-30). John tells us, He came to that which was His own, but His own did not receive Him (John 1:11). Still Jesus was no stranger to Galilee. He made Galilee and the rest of the world as well (do see Colossians 1:15-20). The sands of the seashore were washed in His footprints. He came to us…as us…for us. The wonder of it all amazes me yet. He is Immanuel!

Dear Lord, Help us not only to know of You, but to know You. Please, may we live in loving relationship with You…in a daily, real, growing way as befits any good relationship. And, please, may knowing You, have all the affects upon us that You desire. We claim no virtue of our own. But we have discovered that experiencing You, always leaves us desiring more of You. And, one more thing, Lord, would You please allow us to feel Your pleasure in us now and again, for we find that helps us so much to avoid ultimate weariness in going about doing good as You did when the sands of Galilee were washed by Your feet. Amen.

Easier or Better?

Perhaps those who follow the Christ, may be excused for presenting the life of faith to others as completely joy– and peace– filled. Actually we don’t mean to say that there aren’t costs connected to Christianity. There are! A lesser illustration would be parenthood. We who have had the privilege of bringing children into the world have a wonderful insight into the blessings connected with that. We are so thrilled with the wonders of it that the costs, while claiming much of our time and energy, don’t get much of our attention. The joys so far outweigh the costs that we don’t feel much need to speak of the sacrifices. But they are there, all the same.

The Christian life has come down to us today, partly as a result of a long, long line of our forerunners of faith, many of whose stories we may read about in the Bible. They all knew hardship and heartache. They faced difficulties and dangers. They experienced trials, sufferings and failures. And some of these were very severe. But they counted all of it as nothing compared with “…the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus…as…Lord” (Philippians 3:8). The   Apostle Paul is the one who wrote that. Would you say his life before Christ was easier than his life after coming to know Christ? Before Jesus, he had his whole life planned out. He was successful and advanced beyond many of his own generation. He had power and influence. All of that changed after he met the Lord on the Damascus road. Some folks looking at that would have said, “Too bad! What a waste! What a shame!” But Paul knew better. The glory of Jesus Christ, the wonder of the forgiveness he had received, the holy purpose in which he was enlisted after meeting Jesus, filled him with joy unspeakable to the point that he said that his sufferings (2 Corinthians 11:22ff) were not worthy to be compared with what he found in Jesus. No! His life was not easier, but it was infinitely better!

Profit And Loss

There is the old Greek story of Charon who was the boatman who took the dead across the River Styx. He reminded a poor woman that she had the right to drink of the Waters of Lethe that would make her forget everything about the life she was leaving. She was eager to drink, saying, “I will forget how I have suffered.” Charon told her, “Remember too that you will forget how you rejoiced.” She said, “I will forget my failures,” and he said, “And your victories as well.” She went on, “I’ll forget how I was hated.” And he reminded her, “You’ll forget how you were loved.” She thought it over and decided she wouldn’t drink.

To love is to risk. But the experience of loving is more than worth the risks incurred. Love suffers losses…painful losses. But in loving we are imitating our Maker Who so loved us that He gave His best treasure…His precious Son…for all humans. And He knew that His immeasurable gift of love would not only be rejected by most but would be nailed to a tree in bitter, inexplicable hatred. But His holy love compelled Him to love to the uttermost (John 13:1).

In holy loving we are not only imitating God we are being changed into His likeness. Love that is worthy of the name does something wonderful to us…it looks for something from us…and it fills us with the sense that in loving we are truly living as God intended. Because of love we put ourselves “out there” with no guarantees, except that we will know both profit and loss. The blessing of requited love instills within us sky-splitting joy. The pain of unrequited love or of helplessly watching our beloved suffer can put us through a kind hell on earth. But love can do no other than open us to both the joy and the sorrow. It is only in granting holy love free access to our hearts and free outlet through our lives that that we learn its most valuable lessons and experience its most wondrous power. This is how and why, ultimately, love never fails!

You Count!

If you are anything like me, you are somewhat given to   extremes (I am quite ready to admit that many are not like meJ). It’s mostly either on or off…hot or cold…good or bad…up or down, etc. At least that’s how I seem to feel about it. We have our emotions (even if we do try to bottle them up inside ourselves). This may manifest itself in bunches of ways, but let me try to focus on one particular way: do you count with God? Do you matter to Him? It’s a big world. I don’t even show up as a speck on a satellite photo. I don’t have the ear of the movers and shakers of the world. Never have…never will. I may work for a large company where I feel insignificant. Many things about my life, health, finances and future are decided and controlled by other, more significant people, than I. But I learn to live with all of this. However, when those I live with, my family, my friends, my fellow Christians, are dismissive of me, it can really hurt, can’t it? Now I may, at times, be imagining this. But not always! But then they are often feeling what I am feeling. We do not matter! We try and fail to leave our “mark” in the world. Plans fail. Hopes are dashed. Relationships fracture. All our props may be kicked out from under us. What then? Well…we feel insignificant. We don’t  believe we would be missed by anyone if we left the world. We turn to our church…and what…? We get preached at, quoted to, and out-worked by good, zealous church members. So, again, we don’t measure up. Let this brief note encourage you to look away from everything…from every thought…from every person that screams your “insignificance” into your heart. Look away from the rat race of life. Come again to the pages of Holy Scripture. Let your faith be informed by the truth of how your Creator sees you, cares for you, plans for you, dwells with you and even sacrifices for you. If He is for you (Romans 8:31ff clearly teaches that), your life counts! You count! God says so!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Immanuel

One of my own favorite hymns is an oldie called, “The Sands Have Been Washed.” The words came from a schoolteacher named Harriet Cole Nickerson who became too ill to teach, but produced a book of poems in the  mid-1800s. Charles Tilman found and set the words to music in 1895. The melody speaks to my heart, and the words speak for my heart. My imagination runs with the first line of the song, “The sands have been washed in the footprints of the Stranger on Galilee’s shore…” I am, over and over, struck with the thought that our Lord once lived here on our planet. But He didn’t come simply as a visitor, He came as one of us. He was one of the children who played on the dusty streets of Nazareth. He was a regular in the synagogue on the Sabbath. And His interest in the Old Testament scrolls would have been noticed with gladness and pride by the older worshipers there. They watched Him grow in wisdom as well as in body and in favor with Jehovah and with them also. No doubt some of them had to visit the carpenter’s shop where Jesus learned those skills from His father. They perhaps had to have something made or something repaired. The young carpenter did that kind of thing. But even though they knew Him, they were unprepared for the kind of graceful words He spoke to them. They knew Him, but they didn’t really know Him. There was an unknown quantity in Him that surprised and even angered them (Luke 4:22-30). Jesus was no stranger to Galilee. The sands of the seashore were washed in His footprints. He came to us…as us…for us. The wonder of it all amazes me yet. He is Immanuel!

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