Wednesday, May 12, 2010

With the Scent of Pigs

So he got up and went to his father. But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him” (Luke 15:20).

Have you ever wondered at the arrival of the prodigal son? To refresh your memory, let me give you a bit of the back story. This youngest son of his father demanded his inheritance, squandered it in wild living and found himself feeding pigs in a foreign land. As he longs to feed himself with the pigs’ food he comes to his senses. He remembers his father’s house, that his father’s servants are better off than he, and determines to return home that very moment.

Now, several miles down the road we find this son walking in humility toward home. The father has been waiting for him all that time and runs to meet his returning child. With such grace and love, the father receives his son and takes him back into the home.

There are two things I want you to see, and they are conspicuous by their absence.

The first is this: the son never mentions cleaning himself up before he heads for home. Think about it. The son of a wealthy, Jewish landowner returns home with the scent of pigs lingering like a malevolent cloud all about him. The scent of that unclean creature to the Jewish life permeated the son’s clothing, his hair. He had pig dirt under his finger nails. But the son had “come to his senses” (verse 17). That’s the key. It didn’t matter the external reality of his life any longer—his heart was changed. He longed for home and for his father and though he carried the scent of pigs on his body, it would not hinder him from returning.

That is the humility of faith—that God will receive me and I can return to Him even though I still have the scent of pigs. How many have refused God because they thought they needed to “clean up” before they came back? How many have stayed away from God because they thought they were “unacceptable?” Of course you’re unacceptable! If you were acceptable you wouldn’t need grace. All of humanity is unacceptable to God—we all have the scent of pigs on us. But God loves you and is watching for your return—all you have to do is come to your senses and come back to the Father.

The second is this: the father never demanded his son clean up to be received. Again, think about it. This Jewish man, whose son squandered his wealth, sees his son returning on the road. Anger and resentment might be the normal reaction. But, before the son could protest, the father rushes him and throws his arms around him and kisses him—despite the fact that there remains the scent of pigs. Remember, the father was “filled with compassion.” That’s the key. Compassion—true compassion—receives and embraces anyone who humbly comes.

This is the nature of grace—that God watches and longs for His creation to return so that He can embrace them and be a Father to all who come. God does not hold people off at “arm’s length” until they clean themselves up from all their past and remove the scent of pigs from their lives. God rushes to receive any who come to Him by faith and He casts His mantle upon them, blesses and kisses them with His unending love, and celebrates with great joy when one sinner returns. Jesus touched the lepers and ate with sinners and spoke with prostitutes and walked with the rabble of this world. He never cast them off because He knew that the only means of expressing God’s love is to embrace—going so far as to stretch His own arms on the cross and cry out, “Father, forgive them.”

The cleaning up will happen. The longer the son remains in the presence of his father the less he will carry the scent of pigs. The longer we remain in the company of God, living in humble faithfulness, the more we lose the odor of this world, eventually to never again radiate with the scent of pigs.

Rev. Michael Duncan

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Wake Up from the Dream

I woke up early one morning with a startling dream still hanging in my head. The hazy afterimages danced through my thoughts like a parade. It all seemed so real and so intellectually sound that I began to relate the dream to my wife. The longer I talked the more awake I became. When I was fully cognizant, the dream sounded so foolish that we both simply laughed at its audacity. It’s wonderfully amazing how the clarity of being fully awake dispels the phantasms of foolish dreams.

Do you recognize how real the things of Christ are in comparison to the things of this world? In relationship to the eternal, this world is nothing more than hazy, dream-like thoughts that will be dispelled when we are fully awake. Paul told the Corinthians, “So we fix our eyes on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal” (2 Corinthians 4:18). Why, then, do some believers in Christ hang onto the things of this world with such tenacity? It’s as if the world, which is temporary, has more power over our thoughts than the world that is eternal—not unlike how a dream controls the thoughts of the dreamer until they are fully awake.

So what can you do?

The first thing to do is to wake up. Ephesians 5:14b, “Wake up, O sleeper, rise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.” As long as you’re spiritually asleep, you will never have any greater awareness than a man who is stuck in a dream. It was only when I woke from my dream that I had the opportunity to increase in clarity.

The second thing to do is to draw near to Christ. “But whenever anyone turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away” (2 Corinthians 3:16). Just as I talked with my wife about my dream, and became more aware of how ludicrous the dream was, so when you speak with Christ about this world, the more you find clarity about how things really are. You need to speak to one who is fully awake to find clarity for yourself—and that is, ultimately, Christ.

The third thing to do is to live in reality rather than the dream. “Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above and not on earthly things” (Colossians 3:1-2). If the greater reality is Christ and eternity then it stands to reason that the greater life is to live for Christ and that which is eternal.

How do you know the difference? It all comes back to God’s word. The Bible is God’s conversation to lead you out of the twilight of the world and into perfect clarity, and total wakefulness, in Christ.

Rev. Michael Duncan

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Two Different Laws

As I followed the Amanda Knox trial, I was captivated at the intrigue that filled her circumstances. One news commentator (And I don’t remember who it was) pointed out that if the circumstances occurred in the United States, then Ms. Knox would never have faced a trial, let alone a conviction. However, because she came up against Italian law and not U.S. law she was condemned. I don’t want to debate her guilt or innocence in this article. What I want to do is to point out a spiritual reality illustrated in her predicament.

There is a judgment that all people must face, it is the unquestioned judgment of Almighty God. God is the ultimate “Lawgiver” and has the right to bring all humanity to trial. 1 John 3:4 states, “Everyone who sins breaks the law; in fact, sin is lawlessness.” Romans 3:23 says, “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” Therefore, if everyone has sinned and sin is the violation of God’s law, then the entire world stands condemned.

What if you had the opportunity to escape such condemnation? What if, unlike Amanda Knox, you could find yourself under the authority of another law—a law that does not condemn you but provides a pardon for all sin and freedom from judgment? Is that a law you want to live under?

Romans 8:1-2 reads, “Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of life set me free from the law of sin and death.”

God has provided, in Christ Jesus, an opportunity for anyone to escape the judgment that will fall upon the entire world. The Bible says, “Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12).

Are you holding out hope that you will be able to defend yourself before God when the time of judgment comes? Do you think you will be able to overcome the “law of sin and death” on your own? God provides you the opportunity to escape judgment and condemnation. All you must do is surrender to Jesus Christ, yield to Him and live in the law of the Spirit of life.

Amanda did not get the chance to be judged by another law. You have that chance when it comes to the judgment of God. Will you take it?

Rev. Michael Duncan

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

The Church, Business or Body?

It seems that there has developed an epidemic in the church, a situation that is proving to be dangerous. The epidemic is nothing less than a consumer-based conception of church attendance. This plague is fueled by a misconception of the nature and reality of the church.

The first misconception of many Christians who have grown up in this modern era of self-satisfaction is built on a cultural rather than a Biblical view. For them the church is nothing more than a service organization, a business that dispenses a spiritual product for a consumer-minded audience. They attend, looking for something to satisfy themselves, and when their satisfaction is not attained they will “shop around” for another organization that will “meet their needs.” It’s like going to McDonald’s and not being pleased with the level of service. Without any difficulty, they will seek out another fast-food source that will satisfy their demands.

Another misconception is built out of a modern idiom that states: “The church is a hospital for sinners not a hotel for saints.” This saying implies that the church is nothing more than a place for the lost, sinful world to find healing (spiritual, emotional, etc.). This is a good thought and a necessary function, but when a person is healed they have no need to remain at the hospital and leave to find more pleasant surroundings. So, though this is an understandable expression it lacks a Biblical point of view.

Both these current conceptions of the church center upon a need-based paradigm that focuses on the interests of the “client” whose only reason for coming is to satisfy their desires. Many ministries and ministers are currently functioning along that same paradigm, striving to make the church something that will keep people around, with their needs met and their self-interests fulfilled. The Apostle Paul may have experienced this same issue when he wrote to the Philippians concerning church members: “For everyone looks out for his own interests, not the interests of Christ” (Philippians 2:21).

But what does the Bible say about the church? There are many titles associated with the church, many references and images that the Word of God uses to describe the nature and function of the people of God. Words such as: Bride of Christ, House of God, Temple of the Holy Spirit, Pillar and Foundation of the Truth, Assembly of Believers, Holy City, Royal Priesthood and a host of others are used, bringing a stirring and remarkable understanding of what the church is meant to be. It is imperative for all believers to abandon the notion that the church is simply the spiritual version of a fast-food restaurant, organized to dispense a product, made to cater to the whims of personal preference. Christians must return to a Biblical understanding of what the church is and what it means to belong to the Body of Christ. “So in Christ, we who are many form one body, and each member belongs to all the others” (Romans 12:5).

The church, ultimately, must first be identified with the Lord Jesus. As Romans 12:5 states, the church must be “in Christ.” It is impossible for a lost person to be considered, even remotely, as a part of the church because they fail the first qualification: being “in Christ.” Second, the church must be united in their association with one another. The church is: “we who are many.” There is a definite reality of the church being an amalgam of personalities. Yet, the “many” form “one body.” That is, though different in personalities, the church is united in nature—forming a cohesive organism that is singularly devoted to one another. It is difficult to believe that a person is a member of the church who has no desire to be collectively associated with the rest of the body. And for believers who are associated in spirit as well as function, it is delightful to recognize them as belonging to the body even if they have no “formal” declaration of membership.

Escaping the mindset of consumerism church attendance and returning to a Biblical view of belonging to the church is the only way to stave off the epidemic that has found its way from our culture to our congregations.

Rev. Michael Duncan

Friday, October 16, 2009

Divine Evaluation

Revelation 1:12-13, “I turned around to see the voice that was speaking to me. And when I turned I saw seven golden lampstands, and among the lampstands was someone “like a son of man,” dressed in a robe reaching down to his feet and with a golden sash around his chest.”

Jesus is in the midst of the lampstands, moving, working, ministering to His church. That’s what the lampstands represent (Revelation 1:20). Christ Jesus is in the midst of His people, but I wonder if there is something else, some other reason that Jesus navigates among the lampstands and so I offer this question: is the Lord Jesus looking for something?

In 2 Chronicles 16:9 the seer, Hanani, spoke to Asa, king of Judah, “For the eyes of the LORD range throughout the earth to strengthen those whose hearts are fully committed to him.” This statement comes as a rebuke to the king, for Asa had relied upon a worldly solution to his dilemma rather than trusting the Lord. These words come to the church today as a reminder that the Lord still searches the hearts of His own people. But what is the Lord Jesus looking for? Might He be looking for that lampstand, that church, even that Christian, which glows with no other light than His own? A light fueled by nothing less than the oil of His own Spirit?

When in the military, it was not uncommon for the commanders to gather their troops for inspection. They walked through the rank and file with their keen eyes set upon each soldier. They offered no encouragement, no pats-on-the-back. They inspected their troops and brought each soldier into compliance with their standards. Jesus doesn't walk in the midst of the lampstands simply to encourage but to examine, to evaluate the church and bring it into compliance with His standards. The second and third chapters of Revelation make that abundantly clear.

Jesus is looking at your life right now… what does He see? Does He see the flames of bitterness? Or does He see the darkness of doubt? Does Jesus see in you the embers of lost hope? The ashes of a forgotten faith? Does He see the missionary fires burning brightly? Does He watch the passionate flames of faithfulness despite the grip persecution? Will Jesus need to come into your life with the sword of His word and cut away the dross that diminishes your life? Will Jesus move through your church with encouragement or does he stand outside at the door, and knock?

They eyes of the Lord are upon you and He watches in order to commend or correct, to reward or rebuke. The Lord Jesus walks in the midst of his people and He is looking for something—He is looking for faith.

Rev. Michael Duncan

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Spiritual Dinosaur - The Prayer Meeting

What ever happened to the prayer meeting? Churches across the country have either canceled their prayer service or curtailed it to such an extent that it might as well be canceled. I’ve spoken with many pastors who have acknowledged the need for prayer but who have also decided that due to a lack of attendance, the time can be used for other endeavors. So, the prayer gathering of the church goes the way of the dinosaur, extinct with only fossilized remains to remind the church of what was.

Now I would agree that the dinosaur extinction is, perhaps, a necessity. I mean, who wants to go hiking in the mountains only to have a T-Rex disrupt a glorious morning? It ruins the entire experience. But is that the same for the prayer meeting of the church? Is the prayer meeting nothing more than a hindrance to spiritual growth and development—a disruption of other, more suitable activities?

First, prayer is the very breath of the Christian life. In the model prayer that Jesus taught His disciples, the entire scope of the Christian life is conveyed: Recognition of God as Father, yielding to His will, seeking His provision, receiving His forgiveness, living with forgiveness toward others, and following His lead through life (Matthew 6:9-13). As Jesus said, “This, then, is how you should pray.” Perhaps many churches have abandoned this model and degenerated into selfish, whim-based prayers? If so, the church must return to this model for the prayer meeting.

Second, prayer is one of the four devotions of the church (Acts 2:42). “They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.” These four devotions of the church (and I mean by devotion: that which is an anchor point of faithful living) must play out in the congregations of God’s people. If you will allow the illustration, these are the four legs that support the altar of the Christian life: the word of God (the apostles’ teaching), the people of God (the fellowship), the worship of God (the breaking of bread), and communion with God (prayer). Without prayer the life dynamic of the church will collapse like a table with a missing leg.

Third, prayer is the place where the church begins to see the power of God manifested. The great revivals of old all had at their foundation a collection of praying Christians. It was the group who gathered in prayer that originally received the outpouring of God’s Spirit (Acts 1:14; 2:4). The ground shook when the church prayed (Acts 4:31). Peter escaped miraculously from prison as the church prayed (Acts 12:5). The Bible says, “Is any one of you in trouble? He should pray. Is anyone happy? Let him sing songs of praise. Is any one of you sick? He should call on the elders of the church to pray over him and anoint him with oil in the name of the Lord” (James 5:13-15).

Christians want to see God respond mightily to the circumstances that are in the world. But I believe that God just might be waiting on the church to respond humbly to Him in prayer and repentance. The prayer meeting of the church is not a dinosaur, lost to the ages past. It might very well be the valley of dry bones (Ezekiel 37), needing to hear the voice of God again and rise up on their feet, a vast army—prayer warriors all.

Rev. Michael Duncan

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Jumping (off a cliff) to Conclusions

Years ago, with no evidence and surreptitious accusations, men and women were tried and convicted of the ghastly crime of being—you guessed it—a witch. In the same vein, “drumhead courts” were conducted with swift collaboration and often harsh, if not brutal, judgments. These ancient forms of jurisprudence have managed to find their way into the modern vernacular, and now most everyone knows what is meant by a “witch-hunt.”

These “witch-hunts” still happen, but they happen in a different environment—the media. Today, turn on a television and watch the news and soon you will hear the various broadcasters mention someone who is accused of some heinous crime. However, the verbiage used is built around the assumption that the person is guilty. A man will be charged with some pernicious crime and the media blitz will speak against the “evil” man. They will discourse and dialogue with each other about how this man (or woman) could do the things they’ve been accused of. Now, remember, people are still innocent until proven guilty, but that doesn’t prevent the “talking heads” from maligning and destroying the character of the accused.

Christians must have a higher standard than what is purported on these accusatorial bandwagons. The standard for a Christian is: truth. Yet I am sure that the following scenario is familiar to you: a person is maligned through gossip or accusation and soon members of the church rise up and hop on the wagon, without evidence and without support. I remember as I sat in Bible study a woman of the church said, “Can you believe what [person named] did?” I asked her, “How do you know? Did [person named] tell you this?” Sheepishly she admitted that the evidence she possessed was little more than gossip. Ask yourself: how quickly do you navigate toward believing everything you hear about someone else? Or do you, as a faithful believer, question responsibly and seek the truth?

John the Baptist, when questioned by a group of Roman soldiers about repentance, said, “Don’t extort money and don’t accuse people falsely—be content with your pay” (Luke 3:14). The Roman soldier was the ancient version of law enforcement. Imagine when a police officer arrests someone today, they bring all the weight of the law against the individual simply by the position they hold. So how important is it that an officer of the law makes sure that their accusation is viable? It is imperative! 1 Timothy 5:19 states, “Do not entertain an accusation against an elder unless it is brought by two or three witnesses.” Yet, today, accusations in the church run rampant and are readily believed by those who have no knowledge of the circumstances.

Consider the exhortation given by James, “My dear brothers, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry” (James 1:19). Consider Proverbs 3:30, “Do not accuse a man for no reason—when he has done you no harm.” Too many people are willing to jump to conclusions like lemmings off a cliff. It is time for Christians to take the higher road, the road of truth and turn a deaf ear to gossip and malicious slander. In this world of mass-media and multitudinous voices pandering to the fears of society, Christians can be the voice of reason and bear again the banner of truth.

Rev. Michael Duncan