Archive for June, 2009

Popularity Contest

June 30, 2009

“A man can receive only what is given him from heaven…He must become greater; I must become less.”  John 3:22-36

Jesus takes off after talking to Nic to go out into the countryside for while and in the course of this they baptize and He taught His disciples.

John A picks up on John B at this time to bring the chapter point home a little stronger.  John B’s disciples ended up in an argument over ceremonial washing with some Jews which set them off.  John A doesn’t get specific here about the subject exactly but does make it a point to mention the argument and what resulted from it.

The more I know about religious attitudes the less I seem to want to be party to them.  I don’t care whether they are liberal or conservative or somewhere in between.  These labels and practices are so much a part of man’s efforts to please God without actually serving Him whole heartedly that it boils down to a waste of time and mental energy.  I don’t know which is worse here the religiosity which causes the unbendable closed thinking or the liberal view of never pinning anything down.  Both sound to me like a godless way to live.

John B’s disciples also were jealous of Jesus’ disciples baptizing up the way a bit.  They came to John to complain, “Rabbi, that man who was with you on the other side of the Jordan–the one you testified about–well, He is baptizing, and everyone is going to Him.”  This seems strange to me.  The fact that they acknowledged John B’s testimony concerning Jesus but still followed John B amazes me.  Their teacher just told everyone Jesus was the Messiah and the Prophet who was to come yet here they are worried Jesus would take away from John B’s following.  I mean, follow my logic here, isn’t that what’s supposed to happen naturally?  John claimed over and over again that He wasn’t the Christ but was here to announce His arrival and all the John B’s disciples were concerned with was whether he was being upstaged or not.

OF COURSE JOHN B WOULD BE UPSTAGED!

Jesus was the Messiah, God With Us, the King of kings, Lord of lords.  How could there be any other result?  John B’s followers were worried they would be on a losing team, if I know my human nature, or may be they were simply so loyal to this man they couldn’t move themselves to Jesus.  It’s like a contractor who likes one brand of tool over another in some ways.  No matter how much better the other tool is, there’s no convincing him that his tool of choice should be discarded for something he’s not used to and has never used.  We get so used to our habitual lifestyles and viewpoints we tend to push away anything better.

Jesus is better than everything, everyone and every other teaching because He offers life and a change of heart without all the self-worth crap the other religions teach.  God relegated all men over to death (worthlessness) so that He might have mercy on all (infinite worth).  This teaching isn’t a pretty slogan but a way of saying everyone belongs to God now.  Once Jesus conquered death by rising from the grave, the world belonged to God.  Technically, may be, it never belonged to anyone else but in spiritual terms God couldn’t redeem us (buy back our souls) without paying a price He set.  The wage of sin is death.  The price of rebellion against God–choosing to be our own gods–is death or eternal separation from Him. 

John B troubleshoots his follower’s misunderstanding without missing a beat.  I think it’s important to quote this section: 

“A man can receive only what is given him from heaven.  You yourselves can testify that I said, ‘I am not the Christ but am sent ahead of Him.’  The bride belongs to the bridegroom.  The friend who attends the bridegroom waits and listens for him, and is full of joy when he hears the bridegroom’s voice.  That joy is mine, and it is now complete.  He must become greater; I must become less.

“The one who comes from above is above all; the one who is from the earth belongs to the earth, and speaks as one from the earth.  The one who comes from heaven is above all.  He testifies to what He has seen and heard, but no one accept His testimony.  The man who has accepted it has certified that God is truthful.  For the one whom God has sent speaks the words of God, for God gives the Spirit without limit.  The Father loves the Son and has placed everything in His hands.  Whoever believes in Him has eternal life, but whoever rejects the Son will not see life, for God’s wrath remains on him.”

John A, through John B’s words, gives us a conundrum.  If we choose to believe in the Son of God, we must accept His testimony about what is true.  The only way to validate it is to accept it–did you catch that?  Another thing which jumps out at me here is the John B’s turn of the phrase in the lst sentence: “whoever rejects the Son…”  Those who have not heard about the Son of God cannot reject Him.  Those who hear and refuse to follow what He says or commands, reject Him because we cannot in one sentence accept Jesus as a superior and in the next disregard His superior commands.  There is no way to accept Jesus but to move into obedience.

Not everyone who says “Lord, Lord…” will enter the kingdom of heaven because not all those who call out His name willingly submit to being His.  Just because we use the name of Jesus in a sentence doesn’t mean we obey Him, trust Him or believe Him.  We might believe things about Him, but that is not the same as believing Him.  If what He says is truth, then everyone who follows Him should learn that truth and live up to it.

Let me give you an example from history.

Abraham Lincoln fought the for the emancipation of slavery according to the history books I read in school.  However, the reality is more complicated than that.  Honest Abe fought to hold the Union together because the southern states wanted to secede from it.  The profits from the south sustained in some measure the north at times.  Although many histories claim the major reason for the war was emancipation, the primary reasons were economic and power fragmentation.  Slaves were freed, yes, and that constituted a major portion of the war propoganda, but even after the war slavery existed in some midwestern states for a time–until popular opinion pressured these places to relent.

We have lived up to the unity of power and economic ideals of America but not to the emancipation of slaves.  Yes, slavery is over, but the attitudes toward African Americans continues to be less than the ideal stated in the constitution which says, “We believe that all men are created equal…”  So those who are “freed” move into poverty and struggle to make life work, are given few chances to better themselves or make better lives for their children.

We believe Honest Abe worked for the deliverance of the slaves as part of his agenda, for he did believe in it, but the truth is that wasn’t his main goal.  Jesus, on the other hand, tells us He is the only way, the only truth, the only life and that no one comes to the Father except through Him.  Abe may not have lived up to his own rhetoric in his heart but Christ did.  History doesn’t have much to say about Jesus other than the gospels–unless one reads the gospel of Thomas from the apocryphal writings.  What we do have as records show a consistent man/God who fought for a lifestyle and teaching a way of freedom from man’s legalism.  This freedom equalled being children of God and growing to be like Him in everything by exposure and constant influence.

Jesus, John B and John A all show us that the only truth is found in Christ.  To actually follow Him is to follow His teachings, believing and practicing what He taught without deviation or adjustment.  We cannot add anything to Jesus and we certainly have no right or need to subtract anything from Him.  So our best bet is to follow Him whole heartedly or give up and find something which fits the paradigm we wish to serve.

I vote for Jesus.  He must become greater and I must become less self-absorbed.

A Church Tradition

June 29, 2009

An argument developed between some of John’s disciples and a certain Jew over the matter of ceremonial washing.  John 3:25.

The more I’ve watched church dynamics, the more I realize some things will never change.  Until Jesus comes we will be splitting hairs over methods, traditions and interpretations.  It’s human nature to declare for ourselves authority over others, since Eden, we believe ourselves to be little gods dictating truth to all around us.

Yet as I’ve grown in the Lord’s word, I realize more and more my authority matters very little.  The Bible is pretty plain without me adjusting or adding to it.  I see so many denominations—or even non-denominations—spring up over hair-splitting details that bear no real weight where the important doctrines are concerned and wonder how we come to this.  The world is watching, many waiting for us to trip and fall on our faces, while others long to see if what we believe and practice holds true.

The decorum of the church is paramount to the witness we present.  If we quarrel or argue constantly over words, meanings and practices, we show our faith to be disjointed or lacking the unity Jesus prayed for and demanded of His followers.  If we show by our humble acceptance of our differences that we will not be divided for small issues, we show grace and godliness to all who watch.

The disciples of John B believed Jesus and he were competing for converts, whereas John B understood the two of them were on the same side using different words, may be, but still on the same side.  If this is true, then those of us who conform to various views of certain practices within Christianity should remember we are on the same side.  Our goal is to present a clear picture of the crucified and risen Savior.  The more debatable doctrines we believe in and practice must be held to tenuously and regarded as more or less incidental.

I’m not saying doctrines are not important, instead I’m declaring with Paul that I am determined to know nothing but Jesus Christ and Him crucified first and foremost.  Everything else hinges on this priority, which therefore leads me to support others who may practice certain rituals I find silly or don’t practice mine.

Jesus must increase and all I am or desire to be must decrease.

The Character of Truth

June 27, 2009

“Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that his deeds will be exposed.  But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what he has done has been done through God.”  John 3:20, 21.

Truth produces a certain type of character trait, a certain fearlessness that stands out in a crowd.  We see it all around us—even in places we wouldn’t normally expect it, like the gay community.  Notice the moment they admit their urges for the same sex they come out of the closet (a dark and lonely place) into the light of truth.  What they practice may be wrong as far as Scripture goes, but once they admit the truth about what they desire to themselves and others they live loud and proud.

I’ve begun to understand the principles of God’s kingdom work no matter who practices them.  If a family practices decorum befitting a Scripture based moral life, they will benefit almost as much as the people of God.  God rains His blessing on the righteous and unrighteous alike without preference, the only difference between them in reception is their openness.

By stating the above, I’m not excusing, accusing or justifying anyone who lives an immoral life according God’s word.  Instead I’m pointing out the benefits of living in the light of truth.  The freedom and release which accompany such a move—not to mention the peace of mind—cannot be overstated.  People who finally admit the truth and confess it live out loud without shame or hesitation.

The problem comes in where sin enters the discussion.  Right now the world would just as soon we not mention sin and certain activities in the same sentence, and many are in the process of trying to make it illegal to do so in public at all.  This would be a great tragedy, yet inevitable as well for Jesus predicted this would happen.  Just because someone admits the truth doesn’t necessarily mean they see their actions or attitudes as wrong.  Sincerity doesn’t equal justified or being right by default.  Many a murderer has seen themselves as justified or sincere, many a fanatic has been sincere about their belief, this doesn’t make them right by any means.

We are not saved because of or by our sincerity of heart.

The difference between those who stand in the relative light of the world’s spotlight and those who stand in the light of the Word of truth are galaxies apart.  Defiance isn’t part of the truth’s character so those who think they will stand in defiance of God to His face may really do so to their own loss.  The truth Jesus speaks of here is not relative but definitive.  In other words it is truth as defined by our Maker and Designer.  No one who denies the Son of God as the source of truth will stand in the light for they will hate it.

Yet I believe there are people who desire truth to the core of their being who have never really grasped who Jesus is because the examples they have are murky and undesirable.  I’ve often wondered if when they meet Him face to face, they won’t see Him as the one their hearts have been aching for all along.

You and I have been forgiven our sin in Jesus Christ.  We have also been given a freedom to confess our faults without condemnation, turn away from them toward Jesus (even if it’s only for a moment) and find restoration spiritually.  The key element here confessing the sin, which by default is the act of bringing our misdeeds and thoughts into the light.  This act of confession is a righteous act and therefore a move into the light.  Admitting that something we desire or a desire itself is evil is an act of righteousness as well as declaring by doing so that God is the source of truth.  In other words God is right and anyone who opposes Him is wrong.

This is the essence of repentence, which is another act of righteousness.

When I expose myself to you by declaring myself a sinner—not merely in a general way but getting specific, I enter the light in a righteous way.  When I also admit that I like sin or a sin, I bring my darker desires out into the light to be exposed for what they are.  My heart is as wicked as anyone else’s, but so is yours.  The only righteousness anyone can claim is that which is attained through the loving, saving grace of Jesus.  The blood washes us from all unrighteousness.

So stand in the light with your sin open before God and those who follow Him with open sincere hearts.  Live in the light before the world with a humble, contrite and broken spirit in Christ, for our witness to the world is not one of faultless purity but of a life washed in the blood of the Lamb, which is the forgiveness of sins.

Ulterior Motives

June 26, 2009

“For God so loved the world that He gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through Him. Whoever believes in Him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemend already because he has not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son. This is the verdict: Light has come into the world but men loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that his deeds will be exposed. But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly what he has done has been done through God.”

The verse that jumped out at me when I first read this passage happened to be 17. I needed that, being raised with a judgmental and condemning thought process about sin and God in general. Guilt riddled my relationship with God for years and I struggled to overcome it in Jesus.  The struggle continues to this day because programming is very hard to undo without a replacement program, at least now my perspective is different.  I live in the light in a way that sets me up for ridicule and censure sometimes but I find it more peaceful in the long run for now I don’t have to lie or hide.

And that about sums up this text.

Those who believe find mercy and grace; those who don’t find condemnation.

Why?

Those without Christ stand condemned already, though Romans 2:12-16 makes room, I believe, for those who haven’t heard or had any opportunity to hear about Jesus.  To me this is in keeping with justice, and, since God is the very essence of justice, I believe He judges people according to their opportunities and understanding.  That said, those who do hear but still reject the message, don’t go anywhere at all because we all come from a condemned state and the only choice out of it is Christ.

Christ’s mission saved the world.  His whole stated goal was to save man from his choice in the Garden.  Jesus is the antidote for the poison, the innoculation for our disease, the cure for our rabid self-destruction.  There is only one way out of the pit we’ve dug for ourselves and that’s the hand of Jesus reaching down to pull us out. 

I have a very large family, besides my nucleic family of 9 siblings, lots of uncles and aunts, cousins and extended family.  For years I watched the way they lived and loosely studied their outcomes.  I noticed something I find very profound:  Those who conformed to the principles of God–even if they didn’t acknowledge God or submit to Him personally–found profit in a peaceful life, stability and a sense of belonging.  Those who didn’t have gotten old in their foolishness and continued to spiral out of control.  They are miserable to be around and hard to talk to because they are bitter, secretive, backbiting and full of selfish reasoning.  The others don’t excuse their faults but look them square in the face.

What does this say?  The principles of God work no matter who you are.  A person who doesn’t know Jesus but practices the principle of living in the light–being honest and open about both failures and successes–find life and liberty.  Those who hide their behavior and try to bury their past because what they do and did is wrong–by any standard–find themselves conflicted and miserable.  Here is where wisdom needs to temper our understanding.  Proverbs states that a prudent man keeps his knowledge to himself, but a fool blurts folly.  It also makes clear anyone who hides their sin will not prosper; but if a man confesses and renounces them they will find life and happeness.  May be we shouldn’t tell our secrets to just everyone–a mistake I’ve made over the years and paid for dearly–except to those we trust to help us correct both the harmful behavior and habits of the heart which cause the problems. 

Another truth:  Notice Jesus didn’t say anything about conforming to a religious sect or specific political agenda.  He said, “But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light…”  In other words, those who tell the truth, live by the truth and refuse to follow lies will come to God.  Revelation expands on this thought by saying one of the characteristics of those who are lost is anyone who makes or believes a lie.  John A’s theme of renouncing sin, conforming to Christ and walking in the light held true throughout all five of his books, but truth is the point here not viewpoints or agenda.

The world hates the light, folks, and will do anything and everything to shut it off.  We see political people afraid to stand for what they believe in (and I’m not talking about right or left but generally) because they might lose their careers over it.  In a truly open and democratic society no one would be censured for a belief or for stating what they thought to be truth.  Yet we see the powerful constantly playing games with public opinion in an effort to control–what?  Our consciences or behaviors? 

No one likes to be the outsider, but here Jesus makes it clear that if we live in the light, we will be resented and hated.  Anyone who identifies with the light will find themselves under the gun and they better be ready for lies and threats because those who traffic in what opposes God’s kingdom will stop at nothing since no principle of God limits their behaviors or views.

The only light in this world comes from God.  If the world has any light at all, it is because the purveyors of truth keep the truth quite public so that people don’t forget it.  Don’t get me wrong.  Not everyone who claims to be follower of Jesus is.  Still we should take the stance that Paul claims for himself in Philippians 1:15-18, it doesn’t matter what the motivation in the end because whether from false motives or true, Christ is being preached.  

In the Christian ethic too many have a public opinion who should shutup.  This goes for both right and left.  The ones I respect the most are those who live what they believe without pushing it on others.  They are never afraid to state their belief to be true but neither do they burn people at the public stake for differing with them.

The verdict? 

Christ made it clear that men love darkness rather than the light because their deeds were evil.  Evil deeds equal evil behavior.  Jesus said, “Out of the fullness of the heart the mouth speaks.”  Whatever is in the heart of person will come out into their behavior and therefore make one the thought and action.  If the the thought is righteous, the actions are righteous.  If the thought is evil, the actions/behaviors are evil.  The two cannot be separated here.

John A, as I’ve mentioned before, was at war with a offshoot “Christian” belief system which borrowed heavily from the Greek gnostics.  Some taught that the deeds done in the body counted for nothing, quoting the above passage as evidence and ignoring the last section where it talks of deeds. “The flesh counts for nothing…” they would quote and live exactly as if what they did in the body didn’t matter to their eternity, though Jesus and the apostles, here and elsewhere, make it plain this is not the case.  Jesus said, “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord’ will enter the kingdom of heaven but only he who does the will of my Father.”  The word “does” excludes any doubt about actions being the fruit of our inner life.  Galatians 5:16-26 makes lists what the fruit (behaviors and attitudes of the heart) will be when we conform to either darkness or the Holy Spirit. Paul ends it like this, Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the sinful nature with its passions and desires. Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit. let us not become conceited, provoking and envying each other.  

“This is the verdict: men loved darkness rather than light…”

What a sad state the world is in then.  It’s good thing someone came to save and that “someone” was God.

Yet this isn’t the whole of the message is it.

The ulterior motive for Jesus becoming human and thus God in the flesh was to show man how far He is willing to go to restore His relationship with us.  We act many times like He’s out to catch us in a sin when the truth is much more positive:  He’s out to catch us, for sure, but for the purpose of healing our brokenness, correcting our twisted limbs (both physical and spiritual), redirecting our attention, and restoring our communication with the whole universe.  His sole purpose is to save man.  He says somewhere in Scripture that punishment and violence are a foreign act for Him.  That says a lot about His attitude towards us.

I want more than anything to grasp the height, the depth, and width of God’s love for me, to be sure, but in that realization I hope my attitude towards the rest of humanity changes as well.  The best witness to the ulterior motives of Jesus’ love is to live it.

Yes, we who follow Jesus have ulterior motives and they aren’t what religious conformists or political pundits use as weapons for their agendas, rather we are here to restore, reconcile and lovingly save all who will come to the resting place of Jesus.

God’s Motivation:

June 24, 2009

Here’s a question for us who believe (and those you who may be in a state of indecision):   What is God’s motivation for sending Jesus?

Here’s another question:  What is God’s attitude toward humanity even in its sinful state?

Both answers can be found in John 3:16, 17, which is where we will be going next.  Think about the answers Jesus gives first, then move on to the thought that we are to imitate Him in all things.

We Speak What We Know

June 23, 2009

“How can this be?”  Nicodemus asked.

“You are Israel’s teacher,”  said Jesus,  “and do you not understand these things?  I tell you the truth, we speak of what we know…”

Did you catch that?  Jesus switched from singular to plural.  Who is the “we” in this context?

“…but still you people do not accept our testimony.  I have spoken to you of earthly things and you do not believe, how then will you believe if I speak of heavenly things?”  John 3:9-12. 

Two guesses about the “we” statements. 1) Jesus meant the Godhead comprising Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. 2) He included Himself into the group of prophets of the OT. The context here can be compared to Isaiah 8:20 where it says,  To the law and to the testimony. If they don’t speak according to this word they have no light of dawn.  Jesus made it clear He would be a prophet amongst prophets but He went a step further to say somethings about His divinity which made Him the Prophet Moses spoke about in Deuteronomy 18.

Jesus never misses a nuance and rarely avoids pointing out what the nuance signals if it’s important.  Nic didn’t really believe, he was just exploring–sincerely exploring but still not convinced.  I think this is part of the reason why he tried to make the illustration of new birth obscure in his conversation with Christ–he was being difficult—not petulant but difficult—because he didn’t really see the need for this kind of change.  His satisfaction level with what he already knew must have been low, or at least beginning to dwindle, because he sought out the Master for some answers—at night, may be, but definitely seeking.

Jesus puts it in context for him succinctly.  “Nic, you don’t believe, buddy, and you need to because if you can’t grasp or believe simple earthly illustrations, then you won’t grasp even a whisp of heavenly info.” 

The flesh counts for nothing the spirit is everything, but not in a gnostic sense.  Sin in the body is still sin for the soul.  For example, 1Corinthians 7 points out that joining a person’s body with a prostitute is sin against one’s own body.  The law clears up any doubt that certain behaviors are sin.  So there’s completeness between the soul, spirit and body.  To make us whole we need all three.  Anything that deviates from the character of God is sin, be it behavior, thoughts or a rebellious spirit.  The only way to escape it is to conform to Christ.

Jesus then takes a story from the law to illustrate what needs to happen for the world:  “Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the desert, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, that everyone who believes in Him may have eternal life.”

The people of Israel complained and did some wrong things.  God sent snakes to bite and kill them until they would turn to Him.  God then showed mercy in the oddest way.  He instructed Moses to make a bronze serpent and attach it to a staff so anyone who looked at it would be cured of the poison.  It worked.  Jesus needed to be lifted up on a cross to save man from death.   Man drank the poison of sin and needed to be healed of the deadly virus.  Whoever looks at Jesus will be saved and will find healing and life.

God made Him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that we might become the righteousness of God.  2 Corinthians 5:21.

Jesus became sin for us so that we might become the righteousness of God.  Jesus took on the form of a serpent (the deceiver of humanity) so that we might become human again.  Notice that Paul doesn’t say “so that we might become righteous” but the righteousness of God.  One is attribute of us, the other of God Himself.  We take on what He is because Jesus became like us—except for sin.

I don’t know about you but that is most profound.

Jesus is the only human who has ever seen the Father.  Jesus reveals who the Father is and what is in His heart.  The God revealed in the OT is the same one in the NT and the One we know today.  His desire for our reconciliation is beyond our ability grasp, a fact we showed at the cross and throughout hisory.

To understand God we must become spiritually one with Him, for spiritual things are spiritually discerned and the earthly mind cannot understand them.

Predicting the Wind

June 19, 2009

“The wind blows wherever it pleases.  You hear the sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going.  So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.  John 3:8

 The biggest problem with those given completely over to God is this one factoid buried in a famous discussion on salvation.  Do you see it?  I’ve read this passage over many times over the past thirty years and missed this every time.

I get the fact that the Holy Spirit is a mystery to the world; His movements baffle the minds of the carnal Christian as well as those who remain unconscious of Him.  What never jumped out at me until last night as I read this passage was the last sentence:  So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.

A person who follows the mind of Jesus becomes a mystery to the world around them.  They (the world) cannot tell where the follower of Christ is coming from or where they are going because it’s like predicting the wind.  Jesus answers our question on this problem pretty succinctly by telling Nic how we enter the kingdom and why the mystery exists in the first place.

“…No one can enter the kingdom of God unless he is born of water and the Spirit.  Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit.”

God called His followers a “peculiar people” or those who stand out from the crowd.  It is not for the sake of being different we are peculiar because then it would just a be a badge we wear for the sake of impressing other people with our uniqueness (which, to our shame, happens anyway in the church), rather it is for the purpose of being like Jesus.  The Spirit gives birth in our spirit conformity to the mind and will of Christ, which those caught up in darkness find unpredictable and think of as nonsense, but their reasoning is only stuck there because they haven’t been born of the Spirit.

I know a lot of people (even self-proclaimed Christians) who consider any conditions for salvation a blight on the message of grace.  For them unconditional love means just that:  no conditons whatsoever.  And they are right.  But we mustn’t confuse God’s love for His creation with the conditions of salvation, for there is a difference.

For a person to be a citizen of American, they either have to apply and take the oath or be born here, right?  This, however, is just the first step to being what we call an American.  The next step requires that we work for the good of our country by being loyaly to its laws and stated goals.  So it is with everyone who claims the name of Jesus.  If we want to be called ‘Christian” in fact as well as affiliation, we must demonstrate the traits and attributes which come with it or our claims are a sham.

As we conform to the mind of Christ (a work of a lifetime, by the way), we become more intimately informed to the nature of God’s work in mankind and the direction of the wind.  However, predicting the wind is not something I would be comfortable doing any time soon.  Yet I see those who have lived long in Christ content to exist with the sheer unpredictability of the Spirit for they have come to know Him and realize how secure His plans are for them.  He is all about blessing—even in the worst situations imaginable.  What we cannot predict as it applies to situations or consequences exactly, we can know what our actions should be.

Those born with death in mind instead of eternity tend to live with the mindset of getting whatever is offered in here and now.  Those born of water and Spirit find they can take the long view on things.  When eternity becomes a given, the incidental of today loses some of its vital status.

A Cautious Believer

June 17, 2009

Now there was a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a member of the Jewish ruling council.  John 3:1-21

Oi!  John 3 gets about heavy-laden with truth and spiritual imagery as hay wagon when it’s full.  I won’t pretend to understand everything Jesus taught here because some things He says were culturally clear for His day but somewhat obscured by time, translation and cultural traditions changing.  Most of it is plainly stated, however.

John tells the story of Nicodemus coming by night to talk to Jesus.  Being a member of the Sanhedrin and a Pharisee, he couldn’t visit Jesus without arousing suspicion and anger from his colleagues so he went alone by night.  Traditional history indicates Nic was pretty wealthy, so wealthy in fact that he could have sustained the whole of Jerusalem for three years before his money ran out.  In Nic’s day they measured wealth by the amount of land and livestock you owned.  So this guy must have had it all by anybody’s estimation.

But something–or literally, someone–caught his attention and drove him to seek out a clue to better living.  He must have been looking around for something more–or may be he wasn’t and Jesus surprised him out of his complacency.  Some people don’t actually realize they are lacking until they see the more in the next valley.  As one historical parable goes, “A peasant is unaware of his poverty until he visits the palace of royalty.  Then his poverty galls him to discontentment.”  Nic had gained what everyone in the world who knew anything about anything wanted.  Jesus came along, poor, disrespected by the academia of the day, and turned them on their ear in one day.

Israel is a small country.  The events surrounding Jesus’ birth were probably widely known and wondered at; the miracle at Cana would have spread too because the family involved, being Jewish, would have been at the Passover.  Nic heard about or saw miracles and wondered.

First the cleaning up the of the temple courts must have aroused some irritation if he profited from it, and may be silent glee if he did not.  I believe the latter of him because he came sincerely seeking Jesus out and trying to understand His mission.  Being a politician, Nic begins with traditional political rhetoric, “Teacher, we know you are teacher who has come from God.  For no one can perform the miraculous signs you are doing if God were not with Him.”

Oops!  Remember the point in the previous chapter about the leaders seeking a sign from heaven?  Nic kinda’ let the cat out of the bag here.  Being a part of the ruling council he would know what they said and in his introduction he said “we know” which puts the leaders of Israel kinda on the because they recognized who Jesus probably was.  They knew they were seeing a prophet of some kind or the Messiah.  John B was the son of priest in the temple and largely followed even by the Pharisees, so his declaration about Jesus would have been instantly reported.  We are deducing from the practices of man down through history and the habits and idiosyncratic behaviors displayed of those in power.  I’m a believer in the Sherlock Holmes statement (which I may not quote accurately but you’ll get the idea), “When we have eliminated all the probable conclusions from the evidence presented, the fact that remains, no matter how improbable, is the truth.”

We see a man coming to Jesus afraid of the powerful, even though he was a man of power.  They saw the miracles and couldn’t deny them, although they would concoct explanations for them later.  Nic came willing to dance around the issues, discuss or debate whatever was bothering.  Jesus on the other hand, true to His style, cut to the chase and told Nic what he really came for and needed to know, “You must be born again.”

Nic’s reaction puzzled me after a while.  It isn’t the fact that he reacted to Jesus’ statement with some incomprehension, it was the fact that the Jews of his day taught something similar about becoming a Jewish proselyte.  They would actually declare the person converted to Judaism “born again.” So why his reaction?

I think he didn’t like the symbolism even from his own countrymen.  From his reaction it must have been something that he just didn’t grasp as being a viable statement.  Nic sounds like earthy person here.  Like many Pharisees his world remained firmly rooted in a physical reality and, though he hoped for an afterlife, he didn’t think as much about it as his daily performance.  Nic was an intelligent man, by all accounts, and very observant.  A man doesn’t gain great wealth by being an idiot in every field, but here in the spiritual reality he found himself out of his depth.  Paul tells us, “Spiritual things are spiritually discerned, the unspiritual mind cannot comprehend them.”  Nic must have had some spiritual insight to be honest and courageous enough to seek Jesus out.

He just didn’t get this new birth thing.  He protested Jesus’ declaration with physical truth,  “How can a man be born when he is old?  Surely he cannot enter a second time into his mother’s womb to be born!”

Sound like a good argument?

Jesus deflected his reasoning with a spiritual answer, “I tell you the truth, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless he is born of water and the Spirit.  Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit.  You should not be surprised at my saying, ‘You must be born again.’  The wind blows wherever it pleases.  You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going.  So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.”

In a chapter containing the most quoted verse in Christian history, Jesus blows us all away by making it clear that we cannot know the way of the Spirit without being born again.  Those who have been, know the mind of the Spirit after a time of following, though God is still beyond us and higher in thought, purpose and intent.  We can see the results of what He does but we don’t know and barely comprehend most of the time where He’s coming from or where He’s going with His will.  Only those born of water and the Spirit will have an inkling of what’s going on. S piritual things are spiritually discerned and cannot be interpreted by human standards or priorities.

No one can enter the kingdom of God without being washed.  Baptism symbolizes death to all things not of Christ for those cleansed by the Spirit of God.  That is what being baptised by the Holy Spirit means–cleansing of the past to make way for the new.  In God’s kingdom (and the root “king” here holds definite significance) the ways of sinful man are not welcome.  Those who identify with selfishness, greed, adultery, debauchery, self-indulgence, pride, sexual immorality and several others (read Gal. 5: 19-21) will not be welcome in God’s kingdom.  Does this mean those who do reach His kingdom are not sinners?  Not at all!  But John A says in 1 John that anyone who knows God does not continue to sin habitually–they begin to conquer their sinful nature.  We cannot remain in our sinful state and practices once we accept Jesus as Savior and Lord because our minds are being renewed to walk in the Spirit of God which is diametrically opposed to the ways of death.

Nic came as religious man who really was a decent fellow.  He probably didn’t lust after anyone, never stole anything, kept all the commandments of God to the best of his ability and sacrificed for his sins when he failed.  But he was just told he couldn’t enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and the Spirit.  Bummer!  You mean all his good deeds meant nothing?  No, but these things didn’t make him a servant of God, merely a good man by human measurements.  Given a choice what would he choose?  God’s way or man’s way?  God’s righteousness or man’s righteousness?  God wants change in the inner most parts of us (Psalm 51), man wants to look good to himself and others.  God want definite radical change from the inside out; man wants to be good enough so that when he does something to indulge his sinful nature he can claim it as balancing out what he does wrong.

Jesus makes it clear anyone who knows the truth about Him and His mission will be held accountable for the knowledge and what they did with it.  They will be judged by how they handled truth.

Cleaning House

June 16, 2009

In the temple courts He found men selling cattle, sheep and doves, and others sitting at tables exchanging money.  So He made a whip out of cords, and drove all from the temple area, both sheep and cattle; He scattered the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables.  To those who sold doves He said,  “Get these out of here!  How dare you turn my Father’s house into a market!”  John 2:12-16.

The place where this market was located happened to be in the Court of the Gentiles, an area cordoned off for those converts to Judaism from other nations.  They were not allowed in the Jewish section of the temple by law until the third generation, so the Jewish leaders took advantage of this and exploited their vulnerability.  Jesus considered desecration of even this area as disrespect to God, contrary to popular opinion.  For a long time I didn’t grasp the significance of why He used the quote “My house will be called a house of prayer for all nations” (see Mark 11:17b) until I realized where the leaders set the market for all the sacrifices up.  The very word “gentile” means broadly “nations” so Jesus used Scripture to set the whole temple aside for worship not just the area for the Jews.

Jesus actions protected people’s right to worship in peace.  Another thing I struggled for years to reconcile was Jesus’ violence here because I couldn’t accept violent behavior and peace as coming from the same place.

But it did and does.

Jesus stood up for coming to God in worship with a vehemence few accept today as really in His nature, but John A states it clearly that He drove the marketing strategy out of the temple courts.  The kingdom of heaven could not be, nor would it ever be in Jesus’ view, a marketing ploy, an excuse for the already rich to scrape some more profit off the backs of the poor for the word “sanctuary” is used in many ways but its primary meaning is to protect.

Jesus came to protect not only the Name of God, His Father, butalso the His body—those who believe in Him.  He came to represent the God and creator of all–basically Himself.  Jesus refused to be pacifistic about the worship of God so He made a whip out of ropes and declared war on greedy racketeers who profitted off of people’s desperate need for grace, peace, forgiveness and mercy.

What a futile act of war.  The market was probably set back up and running the very next day or day after that.  What, in heaven’s name, did Jesus accomplish through this futility? 

He made His point.  And sometimes that’s all we can do.

The temple represented Jesus Himself.  What did He say to those who challenged Him? “Destroy this temple…” and John A makes it clear He was speaking of His own body. The leaders were making the worship of God a means to grow wealthy.  Jesus made it clear that’s not what the temple was for at all, so He cleaned it out for one day so that those who came to worship might experience a moment of peace.  Now we know through the teachings of the disciples that we are His body, which begs the question:  What does He say about us as His body through this act of violence?

Jesus won’t put up with anyone poluting His people for long.  There will come a time for cleansing and restoration, and since we are His temple, this means the true worshipers of God will be cleared of stuff that distracts from coming to God.

The leaders wanted blood.  They wanted to know just who this Jesus thought He was, when they were the religious authority here and He a mere Rabbi peasant, born out of wedlock and not even educated by them.

Jesus gave them metaphor as an answer.  They, in all their learning, intelligence and authority, missed His point entirely and took Him literally.  The disciples misunderstood too, though at least they would have come to a different conclusion.  Their experience at Cana showed Jesus able to perform miracles so they had no doubt He could destroy the temple and rebuild it in three days, still they all missed the point.  Jesus spoke about Himself, His own body.  The true temple, of which the building merely worked as a model, was Jesus’ body, for Revelation says, “I saw no temple in that place (the New Jerusalem) for God and the Lamb are its temple.”

Jesus knew even then how He would die and what that entailed.  He needed to make a point which was:  My body should not be used for profit but rather worship.  I am not to be used to make money or extort from people, I am free to all who come to me in repentence (a word in the Greek which means a “change of mind” or to ” change the direction of one’s view”).

The disciples didn’t understand until for later, for John says, “After He was raised from the dead, His disciples recalled what He had said.  Then they believed the Scripture and the words that Jesus had spoken.”  Remember the only “Scriptures” in John’s day were the OT law and prophets.  The NT hadn’t been established yet.

The Jews demanded a miraculous sign, but they didn’t get the one they wanted–I think they hoping for Elijah to bring fire down from heaven to prove God the true way to heathen priests.  The people who beleived, however, did get miraculous signs.  Why the disparity here?  Why would the common man get the miracles and the leaders who could have helped Jesus so much in His mission got nothing?

Both parties saw the same miracles because later it says the leaders had Jesus watched constantly to trip Him up.  This says something very important about man’s attitude:  we see and believe exactly what we want to see and believe.  If something doesn’t fit our preference, we will ignore it and find ways around it.  I’ve done it for years and when confronted, sidestepped the issues.  Truth, however, won’t let us sidestep it without some form of spiritual fragmentation bordering on insanity happening.

When we trust in human reasoning, values and agendas, we lose sight of the real and vital.  When give ourselves over to the temporary goals of the world around us, no amount of explaining the Word Made Flesh will bring comprehension to a mind darkened in this way.  So the last two verses have become a point of growth for me:

But Jesus would not entrust Himself to them, for He knew all men. He did not need man’s testimony about man, for He knew what was in man.  John 2:24, 25.

I tend to trust man’s view a little too much.  Proverbs says, Fear of man will prove to be a snare… We cannot use man’s reasoning to get to God because man’s reasoning extracts God from daily life and viewpoint.  We must seek this same quality Jesus displayed by letting go of man’s opinion whether positive or negative in order to understand the truth about ourselves and the world around us through the filter of the Word of God.

Jesus didn’t trust man’s opinion about Him in His mission.  Just because people believed in Him didn’t mean they had it right.  A person can believe in God in a loose way but still reject everything God stands for, it’s just not enough to believe God exists.  James addresses this by saying, Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by what I do. You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that–and shudder.  Belief about something is not enough we must take that belief into our daily life and let it change us.  We cannot and do not change God for He must change us.  Jesus is the same yesterday, today and forever.  God even says, “I am the LORD and I don’t change!”   Even sincere, intense or devout belief isn’t enough always, for a person can be intense about believing lies, devout to their own agenda, sincere about complete nonsense.

We conform to Him not He to us.  He doesn’t need out simple, distorted views about Him to be what He will be anyway–God.  Jesus is the savior of the world whether people believe it or not; accept it or not; conform to it or not.  We can be part of the testimony or party to those who try to destroy it or shape it to what they want it to be.

The leaders of Israel crucified the Son of God because He wouldn’t play their game or conform to their way of being religious.  They hated God in Jesus because He showed them how very shallow their view of life was and how lost they were without God’s way.

A few years ago I came to a decision, after a long time of wandering around the philosophical landscape:  Jesus is right. 

Human beings might have elements of truth, a form of godliness, be good hearted, generous, kind, gentle and host of other attributes that make people great, but without Jesus, they really had nothing but a temporary life.  God still might choose to save them in the end–and I believe many will be–but their life down here would lack the wholeness Jesus promised those who truly believe in Him and acted on it.  We can’t trust their viewpoints on things eternal because everything they tell us leads us to profit in merely the here and now.  We enter eternity the moment we accept Christ as Savior and Lord over our lives.  Everything we do must conform to this eternal thinking.  Our temporary choices must be made in light of living with Jesus for ever after.  Nothing comes close to this viewpoint in importance, but everything we do in our daily life reflects it and is affected by it.

I have never seen anyone love another human more deeply being than a person who leaves all for Jesus.

Jesus didn’t need man to tell Him who He was, justify His mission or character because He already knew the truth and it set Him free from the opinions and wishy-washy views of public scrutiny.  To conform to Christ we must follow Him here where the world–even the religious world–gains no hold over us.  Only Jesus holds us in His arms of love, protection and the armor of the Spirit.

Man’s opinion without conformity to God, is an exercise in futility.  Because of this, I must admit I am not really interested in living a meaningless life or continue stuck in futile thinking or living.

Two Miracles in One

June 15, 2009

On the third day a wedding took place at Cana in Galilee.  Jesus’ mother was there, and Jesus and His disciples had also been invited to the wedding.  When the wine was gone, Jesus’ mother said to Him,  “They have no more wine.”

“Dear woman, why do you involve me?”  Jesus replied.  “My time has not yet come.”

His mother said to the servants,  “Do whatever He tells you.”  John 2:1-5

I remember the first time I read this story.  I loved it immediately. Jesus partied, I thought, and that means parties must be okay.

Then I took a quarter of Greek, which opened the subject even more.  Jesus made wine, an undetermined type of wine, very good on the palette and of the best grade.  I asked around and found out the best wine at Jewish weddings is always fermented and carefully crafted for taste and texture.  I didn’t know much about wine but I did know a snow job when found one.

My church had colored this text to fit their bias.  It couldn’t be fermented wine, went their argument, because Jesus couldn’t do anything sinful or harmful to your health.  But Jesus made the best wine.  Either that meant Jesus needed to buck up and get His health teaching up to date with the conditions set out for Christian life in the conservative church manual or the church had it wrong.  Well, as you might guess, I sided with Jesus.  There are a host of issues like this that I won’t go into but it started me on a path to trying to understand the truth of Word rather than my preference, tradition or inherent bias.

Jesus partied in the NT on more than one occasion.  Hmmmm.  Wow, that has ramifications!

Another thing that stands out to me is His unwillingness to be miraculous.  It’s like you want to say to Him,  “You’re the Messiah just get on with it already!”  It took a little pushy Jewish mother to get Him to act.  It’s also significant that Jesus performed the miracle without waving His hand or making any big incantations.  Instead He used a quiet method of faith to work one of the most celebrated and oft used stories in Scriptures besides walking on water.  Popular songs use it as a metaphor for their points, people use it as political jabs or praise.

Instead of trying to gain from it politically, socially, ministerially, Jesus used it to validate a marriage, His mother, His new disciple’s fledgling faith and to just plain party.  It’s not hard to picture Him dancing in the wedding dance, talking and laughing with the other guests, not drawing attention to Himself by sitting on the sidelines but participating in a way which didn’t make Him holier than thou–even though He actually was (holier than anyone at the feast).  This story made me like Him all the more.  He took time for the little things–little by human theological standards anyway–some believe love and marriage to not be as high on the priority list as understanding the sanctuary doctrine or the rapture time table.  Jesus shows us this attitude is nonsense and doesn’t fit into His way of living.  He validates marriage by merely being at a wedding; He doubly validates it by making the best wine in the country for wedding already winding down to a close; then He goes above and beyond all that stuff by making this small, seemingly insignificant little miracle His very first of many.

Here’s another thought:  There was no fan-fair, trumpeted pronouncements, preamble act or announcement of the miracle itself.  When the servants poured the water into the cups it was wine.  He didn’t go into the main room and act humbly embarrassed, while secretly wishing for acknowledgement for John says only the servants were aware of the origins of the best wine at the wedding and the befuddled groom took all the credit.  No, it was with quiet simplicity and love for those present as well as the couple the day celebrated that He created something incredibly special.

Jesus showed love in this act.  He loved His mother and, though He sounded like every other kid objecting to doing something at His mother’s insistence, I think He wasn’t being whiny or petulant about it. The time for His miraculous ministry hadn’t arrived yet for Him but He went ahead to support His mother’s faith–I’m sure He thought she was just being cute and loved her all the more for her faith in Him, that would be just like Jesus–and, may be, to help His new disciples get a perspective on the true nature of the Messiah’s mission.

I just love the fact that His momma ignored His protests and just circumnavigated all objections by putting Him on the spot.  Do you get the poignancy of this fact?  The God of heaven was “manipulated” by His mother’s pushy motherly ways.  I bet He laughs about this story still, I know I would.  It demonstrated not only her faith in Him but His love and respect for her that He went ahead and obeyed her wish—though His authority to say “no” outweighed her motherly command by a long shot.  And what character!  She knew without any doubt He could take care of the situation.  Whatever possessed her to push for wine, is something I guess we’ll have to ask her when we meet her.  I just find it funny she chose wine at a party to be persistent about rather than some politically beneficial miracle.

God chose a lowly wedding to demonstrate His power and control over the natural order of things.  This tells us nothing is too small for Him to concern Himself with and we should be as careful of our world as He is and demonstrated while He walked earth.

Whatever His reasons for objecting, He performed His first miracle, according to John A, at a wedding for relatives or friends in a show of support and love for all involved. What do you think the servants’ reaction was after this clearly miraculous wedding gift?

I know what mine would be.