Archive for March, 2010

If You Really Knew Me…

March 31, 2010

Thomas said to Him,  “Lord, we don’t know where you are going, so how can we know the way?”

Jesus answered,  “I am the way and the truth and the life.  No one comes to the Father except through me.  If you really knew me, you would know my Father as well.  From now on, you do know Him and have seen Him.”  John 14:5-7.

I’m gonna’ stop saying the disciples didn’t get it, because it sounds redundant even though it’s true.  Suffice it to say the discussion went according to plan, I guess, because through their incomprehension, Jesus answered a bunch of questions for us as well.  For instance, we would never have known God was preparing a place for us if Jesus hadn’t answered the question before it was asked, nor would we have understood how to get where Jesus would be waiting for us at the end.  We also wouldn’t know what the Father looked like if Jesus hadn’t told us, making it clear God could not be understood in physical terms but had to be seen within the character and work of His Son.

What occurs to me at the moment of this writing is that Jesus said something profound that we now just take for granted.  It’s one thing to acknowledge Him as the way, truth and life, another to know what is meant by that statement.  Let’s unpack it a bit.

Jesus told His disciples (found in Luke 14:27),  “And anyone who does not carry his cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.” Where did He carry His cross? To a hill called “The Skull” because it was used to execute people who rebelled against the Romans—may be for its resemblance to one as well.  The point is He went to die first.

Okay, just so you know I’m not good at this dying thing either.  The first step to following Jesus is dying to our own willfulness.  If He is the way, that means His life is set up as an example of where we are to go and what we are to do when we get there.  The path to following Jesus begins with self-denial, which probably holds odd connotations for most of us, since many people have tried to explain what that means and we’ve ended up with everything from monastic living to people dying of starvation.

I take it to mean we deny the person we are in the world to become the person we were made to be in Christ.  We die to the worldly man or woman to begin a new godly life.  It’s the difference between living in color, black and white or shades of gray, our lives are made up of certain ingredients and whatever we nurture becomes the nature to dominate us.  Jesus calls Himself the “gate” the entry into life and eternity.  He designed the path, lived it then gave it to us as a means of being like Him.

When we say Jesus is the truth, we usually mean we believe in Him as God’s Son, the Messiah.  The significance goes a bit deeper and broader still, however, for if we believe He is the truth, then we accept what He said as true and therefore weigh all other “truths” against what He said.  The way the world is set up at the moment, this becomes rather dicey since we know the general consensus in the Western World is relativism.  Yet Jesus never gives us that out for He makes it plain there is no other way to life besides Him; all other “truths” must submit to Him or be considered lies.

Since He holds life within Himself, we might conclude this is all He means.  Most people stop at the point of animation and forget that God designed our psychological makeup as well.  This means to me He designed the variety of tastes, habits and enjoyments we take for granted as human nature.  These things purified by His blood and submitted to His teaching become set apart from the general consensus of the world view.

Look at it from a creation POV:  God designed man to be functional, social, spiritual and physical.  These official names simply become headers for a host of activities and processes that allow man to have a full “life”.  For instance, God designed that we should eat, yet He didn’t stop at mere sustenance but took it a step farther and gave us tastebuds.  Next, He gave us the ability to reproduce ourselves, then took it even further by making it a pleasurable experience.  Not only can we taste food but we can smell it, and we now know through scientific experiments that our taste buds are intricately woven with our sense of smell, which means part of the pleasure of eating is in the odor.  The sense of touch allows us to feel everything from a caress to the texture of fruit as we chew it—I especially love eating almonds.

Sights and sounds abound too.  When an advertiser or story teller wants to create a romantic feel in a scene, they add butterflies, sunlight and lazy rivers.  Everything is created for our enjoyment and we are created to enjoy these things.  Humans are about the only creatures that don’t have a mating season but actually have sex whenever the urge takes them (which for most men is more often than not).  So many things we do just for the fun of it and forget that God made these this life to lived that way.

My point is that we forget who designed the joys we find in life because we focus so much on the things going wrong in our lives.  It’s strange (though may be not for some who suffer greatly) that every day we wake up to breathe in air but find little joy in our existence.  Jesus came to change all that and to give us a new lease on life, one which would never die or go bad.  Yet the only way to find this joy is through His example (the way and life) and His truth (His teachings) for no one gets to the Father except through Him.

For the Troubled Heart

March 30, 2010

“Do not let your hearts be troubled.  Trust in God, trust also in me.  John 14:1.

We’ve established throughout this study of John the purpose of Christ’s mission to earth, which was to reconcile man to God.  Now Jesus moves us into what that means as a  future hope.

Last night I listened to an NPR segment on religion.  The narrator of the program asked the question  “What is religion good for?” then proceeded to invite “experts” in evolutionary theory, scientist of all stripes and theologians to grapple with the question.  The dividing line was much as you’d expect it to be with those siding with science seeing religion as a development of natural selection and survival instincts, whereas the theologians saw religion as a pursuit of God.  Both sides entirely missed the purpose of Christianity.

Man rebelled against God not the other way around.  Granted some have reasoned that our rebellion was justified in that God arbitrarily set us up to fail, but this kind of reasoning ignores the point of who He is and what loyalty should entail.  First and foremost, loyalty includes love.  In one segment of the presentation on religion, they explained religion gave those who believe a higher calling, one which superseded all other loyalties, and gave one the ability to ignore natural human connections to body, family or culture.  Where they get this wrong with the Christian teaching is that instead of it encouraging to ignore the needs of others or disconnect from them, our Master commands us to love one another as He loved us.  The contrast between what other religions offer as a means to serving God or gods and what Christianity offers could not be more stark a contrast.

Jesus presents us with a hope and future, just like the prophet Jeremiah said He would.  He attempts to encourage His disciples with hope beyond His suffering and death—coming up within a day or so.  The end of all this struggle is a home with God.  He tells us to trust Him as we trust in God.

Yet we have a conundrum with part of the promise—mostly in understanding it not the content—because Jesus said,  “In my Father’s house are many rooms, if it were not so, I would have told you.  I am going to prepare a place for you.  And if I go to prepare a place for you, I will come back and take to be with me that you also may be where I am.  You know the way to the place where I am going.”

First off, what is the way to where Jesus is going?  He is.  So we know that part.  But this concept of the “house with many rooms” doesn’t jive with God as spirit very well.  If God is spirit, then we can conclude He isn’t tangible, can’t we?  Which means the house will be a spiritual one as well as the rooms, doesn’t it?

Not necessarily.  You see we barely grasp our own reality let alone that of God’s.  Jesus, in His talk to Nicodemus, wasn’t telling us what that spiritual world looked like, only that it existed and was wholly other than our own.  I have a theory that God’s universe, which includes our own but it not limited to it, is full of dimensions, but unlike many think today, they are not repeats of this one but new uncharted worlds unto themselves.  In our world they would be intangible or incorporeal, but in their dimension they experience much the same contact we do but in a completely different way.

I can’t prove it, it just makes sense to me that God isn’t limited to our grasp of reality.  So whatever form we are changed into (and we know that it is multidimensional because Jesus’ resurrected body was) it will span the spiritual and human realm.  This means God has a place for us prepared in the spiritual realm as well as this one, for all the prophets from Isaiah to Revelation speak of a new heaven and earth; the first heaven and earth pass away  to make room for it.

Jesus is trying here to encourage His disciples by telling them what they know is not the limits of what their future holds.  He promises them a place, a very important thing to Middle Eastern thinking, and honor because they stuck it out with Him.  What is the best means of living with an untroubled heart?  Trusting in God and His Son, Jesus, then set our hearts (what the Bible calls fixing our eyes) on the hope of Son of God.

What does trust mean to us?  Not an ephemeral hope or confidence that God exists and wishes us well, but that He’s intimately acquainted with us and longs to bless us.  Let’s leave this discussion with two important texts:

Jeremiah 29:11: “For I know the plans I have for you,”  declares the LORD,  “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you a hope and future.”

Isaiah 30:18: Yet the LORD longs to be gracious to you; He rises to show you compassion.  For the LORD is a God of justice.  Blessed are all who wait for Him!

And one more that assures us God wants intimacy with His creation:  O Lord, you have searched me and You know me.  You know when I sit and when I rise; You perceive my thoughts from afar.  You discern my going out and my lying down; You are familiar with all my ways.  Before a word is on my tongue You know it completely, O LORD.  Psalm 139:1-4.

Doesn’t sound like an impersonal God does it?  And, what’s more important for my argument, is that these are all from the OT.  Jesus revealed the Father’s heart to us by living it out loud in human form.  He promised a hope and future through the prophets, then in person to emphasize it.  Find courage in this because He’s intimately acquainted with all our ways and knows our loneliness, dead end streets, dashed hopes, broken dreams as well as our successes, loves, tastes, likes, joys, fun times, etc.  Nothing is hidden from the One from Whom we receive life, and this One promised us life to the full here as well as future when all is remade new.

“Trust in God, trust also in me.”

Will You Really?

March 24, 2010

Simon Peter asked Him,  “Lord, where are You going?”

Jesus replied,  “Where I am going, you cannot follow now, but you will follow later.”

Peter asked,  “Lord, why can’t I follow You now?  I will lay down my life for You.”

Then Jesus answered,  “Will you really lay down your life for me?  I tell you the truth, before the rooster crows, you will disown me three times!”  John 13:36-38.

People who ignore the habits of their life usually end up being quite surprised in a crisis.  For instance, if one of us has a problem facing humiliation and loss in small situations, the problem will magnify exponentially with greater stress.

I understand Peter somewhat because I can’t even watch other people get humiliated without cringing.  In fact it’s so bad for me that when I watch movies or shows on TV where one of the characters is about to embarrass themselves, I have to take a break and walk away.  I’m sure there are those of you out there who are going,  “Uh huh!”  because this trait tells you something about my Christianity, as it should.  But here’s the kicker:  When someone confronts me about serving the Lord Jesus in a frontal assault, I’m all armor and heroic intentions.

The failure to stand comes where I see humiliation or bad opinion about to happen…such as when a person who believes in another god or no god at all confronts my beliefs.  I want to be wise, broad minded and open to them without compromise but I end up just sounding wishy washy.  I know some who read this blog might be disappointed by this fact since I’m such a strong advocate on paper—or in this case, on blog—yet I see the same traits in many I know.  They are either obnoxiously strident about their belief in Christ or, like me, a dog who whimpers in the presence of a more aggressive animal.

I didn’t always step back, however, so I must explain my current condition so you’ll understand the why of it.

In years past I have been strident, confident in my knowledge and a little cocky about my God.  I grasped the opposition’s position but thought it uninformed and foolish, so I tended condescend a bit.  I don’t think my Master liked my attitude because I ended up sliced and diced several times, which then brought me to humility.  Unfortunately, that humility turned to fear in certain situations and now I find myself worried about overwhelming people with the gospel.

On the other hand, I’ve become more merciful towards those who believe differently, more circumspect, if you will, because I know how badly some outspoken Christians have represented the gospel to the world overall.  So now I’m more gentle about how I approach those with other views, because I know how much I hate it when someone is strident or mocking with an opposing viewpoint with me.

Peter’s great mistake here, though, wasn’t just over confidence in himself, but a lack of understanding about what Jesus was saying.  Look at the phrasing and you’ll get the nuance:

Simon Peter asked Him,  “Lord, where are You going?”

Jesus replied,  “Where I am going, you cannot follow now, but you will follow later.”

Peter asked,  “Lord, why can’t I follow You now? “

His problem wasn’t a lack of loyalty or courage in the face of battle; I think he demonstrated heroic courage in cutting off that servant’s ear.  No, what He lacked was a grasp of the cross looming on the horizon.  Jesus’ next step after this evening meal would be the Gethsemane, soldiers, beatings, mocking and a cross.  “Where I am going, you cannot follow now, but you will follow later.” Peter died years later on a cross, albeit upside down, according to tradition.  At the moment of this conversation, however, his claims sound absurd because though he would willingly fight a war on Jesus’ behalf, history shows he couldn’t follow the Master into humiliation, false accusation and public condemnation until much later.

I am like Peter in this, so much so that it scares me.  As long as the battle lines are clearly drawn between “them and us”, I’m a lion; the moment I have to lay down the sword, fear of being humiliated paralyzes me.  Yet his subsequent death after years of fierce loyalty in ministry encourage me to keep pressing on.

To follow Jesus for each and everyone of us will lead us to and through the cross.  Most of us don’t see the cross for what it was and should remain:  a means of stripping us of all our worldly grandeur, pride and self-worth.  The glory of the cross begins when we lay down our own value system, lay aside everything we could ever use to hold up our self-perception and humble ourselves under God’s mighty hand.

So the question Jesus asks us all is, “Will you really lay down your life for me?” which is then followed by,  “Before the night is here you will have denied me…” put a number to it.  Every sin we commit denies Him Lordship over our lives, every detour we take away from His authority over our behavior or choices denies His Word access to our hearts; and every single time we ignore our own habits of the heart for a grander portrait of our own character, we set ourselves up for colossal failure.

Yet like Peter, if we fall at Jesus’ feet and cling to Him, He will forgive and restore us.  Pretty awesome, don’t you think?

While I’m Away…

March 22, 2010

“My children, I will be with you only a little longer.  You will look for me, and just as I told the Jews, so I tell you now:  Where I am going, you cannot come.

“A new command I give you:  Love one another.  As I have loved you, so you must love one another.  By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”  John 13:33-35.

It’s as if Jesus were saying,  “While I’m away, the best means for those around you to know that you are my disciples is if you love one another.”  Just like any boss, business owner or ruler Jesus had business to attend to we couldn’t understand, so we have to wait until He’s finished with whatever that business is for Him to come back and bring us home.  It’s not like it has to take Him 2000 years to build a city or homes for us; He’s God, so whatever He’s doing must be important or He wouldn’t have left us behind.

I confess I don’t understand God the well.  There’s so much nuance in Scriptures that anyone who claims to have a complete grasp of them is lying as far as I can tell.  I’ve met enough theology professors and men who study the Word of God constantly to know one person cannot take all that God is or come close to grasping His purpose for us.

And this is what makes me trust and serve Him.

Right now God wants us to learn to trust Him in the most uninviting circumstances imaginable and in this way become loving people despite what we encounter.  The test of our faith would not be a true test if we didn’t have opposition, which means if our lives are free of frustration, we’re being set up for a fall.  Over confidence in the continuity of the good life  will set us up to be disappointed when the crash happens.

Love is kind when all else is unkind.  Love speaks of the good when there’s no one else who’ll notice it.  Love rebukes the evil so as to promote the good.  Love stands for right no matter what the hateful do.  Love does good to all, deserving or not.  If we practiced love toward each other this way, what would those who watch know about our God?  What would the message be if the world saw us demonstrating love toward everyone in our path?  What would the witness be like if we constantly responded in loving ways to those who least deserve it?

The greatest test of a person’s connection to Christ is not their understanding of Scriptures or deep truths of God, but love being demonstrated in their lives.  Jesus’ instruction to the disciples addressed a group of men divided by lust for position, greed for power, prestige and the wealth being close the King of kings would bring.  They were so far removed from the true wealth at this point the Master had to tell them what He expected for they hadn’t learned it by this time.  I think it made Jesus sad and a little disappointed that even those closest to Him ignored or simply couldn’t grasp this basic foundation block of the kingdom of heaven.  I’m sure He expected them to fail, but it still probably hurt His heart to know they didn’t understand His teaching.

At the same time, that’s why He gave these instructions, because He knew they would get it eventually.  Once He was raised to life and their hope was restored, they would begin to grasp in leaps and bounds everything He had taught them in word and deed.

Gives hope for us, huh.

The Path to Glory

March 19, 2010

When he was gone, Jesus said,  “Now is the Son of Man glorified and God is glorified in Him.  God will glorify the Son in Himself, and will glorify Him at once.”  John 13:31, 32.

When we think of glory as humans we tend towards heroic deeds or possibly someone with courage beyond what is common.  Jesus being glorified, however, points to a different frame of thought altogether because He is speaking of His coming death.  As a point of reference, we need to remember how ignoble the cross was in Christ’s day. 

By wearing the cross around our necks as jewelry and hanging it above our mantels as a decoration we have robbed it of its the horror and shame.  I’m not saying wearing it as a symbol of belief or as a reminder of who we serve is wrong, merely that the enemy has successfully endeavored to rob the cross of its meaning for most of us when every rock star or rap artist wears one as well.  These people care nothing for the cross as symbol of salvation, I even read an article where Madonna called the cross “sexy”.  There’s a big disconnect here, I’d say, for what the cross did to people was anything but sexy.

Paul speaks to the issue of shame becoming glory in a similar way but with a different purpose in mind.  For, as I have often told you before and now say again even with tears, many live as enemies of the cross of Christ.  Their destiny is destruction, their god is their stomach, and their glory is their shame.  Philippians 3:18, 19.  The enemies of the cross of Christ point to those who lose the ability to see what He did for them on the cross—which is to take the punishment for their sins on Himself so that they might be reconciled to God.  Those who live as enemies of the cross call evil good and good evil, taking the shame away from those things which rebel against their proclaimed Master.  Granted, most of their views might conform to the Word of God, but to deviate from it or deny it as truth in one area undermines the whole.  Humans who live as enemies of the cross are shamed before God not humans.

Jesus, on the other hand, was shamed before men not God; though, while He bore the sin of man, His Father turned away from Him.  Christ’s shame was never one of personal sin rather one of human concoction and artificially inspired, manufactured to get rid of His voice, which spoke light in the darkness of human reasoning.

Jesus’ glory in the cross arose from the reason He went to the cross.  His death and resurrection made it possible for us to find life again by connecting to the Source of Life.  There was no halo around His head while He died nor any while He lived; no one would have picked Him out of a crowd as the Messiah because of what He looked like or for his human connections.  His glory came from who He was, definitely, but our grasp on what brings glory is so skewed we struggle to grasp even the simplest of truths:  Jesus was glorified in the cross because He gave Himself as a ransom for all.

That which humans considered shameful Christ turned to an object of salvation, thus forever making what was intended to degrade, destroy one’s dignity and kill any hope of a name or future by earth’s estimation into His personal vehicle of salvation.  His ability to do this shows us the inverse of man’s character displayed in stark contrast.

Human preoccupation with glory can be summed up in a census taken of grade school and hi school students a few years ago where the poll takers asked them,  “What do you want to be when you grow up?”  I don’t remember the exact percentage, but a high number of them said “famous”.  When asked,  “Famous for what?” they didn’t care or even think about how to get there, they just wanted to be famous.

The path to godly glory can be summed up in Paul’s declaration,  “For to live is Christ, and to die is gain!”  Christ’s path to glory passed through the door of human humiliation and those who follow Him must travel the same road.

And It was Night

March 18, 2010

As soon as Judas had taken the bread, he went out.  And it was night.  John 13:30.

I’m not sure if John is being dramatic or simply speaking to Jesus’ teaching about evil deeds being best done in the dark.  Whatever the case, it struck me that he made a special effort to mention it was night.

It might not have any significance other than John just being creative, but it seems to me he had a purpose in mentioning it.  I can’t prove it, of course, but the fact he takes a sentence to paint the setting, tells me it was important for us to know about it.

“One of You…”

March 17, 2010

After He had said this, Jesus was troubled in spirit and testified,  “I tell you the truth, one of you is going to betray me.”

His disciples stared at one another, at a loss to know which of them He meant.  John 13:21, 22.

The confusion gets worse when Jesus answers John’s question about who the culprit was, with,  “It is the one to whom I will give this piece of bread when I have dipped it in the dish.”  Then, dipping the piece of bread, He gave it to Judas Iscariot, son of Simon.  As soon as Judas took the bread, Satan entered into him.  He identified Judas but the disciples were not even close to tracking with Him.

Their reaction to Jesus’ assertion shows how our mental context plays out in our understanding of reality much of the time.  It’s the same reason why in an accident report there are always discrepancies in the stories where two or more people are involved or witness it.  The disciples were in a another frame of mind, one which had nothing to do whatsoever with a crucifixion or betrayal.  They brought their context with them, the preoccupation with which they functioned, and inserted it into the conversation without ever stopping to consider whether or not it fit the subject.

Understanding Scripture takes concentration, focus and a willingness to suspend our own agenda for the sake of one which may not have anything to do with our current state of being.  In other words, it takes us out of our own context and plops us down in another.  The disciples’ thoughts were a million miles away from any idea that Jesus might die within a couple of days from this meal.  It never crossed their minds because the context in which they lived was one of seeing the miraculous messiah, who changed water into the finest wine, healed the sick, raised the dead, fed thousands from a small basket of food and walked on water with a command over the elements that baffled the mind.  Their context wasn’t ready for His suffering or death; nor could their spiritual house withstand the storm of humiliation and loss they were about to experience.

I guess this is one of the many reasons why I harp on this subject so much.  I find the general Christian teachings about how life should be, out of step with Christ’s teaching to the contrary and the whole of Hebrews 11 where it tells us not to get discouraged when we suffer.  In order to gain membership, many have set the church of Jesus up for a rude awakening as well as a fall, because they teach a feel good gospel—much like motivational speakers do for their audience.  The message becomes about the here and now instead of the hoped for reward of change.  Our true hope looks forward to a city not built with human hands, which God has built us.  I am wary of people who preach a self-help gospel, one which makes us feel good about ourselves—the “I’m okay, You’re okay” teachings of pop psychology has no place in a Christian church.

Why?

We’ll study this more in depth when we reach John 16, 17, but for now suffice it to say that Jesus promised not only peace, joy and love to His followers, but with them persecutions.  When we ignore the latter for the sake of teaching the former, we do so to our own hurt; we set ourselves and others up for discouragement or a shipwrecked faith.  Our faith is for the purpose of helping us through the worst our world can throw at us and remain standing.

Jesus overcame the world for our sake—and by “our” I mean the whole of humanity throughout the history creation.  What is expected of us is to follow suit; to stand firm though the heavens fall.

Yet the context in which we live speaks to us louder than the one God creates.  We see the world’s wealth and compare the message of Jesus with it and think somehow they match up, when they don’t.  We compare lifestyles with the world only to see that pieces of the message don’t match up with it so we create a hybrid religion made up of both, which then sets us up for a split personality spiritually.

What’s our mistake?  Comparing the message and life of Jesus with the norms of the world.  The disciples heard Jesus say to Judas,  “What you are about to do, do quickly” yet it never even entered their minds what He meant.  The words didn’t compute; the actions of giving Judas a piece of bread dipped in wine flew by their consciousness.  How did they interpret the words and actions?  Some thought He was sending Judas out for more supplies for the feast, others didn’t track at all.

John later gives us a clue how to clear our minds of everything but the priorities of God.  Do not love the world or anything in the world.  If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him.  For everything in the world—the cravings of sinful man, the lust of his eyes and the boasting of what he has and does—comes not from the Father but from the world.  The world and its desires pass away, but the man who does the will of God lives forever.  1 John 2:15-17.  Subtract the world’s priorities and immerse ourselves in the kingdom of heaven and we will see clear enough to grasp what role we are to play in the here and now.

Keeping Your Friends close and…

March 15, 2010

“I am not referring to all of you;  I know those I have chosen.  But this is to fulfill the Scripture:  ‘He who shares my bread has lifted up his heel against me.’ ”  John 13:18.

How hard would it be to know your betrayer was one of your chosen close friends and not react to them every single day in a stiff or resentful manner?  On top of that to know when you chose him or her that they would betray you to your humiliation, abuse and death?

From what I know of Jesus’ knowledge about Judas I believe He understood from the beginning who he was and what he would do.  This info enlightens the way I approach the “enemies” within my own life, although I don’t know of anyone at the present time who would go this far in their pursuit to hurt me.  Still, I wonder how the Master did it without constantly treating Judas differently.  We know He didn’t make Judas stand out because none of the disciples had any awareness of who the betrayer was at the Last Supper.  If Jesus had done even one thing to him to identify him as a threat or possible problem besides give him the piece of bread at the end, the other disciples would have circled like vultures to take him out.

The division amongst the disciples on who would be the greatest in the kingdom merited rebukes by the Master several times.  This means, in the context of our discussion, that Judas hadn’t been called out yet nor had he shown his true colors.  The old saying, however, of “keep your friends close, and your enemies even closer” stands true even here.  Jesus took every opportunity to turn Judas from his destiny—not that I believe his “destiny” was set in stone necessarily without a choice to the contrary.  Instead, Judas’ constant choices made his destiny certain.  God’s foreknowledge didn’t make Judas’ action inevitable, rather God knew the character of the man and the decisions he would make so the prophecy fit the event.

Judas’ story didn’t have to end the way it did, however, for he could have repented and come back for a full pardon.  The Master forgave all the disciples for their cowardice and denial, how could Judas’ sin be any different?

If you have followed my blog at all, you know that feet in the Scriptures have a significance.  If one person throws a shoe at another, it is a dire insult which could cause blood feud.  To put up a heel against someone was to say betrayal and desertion.  It was the ultimate disloyalty in Middle Eastern culture to share a man’s bread then betray him to his death.

Though the disciples understood Jesus’ words, they didn’t grasp what they applied to or to whom.  Knowing this He told them,  “I am telling you now before it happens, so that when it does happen you will believe that I am He.  I tell you the truth, whoever accepts anyone I send accepts me; and whoever accepts me accepts the one who sent me.”

I don’t know if I’m reading into this or not but I see a double-edged sword in Jesus’ words, for He later instructs Judas,  “What you are about to do, do quickly.”  In other words, He’s sending Judas on a mission to the priests and Pharisees, who accepted his help and by doing so acknowledged Jesus’ identity and rejected God’s plan for them.

How can we know they accepted Jesus’ for who He was?  In the parable of the Vineyard, the tenants say,  “This is the heir.  Let’s kill him, and the inheritance will be ours.”  (See Luke 20:9-19; Matthew 21:33-46; Mark 12:1-12.)  There’s no doubt many in the Jewish leadership grasped who Jesus was but they rejected Him because He didn’t give them the “inheritance” they wanted.  That, my friends, is scary.  By their very actions they showed Jesus threatened their lust for status and authority, which led them to murder the Son of God in order to preserve the culture they built for themselves.

Their punishment?

They lost their nation, seat of power and their children wandered for nearly 2000 years.

I am uncomfortable with dire warnings and cautionary tales, but this story confronts me with the need to be on my guard lest I reject the Son of God for the sake of my traditions or personal kingdom building.

Great Expectations

March 14, 2010

Author’s note:  I wrote this for a friend of mine, Susan, who’s blog TLC4Women published it the first time.  I’ve done a little editing to tweak it up a bit.

Delight yourself in the LORD and He will give you the desires of your heart.  Psalm 37:4.

Mom used to always say about the girls I dated,  “Watch how they treat their dads and you’ll know how they will treat you.”

Consistency is one of the hardest truths to live out.  We expect it from others but rarely require it of ourselves.

So what kind of woman do most men want anyway?

That’s like asking what a man’s favorite car is or which football team he likes best.  The answer is as varied as you should expect.  Yet when it comes to the heart of a spiritual man, though we know the variations in taste will remain the same, there’s one large caveat:  They’ll want a woman who loves and obeys God.

Sounds simple enough, right?

I’m gonna’ give you two of  my easy rules for finding a mate:  Be in the flow and middle of God’s will for your life and base your decision on character.

It’s actually not all that hard to tell what God’s will or purpose is for our lives, because the imprint of it is on our hearts and personalities.  Once we know what our tastes and preferences come down to (how He made us specifically), we can then look for the person who demonstrates Jesus in their lives. 

A woman’s taste in men is on par with her taste in soap, deodorant or anything else they might prefer–it is personal and sacrosanct to the one doing the choosing.  I know many women will object to this comparison, but I ask them to look at it without romantic blinders on for a minute:  Some like tall men, others like guys with a little belly on them.  I’ve been told countless times women like bald guys (though no one’s beating down my door).  These are issues of taste so should be left to the individuals involved.

The same for men.  I know women think all guys just want a skinny little waif who looks like she’s barely 16, but that doesn’t really cover the truth about men’s preferences.  One of my best friends likes curves on his woman and is actually going to marry one who doesn’t fit the popular bill.  Advertising may glorify certain types of bodies, but this should tell you something right there:  a few trying to dictate to the many never works.  A man is as complex as a woman in this aspect of their psyche.  A man of God, however, is far more simple, honest and caring about his partner.

The need for character, however, is universal for it is the stamp of God’s nature on the person, therefore I’m gonna’ concentrate on this for the rest of our time.

Once we figure out our tastes, the only thing we have left to do is be transformed and we got it in the bag.  What does Romans 12:1, 2 say?    Therefore, I urge you, brothers (and sisters), in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God–this is your spiritual act of worship.  Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.  Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is–His good, pleasing and perfect will.

Our problem as humans is we have it all ass-backwards–or as my dad used to say,  “The cart before the horse.”  We think we have to find a spouse before we can be happy, when the truth is inverse of that thought.  Before we find the type of person God created us for, we have to be the type of person God created us to be for them.  Look, it’s not rocket science but godly wisdom.  To know God’s will, we have to know God; and to know God we have to know what He says; and to know what He says we have to spend time reading His words.

Jesus said,  “As you would have men do to you, do also to them.”  Most people, however, base their relationship expectations on what the other person can do for them.  Marriage is a partnership, nothing more, nothing less.

Christians carry one piece of baggage, however, which trumps their reasoning power:  We’re all hopeless romantics.

O, I’m not just talking about the Cinderella or Snow White style of romance, but we look for a happy ending to our story and history of mankind.  So this permeates everything we do and think in such a great measure many of us struggle to get the real point of our hope:  to live a full life now and not wait till then–whenever “then” is.  The adventure of a lifetime is waiting for most of us but we would rather dream about it than actually live it.  It’s strange how many times I hear someone wish to be married but fail to do the work to be in the way of God’s purpose for their lives.  They wait on the sidelines of life expecting love to just jump into their laps miraculously when God commands us to go out and live to the full.  It’s not for nothing Jesus told His disciples,  “I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.” 

Where is God’s will?  In service of His people, His world.

Take a moment to think about how we would like to be treated, then turn that thought upside down to the other side of the coin to think about how the other person would like to be treated.  Do you see how easy it is to apply the principles of God?  We don’t need any other formula to find our mate.  All we need to do is find someone who shows respect to everyone, is industrious, kind, thoughtful of others, loves from a heart filled with the Spirit of God and gives of their means freely as unto the Lord, and we find the person we fit with like a puzzle piece.  That is, we find them if we are such people too.

You see we cannot have great expectations for a spouse if we don’t hold the same standard up for ourselves.  If you want to attract honey bees, you need to be a flower.  Hopelessly romantic isn’t bad, it just usually isn’t based on reality–even a spiritual reality.  God will only give us the desires of our hearts when our desires match His.

There’s one more aspect to this we need to address which is quite unpopular even with men:  Marriage is as much a business arrangement as it is a romantic adventure.

If any of us enter into marriage thinking we’re going to just fly all the time, we’re in for a rude awakening–and some pretty rough unhappy times.  When Paul told the Corinthians not to be unequally yoked with unbelievers, he wasn’t making a suggestion just for marriages but also business men.  Entering into a business arrangement with someone who doesn’t share our mores and values on the subject of eternity affects how we do business.  A person in business tied to earthly profit operates differently than one tied to eternal investments.  May be some of you who read this are too tied to earthly security for the Christian spouse you long for, then I would suggest you untie or cut that bond.  A person tied to earth’s security is no good to God’s kingdom, for their entire lives are spent in pursuit of their own happiness and dreams.  A person tied to the kingdom of God lives in such a way as to invest on earth what will bring a profit for God.  Another way of saying it is:  Live to please God not yourselves.

Is that too heavenly minded for some of you?  If you worry more about what most people call the “bottom line” here on earth yet forget the spiritual bottom line, you’ve missed God’s will for your life–and, quite sadly, for your future spouse as well.  Unless we become the workmanship of God, we cannot enter His kingdom to come or where it starts here on earth.

Once, having been asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God would come, Jesus replied,  “The kingdom of God does not come with your careful observation, nor will people say,  ‘Here it is,’ or  ‘There it is,’ because the kingdom of God is within you.”  Luke 17:20, 21.

That passage might sound off topic to some of you, but for me it is the crux of the whole message.  The kingdom of heaven starts right now where we live, work and believe.  We are the kingdom of God not some specific country or government.  His government is demonstrated within our hearts and minds for the sake of being lived out in the world around us.  This attracts those looking for light.

It also attracts those who look for light in order to take advantage of others.  You know, those people who are always looking for a new angle to make a profit of some kind.

Who should we keep our eyes open to?  Jesus. 

Who should we be looking for as a spouse?  Those with the kingdom of God already building inside.

How long will it take to find them?  As long as it takes to get to know another person’s witness for the Lord.

Remember what my mother used to say:  “How a girl treats her dad will be how she treats her husband.”  It goes well here for us too, for how we respond to God’s Spirit living within us is how we will respond to those around us who are of the spiritual kingdom.  Don’t be deceived by packaging.  I know a lot of men who have nearly shipwrecked their faith because they involved themselves with a beautiful un-spiritual woman.  I know many a woman who has been trapped by her vows because she went for the bad boy over that guy who was not quite so exciting but a lot nicer.  A carnal man is strong in worldly wisdom, worldly passion and their idea of love; a spiritual man is strong in spiritual passion, truth and God’s love.  If you’re attracted to that bad boy over the nice guy, there’s something wrong with your connection to reality not that nice guy.  Make no mistake God’s reality is the only reality there is, everything else is illusion.  Guy’s who pursue the beautiful “dangerous” woman, will get what they are chasing:  Dangerous beauty which turns pretty ugly fast.

How a man treats the women in his life will be how he will treat you.  How a man responds to God will tell you how he will respond to you.

Do you want to find a spiritual man?  Be a spiritual woman.  Do you want to find a spiritual woman?  Be a spiritual man.

Do you want to know God’s will for you as it relates to marriage?  Live in the middle of the stream of His purpose for kingdom people and you’ll run into the man who is also living in the middle of God’s flow.

Do you want passion, romance and the love of a lifetime?  Get to know the Source of passion, romance and love, for only in the plan and purpose of God will our hearts be satisfied.

The Blessing

March 13, 2010

“Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them.”  John 13:17.

The Greek word used here for “blessed” is makarios which is translated several times as “happy”.  The NIV uses “blessed” instead of “happy” because either usage is true of the word.  In other words, Jesus tells us we will find happiness and blessedness in serving others.  This isn’t a blessing like having a windfall on our taxes or manna from heaven, rather it is a blessing of happiness which finds us as we practice it.

In the kingdom of God, there are some things that result in blessing and we cannot actually know the blessing until we obey the instructions.  I’ve heard many Christians say,  “God is not concerned with our happiness but gives us joy” and while this may be true to a certain extent, I don’t believe He’s just concerned about joy.  I believe Jesus gives us the keys to happiness right here.

Look, if our happiness is based on our circumstances, then it is tenuous at best and completely unstable at worst as our circumstances bounce around between good and bad.  But if we find peace in Christ, is this not a form of happiness?  A joy that cannot be touched because it is founded on the Rock Christ Jesus and surrounded by His Name (the name of the Lord is a strong tower…) so it cannot be removed or hurt by the situations we face.  The differentiation between joy and happiness makes it sound like joy is deeper and more necessary, while happiness is more fleeting.

Being joyful in a bad situation makes us happy, does it not?  Being happy about God’s love makes the rejection of the world around us more bearable.  Yet we will not find this unless we take the first steps into obedience.

What is Jesus asking us to do here, then?

Serve each other without worrying about social strata, the worthiness of others or the humility (by human standards) it takes to step into a given role.  Jesus’ example shows us He’s not concerned with human perceptions about certain tasks, so we shouldn’t be.  The value of person grows out of Christ’s willingness to pay for them to be reconciled to God.  That makes them worth the life of God Himself, and priceless in any book.