Archive for August, 2009

The True Meaning of 666

August 31, 2009

From this time many of His disciples turned back and no longer followed Him.  John 6:66.

I know it’s hard to think of this as the interpretation of the Beast in Revelation, but remember, both books were written by the same man, John, so the connection isn’t accidental.  I’m pretty sure the chapter and verse numbers were coincidental for the greater part, though that’s arguable.

In this case I don’t think it’s a random accident that the very number of the beast’s name shows up as chapter 6 verse 66, or 666, for the purpose of the beast is to twist God’s word into a lie.  What is it to reject Jesus’ teaching but to accept a lie in its place?  To add to Him is to say His truth isn’t good enough but needs more; to subtract from Him is to say some parts are simply not true and therefore need to be cut out.  Either way we make Him out to be liar or the disciples, as well as the scribes who copied it down and those who translated it.

No matter how we slice it up, it comes down to the same problem:  Someone doesn’t like the message so they adjust it to fit their own preferred ideal.  Since God cannot be mocked, added to or subtracted from without consequences, these people face judgment on The Day.  In the meantime, they are given over to their lie and consumed by it.  The very Scriptures that teach Jesus is love, compassion, forgiving, full of grace and mercy, also teach us He overturned tables, made a whip out of rope and chased all those money changers out of the Gentile section of the temple courts.  We have a God who is never without a backbone or boundaries.

The difference between the God of the Bible and the one those who cannot accept but adjust to their taste is simply that the biblical God has grace and mercy on all who admit that their differences with Him amount to the same thing:  sin.  Paul declared,  “Let God be true and every man a liar.”  Romans 3:4.  If the God of Judeo/Christian Scripture is the true God, then anyone who stands against Him stands against reality itself for the Creator makes the reality.

What caused these disciples to turn back and follow Him no more?

Simple, they couldn’t accept or submit to Christ’s teaching.

So what is the mark of the Beast about then?

One of three things:

1)  A person knows the teachings as truth but rejects them because they don’t fit their own preferences for their life, by which I mean they prefer to hold on to a pet sin.

2)  A person knows the teachings as truth but brings their own understanding to it from cultural or personal filters.  This means they may refuse to submit to the Scripture as it stands or their filter affects their judgment—as in the case of the Jews above.

3)  They are so deceived by the evil one’s lies they actually believe the truth of God is a lie.

If you look at the list of people who will not be saved found in Revelation 21:8; 22:15, each time the people who love, practice or believe a lie are found outside the city of God.  The God we serve is not so hard hearted that someone raised in a lie or those who practice a lie cannot be His because they don’t know any better will be punished.  I’m pretty sure all of us have an incomplete understanding of the Word, so I don’t consider this to be a problem.  No it’s those who love and practice the lie over the truth; those who prefer the lie over the truth presented to them.  These people will not inherit God’s kingdom for they would hate, revile and eventually rebel against it again.

So what’s the difference between them and us?  The main difference is attitude, I believe.  David lied, killed and committed adultery, yet when confronted with his sin, he readily confessed it as sin with no excuses or denials.  Those submitted to the Savior will respond with faith, like the twelve did.  Those who cannot accept the teaching will reject and work against Him as did the disciples who turned back and walked no more with Him.

This is the key to understanding the mark of the beast, I believe, the number of his name is less than perfect.  In Scripture seven is the perfect number of wholeness, three sixes in a row would suggest a perfect lie.

The question that faces each one of us is:  Will we submit to God’s word when confronted with our misunderstandings, sin or misuse of God’s word, or will we attempt to force our own agenda and grasp of the eternal on Him, to superimpose our understanding on God?

Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will make your paths straight.  Proverbs 3:5, 6.

The Hard Truth

August 30, 2009

On hearing it, many of His disciples said,  “This is a hard teaching.  Who can accept it?”  John 6:60.

Jesus doesn’t play games with life and death matters.  O, I might call Him a “Master Chess Player” but that is a way of giving an example of His ability to win the struggle against sin and our Adversary, not a way of making the contest for our hearts seem like bet between God and Satan.  These men of the synagogue didn’t get it, Jesus’ disciples didn’t get it, and why?  Because their minds were too tied to a worldview which had nothing whatsoever to do with God.

Sure they knew the Scriptures but they didn’t understand their import, meaning or purpose.  As a general rule, most people consider religion as an advice column which helps them navigate the ups and downs in the world as it is, it probably doesn’t cross their minds there is a change coming to the whole enchilada.  In other words, the change the Jews were looking for was a glorified more-of-the-same product not a cataclysmic, radical upheaval of everything they had worked so hard to obtain.  Most didn’t look for sin to be eradicated at all nor the other nations to be converted rather they thought their only thought was gain power over them.

Some times we look at the people around us as necessary evils.Their beliefs, practices and cultures might run counter to our own, but we don’t see them as anything more than landscape.  God wants to recreate our paradigm yet we are hanging on to this reality with all our might to the point of even arguing with Him about it.

Aware that His disciples were grumbling about this, Jesus said to them,  “Does this offend you?  What if you see the Son of Man ascend to where He was before!  The Spirit gives life; the flesh counts for nothing.  The words I have spoken to you are spirit and they are life.  Yet there are some of you do not believe.”  John 6:60-64.

Ah, the key to understanding the teaching.  It makes all the difference in the world for us doesn’t it?  Or does it?  We hunger for the things we desire so hard that God many times has to deny us something so we’ll pay attention.  Notice that John says the disciples were grumbling not just the Jews.  Since he didn’t see fit to separate out the twelve from among the general category of disciples, I suggest even the twelve had a hard time swallowing what He said.  To make it even clearer who was doing most of the grumbling, John goes on to say,  For Jesus had known from the beginning which of them did not believe and who would betray Him.  The process of elimination tells us all His disciples, including the twelve, were offended by what He said.

Notice that Jesus doesn’t present a question about where He lived with God but makes it an exclamation.  In other words He’s not pleading with them to understand or using it as an argument counter to their objections but emphasizing their unbelief.  These people would resent seeing Him in His previous glory, hate everything about His powerful heritage and reject Him anyway.

You object to my reasoning here?

These Jews had just witnessed Jesus perform one of the greatest miracles of His ministry the day before yet here they were immediately rejecting the truth His teaching.  Now wouldn’t you or I expect the power of a man to perform such a miracle such as feeding several thousand people would be enough authority for us to trust or at least want to understand Him?  Jesus knew that they couldn’t accept God for who He really is but preferred their image of Him.  In this they showed they hadn’t given up idolatry at all since they worshipped the image of God they created for themselves.

The Jews showed their metal, the consistency of their character by their reluctance to grasp what God wanted them to know through His Son, Jesus.  Jesus gave them the code to unlock His words by telling them,  “The Spirit gives life; the flesh counts for nothing.  The words I have spoken to you are spirit and they are life.”  The words about eating His flesh and drinking His blood pointed to a spiritual reality they refused to submit to, preferring the hard reality of the physical realm.  The Lord knew their hearts, He read them like an open book, so His purpose in confronting them was to break into their that hardened place and bring light to their darkened minds.

It is a warning to us to beware of worshiping our own image of God instead of conforming to His description of Himself.  History demonstrates mankind’s inability to accept God as He presents Himself, instead we tend to set up visions of God according to our own cultural perspectives or to the preferences of the powerful.

Jesus knew humans would never accept Him as He is, that’s why He wouldn’t trust Himself to them because He knew what was in them.  We must stop being conformed to the earthly perspective and renew our minds through the Spirit’s influence so that we may conform to the mind of Christ.  If Jesus’ words pointed us to a spiritual reality, what do we think we doing by using His truth (which in essence is the only reality there is) to make our own reality here?

“The Spirit gives life; the flesh counts for nothing.  The words I have spoken to you are spirit and they are life.”

A Pushy Savior?

August 27, 2009

Jesus said to them,  “I tell you the truth, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life in you.”  John 6:53.

I’ve read this chapter nearly thirty times and every time it shouts out to me that Jesus was almost goading these Jews with His  words.  The language He uses is so graphic and seemingly against the Law that those listening cannot help themselves, they have to stand up to this madman.  From the very beginning of the Law, as early as Genesis (Noah’s story), humans have been forbidden to drink blood—even of animals—for the life is in the blood.  At the same time eating human flesh was also considered an abomination in the Law.  Yet here was Jesus proclaiming a new kind of salvation through what appeared to be cannibalism.

I’m sure it wasn’t lost on the Jews that it would be impossible for everyone in Israel, let alone the whole world, to get even a small bite of Jesus’ flesh or even a sip of His blood.  Partly they were confused by the metaphor standing in front of them and partly they were looking for a reason to disagree with Him.  The use of metaphor wasn’t uncommon in their era, they weren’t unfamiliar with nuance, so what was their problem?

Then the Jews began to argue sharply among themselves,  “How can this man give us His flesh to eat?”

An argument takes sides of the issue and debates them, which means some were seeing the metaphorical aspects of Jesus’ words while others were being literal, all were struggling to grasp the idea.  The world didn’t have the doctrine of transubstantiation just yet, though many religions did have teachings somewhat similar, so the idea of bread turning into the actual body or wine into the actual blood of Jesus hadn’t gained a footing as yet.  To the Jews Jesus was simply a fascinating figure, one who challenged the status quo of the day with new slants on current explanations of Scripture and God.  To them He was nothing more than a good rabbi and one whom God was using to do miracles—nothing more than Elisha, Moses or others had been.  A good teacher and prophet but not the Son of God.

There is purpose in what Jesus is doing here, first on a debate level, then on a theological level, lastly He’s using this situation to weed out the false followers from the true (I get this from a verse further on in the passage).  The twelve must have been just as confused as the common people and teachers of the law, but they had just witnessed Jesus walk on water that morning and it was still quite fresh in their minds, so they would be giving Him the benefit of the doubt.

Up to this point in the discussion Jesus doesn’t take the pressure off even a little bit but pounds the point home about their unbelief and faithless heritage.  Oddly enough, John only let’s us into who the crowd was almost toward the end of the discussion by giving the location as a synagogue.  Whenever the Bible mentions a specific place, there’s a point being made by the writer as to its importance in the story line.  This being the case, a synagogue would have been a prime location for such a discussion for the learned rabbis and devout Jews would have been gathered there, as well as the common people.  This sheds some light on who “the Jews” are in John’s writing. 

I could reiterate Jesus’ words about eating His flesh and drinking His blood, but I don’t think it’s necessary really.  We get the point now that His death and resurrection are past so we can look back to symbol of life through the Son as a fulfilled truth.  Hindsight is always 20/20, as the saying goes, the blur of truth in the moment, however, is never quite as clear.  Before we criticize the Jews for their hard headed refusal to accept what Jesus said, we must look at our own stubborn nature with the Bible as well.

The trouble with human nature isn’t that we are sinful, it’s that we are blindly too prideful to admit we can’t see spiritual truth.  Take the words of Jesus above as an example of what we barely understand even today.  He’s not talking about transubstantiation here nor some mystical rite which will save us, rather it’s more pointing to our need to invite Him into our very being.  Jesus is speaking of our hearts not our physical bodies.  If He is the essence of life in everything that lives, moves or has being, then rejecting Him as such is sheer death, as is accepting Him is life in the fullest sense.

Jesus warned us many will say,  “Lord, Lord,” without really meaning it.  Do you and I grasp what it means to call Jesus “Lord?”  Not too long ago anyone called “Lord” was owner of all we had, commander and chief of the district they ruled and the law of the land, which means their decrees were final.  Even the people were considered property to these “lords,” so that they ruled the very existence of their servants.

When we say Jesus is Lord, our modern filter gets in the way of what it means for Him to rule over us too often, for we think of Him as some benevolent, innocuous god-ling out to give presents to all the good girls and boys.  Nothing could be further from the truth of His command or what NT meant when it called Him “Lord.”  Paul dispels any misunderstandings when he declared himself to be a slave to Christ.  A slave had no say in his or her own life even so far as to whom they would marry or what would happen to their children.  They were completely under the command of their master and as such submitted to their will at all times.

Jesus’ teachings from a Biblical POV are not to be taken as suggestions for they describe the very nature of not only Himself but those who would follow after Him.  To those who believe and have faith in the Christ His teachings are the life’s blood of their existence for they connect us with Him.  He isn’t just another good teacher with great proverbs or interesting things to say but a turning point in the way we think about life itself.

This is what the Bible means when it calls Jesus “Lord” and Master.

So, what do you mean when you say it?

Metaphorically Speaking

August 26, 2009

“I am the living bread that came down from heaven.  If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever.  This bread is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world.”  John 6:51.

 No where is there a more poignant argument for what Jesus does for us than this passage.  When Jesus says “bread,” we think about loaves of wheat or white, but at this point I don’t think He’s talking just about food, do you?  What “bread” does for a person is sustain their life, but not only keep them alive, for it gives necessary energy to accomplish love, work, celebration, faith, hope, family, fun, and more.  Without food we die, it’s that simple.

So when Jesus calls Himself the “bread of life” or the “living bread that came down from heaven,” He’s telling us metaphorically that He is the essence of life.  With all that bread does for us, He created the possibilities; nothing has life in and of itself, for all things are for Him, to Him and from Him; nothing was made without Him.  His death and resurrection would bring life to the world.

The very life coursing through our veins is His energy in us.

When He speaks of eternal life, Jesus isn’t merely pointing to a meaningless existence where the years roll by endlessly without point or purpose.  No, He offers us more life than we’ve ever known or been able to imagine.  How do I know this to be what He promises?  Scripture tells us so.

When things are repeated in Scripture, it means the writer or God wants us to get a specific point.  The phrase Jesus keeps saying,  “and I will raise him up at the last day,”  is said four times in this chapter to emphasize what?  The resurrection specifically?  Yes, but also to point out the fact that the world cannot defeat those who are in Christ.  The believer cannot lose by dying because it is merely a state of rest before the morning dawns.  Yet raising a man up not only means Jesus will raise us bodily from grip of death, but also exalt us to be with Him forever.

There is a caveat, however, to all this promise of reward, for Jesus tells them,  “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him…”  which makes it impossible to miss the point.  In another reference to this Jesus claimed,  “Many are called, but few are chosen.”  Everyone is called to salvation, life and obedience.  God calls us all to reconcile with Him and forgives our past with the blood of Jesus.  However, if someone refuses this call, they cannot be chosen for life because the only life that can endure eternity is one purified by the blood of the Lamb.

The Jews believed they were listening and understanding God.  Jesus disabuses them of that notion by giving them a sign of their disobedience to Scripture,  “It is written in the Prophets:  ‘They will all be taught by God.’  Everyone who listens to the Father and learns from Him comes to me.”  By default the opposite is true as well, those who don’t listen to the Father will not come to Jesus.  In other words these very people who were so educated in the Law and Prophets and considered themselves careful observers of both, demonstrated by their unbelief they hadn’t listened to the Father.  So not everyone who says,  “Lord, Lord” will enter eternal life.

Now the Master confronts their argument about manna, which they used to pressure Him into giving them a sign again.  It didn’t make sense before today to me why they were calling on this fact from history thinking it would persuade Christ to act, but now I think I grasp what they were saying.  Manna fell every morning before dawn like dew or frost on the ground.  Every morning the Children of Israel would gather enough food for the day except on the weekly Sabbath.  The Jews who had eaten across the lake the day before, were insinuating Jesus should feed them daily as a sign of His authority.

“I tell you the truth, he who believes has everlasting life.  I am the bread of life.  Your forefathers ate the manna in the desert, yet they died.”  “I am the living bread that came down from heaven.”

He totally annihilates their argument.  The Jews in the wilderness were disobedient even though they had a daily demonstration of God’s provision.  In fact, those above a certain age were forbidden to enter the promised land because of their lack of faith.  You remember when the 12 explorers came back with their stories of how powerful the Canaanites were, the entire camp grew so afraid they were ready to stone Moses and Aaron.  Because of their lack of faith they died in the wilderness.

Jesus reminds them of the fact that their forefathers had the sign of the manna everyday yet still didn’t believe.  If manna didn’t save the people in the wilderness, another meal wouldn’t be enough to save those challenging Jesus.  Only those who believe can enter the promised land.

I’m pretty sure because of the conversation which follows His nuanced reference to their forefathers’ unbelief angered them.  He refused to give them any more evidence than what they had already received as assurance of His good will and power.  From here on He (and G0d the Father) would require them to step out in faith based on the evidence at hand.  Those wanting a free ride resented and resisted His efforts to point them in the right direction.

The question John’s gospel asks us is:  Will we?

A Bad Case of Onomatopoeia

August 25, 2009

At this the Jews began to grumble about Him because He said,  “I am the bread that came down from heaven.”  They said,  “Is this not Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know?  How can He now say,  ‘I came down from heaven.’ ”  John 6:41, 42.

Onomatopoeia:  a word representing the sound of the word, as in the word “murmur” itself.  Vine’s Expository dictionary.

I’ve been learning about this term through Jerome’s sermons at Grace Point where he has been teaching out of the book of Luke for the last few months.  It seems Luke had a love of these types of words and used them to illustrate his points.  So when I saw the word “grumble” in John, I thought I’d go to Vine’s and see if it was one of those words which sounds like the action—and it was!

The Greek word used is gonguzo which has a long vowel sound for the last “o” and a short one for the first and the “u.”  When you pronounce it, grumble the word for that is how it is used in John.  The word illustrates the action and this is just how they responded to Jesus’ claims.  If you remember, the Jews began grumbling right from the beginning at the Exodus from Egypt.  It seems this habit must have been a genetic trait because they were still doing so and for no good reason.

These people recognized Jesus’ power, but denied His claims.  You would think that the evidence at hand would have convinced them otherwise but, no, they couldn’t accept Him that way.  The oxymoron here is that just a day before they wanted to take Him by force and crown Him king, now they reacted to Him like He was some kind of lunatic.

Look at it from a purely logical argument:  He fed several thousand people with five loaves and two fish; walked on water; healed the sick, raised the dead, changed water into wine, gave sight to the blind (in their minds a little different issue from being ill) and generally taught from Scripture in an amazing fashion.  Yet they still denied His authority from God.  They were willing for Him to be king of Israel, but not willing for Him to claim holy origins.

These people even knew Jesus’ parents, where He’d been born and raised.  In fact, from the sound of that last sentence in our text, they basically knew His whole story, yet they still denied His status as God’s Messiah. 

What more did they want?

Well, look at the reasons they followed Him across the lake.

All they knew were cold, hard facts about Jesus’ life, though even these should have given them pause before they denied His claim to supernatural origins.  They judged Him from a distance and out of motives which were, at best questionable, and worst, selfish to the core.  The fickleness of the human psyche led Jesus not to trust their POV too much, since it was far to unreliable for any real input.  So He wouldn’t allow them to proclaim Him king, neither would He give credence to their denial of His origins or mission.

In this we are to be like Jesus the most.  What we know of God’s will stands in contrast to the world’s pressures and preferences, even those who know little of the Scriptures begin to realize this fact early on.  Our goal in this area of spiritual reasoning is for us to neither be impressed by the praise of the world around us overmuch or insulted by their derision, ridicule or opposition.  To stand anywhere else is to give the world God’s place in our lives, which is to say His opinion and praise must be paramount in our value system.  If our opinion of doing God’s will can be influenced or adjusted by the world around us, which can mean family or political pressure, then we place these other opinions and values above God’s Word, making them out to be a god in our lives.

Jesus refused the honor of their desire to crown Him king, not because their desire for a king went against Scripture, but simply because their zeal was both misplaced and out of sync with God’s plan for the Messiah’s mission.  Again we must conform to the mind of Christ in our own mission, for the praise or rebuke of those out of sync with the revealed will of God through Scripture is of no value to those who follow Him.

Making Sense of God’s Will

August 24, 2009

“For my Father’s will is that everyone who looks to the son and believes in Him whall have eternal life, and I will raise Him up at the last day.  John 6:40.

If you want, you can stop reading at this very sentence, because all I’m gonna’ do is expand and discuss the above point in depth.  The reason I want to discuss it more is to ascertain why the above statement, clear as it is, gets muddled in the Christian rhetoric and practices.  So here goes. 

We’ve spent some time talking about the unbelief of the Jews.  We’ve looked at our own part in this, and established that human nature hasn’t changed all that much.  Now Jesus talks about supply and demand.

The world is hungry for many things, primary among them is peace, safety, hope for today and the future.  We thirst for life but most refuse Jesus as the source of life’s well spring, preferring to drink elsewhere.  Remember what He told the woman at the well?  “Everyone who drinks this water will be thristy again, but whoever drinks the water I give Him will never thirst.  Indeed, the water I give him will become a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”  Jesus’ gift to us is eternal life, then John reminds us of His message to the woman in His conversation with the Jews.  The contrast of this outcome, however, with that of the woman couldn’t be more poignant if he’d manufactured it.

Jesus told her salvation was from the Jews, but what He didn’t mention was that many of His own countrymen wouldn’t believe or accept Him for who He was.  He even tells them,  “But as I told you, you have seen me and still you do not believe.”  They saw the miracles, ate the food and still rejected Him.  I’ve heard many believers get indignant about the Jews’ unbelief as if it were the most proposterous thing they’d ever witnessed, yet I watch these same people turn and be as unlike their Master as those who denied Him.  In other words, claiming belief in God does nothing for the person unless they come to Jesus in submission and a willingness to let Him be Lord.  This means to me following not only the forms of a religious POV but having the attitude of their Master, who said in the next sentence,  “All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never drive away.”

Do you get the significance of that statement?  Jesus isn’t in the business of losing souls or sending them to hell but saving them.  Those who end up in hell do so by default of their choice against the God and Savior of the world.  Anyone who comes to Him in faith, no matter how bad their understanding is, will never be driven away.  His goal is to save mankind not destroy it.

A lot of people believe there’s a difference, though, between Jesus and His Father, as if the two have been completely at odds in their goals for humanity; like Jesus is playing nice and only wants to save us, while God the Father is out to fry anyone who offends Him.  Jesus dispels that notion by proclaiming,  “For I have come down from heaven not to do my will but to do the will of Him who sent me.  And this is the will of Him who sent me, that I shall lose none of all that He has given me, but raise them up at the last day.”

There is no difference, They are one in purpose, motivation and attitude, so the yin-yang contention between them has been manufactured by those who either haven’t studied Scripture or those who have but who ignored this vital passage.

Now to point out what this passage teaches us:   We are to be like our Master in everything, which means if He is in the business of saving people, we should be as well.  There’s no way around it, our goals must match our Savior’s or we proclaim to all earth and heaven we don’t really believe.  Our lives must be a taste of heaven for those who come in contact with us; our hearts must tap into the well from which no one will walk away thirsty; our spirits must demonstrate the contentment of being well fed and healthy because He is in us.  If none of these are true, we live a lie and God’s word has no place in our hearts—that’s not a statement about what we deserve but pointing rather to our own rejection of God’s word in our hearts.  If God will not drive us away from Himself, then the only way we get separated from Him is by our own choice to be so.

If we have tasted the heavenly gift, seen the miracle of change in the hearts and attitudes of others and still reject Him, what is left for us is a hell of our own making.

So how do we make sense of God’s will?  Well, as far I as I can determine it from this text and others it’s surrounds reconciling God and man.  Here Jesus makes it clear that God’s primary purpose in sending Him to earth was to seek and save that which was lost.  This conclusion is supported by so many passages in the NT that it would take me several entries just to list them all.

God’s will and purpose for mankind isn’t that hard to know, really—to trust it’s true, yeah I get the hesitation there, but not the knowing part.  The OT quotes God as saying (Ezekiel 33:11), “Say to them,  ‘As surely as I live, declares the Sovereign LORD,  I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that they turn from their ways and live.  Turn!  Turn!  Turn from your evil ways!  Why will you die, O house of Israel?’ “

The message remains the same whether you go to the law or prophets, for God pleads with humanity to turn to Him.  His mission is to save us from our own self-destructive choices and clean us up.

God’s will in a nutshell is to save humanity not destroy it.  The gospel is good news to all mankind, not a fear based belief system designed to scare us straight.  Is there a negative consequence to rejecting God?  Absolutely.  But any choice against God is a choice against living, for He designed and sustains it.  However, we are talking about God’s will, desire and purpose, which is ultimately to save us from our sin and the death that awaits us because of it.

Looking for Miracles

August 21, 2009

So they asked Him,  “What miraculous sign then will you give that we may see it and believe you?  What will you do?  Our forefathers ate the manna in the desert; as it is written:  ‘He gave them bread from heaven to eat.’ ” John 6:30, 31.

Did these people not get how obvious they were being?  I mean come on!  Anyone with half a brain would know they were trying to goad Jesus into action just for the heck of it.

So one demonstration of His power wasn’t enough, they needed fresh proof He could do it again.  I mean once might be  fluke but twice now that would have been impossible to fake.  But He wouldn’t give into them or rise to their challenge, for He had nothing to prove to them or Himself.  They already knew full well that He fed them the day before, so this wasn’t a real test just an effort to see a show.  Their need for a thrill was paramount, unless…

Unless some new people in Capernaum heard about the experience of the day before and were trying to get Him to repeat it so they could see.  It doesn’t say there were new voices in the mix, but there’s no reason not to believe there weren’t.  I suspect friends told friends about the miracle, then these friends hurried down to see if He’d do it again.

For His part , Jesus didn’t seem too thrilled by their reception nor their motivation to see Him.  God the Father couldn’t be surprised by people’s behavior, but I’m certain Jesus could because He was fully human and dependent on the Father for guidance.  It’s not that human nature surprised Him, rather He just didn’t always know what they would do next.  Praying on that mountainside, however, the night before prepared for the walk on water and this confrontation.

In the movie “Mask of Zorro” the young Zorro in training was asked what he wanted most out of life and he answered,  “A sense of the miraculous in everyday life.”  I believe it’s the reason we like magical stories so much.  You know the type where fairies, elves and the like roam around doing mischief or good and we get to be heroes.  We are all like this to some degree, waiting for the next thrill, the next performance of magic in our lives.  Many of us wait for years without seeing any evidence of such a world and when it doesn’t happen we grow despondent, disillusioned and discouraged.  I think this is why cynicism sets in for most of us because we don’t see the everyday miracle happening all around us, since we take life itself for granted.

Jesus said to them,  “I tell you the truth, it is not Moses who has given you the bread from heaven, but it is my Father who gives you the true bread from heaven.  For the bread of God is He who comes from heaven and gives life to the world.”  John 6:32, 33.

Where are we looking for our meal ticket?  O come on!  We all want it in some form, it’s just that some of us approach it differently.  Some of us will seek a great task to do, the others will go for a god who will wait on them hand and foot.  Those are the extreme ends of the human spectrum and in between there are several combinations of these two which are just as foolish and hard hearted.

Jesus is the true bread from heaven.  He is the life of the world, but the world didn’t know it then and doesn’t recognize it now.  To even say it doesn’t mean I fully grasp what it means, what I think I do get is He holds the very essence of our lives in Himself; His presence brings life in every meaning of that word.  It isn’t just being alive physically but all other aspects as well.  Like food for the body Jesus provides and sustains the necessary energy we need to come alive, to perform up to potential and appreciate what God has done for us, through us and in us.

He is the life in our veins as much as blood can be; He is the synaptic energy firing along our nervous system; He is the very inspiration of thought and reason we use or misuse everyday.  As much as we depend on food to keep us alive, Jesus is more important by an infinite margin.

The Jews asked Jesus what miraculous sign He would perform, then used manna as an example, not forgetting His miracles of the day before where He had spent the time healing, feeding and teaching them, but ignoring all that for the sake of a “what have you done for me lately” attitude.  Those who follow Jesus will remember His deeds of yesterday for courage in today.  They will glorify their Lord based on the evidence of yesterday to sustain them in their trials of today.

If we want to give glory to God, we will remember who He has been to us, what He has done for us and have faith in His providence and presence for not only today but all our future endeavors as well.  Giving glory to God demands we trust Him based on the evidence He’s given us in the past to stand in the here and now firmly without wavering.

In other words, we won’t forget…

The Work of God

August 19, 2009

Then they asked Him,  “What must we do to do the works God requires?”

Jesus answered them,  “The work of God is this:  to believe in the one He has sent.”  John 6:28, 29.

That’s it?!!!  Just to believe in Jesus is all that’s required?  Wow, that’s easy.

Wait a minute, I detect another play on words here.  Let’s see if I can work this out, so if I believe in Jesus, then that must mean I trust what He says to be true.  If I believe Him to be telling the truth, then that means I must follow what He says to do, be and think. 

Bah!  It’s a trick answer!

Not that I really feel resentful about this being true, but you get the point, I hope, that many people do.  They come to Jesus’ party for the free food and drinks, then come to find out they must wear the robe of His righteousness in order to stay.  It just isn’t fair in their eyes, and it’s something no one in the believers camp can explain to their satisfaction either.  Those who look for a free ride into heaven without anything required of them won’t like the consequences of being with Jesus for His very mission is to change us back into the original design—with a couple of modifications.

The reason this statement by Jesus is important is what He was about to say next would challenge them to their core.  For them to really become His followers (not that many really desired this, I’m just saying it for the sake of the discussion) they would have to accept what He was about to say.  Their beliefs were about to be challenged and they would be required to step up or step off.  I know many today who don’t like this view of Jesus because it excludes them and many others due to their lifestyle choices, but it is part of His message.

Those who object want a softened truth, one which requres very little from them and allows all to be saved—whether they conform or not makes no difference.  Dietrich Bonhoffer calls this type of Christianity “cheap grace” because it doesn’t demand anything of the follower except to believe that Jesus is the Messiah.  James refutes this assumption (one reason some would like to elliminate his book from the canon) by exclaiming,  You say you believe in God?  Good!  Even the devils believe and tremble!  Belief isn’t enough for eternal life because one can know God as supreme and still refuse to worship Him as such or submit to His authority.

Notice the answer is in the singular the question is in the plural.  They were willing to do great works for God to earn His favor but to actually have to change…that’s just asking too much.  Ok, we might be willing to change a little, you know, conform to a modified version of love…”as long as I can stay similar to the person I like to be.”  We humans like being Knights in Shining armor.  In fact, I think some of us believe it’s better to be the Black Knight or bad guy than to be an obscure nobody, such is our skewed vision of living.

To be important in the kingdom of God one thing is paramount, ultimate and final in our reach for eternity:  To believe the One God sent into the world.  Just one work to be whole, one person in whom we place our faith, and trusting with all our hearts what He has to say.

The Jews questioning Jesus were looking to be heroes of the kingdom through gallant deeds and quests, they looked for a Messiah who also met those goals.  Jesus disillusioned them quite badly by making it far more simple in choice, though incredibly difficult in scope.  All they had to do was believe in who He was and act on that belief in faith.  It wasn’t what they were looking for, instead they demanded a sign—this right after eating the big dinner on the other side of the lake.

What do we demand of God in order for us to believe and trust Him?  Do we come at Him with conditions, addendums and quid pro quo?  What do we have to offer that’s so special the God of the universe would even consider making a deal with us?

Only ourselves in the shape of a heart willing to serve.

More on Glory to God

August 18, 2009

I do not hide Your righteousness in my heart; I speak of Your faithfulness and salvation.  I do not conceal Your love and Your truth from the great assembly.  Psalm 40:10.

A friend of mine on Facebook thanked another friend for giving her Psalm 40 as a reference, and as I read it it occurred to me that glory to God means more than just acknowledging is or what He’s done, it’s also about being unafraid to belong to Him.

What I mean is this:  God is my Creator, but He’s also my confidante, friend, companion, the only one who knows my mind, history and loves me anyway, and the Lord of my life in that His boundaries become mine as well.  In this context, any fear to let others know of my affiliation would not only be hypocritical but a slap in the face to my relationship with Him.

Isn’t it funny that we can gush and be enthusiastic about so many things and people who matter to us but in our “witness” for the Lord it becomes a religious duty rather than a joy.  No, it’s sad to the point of offensive that our witness grows so formal we forget how personal God is to us.

So I too will speak of His glory by repeating His righteousness not only in words but in my life as best I can through submission, then declare His salvation and faithfulness to all who will hear—especially to those of the house of God.  This is truly glorifying God.

What are You Looking For?

August 17, 2009

“I tell you the truth, you are looking for me, not because you saw the miraculous signs but because you ate the loaves and had your fill.  Do not work for food which spoils, but for food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you.  On Him God the Father has placed His seal of approval.”  John 6:26, 27.

 So today I’m looking at this text wondering why these people even wanted a Messiah at all.  They had just experienced being fed mirculously by Jesus, but here they were to challenge Him again to repeat it…as a sign so they could believe.  Jesus confronts them about their motives without even any preamble or softening of the blow.

I guess now would be a good time to remind anyone reading this that I’m taking the Bible for what it says as best as I can understand it and using reason from its perspective.  The conclusions I come to are those derived from the text as I read it, while doing my best not to super-impose my own agenda to what is being said.

If Jesus’ conclusion is correct, and since this is inspired Scripture, we must assume He is, then those who crossed the lake to find Him did so not out of a desire to get closer to God but find a free ride.  They were looking for another thrill, not a message of heart change and reconciliation with God.  Strangely these very people were called God’s children or the children Israel—Jacob’s name after he wrestled with God, which is also its literal meaning—yet they struggled to accept Him as His own Word presented Him to be.  Instead of being like their namesake, Jacob, they continued to struggle with God and contend with the Almighty’s will and purpose.

In other words, they refused eternal life for the sake of a temporary mastery of their small universe.  I doubt very many were aware of the concept of entropy, and even if a few were, they weren’t cognizant of the extent to which sin degraded life as we know it.

Our instructions from Christ is clear, given in part through a true story in order to illustrate it:  The food we are to seek with all our hearts is that which comes from the Son of Man.

Nothing else in all creation is as important as this one factor in creating a place for life and happiness.  Only once we conform to the mind of the One who created us will we find contentment, true satisfaction and harmony, for our connection with our Maker is all that keeps us alive or fulfilled.  Some of you will read that last sentence with a jaundiced spiritual eye because either you are seeing it as a command to hyper-spiritual awareness, or you take it as over the top spiritual rhetoric.  As much as I can tell from Scripture, neither attitude is accurate.

God didn’t make us to be puppets or praise machines in the way some evangelicals project His desire—you know the type, singing all the time, saying “praise the Lord!” after every sentence and finding a moral to the story in breakfast cereals—because His instructions to mankind at creation were to be fruitful and multiply and take care of the earth.  In other words He had done His job by creating a self-sustaining world, it was our job to nurture, train and build the rest.  He gave us two feet to travel from place to place; two arms with hands to carry things; a mind to analyze, picture, construct and reason with in order to fill our job description in a new way and a place already designed to benefit us in every way possible.  I have a theory that our very solar system was designed to house humanity as we grew in population and a knowledge of God.

This reasoning might sound like a rabbit trail to some, but I see it more as explanation of why we just don’t get God’s purpose for life.  He isn’t called “The Creator” for nothing, it’s an absolute essential part of His very make up to be so, and we are made in His image.

His purpose from before the foundations of the earth were laid was to connect with autonomous people in a mutually beneficial way.  When God demands glory, He’s not asking for empty phrases devoid of any connection to real meaning or substance, but asking of us to give Him credit for who He is in character, personality and behavior.  That sounds way too formal, let’s make it a little more plain by saying God created all that is, so we glorify Him by speaking of the fact of it.  It is His glory that He created all things, it is our tribute to this fact which glorifies Him from our lips.  We see that He sent His Son, Jesus, on a mission to reconcile God to man, this shows His heart for even His rebellious creation, which tells us something vitally important about God:  He prefers love over vengeance.  By telling others what we believe to be fact, we are speaking to what is true about Him, which is what the word “glory” actually points to.

This means that praise music glorifies God only in so far as it speaks to the realities of who He is and what He does.  Just simply saying “praise the Lord” doesn’t really tell us or Him what we’re talking about and many times becomes rule on rule, precept on precept, line upon line, here a little, there a little, or as Isaiah quotes God, their words are empty of meaning and devoid of praise.  What Jesus did was His glory.  In other words, feeding the five thousand didn’t speak to His glory, but actually was His glory.  Glory is misused so often and applied in such meaningless ways by religious habit, that it becomes something ethereal rather than concrete and brimming full of significance.  By merely saying in faith that I believe Jesus fed a host of people with five loaves and two fish I am giving Him His due, which is what glorifying Him actually is.

Our glory, for we are to have a part in His glory, is to live out our lives according to the purpose for which He created us.  Yet we have a addundum to creation in the cross as well.  Our glory is to be that of creation and the cross.  Chew on this for a while, you’ll be glad you did.  God wants substance from us not empty words.

Another sentence that stood out is the last one telling us God stamped Jesus with His approval and sealed Him to His mission.  We can think of at least three ways this was done:  1) At Jesus birth the angels sang, 2)  At His baptism the spirit landed on His head,  3) the miraculous abilities He demonstrated.

The people witnessed these things, for Israel is a small country and news would reach Jerusalem fairly fast because of the feasts every year.  Anyway, Bethlehem isn’t that far away from Jerusalem so it wouldn’t take long for someone to report the supernatural events.  Jesus also confounded the teachers of the law at age twelve leaving a bunch of very impressed men behind.  When He appeared again at the river Jordan to be baptized, I’m sure those who remembered the stories surrounding His birth and life sat up to pay attention.  They could ignore Him only if He remained in Nazareth, once He began His mission and ministry, however, that would be impossible.

So here they are confronted with His power, what do you think they will do next?

That’s a good question for everyone, I think.