Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Heart Burn

As we get older many of us experience that burning sensation in our chest known as heartburn. It is usually attributed to factors such as too much stress or too much spicy foods. It may last for a few minutes or for a few hours. Usually it subsides with an antacid or just some rest. I can share with you from personal experience that heartburn is not a pleasant episode.

I was reading in Luke's Gospel the other day and discovered some men who also experienced a heartburn situation. However, the cause of theirs was not stress nor spicy foods. And the remedy for their heartburn was not an antacid or rest. You will find their story in Luke 24.

Two men - one named Cleopas, the other unnamed - were returning to the little village of Emmaus on Easter Sunday. Yes, they had heard the news that Jesus had risen from the dead, but they had not accepted this report shared by an excited group of women. Somehow it just didn't make sense. They all knew that Jesus had died. Shoot, everyone in fact, everyone in Judea knew that for a fact. Mysterious things, unaccountable things had happened when he died. But the fact that Jesus was dead no one could deny.

As they traveled that dusty roadway, suddenly they were joined by another. They did not know who he was, but it was obvious by his questions that he was relatively new in town. He inquired as to why they were so "down in the dumps." So, they shared the whole story. Then this stranger began one of the most insightful monologues the world had every heard. He shared with them, using Old Testament Scriptures from Genesis through Zechariah, exactly what had been prophesied concerning Jesus. These two men had no idea who the teacher was, but they were riveted by the lecture, so much that they experienced heartburn (read verse 32).

Friends, when was the last time that the Word of God so moved you that it caused your heart to burn with excitement? When was the last time you read a passage and all you could do in response was to say "Wow!"? When was the last time you were riveted by a passage of Scripture and sat immobilized because of it? Those are moments of real heart burn. And the only remedy is to share what you have received with another, just like these two disciples did by running back into town to share the good news. Perhaps it is time that we all experience a little heart burning for the Word of God.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

A Great Faith

I am always fascinated with stories in the Bible that describe great faith. Often that faith is expressed by an individual in a most unlikely manner. One such story is found in Luke 13:10-17.

Several years ago, during one of our Village Schools of the Bible tours to Israel, we had the unique privilege of sitting in a small synagogue in the city of Safed. Our guide, himself an Orthodox Jew and former cantor at a synagogue in his younger days, described how a Jewish service was conducted both in the times of Jesus and in that particular synagogue. As was customary, men sat on benches situated around the outer walls of the synagogue. In the center, facing east, was the Ark containing the various scrolls. Upstairs was a small balcony where women and children went for the service. A dark curtain kept the women from the view of the men on the lower floor - don't want to create any avenue for temptation you know. When a person goes to Jerusalem one sees evidence of these curtains still being used today to separate the women's court from the men's court along the Western Wall.

Our text tells us that Jesus was teaching in a synagogue; the city is not mentioned, nor is the subject of Jesus' teaching. Present at that service was a woman who had been severely crippled for 18 years. All she could see of life was the ground. All she could see of herself were her feet. Perhaps she was in the balcony, or perhaps she was in a sideroom screened from the main room by a heavy curtain. Perhaps she was a regular attender to the synagogue service; perhaps she came that day because Jesus was there. But the fact is...she was there.

Luke tells us that while Jesus was teaching He saw this woman. He saw her although she was shrouded behind a heavy curtain. Moreover, I believe He saw her desperate situation and He saw into her heart. Here was a woman who needed help. But would she claim it?

Jesus summoned the woman to come forward. Now, until I had had that experience in that small synagogue in northern Galilee, Jesus' command meant nothing to me. Jesus was inviting this woman to come into the area reserved for the men and, indeed, to stand before the men. This was unheard of. Would she come? Would she descend those stairs? Would she come through that heavy curtain? Would she violate proper synagogue protocol? Yes, she did. And Jesus healed her. What was her response right there in front of those startled male worshipers? She praised God. Luke tells us that the synagogue officials were indignant, but the people were delighted.

This unnamed woman possessed some remarkable faith. She dared to believe the command of Jesus to come. She dared to break with the ritual and tradition of the synagogue. She dared to believe that she could be healed. And God rewarded her faith with His healing power. I can hardly wait to meet this woman in glory and to hear the rest of her story.

It doesn't take much faith to experience God's power, but it does take acting on that faith in obedience.

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Verse 11 Always Follows Verse 10

This morning I had the privilege of teaching a class on the book of Jeremiah. To be certain this is a difficult book. How faithful and persevering was this wonderful prophet of God. As one person said, "After reading the story of Jeremiah, suddenly I was not complaining about my own problems as much."

Perhaps one of the most quoted verses from Jeremiah is 29:11 - For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. Many of us have memorized this verse. Many of us claim the promise of this verse that God's plans and purpose for our lives is one of blessing. We do take hope from it. However, we tend to overlook the preceding verse. Note: I always tell my classes that verse 11 follows verse 10. Verse 10 states: This is what the Lord says: When seventy years are completed for Babylon, I will come to you and fulfill my gracious promise to bring you back to this place. Then follows the promise of verse 11.

Verse 11 is found within the context of a letter Jeremiah writes to those who are in exile in Babylon. The date of this letter, according to verse 2 is 597 BC. The purpose of this letter was really two-fold. First, to announce that their captivity in Babylon would last for seventy years; and that the judgment of God was yet to fall upon those left behind in Judah and Jerusalem. (Note: this would happen in 586 BC). Jeremiah is careful to relate that the reason for the captivity was as judgment for their sins. The second purpose was to give them a measure of hope that, following the seventy years, God would restore them back to their homeland. In other words, God would not abandon them forever.

Is there a lesson for us to learn from this passage? Friends, many times in my own life it is not until I have wrestled with the sin issues, and even have experienced God's judgment in my life, that I can come to know the rich blessings He would desire for me to have. God was saying to the people of Israel: You cannot know My blessings until you have experienced My judgment for your sins. Perhaps, if we are not experiencing God's blessings, then we need to examine ourselves to see if we are experiencing God's judgment for unconfessed and unforgiven sins. Remember: Verse 10 always precedes verse 11.