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Archive for January, 2011

Throughout the ages there has been no end to the exit of great sovereignties and nations. Dictators and democracies rise and fall, cultures transform and morph into unique civilizations, but the one thing that has never altered over centuries of change is the love of God for an individual human soul. Everyone leaves an irreplaceable hushed mark upon history. No man’s life is a waste or meaningless to God, or humankind for that matter. My attitudes and characteristics will be indelibly etched upon the offspring of my children’s children’s child in one way or another, whether they know I existed or not. And the whispered song of our comparably short existences place great value upon a nation. I may not know the burial place of my ancestors; still they have silently left their mark upon my life and this great nation. Ultimately, each unknown soul carries the weight of a meaningful future for every dominion that has ever existed.

This is why it’s the individual life that God focuses His message upon when He’s speaking to a nation. Often we hear American politicians point to children and say this is the future. It’s a successful and tactful manipulation to press a self-absorbed society to unite around a common goal for good. After all, who wants to leave a dirty environment, corrupt government, ruined economy to their sons and daughters? And so the child’s future becomes a great rallying cry to transform society through legacy. Here’s a thought: how about emphasizing social revolution for the sake of “it’s the right thing to do?” The future is what we do now for the sake of beneficial principles! When this task is sought vigorously the future of our children will take care of itself. The Creator places His value upon the individuals of the moment to affect a future. It is the present living that has capacity to hear the message—transformation is theirs!

Then comes the question, “Who’s right thing do we follow?” Only a godless culture would ask that inquiry. There are moments when American Society displays incredible solidarity and a realization that a Sovereign governs the universe and He knows what’s right. As a result of 9/11 Irving Berlin’s American patriotic song God Bless America made a stunning comeback in the repertoire of favorite songs for public social functions. Listen to the lyrics of this piece—it’s a form of prayer for God’s blessing! Why has this tune made such a comeback? Because it’s in the heart of every person who acknowledges the power of a Divine Creator in the midst of incredible devastation! No one applies physical force upon individuals at baseball games to sing along with this prayerful song—people do it with spontaneity and contrition of heart on their own. If success is for those who seek God, it takes individuals to make a nation successful. So we prayerfully sing and beseech the Governor of the universe, God bless America!

The ancient power of the great Assyrian nation stood at the threshold of God’s destruction. Jonah the prophet took one days journey into the city, going grassroots through the streets, crying Nineveh had 40-days of existence left before a great overthrow. It was the plebs of the nation who believed God as they called for a fast putting on sackcloth, from the least to the greatest. It took a longer period of time for the message to reach the ears of the king. I can’t help but believe that as the sovereign espied his subject’s contrition he was moved to call for a national fast and did the same. The ground swell of solidarity began convincingly with the masses of the Nineveh society and culture. The individual people heard Jonah’s message, the nation mobilized in a unity of repentance.

We may not know any of the names or addresses of the individuals who repented in Nineveh those few days, nonetheless an amazing legacy was left for their children and ours! Sadly, it’s always up to the next generation to carry-on that gift—the Assyrian empire chose to discontinue their newly found faith. To this the prophet Nahum would cry, “the LORD is slow to anger and great in power, and the LORD will by no means clear the guilty.” A stiff reminder that God’s anger toward them had once turned through widespread personal contrition. However, a second opportunity would not be afforded. Again the prophet speaks to the great power of Nineveh, “What do you plot against the LORD? He will make a complete end; trouble will not rise up a second time.” In modern lingo: You got away with it the first time by your contrition, a second opportunity will not be afforded for your trouble to others as a nation!

Bottom line: what I’m saying is that for real change to happen nationally, it takes the individual contrition from the populous. That began with 9/11; and from this grassroots gospel building block let a message for transformation continue forward. God’s warning to Nineveh—a second opportunity may not be afforded. The message must go to the individual people of the nation. To the people and for the people—a message of transformation must be heralded. Let us end the clichéd talk of empty hope and change, replace it with a reality of substance—as Nineveh of old, “let us call out mightily to God.” For the nation within a nation of individuals believing the truth, carry the message of transformation to the communities of this great land, we are lights in this world, and a city of godly luminaries on a hill cannot be hid!

J. Robert Hanson

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“And leaving Nazareth he went and lived in Capernaum by the sea, in the territory of Zebulun and Naphtali, so that what was spoken by the prophet Isaiah might be fulfilled…‘the people dwelling in darkness have seen a great light, and for those dwelling in the region and shadow of death, on them a light has dawned.’” Matthew 4:13-15

Now I understand the Lord said, “the Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head”; and these words create a tendency to think Jesus had no home at all. That’s not exactly the case. He did have a home—and that home was central for the heart of the Son of Man’s work! Let me show you what I mean.

Luke records a major incident in Nazareth, the town of His upbringing, as Jesus returned to minister. The locals had heard of the great things He did in Capernaum. The expectation was that Nazareth’s favorite son would do at least the same if not more for the hometown crowd. Instead, from the dais in the synagogue, they received a rebuke. Luke 4:23-24 records the incident as such:

And he said to them, “Doubtless you will quote to me this proverb, ‘Physician, heal yourself.’ What we have heard you did at Capernaum, do here in your hometown as well.” And he said, “Truly, I say to you, no prophet is acceptable in his hometown.”

Jesus, never the one to placate the crowd, spoke the truth of their hearts thus enraging the populous. The citizen’s response was clear: “And they rose up and drove him out of the town and brought him to the brow of the hill on which their town was built, so that they could throw him down the cliff.” In America’s Old West lingo this would be referred to as, “being run out of Dodge.” Nazareth had rejected Jesus the Nazarene. Matthew tells us of His next move; literally—“And leaving Nazareth he went and lived in Capernaum by the sea…” And though He is still known as Jesus of Nazareth, the favorite son status had waned.

However, before we despair that the Savior is now a man without a country, let’s understand the move was in complete fulfillment of the scriptures. His move took Him to “the territory of Zebulun and Naphtali, so that what was spoken by the prophet Isaiah might be fulfilled…‘the people dwelling in darkness have seen a great light, and for those dwelling in the region and shadow of death, on them a light has dawned.’”­ Capernaum; where Peter lived—was the small fishing hamlet where He called most of His Apostles. Capernaum became His home where He performed so many of His miracles! In this small village a great light dawned. This insignificant coastal town watched as the greatest ministry ever unfolded. And the attitude of Jesus’ heart was to help this little village hamlet where He lived!

For a little over two and a half years the Lord’s ministry would go out and return to Capernaum until He begins what theologians referred to as the Perean Ministry.[1] For a moment, let’s think about the established Capernaum religious community where most of the action happens. What do we know about this little fishing village? Historically, Capernaum was a semi-modern town, begun as early as the 2nd century BC. At the Lord’s time, it’s estimated to have had a population of only about 1,500 people. Archeologists say that only two synagogues were ever built in this small fishermen’s hamlet, one right one top of other. The second was a “rebuilding project” done in the fourth century; the first structure is the original synagogue referred to in Luke 7 and built by a Gentile Centurion. The synagogue was the center of Hebrew social life. We know from Jewish tradition there had to be at least 10 men attending for it to exist. Reading Luke 13 tells us Jarius was the chief ruler among a clique of elders.

From John we learn this synagogue[2] is the one the Lord gave His the famous “I am the Bread of Life” discourse. Of coarse the Apostle writes in his gospel that for many people this was the turning point for following Jesus. (John 6:66 “After this many of his disciples turned back and no longer walked with him.”) Capernaum had received great light and should have embraced the Savior for the great things He spoke and did in their little community. Sadly, they too were choosing the same path of Nazareth in rejection of the Hope of the world. In answer to their denial Jesus utters the warning, “And you, Capernaum, will you be exalted to heaven? You shall be brought down to Hades.” They should have been exalted to heaven for accommodating the greatest ministry the world had ever seen. Instead, for their unbelief the Lord utters the sobering words, “You shall be brought down to Hades.” This small village called Capernaum was presented with one of the harshest woes of judgment found in the scriptures.

However, apart from the Apostles, there was one man in Capernaum who was a divine variable of change and hope—a Gentile Centurion. Luke reveals the Centurion’s faith parlayed a change of promise for the village of Capernaum. The dying servant of a caring Centurion would become a barometer of challenge to this small fishing hamlet. This Roman leader single-handedly became a contrast to the closed and hardening Jewish community of Capernaum’s religious.

No doubt, since Jesus lived and preached there, it’s not unreasonable to think that He knew whom the Centurion was and what this Roman officer meant to this small Jewish enclave of fishermen. In that context it really sounds manipulative to read the words from Luke 7 of what the elders spoke to Jesus, “He is worthy to have you do this for him, for he loves our nation, and he is the one who built us our synagogue.” The, elders didn’t ask, “Can you help a dying servant?” It was more like, “can you do a favor for this rich man who provides for our synagogue?” To them the servant was just another dying man who was well connected.

This is why I think this Centurion was a divine variable! He throws everything these Capernaum Jews understood about faith and religion into question. The Centurion was what they should have been! What moved the heart of Jesus to go and help? Was it the man’s love for the Jewish faith and religion? Or, was it the Centurion’s affection for a servant? Only reading the Gospel of Luke gives us this impression. In Matthew’s gospel there is no mention whatsoever of the elders and their mission. Only Luke presents the Centurion sending the elders of the synagogue to Jesus. In fact, when you read Matthew’s account you’re left with the impression that the Centurion came face-to-face presenting the whole case to Jesus himself. There’s no mention of these proxies coming to Christ at all.

This is the difference between writing the same story for Jewish readers or Gentiles—it’s all about the target audience. Matthew connects the Jewish reader with the Savior’s love for a Gentile humanity. In doing so he gives the impression of a face-to-face meeting. In reality Luke wants the less acquainted Gentile reader to understand the Capernaum synagogue dynamics of the Jewish religion. This was a big deal to Luke as he gives us the divine variable. Luke’s account is much more complicated; Matthew simplifies things and omits the Centurion’s intermediaries. Interestingly, both give the same conclusion: “I tell you, not even in Israel have I found such faith.”

Whatever the perspective, at the end of the day Jesus is mostly impressed by the Centurion’s demonstration of faith in Him as the Son of Man—He believed the words of the Nazarene alone could heal. He was a greater example of faith than Jesus’ own people! The Lord is commending the faith of this Gentile’s understanding of His word and power for healing. That’s what attracted the attention of Jesus to this man—not the great donations to the coffers of the Capernaum synagogue. In fact, this is one of the few instances in the scriptures where we see a healing that does not involve touching someone or producing an activity to see the miracle happen. The event is done without the physical presence of Jesus at the location. That is a divine variable—miracles generally didn’t happen that way—the hand of God was moving because someone had the audacity to believe the words of Jesus! He said to the Savior, “Say the word, and let my servant be healed.”

Reading this leads me to ask myself one question: Am I willing for a divine variable to happen in my life? Or do I see things as having to be a certain way and not allow the flexible of new life to refresh the work of God. Have I lived like a complacent citizen in Capernaum for too long while a great ministry works around me? As God is glorified, why not look at things the way the Centurion did. I want to be able to say, “Lord, just speak the word and I’ll believe the miracle you want to perform.” I don’t need the fancy trappings of my religious perceptions to see you work; just work, Lord!” In changing from a cynical outlook to this fresh attitude I learn I can expect a divine visitation into my little hamlet community fellowship of my spiritual Capernaum. Look for the Divine Variables at Home!

J. Robert Hanson


[1] Peræa in Greek means “the country beyond.” Traditionally its limits have been considered to be the eastern bank of the Jordan River between the rivers Arnon (Wadi Mujib) and Hieromax (Yarmouk River). It is said this area was the final itinerary of the Savior. However, when New Testament commentators speak of Christ’s Perean Ministry they refer to a period of time more than region. It begins with His departure from Galilee (Matt 19:1, Mark 10:1) and ends with the anointing by Mary in Bethany (Matt 26).

[2] John 6:58 “This is the bread that came down from heaven, not like the bread the fathers ate and died. Whoever feeds on this bread will live forever.” 59 Jesus said these things in the synagogue, as he taught at Capernaum.

 

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Love the Lord’s people and hate the enemies of God—right? At least, that seems to be the most commonsense opinion held by Jonah the prophet. When we read 2 Kings 14:25 we discover he had a very successful and effective ministry with Israel and king Jeroboam II:

“He [Jeroboam] restored the border of Israel…according to the word of the LORD, the God of Israel, which he spoke by his servant Jonah the son of Amittai, the prophet….”

However, when we look at God sending the prophet to the evil heathen citizenry of Nineveh a different picture emerges. In Jonah 1 we’re aware of this alternate attitude from the heir of Amittai:

“Now the word of the LORD came to Jonah…‘Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and call out against it, for their evil has come up before me.’ But Jonah rose to flee to Tarshish from the presence of the LORD.”

Jonah fled from the presence of the Lord? He chose not to go to Nineveh? Prophesying before God’s people whom Jonah loved was easy! He was right at home with those he cared for and was comfortable with them. He could look around and see purpose and goal for their good. He saw himself in each Hebrew face and knew God’s provision of mercy and loving-kindness. But when God wanted to extend the same care to the enemies of Israel—well, there was a different story. To go and preach salvation to the enemy’s he hated was not an option he much relished. And while other prophets (Amos and Hosea) were fully capable of carrying God’s word to God’s people in his stead, Jonah discovered his hatred was too large for helping a nation filled with heathens-a-plenty. It’s much easier for Jonah to speak to the ones he loved than those outside his circle-of-trust.

Getting outside my circle-of-trust is always difficult. Every Sunday I look at faces of those I love and discover great ease in sharing God’s message. I know there is a common bond and union of agreement between us, I love being with these folks! However, there are those I find it difficult to speak God’s words of comfort to. In too many instances I find myself thinking as Jonah and fleeing the call of a difficult situation. Sharing God’s good news is not something I naturally find attractive when it comes to those outside my circle-of-trust. If I learn anything from the prophet’s life I learn it’s okay to let the other capable prophets tend to those I love, and, for myself, uncover God’s love for those I have difficulty with—learning to carry the message of salvation to them! Speaking to my favorite neighbor is easy, but how about the quirky individual living at the end of the block? Yes, God’s mercy and steadfast love extends to those also!

When we come to the end of the book of Jonah we discover he still wasn’t willing to include the people of Nineveh into his circle-of-trust. In fact, the book closes with Jonah’s attitude still up in the air, we can only hope he learned to love as God loved. And though it’s possible Jonah’s love for Nineveh may have failed him, hopefully I can advance a little further and let the love of Christ constrain me to love the world as Jesus exemplified. To go, or not to go, that is the question. My prayer: Lord, help me to go because I love You, and let that love produce a love for the world around me. “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.”

J. Robert Hanson

 

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Two Trumpets of Zion

Leviticus 23:24 “Speak to the people of Israel, saying, In the seventh month, on the first day of the month, you shall observe a day of solemn rest, a memorial proclaimed with blast of trumpets, a holy convocation.”

Every year, Israel celebrates their New Year with a two-day affair that’s called Rosh Hashanah. This holiday starts what is known as the Days of Awe, or the Ten Days of Repentance. The 10-day period is supposed to be used for reflection and remembrance leading up to the Day of Atonement, or what they call Yom Kippur. During the ten days people are to examine their sins of the previous year and repent. According to Talmudic tradition, the Ten Days of Awe is the time in which God determines the outcome of each human being. On the Feast of Trumpets—the first day of the New Year—the wholly righteous are supposedly inscribed into the Book of Life, while the wholly wicked are written in the Book of Death.

Let me mention quickly a few things about the use of these New Year trumpets. There are two types of trumpets found in the Old Testament. The first were two silver trumpets[1], these were used to mark the beginning of the New Year; the second were trumpets made of ram’s horns—known as the loud trumpet[2]. These were used the tenth day ending the New Year celebration, marking the beginning of the Day of Atonement. The point being, not only was Israel’s celebration of the New Year a great festival of rejoicing, but also it was a time for reflection, commitment and promise. Now I want to turn the topic to the book of Joel, chapter 2 where we’ll find the use of the Ram’s horn trumpet in action.

Very similar to the Jewish New year, the New Year we face comes with decisions and choices. Let’s see if we can discover a way to make better choices from looking at Joel 2. We’re going to see in this chapter the Israelites were faced with options of extreme consequences. This whole text is an illustration of the choices Israel faced at their New Year; and this sounding of the ram’s horn is what I’ve called, The Two Trumpets of Zion. I think it’s an amazing representation of their situation. Let’s read quickly the options these two trumpets signify in Joel 2:

The First Trumpet in Zion: 1 Blow a trumpet in Zion; sound an alarm on my holy mountain! Let all the inhabitants of the land tremble, for the day of the Lord is coming; it is near, a day of darkness and gloom, a day of clouds and thick darkness!

The Second Trumpet in Zion: 15 Blow the trumpet in Zion; consecrate a fast; call a solemn assembly; gather the people. Consecrate the congregation; assemble the elders; gather the children, even nursing infants. Let the bridegroom leave his room, and the bride her chamber.

The first trumpet is the sound of an alarm; the second is a call to extreme consecration—two trumpets of great excesses. The extremes are necessary because God’s people had ventured into such deep apostasy from the Lord. At this point in Israeli history only one of these two options would work recovery for them. Their only remedy—fall on the sword in judgment by continued apathy or fall on their faces in repentance by congregational fasting. These two ultimate options are the proverbial lines in the sand with God. He had to be extreme as year after year Israel had made incremental bad decisions. The only remedy was elimination or illumination. They had before them either a day of darkness, or a day of fasting—two very different selections. With the sounding of the Two Trumpets of Zion, there very existence hung in the balance.

The important thing to remember here is Israel didn’t find themselves in this predicament overnight. This New Year of reckoning had to come because many of their former “New Years” had passed by making incrementally poor choices. Year after year they lived compromising God’s calling until one New Year celebration/festival they were faced with the consequences of many years of apathy and disobedience.

The same with us! We begin at one spot and drift away so slowly and imperceptible that by the end of the year we wonder how we got where we are. When I used to surf, one of the places I’d to go at times was the Huntington Beach pier in Southern California. I really didn’t like this location much as it had a bunch of locals who were always grabbing my board and yelling at me to get off their wave. The only way to get around this problem was to surf further out then anyone else. Consequently I ended up floating more than surfing as the best waves were closer to shore. The amazing thing about Huntington Beach is the current around the pier. I’d start close to the pier and within a half hour drift north up the beach. When you’re just doing your little thing and trying to stay alive away from all the local surfers, you gradually and imperceptibly drift. One time I was so focused on looking out to sea to catch a wave that by the time I turned around to locate myself, I was I was way north by the cliffs. I had drifted way out of position. Now I was faced with a choice. Either I paddle back up current into position by the pier or suffer the humiliation of walking up the beach! Humbly I chose getting out of the water; that was the best remedy for me in that situation. By not paying attention to my surroundings I had allowed myself to drift and that created one of two extreme choices; paddle back and be physically wasted by the time I returned to the pier; or be humble, paddle to shore and walk back—it was a nice embarrassing walk!

As we look at Israel we see every New Year was a choice for them. Make steps forward towards God, or stop paying attention the the Lord’s plan and drift away from Him. What I learn from Israel behavior is that if I become careless it will only cause me to be faced with the Two Trumpets of Zion—judgment or humiliation. Joel 2 teaches that it’s much wiser to choose for God in every New Year by reflection, commitment and promise. The things that make for reconciliation are really amazingly easy if I will pay attention to my surroundings and stewardship and not allow the world to lull me to sleep and drift towards the cliffs of insanity!

Listen, verse 11 tells us “the day of the Lord is great and very awesome; who can endure it?” That’s meant to put the fear of God into me. However, I must not stop there—that would be discouraging!

12 “Yet even now,” declares the LORD, “return to me with all your heart, with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning; 13 and rend your hearts and not your garments.” Return to the LORD your God, for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love; and he relents over disaster. 14 Who knows whether he will not turn and relent, and leave a blessing behind him, a grain offering and a drink offering for the LORD your God?

There are really two simple things that we can do every New Year that will get God’s attention—He says, “return to me with all your heart…and rend your hearts…” No matter how far you’ve found yourself adrift—and the thing about this kind of drifting is you don’t know you’ve drifted—God gives opportunity each New Year to hear the blowing of the two trumpets in Zion so you can return; making it easy to return! This is what Israel was presented with every New Year with the feast of the Blowing of the Trumpets. It was an occasion for a new commitment and beginning, it was the start of new choices—better choices! So, at the beginning of our New Year, let’s commit to making spiritual choices of services to Him! It could be as simple as morning times and prayer—the key is just to do it.

23 “Be glad, O children of Zion, and rejoice in the LORD your God, for he has given the early rain for your vindication; he has poured down for you abundant rain, the early and the latter rain, as before.”

J. Robert Hanson


[1] Numbers 10:2 “Make two silver trumpets. Of hammered work you shall make them, and you shall use them for summoning the congregation and for breaking camp.”

[2] Leviticus 25:9 “Then you shall sound the loud trumpet on the tenth day of the seventh month. On the Day of Atonement you shall sound the trumpet throughout all your land.”

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