Archive for January, 2010

Hope Amongst Cynics

January 29, 2010

After He had said this, He went on to tell them,  “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep; but I am going there to wake him up.”

His disciples replied,  “Lord, if he sleeps, he will get better.”  Jesus had been speaking of his death, but His disciples thought He meant natural sleep.

So then He told them plainly,  “Lazarus is dead, and for your sake I am glad I was not there, so that you may believe.  But let us go to him.”  John 11:11-15.

I’ve noticed Jesus likes the cryptic or hint that leads to the point rather than spoon feeding His followers.  His allusion to Lazarus’ death has made some wonder if He was defining what happens when we die.  I grew up with the understanding that Jesus was saying death is a sleep state.  Now rather than get into the argument about something for which I have no definitive answer, my thought now is that He isn’t giving us a glimpse into death here but leading the disciples to think outside their spiritual box.  I just think He was handing the disciples a word puzzle.

The best teachers are those who lead, rather than direct.  The best examples are always demonstrated rather than pre-made illustration.  Jesus gives us a hint then waits to see if we’ll take the nudge and act on it.  I admit I’m not good with this kind of thing because I always worry that I’ve read it wrong or missed something.  Still, I recognize the best way to go where Jesus wants us to is to follow His lead; which means we must become more circumspect in the way we hand out truth.

Have you ever noticed that those in the know shake their heads at those who can’t seem to grasp what’s going on?  It’s almost as if those of us in the modern Christian world believe we would have been different, more able to read Jesus’ truth behind His stories, and be better at grasping His points than the original disciples were.  Anytime I hear a preacher or teacher criticize the disciples I get a spiritual allergic reaction.  The fact is we are no better at understanding God’s ways than they were, though we might get His teaching better than they did.  And the reason we do is because the very disciples consider so dense (which they were) have laid it out for us and shown us the way.

The disciples’ grasp of what was happening and about to go down can be summed up in Thomas’ sardonic,  “Let us also go, that we may die with him.”  For some reason I’ve always taken the “him” in Thomas’ words to mean Jesus, but now I know it must have been Lazarus he was referring to, since the disciples still didn’t believe Jesus would die.  They believed Him to be the messiah and in their understanding of prophecies about the Anointed One, He lasted forever.  The only dead guy in the story was Lazarus.

Jesus’ wanted to make a point here that the disciples would probably miss until later anyway.  The whole focus of His ministry was to prepare a group of people for service in the world in order to show the power of God in a life.  We get so excited over healing and raising the dead that we miss the sheer wonder of how much a changed life is a miracle in and of itself.  He also set out to prove through Lazarus’ death who He was…could there be any doubt after such a tremendous impossibility took place?

Death is beyond us.  I don’ think we get the significance of it as much as we should—I include myself in this statement.  The miraculous power of Christ is also something we take for granted, and may be that is ok, but what it should do is wake us up.  Jesus’ goal here was not just to wake Lazarus up from the dead but those who followed Him as well as set a precedent no one else could attain and give the believer an example for which their is no comparison.  This miracle goes beyond human grasp of reality.

If we want to follow Jesus, this is where He’s leading us.


Reactions to Obedience

January 28, 2010

Then He said to His disciples,  “Let us go back to Judea.’

“But Rabbi,”  They said,  “a short while ago the Jews tried to stone you, and yet you are going back there?”

Jesus answered,  “Are there not twelve hours of daylight?  A man who walks by day will not stumble, for he sees by this world’s light.  It is when he walks by night that he stumbles, for he has no light.”  John 11:7-10.

Following the call of God amounts to being put into the middle of a river where the current is strongest. It means we will be buffeted about by every whim of the waters swirling rush to the ocean.  It also means we will have to watch out for the obstacles in the form of rocks and branches that could hurt us.  For this reason we need to either learn to be strong swimmers or paddle the boat where it’s safest:  the center of the flow.

Jesus uses an illustration about “this worlds’ light” to tell us about Himself.  Remember what He said to the disciples when He healed the man born blind? 

“While I am in the world, I am the light of the world.”

The light of the world is Jesus.  Following Him means we don’t have to worry about seeing where we’re going because He lights the way.  The disciples were afraid for Him, with good reason, so His actions made no sense to them at all.  Why put His head into the lion’s mouth to no purpose?  That was their mistake for they didn’t understand His purpose, which made it hard for them to absorb the will of God.

Here’s where I get a little intense.

I hear so many Christians telling me what God’s will is for everyone.  “God wants us to be safe”  “God desires us to be secure” “God will provide all your needs”  “God wants us to be happy” and while I agree with all these because I believe God is loving and generous, a study of the Scripture will show these assumptions are imbalanced.  Read 2 Corinthians 10-12 (the chapters) where Paul talks about his work as an apostle.  beaten several times, shipwrecked, hungry, naked, in danger, and the list goes on.  Now study Luke 10, Matthew 10 and several other passages in Scripture, then ask yourself this question,  “What does God expect me to endure?”

Loyalty that is not tested by opposition is an unknown factor.  Love which is not given the ultimate test of loss, pain, suffering and persecution cannot be said to be real.  Many people claim to be followers of Christ but the moment they experience extreme suffering they waver in their faith.  Paul says to believers somewhere (and you can look it up in your concordance),  “You have not endured to the point of death.”  This is not a story which has no trauma or drama in it but one which calls us to the highest form of service—meaning we may lose everything.

Paul in his letter to the Philippians, claimed,  I consider all things lost to me so that I might know Christ.  That’s a bold statement and one which he proved with his life.

The disciples figured Jesus came into the world to bring about a restoration of Israel, and they were not wrong.  Yet they missed the timeline by a couple thousand years.  First the Son of Man had to suffer and die; before even this He had to risk everything (His life) to accomplish the goals the Father set out for Him.  This goal meant that while He was in the world, being its light, He needed to show the disciples what their work would be once He left them.  They were to serve Him in the face of extreme opposition, stand for Him though the heavens looked about to fall and never waver in their faith in His presence or love for them.

“While I am in the world, I am the light of the world.”

If Christ is living in us, His light will shine, which means we won’t be stumbling around in the dark because He is our light.  It also means that others who stand with us, even those who might not be believers at the time, will be able to see clearly because of our willingness to let Him be present in our lives.  This also should make us beware because a lot of those in darkness like it just fine and don’t welcome their thoughts and actions being brought to light.  Let’s get this point down:  If we let our light so shine before men, they will hate us, revile us, persecute us and reject us because of Jesus.  Our response, however, is polar opposite to theirs, for we will love them, show grace, extend mercy and forgiveness no matter what they do.  At the same time, we will refuse to stay away from the danger of their company, like Jesus going back to Judea at the promptings of His Father, in order to obey the Lord and Master of our hearts.

Why Lazarus?

January 26, 2010

Now a man named Lazarus was sick.  He was from Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha.  This Mary, whose brother Lazarus now lay sick, was the same one who poured perfume on the Lord and wiped His feet with her hair.  So the sisters sent word to Jesus,  “Lord, the one you love is sick.”

When He heard this, Jesus said,  “This sickness will not end in death.  No, it is for God’s glory so that God’s Son may be glorified through it.”  Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus.  Yet when He heard that Lazarus was sick, He stayed where He was two more days.  John 11:1-6.

The Jews refused to believe, so Jesus heads out of town to let the dust settle a little bit before He continues with the mission of waking the spiritually dead.  Yet not long after the previous meeting with them in Jerusalem, Jesus is called back into proximity to the very people He escaped the first time (or several times by this event).  Why, when they had not only tried to seize Him but threatened to stone Him—going so far as to pick the rocks up, would He put His head back into the lion’s mouth?

The second sentence in His reply to the messenger (I assume this is to whom He said the above) answers our question.  The Father was giving Jesus instructions about which exit He was about to take to accomplish more of His mission.  Jesus knew Lazarus would die from his illness, yet He remained where He was for two more days.  In other words, He recognized the opportunity granted Him by His Father to display the glory of not only the Father, but to further His own reputation as the Son as well.  I believe Jesus saw in this the calculated step He needed to take in order to dispel all doubt as to His identity.

Two more days to what purpose?

To be sure Lazarus was a corpse.  No brain scans for activity were available to ascertain death, which means Jesus would have to wait until the body began to decompose before anyone would believe He actually performed a miracle—at least in modern times.  The doubts surrounding this miracle still persist, of course, as they will, but the story leaves no room for doubt about the circumstances from the eyewitness account of it.  Lazarus was dead by even our reckoning, the smell of decomposition made sure of that.

Do you ever wonder at the methods of God?  Does it seem He comes too late to save or at least to avenge?  Does it seem the smell of death surrounds your efforts and all is lost to a wish for life?  Does your fruit seem to ripen only to fall and decompose?  Well, why does fruit fall from a tree?  Why does it rot?

John made certain we who read this account know Jesus loved these people.  They were like home away from home to Him.  This factoid raises the stakes of what happens next and goes a long way to explain certain details in the story.

He loved all three of them, yet…

Does it seem to you Jesus lied about Lazarus’ sickness not ending in death?  It could be taken that way, huh.  Those who take things way too literally could cast suspicion on the whole story by arguing “but Lazarus did die!” and walk away smugly confident no one could deny it.

The answer to this argument is found in Jesus’ phrasing,  “This sickness will not end in death.” Sure Lazarus died, but his death wasn’t a permanent state for Jesus raised him to life again, which means his sickness didn’t end in death but life.

Many of us will sleep in the dust before Jesus comes.  A portion will suffer horribly for the kingdom of God and look for all the world abandoned by Him in their darkest hour.  The promise of God through His Son, Jesus Christ, takes care of our despair in these dark times to give us hope and courage that these disasters, persecutions and sufferings will not end in death but produce everlasting life for those who remain faithful to Him.  Though the world stands against us with evidence that seems to prove our insanity, we refuse to stand down or give up hope in the One who saves us.  Though the circumstances look hopeless and our lives are considered wrecked by human reasoning, we know our Master went through similar hopelessness to show us how to have courage.  Though all seems lost to the void of empty efforts for the kingdom of God, there is no fruit on the vine and no cow in the stalls, we will rejoice in Christ our Savior, for He has shown us His salvation in the most unlikely symbol, the cross.

Fruit falls from trees and decomposes to plant and fertilize seeds.  Makes ya’ think, huh?

Learning to See

January 25, 2010

“You say,  ‘I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.’  But you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked.  I counsel you to buy from me gold refined in the fire, so you can become rich; and white clothes to wear, so you can cover your shameful nakedness; and salve to put on your eyes, so you can see.  Revelation 3:17, 18.

Nothing convinced them. 

Jesus said,  “If you were blind, you would not be guilty of sin; but now that you claim you can see, your guilt remains.  John 9:41.

 Jesus corrected the Jews standing near Him about their self-perception.  They were convinced they understood the teachings of Scripture, had a handle on what God required of them and were in need of nothing.  In other words, these men thought they could see clearly, were wealthy by the measure of their success in the world market, and in need of nothing more.  Jesus let them know in no uncertain terms they were wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked.

No one likes to be condescended to or looked down on, but shining a light in a dark place always reveals the truth of what is.  When we are in darkness, we have no way to see whether we are truly clean or not, it’s hard to ascertain the condition of our clothes and many times we grope in the blackness trying to figure out what is causing that itch or pain.  Only in the light of day do we see clearly enough to remove all the dirt, see the condition of our clothing and in some sense know what is causing us discomfort.  But coming into the light after a long time of living in the dark is painful.  We might be glad to have the sunshine but that doesn’t make any less searing to our eyes when we first step into it from the dungeon of our sin.

Sin is causing us to die, slowly by our own reckoning, of course, because our time is so short.  Everyone recognizes (unless they suffer from schizophrenia) death is inevitable.  One thing I’m beginning to grasp, however, in my short time on earth is that time is relative.  My son (and when I was 5, me) sees even 30 minutes as a long time because he has no frame of reference for filling up the hours of his days with responsibilities that make it go faster.  At 49 I have seen the seasons come and go often enough that months go by in almost a blur sometimes.  I barely have enough time to accomplish the week’s work before it’s over and I have to start all over again.  For a 5 year old, time passes slowly because it’s less filled with stuff to do; for a man my age it goes quicker and quicker because we fill it up more.

My point is God looks at time differently than we do.  For Him a day is a thousand years and a thousand years a day.  And why?  For the simple reason that time is meaningless to one who has lived so long—eternity—and has so much to do.  In His view of our time on earth, sin is killing us pretty quickly.  I mean compare our measly 70+/- years to just 1,000, 000 and see how fast it passes—it’s a mere drop in the bucket of time, hardly worth mentioning except we value it while we live.  Our ability to see life is stunted by our sinful condition; our physical and spiritual eyes are blocked by the cataracts and mucous film of the decomposition dying brings about in one who separates themselves from the life source.  We don’t recognize it as such but this is the truth.

When the Jews began to see the light of Jesus’ teaching, they lost all innocence about it, therefore they were held responsible for their knowledge.  The realization of what Jesus taught brought about resentment and resistance in their hearts because He (and subsequently God the Father) didn’t conform to their desire of what life should be.  They resisted Him to the point of killing Him, thus, their guilt remained.  Their resentment of Jesus translated into resentment of God, who sent Him.

The eye-salve God would apply not only heals our blindness but takes away the sting of death.  The wealth that comes from purchasing it from Him cannot be lost, stolen or rusted, so therefore it is true wealth.  The purchase price has been paid through Jesus’ death, which means we have credit at the First Heavenly Trust Bank of Saving.  The clothes of white are straight from Christ’s righteousness, washed in His blood and purified from all stain of sin.  Our hearts will be recreated into this image on the day of His coming where we will be changed in an instant into His image.

A Lost Argument

January 22, 2010

Jesus answered them,  “Is it not written in your Law,  ‘I have said you are gods’?  If he called them ‘gods,’ to whom the word of God came—and the Scripture cannot be broken—what about the one whom the Father set apart as His very own and sent into the world?  Why then do you accuse me of blasphemy because I said,  ‘I am God’s Son’?”  John 10:34-36.

Nothing convinced them.

Ok, here’s a rabbit trail…how come these guys couldn’t capture one man?  I mean how hard would it be to surround Jesus and hold Him?  I’m pretty sure they couldn’t do so because the timing wasn’t right, but still, it seems they attempted several times to grab Him and failed.  Until Judas, of course.

Jesus’ argument appeals to the Jews’ commonsense, practical side.  In a nutshell His answer to them picking up stones seems to be,  “Hey look, you’re out to stone me for claiming to be God’s Son, yet you did ask if I was the messiah or not and I answered.  You didn’t like my answer but the miracles I perform testify that my claim is true, so why would you stone me when the evidence that I’m speaking the truth is in my favor?  Even your own Law called the prophets and servants of God ‘gods’ so why condemn me for the same claim since I work miracles beyond what anyone in Israel’s history has ever been able to do?”

Jehovah’s Witness and a few other “Christian” cults and sects claim the Jews misunderstood Jesus’ claim to God-hood and that He wasn’t claiming anything any other human couldn’t.  In other words Jesus wasn’t God but a god, a Son of God no different than anyone else in Israel or believers today.  I don’t buy this argument for one minute because John 1 makes it quite plain that Jesus created the world, which anyone who read Genesis would know only God could do.  No, Jesus claimed to be one with the Father in a unique way outside of human capability or possibility.

Yet I need to clarify His example demonstrated what we could have as well.  We can be one with God through Jesus Christ—may be not as God, but as gods.  He set us an example of what our lives could be like if we just opened to the Spirit of God.

A truth we often miss from this text is Jesus statement “and Scripture cannot be broken”.  I don’t know why it’s passed over so often, may be because we assume it’s truth or get sidetracked by the issue between Him and the Jews.  Whatever it is we need to burn this truth into our minds.  Scripture cannot be parcelled out or piecemealed it has to be taken as a whole to be understood.  The seeming dichotomies and paradoxes which exist in Scripture deal with God’s efforts on behalf of sinful human beings not His desire for the universe at large.  This truth is one of the main reasons I encourage people to study the Law and prophets once they get a handle on the gospels.  Without an understanding of the past, we can never really grasp the present or the future.

At the end of the day, Jesus left Jerusalem for the other side of the Jordan, where John began his ministry.  I don’t think He did this just as means of getting away from the Jews.  In fact, as I read the text it seems to be a subtle reminder of John’s testimony about His identity as the messiah.  Those who followed or met Him there concluded that John was right.

Have you ever been to a place where the past comes up to remind you of a truth or something special that happened there?  I think the Jews would have been even more inclined toward this way of remembering because they were to put marker stones (see Joshua 4:1-9 as an example) everywhere God did something special in order to remind themselves of His work on their behalf.  This place where John’s ministry began reminded them of his testimony about Jesus and they could say,  “all that John said about this man was true.”  And in that place many believed in Jesus

Why is it the those outside the seats of power, the center of learning and social hubs accept Jesus where the powerful, educated and socially aware do not?

It has to do with arrogance, in some cases, but I also think that many of us become so fat with our own brand of religion, politics or popularity that we simply don’t want anything more than what we have.  God’s approval or disapproval means nothing if we are already wealthy in the world’s view of us.  I still see dissatisfied, dysfunctional people and unhappiness in that camp, but I know their arguments.  Most just don’t want God to interfere with what they want to do while at the same time they expect Him to keep them out of trouble, secure their lives and make them happy.

If Scripture cannot be broken, then we have to conclude no one can be happy, satisfied or trouble free outside of obedience to God.  Nothing which does not equal eternal investment will give satisfaction beyond the moment.  No blessing of the moment which is not sanctified by the Spirit of God will last for eternity.

The Jews loved the praise of men (see John 12:43, Luke 11:43) but ignored the praise of God.  They craved power, prestige and wealth thinking these things were a sign of God’s favor, all the while refusing the heart God wanted them not only display but to create inside.  Thus they rejected Jesus for temporary profit.

We who believe give ourselves over to the humble carpenter who came not in grand style, flashy parades or a beautiful person.  He shows us that the ordinary of God is of more value than the empty profit the world offers.  A person who becomes beautiful in spirit grows in worth not only to God but others around them as well as themselves.

The Unmistakable

January 21, 2010

“I and the Father are one.”

Again the Jews picked up stones to stone Him, but Jesus said to them,  “I have shown you many great miracles from the Father.  For which of these do you stone me?”

“We are not stoning you for any of these,”  replied the Jews,  “but for blasphemy, because you, a mere man, claim to be God.”  John 10:30-33.

The Jews decided to challenge Jesus.  They caught Him walking in the temple just taking in the peace of it, from the sound of the text, and confronted Him.  “How long will you keep us in suspense?  If you are the Christ, tell us plainly.”  Jesus’ reply angered them so much they took up stones to kill Him.  Now this might seem a singular event but they had been looking for a reason to kill Him for a long time, and this time they found one.  Not that their conclusion had any validity.  They asked, He answered.  They didn’t like His answer, so they decided to rid themselves of His influence once and for all.

Humans are fickle creatures.  They claim to want a Savior, then when they get one they decide he’s not good enough and crucify him in public opinion or kill him outright.  The Jews wanted a David mixed with a Joshua, not this rabbi from a despised town.

Up to this point Jesus had been rather cryptic in His claims to being the messiah and God’s Son.  Using the evidence of His miracles and teaching to support His claims—or hints in His case.  Yet wouldn’t you or I know what that when He called God His Father, He was claiming to be God?  I don’t  think so, because God called David His son and Abraham’s descendents His children.

Jesus rebukes the Jews frustration,  “I did tell you, but you do not believe.”  The leaders of Israel prided themselves on their spiritual insight into the Torah, yet they missed Jesus references to Himself by a mile, which tells me there was something else at work in them.

A person who hears the truth yet sidesteps it or in some way doesn’t grasp the significance of what is said has a one of three problems:  1)  they are out of touch with reality  2)  they have brain damage and therefore cannot understand what is being said  3)  they are so fixated on something else what is said makes no sense to their current state of mind.

I choose number 3 as the problem with the Jews.  Their own interpretations were so much more attractive than this man from Galilee that their spiritual ears were hardened.  All they heard Him say was that He was God, nothing else Jesus said struck a chord in their hearts.

Look at the evidence for Jesus’ claims.

He walked on water.  Raised the dead.  Healed leprosy, turned water into wine, cured a man born blind and taught with great authority.  He calmed a storm with a firm rebuke.

The Jews knew all this for they had spies everywhere watching His every move.  The evidence for Jesus being sent by God was overwhelming.  So why did they refuse to believe in Him?

Their eyes were not fixed on God.  They had no relationship to their own Master except as a religious movement.  They saw the miracles as evidence of Satan rather than God.  How they concluded this, I’m at a loss to figure.  Everything Jesus did went against the norm of Satan’s kingdom.  To heal a person Jesus never had to draw symbols, chant spells or any of that hocus pocus that accompanies the world’s methods of such things.  Especially during His time would His methods have stood out in stark contrast to the world around Him—even to  the priests and rabbis.  All He did when He healed or commanded a miracle was speak the word and it happened.  There were no special words, no blood spilled and nothing done in a dark place.

The power of Jesus was instantaneous and final, yet the Jews refused Him.  Do you think they wanted the theatrics?  Of course they did!  They also expected the messiah to deliver them from their Roman oppressors and set up Israel at the same time as a world power again.  Unfortunately these people had no heart for the world in the way God did.  They would rule world with callous, cruel and careless power wielded at their own pleasure and with disregard for any other nation besides their own.  Their nature was not in the image of God but a religious reflection of the world’s attitudes and methods.  In other words, they had the right store front but the same products.  They put on the religion of the invisible God but refused the heart.

Even in the law mercy, grace and love for all people was paramount.  The most legalistic document in our religion’s backlog of teachings has mercy and just at its core.  Study it and you’ll see God places justice and mercy throughout the whole of the law.  These leaders ignored this teaching for their preferred conclusion.

Jesus came to give life to the full. 

They just wanted to be in charge. 

Jesus came to save.

They wanted to preserve their way of life.

Jesus came to change the heart.

The preferred their current mix of self-actualization.

“I did tell you, but do not believe.  The miracles I do in my Father’s name speak for me, but do not believe because you are not my sheep.”

My last point is this:  From this text we know Jesus claimed to be God.  The Jews about to stone Him knew it, so why do others refuse to acknowledge this truth?  There’s no mistaking His claim here because the Jews listening sure got the message.  When they told Him what they heard Him say, notice He didn’t deny He said it.

Now That’s something to think about, wouldn’t you say?

The Great Divide

January 20, 2010

At these words the Jews were again divided.  Many of them said,  “He is demon-possessed and raving mad.  Why listen to Him?”

But others said,  “These are not the sayings of a man possessed by a demon.  Can a demon open the eyes of the blind?”  John 10:19-21.

 The usual debates surround Jesus wherever He goes.  “Is He?”  “Isn’t He?”  “What is He?”  “Who is He?”  The questions of belief are divisive and definitely surrounded with grey areas.  The problem with some believers is they refuse to acknowledge these areas, dismissing them as if they weren’t there at all.

I refuse to live this way.  The grey areas of the Christian message leave room for doubt, misuse, distrust and despair, for sure, but it also gives the opportunity for faith, motivation and sense of hope in those who give themselves over to it.  To deny or dismiss our muddy heritage is to deny reality.  I have more sympathy for agnostics, for instance, than I do for atheists.  Atheists claim to know God does not exist, agnostics at least base their conclusions on reality—ergo, they don’t know what to believe.

That said, I don’t have any sympathy for a believers who has all the keys of the kingdom at their disposal and squander their opportunities through laziness or disinterest.  I find these people to be shallow graves decorated with Christian paraphernalia and symbols to fool all the other zombies.  We either believe or we don’t.  Jesus doesn’t leave much room for wishy-washy, sitting the fence followers.

To quote John again in his mystic prophecy, Jesus says to the church of Laodicea,  “I know you deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot.  I wish you were either one or the other!  So, because you are lukewarm—neither hot nor cold—I am about to spit you out of my mouth.  Revelation 3:15, 16.

From this I gather Christ would rather we get on or off the gospel train.  Indecisive people will be left out of the kingdom because they didn’t choose for Christ—though they will argue they didn’t choose against Him either.  Yet, like a song by Rush said so pointedly,  If you choose not to decide, you still have made a choice!  We want our cake and to eat it too.  I admit I am this way, how about you?  Admitting our urge toward disbelieve doesn’t mean we have to conform to it or give into the pressure coming from those who have us compromise our dedication.

The people listening to Jesus were divided down the line of theological understanding.  Those who craved more than status quo, law-based access to God and an impersonal relationship with Him, were inclined to believe.  Those who didn’t want God to be personal or take away their grasp of reality refused Him.  The former saw His miraculous power as God given and a sign of His validity; the latter saw it as an opportunity to gain what they wanted for themselves and their national identity.  When Jesus didn’t live up to their expectations, the latter threw the baby out with the bath water; the former decided to change their grasp of God’s reality.

One saw Jesus as God sent; the other insulted Him by claiming He was demon possessed and raving mad.

The same argument goes on today over the followers of Christ.  What our response will be depends on our desire for our now as well as our eternity.

The Reason

January 18, 2010

“The reason my Father loves me is that I lay down my life—only to take it up again.  No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord.  I have authority to lay it down and authority to take it up again.  this command I received from my Father.”  John 10:17, 18.

Another passage written by John says,  This is love:  not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.  Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.  1 John 4:10, 11.

Look at the reason the Father loves the Son.  Now think about who we ought to be.  If this is the reason God loved His own Son, then it ought to be the reason we are loved, for we imitate the Son and belong to Him.

The character of Jesus shines in these verses, since He tells us who He chose to be not what He was coherced into being.  The Father and Son are one, which shows us the heart of the Father is the same as that of the Son.  The Son willingly lays down His life for the lost children of God by the authority given Him.  Notice also there are two different directives here:  1)  Jesus chooses to lay His life down of His own accord,  2)  the Father commands Him to do so.  Do you see the significance of this statement?  The desires of both Father and Son amount to the same exact thing:  Salvation.

Why this is important to me is too many modern Christians see a difference between God the Father and Jesus.  If Scripture is accurate, then we may conclude the Son gave the Law, spoke to Moses, Abraham and generally worked humanity throughout their history.  Therefore the OT contains the gospel message as much as the NT.  Both speak to the heart of God’s desire for the world He created through the Son.

Looking even at the judgments of God we find a heart-wrenching need in Him for reconciliation with His creation.  Jesus became that method not only out of necessity but for the joy set before Him.

We are to be like Him.

Who Knows Who

January 16, 2010

“I am the good shepherd, I know my sheep and my sheep know me—just as the Father knows me and I know the Father—and I lay down my life for the sheep.”  John 10:14, 15.

I find the wording here fascinating.  Did you catch it too?

Jesus put the believer on par with His Father in knowing Him.  Yet I don’t think He’s talking about the depth of knowledge here, rather He’s pointing to the fact of it.  Those who know Jesus recognize Him wherever they meet His influence.  In this way they are like the Father because they are aware of Christ at all times.

But who is the hired hand in this parable?

I don’t think it’s a God designated position by choice, instead the person chooses tending sheep as a throw away career.  In other words, they might be just about anybody who either falls into service in the kingdom or chooses it out of pressure or a desire for its fringe benefits.  These types of people don’t really know their own Master for they run at the first sign of threat to the flock.  The comparison couldn’t be more poignant for the leaders of Israel than if Jesus had spelled it out.  The leaders of Israel had no real knowledge (as a body of leadership) of God.  They bought into the Law out of self-preservation and ancestral loyalty.

What started this discussion?  The blind man’s healing.  Jesus is telling the leaders and Pharisees (who were an influential sect in Israel at that time) they were acting like hired guns, ready to cut and run at the first sign of real danger. 

So how does this apply to the man born blind’s situation?

As far as I can reason it out, they assigned the punishment for sin on people like to the blind man out of ignorance and getting an easy answer to a difficult problem.  Answering why there the righteous suffer alongside of the guilty gives any good theologian a headache.  Coming to a workable conclusion, even if it has holes we can see, is better than none at all.  Plus, the Ten Commands seemed to be saying just that anyway when it brought the sins of the fathers onto the children clear down to the third and fourth generation.  (See Exodus 20:4-6)  This command, though, focused on the sin of idols, which they took as a blanket statement.

The problem with the Pharisees’ (and others’) reasoning is they ignored Ezekiel‘s dismissal of their own conclusion in three places where he quotes God as saying,  “The man who sins will die…if his son repents and does not follow his father’s evil, he will not suffer for the father’s sins.”  (My paraphrase).  So why would they cop into such an easy out if this were true?

Simple:  they were hired guns.  They liked the esteem being in the public service brought them but they cared very little for the burden of humanity.  In other words, they were not of God’s heart just God’s chosen people.  Anyone who cops out of studying the Word in depth to find God’s heart will rely on extreme conclusions—or they will lean that way.  There are so many books written which address why the righteous suffer it’s amazing.  I mean just a simple study of the book of Job should send these Pharisees running for their pens to rewrite their commentaries.  Job suffered despite being found a righteous man.  There was no sin in his family he didn’t cover with a sacrifice nor was there any outstanding problem God needed to deal with in him.  The fact that Job learned humility and a greater trust in God through his experience didn’t mean that he was unrighteous by God’s standards.

Have you ever noticed children when they play always end up with a leader?  Depending on the nature of this child the play will be free or dictated.  The more power a child holds over the others the more whimsical their demands and harsh their judgments.  The saying  “Absolute power absolutely corrupts” applies even here because we cannot hold it without becoming drunk with it.  The Pharisees and leaders were in a position of being unquestionable by the common people.  The average person did not read in that era, though most men memorized a book of the law for bar mitzvah, they probably didn’t read on a regular basis.  The leaders could reveal or withhold information as they chose; emphasize this over that and generally dictate the game being played.

Jesus came to shake up this apple cart.  He goes onto say,  “I have other sheep that are not of this sheep pen.  I must bring them also.  They too listen to my voice, and there shall be one flock and one shepherd.  The reason my Father loves me is that I lay down my life—only to take it up again.  No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord.  I have authority to lay it down and authority to take it up again.  This command I received from my Father.”

The people from other “pens” must mean the gentiles, for Jesus reached out to them as well.  The thought of the day was that God would not even lift a finger to help a gentile unless that person converted to Judaism.  And that could be true, to a certain extent.  Jesus, on the other hand, came as an ambassador to reconcile all people to God.  The Jews were supposed to live as the priests of the nations, dispensing God’s message of grace, mercy, righteous living and justice to the world.  They failed to do this because they grew proud of their status as “the chosen people” and looked with disdain on the world around them.  The pendulum had swung from their past desire to imitate the other nations to thinking they were better than.

God didn’t look at the world that way.  His purpose for Israel wasn’t simply for them but a means of redeeming the world as whole.

The difference between those truly converted to the gospel and hired guns is the former take on the heart of God for the world in order to build God’s kingdom for eternity.  The hired gun does so build a kingdom for this world alone and cares very little about what comes after that.  Jesus, however, came to give us life to the full, and those who follow Him will grab this principle with both hands to dispense it to others being saved.  We will be like Him, have His heart in us and take on His purpose.

This is A Cool Testimony

January 15, 2010

Go here to read a sad but amazing story of redemption.